By 1979 Sly Stone had lost his money, his family, and his career. His label, Epic Records, had dropped him from their roster for lack of commercial success. His chronic tardiness and no shows for concert dates made it difficult for him to find work. It was against this background that he signed a contract with the Warner Brothers label.
Back On The Right Track was released by Sly & The Family Stone on November 3, 1979. The title represented Sly trying to reassure his fan base that everything was now OK and that the music would once again be as creative and relevant as it had been in the past. It may also have been Sly trying to convince himself as he had been down this comeback road before and would travel it again in the future. The problem was that Sly was not OK and would never be so again at least down to the present day.
All of Sly’s post Fresh work would always be found wanting as it did not come close to equaling the music from his classic albums. Anytime Sly Stone entered the studio after 1975 he had the legacies of There’s A Riot Goin’ On and Stand hanging around his neck.
Back On The Right Track is solid rather than brilliant. While it has a funk foundation to it, there is a definite lack of energy. There is also a sameness to many of the songs. When you combine all this with its shortness, just under 27 minutes, I can’t help but think that there is a basic laziness to it.
There are no truly great songs yet the album is listenable. Thirty years after its release it is representative of its time. Maybe its because I have probably not listened to it since its release or that it is now far enough removed from its predecessors to stand on its own.
There are a few tracks that stand a little above the rest. “Remembering Who You Are” has a nice groove as Sly pens some more autobiographical lyrics. At the time they were hopeful but today they ring a little hollow. “Shine It On” has some interesting keyboard sounds and may have been a direction Sly should have explored a bit more. “Sheer Energy” with its harmonica sound, also presents a nice funky groove.
This was the first album that Sly did not produce himself which may have hurt. I can’t help but think that while Cynthia Robinson and Freddie Stone make appearances, it is the absence of his original group that hurt him the most as they were able to turn his visions into brilliant reality.
In the final analysis Back On The Right Track will always be an afterthought for Sly & The Family Stone and that’s as it should be. It does prove that there ultimately comes a point when you cannot go back.