Sly & The Family Stone returned in 1973 with the third in the trilogy of what would become their most celebrated, influential, and commercial releases. Stand was joyous and funky while There’s A Riot Goin’ On would be a mature solidification of their funk rhythms but contain dark and brutally realistic lyrics, making it a difficult listen. Fresh would be a compromise between the two, remaining solidly in the funk tradition but with a more commercial sound. In addition, the lyrics, while cynical in places, would not be as biting or harsh as their last album.
While the group would produce several more good albums, Fresh would be the last excellent one. After its release Sly and the group would begin a downward trend both artistically and personally.
Tensions among the group members had finally forced Larry Graham to depart and form his own group, Graham Central Station. His voice and particularly his bass playing, which had been so instrumental to the group’s sound and identity, would be missed. Drugs would continue to be prevalent for Sly and some others, causing them to continually miss or be hours late for concerts.
Despite all of the above, it seems as if Sly was having some fun. It may not have been as joyous as his early releases but at least it brought a smile or two.
“If You Want Me To Stay” would be their final top twenty hit. The track was almost a solo creation by Sly and was a rebuttal to his critics and detractors. Musically it moved his funky sound in a pop direction, which made it very accessible for radio play. “Let Me Have It All” is one of the most soulful tunes that the group would produce. “Keep On Dancing” was an update of their earlier hit “Dance To The Music.”
Not all the social commentary was left behind. “Babies Makin’ Babies” deals with the then and still-current issue of very young people having children. “Skin I’m In” was another foray into the area of race relations.
One of the most puzzling tracks that Sly & The Family Stone would ever produce was a cover of the 1956 Oscar-winning song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” which became a theme song for Doris Day and her television show. This easy listening piece of fluff has been covered by many artists over the years, including the immortal Chipmunks, but Sly’s funky version is the most bizarre.
Rolling Stone Magazine would rank Fresh at number 186 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. While difficult times lay ahead for Sly Stone, he was able to create one last masterpiece.