How many disco albums reference Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe?
How many disco albums reference Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe? At least one: Steve Monite released an album in 1984 that includes two versions of a track named after Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. Reissued as part of an ambitious program by the Austrian label PMG, that album, Only You, is solid ‘80s disco marred only by a weak mix.
Producer Tony Okoroji gives the mix a lot of aural space and a lot of space-age sound effects, though the remaster fails to give this distinct sound the depth it deserves. The title cut launches the album with a sonic vision of hell: “Only you baby/ Can put out this fire/ Burning through my soul.” Cooking under this lover’s lyric are inventive keyboard timbres, percolating percussion and laser beam attacks (it was the ’80s after all) that evoke the singer’s torment, all of which can only end with a woman’s affection.
Monite spends the album looking for peace and love, which he finds elusive and haunting. In “I Had a Dream,” he laments waking: “I want to hold you in my hands/ One more time/ ‘Cause I love you.” With its sick, thick bassline (adjust equalization to taste), “Welcome My Love” extols the joys of a woman who “makes me feel good in my neighborhood.” Midway through the track an insane series of space-synth sounds ripple and vibrate until we hear a spaceship taking off; one imagines this could be a metaphor for something very human. Is love like an alien visitation, coming from another planet bringing untold pleasures and wisdom from a more advanced civilization? Outer space was a common fixation in the era’s dance music, and Monite and Okoroji join forces to make it part of their own personal journey.
Two album tracks are repeated in different versions. We get the instrumental “Things Fall Apart (Disco Jam)” first, and while the title cut seems to get the most buzz, this literary homage beats it. You’ll hear the familiar ’80s synth, but its variations are inspired, percolating and exploding and shooting lasers and other sound effects that suggest a space battle in dub. It’s too bad it sounds so damn tinny, just like everything else here, and you can hear faint surface noise that puts at least some of that blame on a needle-drop remaster.
A second version of “Only You (Disco Jam)” begins with laser sound effects and lets a female singer take over: “Only you, Steve/ Can put out this fire.” she sings, when she doesn’t coo, that is. It’s an unusual space-station love scene. The lyric version of “Things Fall Apart” makes explicit that its space conflict is an Earthly conflict: “What are we gonna do now?”
Original pressings of Only You, released on His Master’s Voice, have sold for over $1300 dollars. That’s a lot of money for what is just a pretty good African disco record. Still, if it only sounded better, this might be a four-star album. So try it out, experiment with your bass settings and see if you can roll your own.