This is JB at his badaassssss funky best! This double album is brilliant from start to finish. Side 1 is the funky stuff to dance to. Side 2 is the more chilled out ballad side. Side 3 is yet mo’ funky stuff. Side 4 is devoted to the brilliant 14 minute rap “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”. I never get bored of this album!
Of JB’s wildest album, with a crazy cover that shows him running away from the devil, and great gatefold inner photo with him standing amidst a bunch of declarations of “Hell”. The record was originally a double album filled with lots of different styles from James’ funky bag.
A1 Coldblooded 4:46
A2 Hell 5:07
A3 My Thang 4:19
A4 Sayin and Doin’ It 3:08
A5 Please, Please, Please 4:18
B1 When the Saints Go Marching In 2:41
B2 These Foolish Things Remind Me of You 3:15
B3 Stormy Monday 3:17
B4 A Man Has to Go Back to the Crossroads Before He Finds Himself 2:57
B5 Sometime 4:23
C1 I Can’t Stand It 8:08
C2 Lost Someone 3:41
C3 Don’t Tell a Lie About Me and I Won’t Tell the Truth About You 5:12
D1 Papa Don’t Take No Mess 13:51
Brown’s early-’70s run of classic singles and good-to-great albums is still impressive. Hell was the double album released a year after the gold selling The Payback. To some, the title might put this effort in the realm of kitsch, but in many ways Hell was one of Brown’s strongest albums. The album was the pinnacle of his work as the Minister of the Super New New Heavy Funk. From the tough and nimble Latin rhythms of “Coldblooded,” and “Sayin’ It and Doin’ It” to the title track, all are prime pre-disco Brown. “My Thang” is probably as hard and unrelenting as he got without spontaneously combusting. The biggest surprise of Hell is that no matter how odd the song choices seemed, practically everything worked, excluding a few key songs of course. Both “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Stormy Monday” don’t belong in James Brown’s catalogue, let alone the same album. Ballad-wise, Brown fares better. “These Foolish Things Remind Me of You” has him getting all warm and fuzzy as he inexplicably throws in an “I’m hurt, I’m hurt” for good measure. That song, as well as the weepers “A Man Has to Go to the Cross Road Before He Finds Himself” and “Sometime,” were produced by David Matthews who could always get good ragged yet poised vocals from Brown. Although Brown did roll snake eyes on all of side three, he did leave Hell on a good note. “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” is laid-back, funky jazz that’s worth each of its 13-plus minutes.
This album arrived after “Payback” had shown that JB had lost none of his powers, despite the death of his son, troubles with the IRS and a commercial slump that had started when he lost much of his US crossover audience in the wake of “Say it Loud…”.
Hell is a less cohesive album then Payback, (perhaps because the latter was conceived as a soundtrack) containing as it does covers, re-recordings and re-interpretations, as well as new tracks. Because of this, we do see sides of JB that had not been glimpsed for a while (ever?) – the latin version of “Please Please Please” and the similarly flavoured “Stormy Monday”, the laid back groove on “These Foolish Things” and “A Man Has To Go Back…” as well as the Funk we know and love.