Album of the Week: Curtis Mayfield’s Sweet Exorcist (1974)

We love Curtis Mayfield over here at GSG. Curtis, Roots, Superfly – all stone-cold classics, not to mention There’s No Place Like America Today, my personal favorite of his. A few of his albums slipped through the cracks though, including Sweet Exorcist.

A 1974 review in Rolling Stone complains that the album “sounds hastily conceived and then competently executed to meet some contractual deadline.” Christgau gave the album a C and wrote that “To Be Invisible” is “its only interesting song.” Was Sweet Exorcist deserving of its lukewarm reception?

Well, yes and no. Compared to earlier outings from Mayfield, it’s a step down. But once you’ve listened to those records innumerable times, this one comes as something of a fresh discovery. It’s certainly not as weird as the cover would suggest – and seriously, what is going on here? Naked blue-haired men rising from a skeleton sea to lift up the planets and an electrified embryo? I’m not sure if this cover helped or hurt sales.

But the contents are, for the most part, classic Curtis. The title track grooves and “To Be Invisible” is a damn good ballad. While “Power to the People” is a bit rote and “Kung Fu” is lyrically silly, the rest are solid tracks. “Suffer” has a co-writing credit from Donny Hathaway and is accordingly heartfelt. “Make Me Believe in You” ends things on a strong note with a driving beat.

At just over half an hour, Exorcist feels a little slim. Who knows, maybe it was indeed executed to meet some contractual deadline. Nevertheless, we have in 2022 the convenient ability to instantly stream this music instead of going out and buying the record, weird-ass cover and all.

Listen to Sweet Exorcist here.

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