Rick James was already a bonafide superstar when he released his seventh album Cold Blooded in August 1983. James opens up the album with “U Bring the Freak Out”, a standard funk number that does come off a bit as formulaic considering Rick’s talents. Now this track may have come across better live, but as an opener, it just wasn’t hitting for me.
Rick picks up the pace on the album’s title track and lead single. Inspired by Rick’s relationship with actress Linda Blair, the funk and groove on the song is a different sound for him. As opposed to the guitar based and horn laced side he was known for, Rick experimented with synth. It is a natural progression for the talented musician and almost four decades later the song still holds up today.
No stranger to ballads, Rick collaborates with his label mate Smokey Robinson for the next track, “Ebony Eyes”. A luxuriant slow jam that focuses on a man expressing his fondness for a ladylove and is one of my favorite Rick ballads. I am sure every guy has had that feeling when you see a woman so beautiful that you are simply astounded.
From a production standpoint, the genius of the song is in Rick’s production. James allows Smokey to sing the opening stanza to the track, which has a smooth beat before transitioning to a more complex sound. Smokey sings to the smooth production, while Rick sings over the more complex elements of the song.
The next three tracks are all up-tempo funk numbers. “1, 2, 3 (U, Her and Me)” finds the bold James attempting to explain his player ways to his women. It is a questionable placement for the song following a ballad, but the song works. “Doin’ It” is up next and finds Rick once again embracing his nasty side. However, he never comes off as crass or corny in the song and fully sells the appeal,
“New York Town” closes out the midsection funk song of Cold Blooded. James opens up the song with dialogue between himself and a judgmental cab driver. It is a great intro to the song as the vibe is cinematic. Furthermore, not only does Rick pay homage to the Big Apple but he creates a dance groove that should have been a single. Rick then gets serious on “P.I.M.P. the S.I.M.P.” a collaboration with Grandmaster Flash. Once again, Rick give us a song with a dual meaning. While constructing a funky tune, James highlights why the world’s oldest profession should be legal. There is also a great Hot 16 from Grandmaster Flash.
The album’s second ballad “Tell Me (What You Want)” is also the album’s third collaboration. Here Rick works with actor Billy Dee Williams for a sensual cut. Billy Dee opens up the song with a smooth outlet as only he can, before Rick comes through highlighting his falsetto. “Tell Me (What You Want)” does not get the recognition that James’ other ballads do but it is a personal favorite. Rick James closes out the album with the effective message song “Unity”. A piano laced ballad that only clocks in at under two minutes but is still better than the music on radio today.
Arguably, Rick James magnum opus is 1981’s Street Songs. So much so that many felt that James became predictable. While I do not necessarily feel that he was predictable, he was just content with giving the public what it wanted. That said, outside of a few questionable track-sequencing choices, Cold Blooded is another solid entry in Rick’s already strong catalog.
Final Grade: B+
Top Tracks: “Cold Blooded”, “Ebony Eyes”, “Tell Me (What You Want” and “New York Town”