Earth Wind & Fire - Album Reviews

by cazort

Reviews of Earth Wind & Fire albums from all eras, with a focus on studio albums of new music.

If I had to pick a single favorite band, I would pick Earth, Wind, and Fire. The band has been active through 5 decades, and their music spans an incredible range of genres, from funk through soul, R&B, disco, 80's music, and hip-hop, often with heavy influences from jazz, Latin, gospel, and traditional African music as well. What blows my mind about this group though, is that within each of these groups, they are a major innovator, often taking each of these genres to a new level.

Surprisingly, the band is still active, and they released new studio albums in 2013 and 2014.

Here I will take you on a chronological journal thorugh the studio albums of Earth, Wind & Fire. Rather than present a complete discography, I focus on my favorite albums from each era, highlighting what I see as the best of each era of this amazing band.

Photo credit

The photo at the top of this page is a crop of a photo by Craig ONeil, and is from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Which best describes how you feel about Earth, Wind & Fire?

Last Days and Time (1972)

Among Earth, Wind & Fire's earlier albums, Last Days and Time is my favorite.  Although I like their two previous studio albums (this is their third), this is the one where I feel like their unique style starts to really shine.

My favorite songs are Make It With You and Remember The Children.

This album is the last album before the band started becoming more popular.  After this album, all their studio albums through 1983 were either RIAA Gold or Platinum certified (most Platinum). I think this album is just as good as many of the albums that followed it though, and I think it is under-appreciated, and I think people who discovered this band later would do well to go back and check out this album.

Like many old albums, this one is cheaper to purchase on CD (or even Vinyl) than as MP3's.
Last Days & Time (Audio CD)

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Last Days and Time (MP3)

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Open Our Eyes (1974)

This is one of my favorite albums of Earth Wind & Fire's classic era.  The more upbeat songs have a classic funk sound, and the slower songs are more like soul. This album also has a pretty bluesy and jazzy influence, more so than other albums from a similar era.

Like That's The Way Of The World, this is a short album, under 40 minutes, with only 10 full-length songs, although there is a 2001 reissue with 4 additional tracks.  This album is stylistically similar to That's The Way Of The World, but the content is less programatic; it's more of a pure musical album and doesn't appear to tell a story. If you like one of these albums, you'll probably like both, and since both are short, I recommend buying both. This sounds the more blues-influenced of the two albums.

This album contains some of my all-time favorite songs from this band, including ones with a classic sound like Mighty MightyDevotion, and Fair But So Uncool, and ones with a completely novel and innovative sound like Spasmodic Movements and Caribou.

That's The Way Of The World (1975)

A good example of the band's classic era, with some of my favorite songs (and a good number of popular / hit songs).

That's The Way Of The World is in many ways Earth Wind & Fire's breakthrough album, and is a classic representative of the sound of the band in its classic era.  If you are going to buy only one album from Earth, Wind & Fire, I recommend this one.

There are many well-known songs on this album, probably the #1 hit being Shining Star, but That's The Way of The World and Reasons being well-known. My favorite songs though are Africano and See The Light.

Like with most Earth Wind & Fire albums, the songs on this album are hard to classify.

The main downside of this album is that it is very short, coming in well under 40 minutes of music, with only 8 songs.

Listen to the classic song that this album is named for.

Faces (1980)

Faces happens to be both my favorite Earth Wind & Fire album, and Maurice White, the band's founder, also said it was his favorite.

It's fairly long, with 15 songs adding up to just over one hour of music, but what I like most about this album is the quality and originality of the songs. This album has more of my favorite songs than any other, including Share Your Love, Turn It Into Something Good, Let Me Talk, and many others.

The style of this album is somewhat transcendental. It is usually classified as R&B, but it comes just after the band's disco era, and just before their 80's music. The musical textures are much more varied than in disco, and the beats are a bit softer than in their 80's music.  This album also works wonderfully as a cohesive whole, and I find it a pleasure to listen to start to finish.

Raise! (1981)

Released shortly after Faces, Raise! strikes me in how completely different it sounds. I don't like it quite as much--after all, Faces is my favorite Earth Wind & Fire album. However, this album offers something new and different, and it's still one of my recommended albums, especially if you like music with an 80's sound.

This album contains the hit song Let's Groove, which is both only universally popular and one of my all-time favorite songs by this group.  However, the album also has two other favorite songs of mine, with a very different feel: Lady Sun and My Love.  Of these three songs, Let's Groove sounds the oldest stylistically, most like the band's classic sound, and, although it doesn't have a disco beat, it sounds musically more like the band's albums from this era.  Lady Sun is upbeat and high-energy, almost frenetic, and sounds more 80's than anything else on the album, more in the style of Michael Jackson's Thriller (which came out the next year). My Love is a slow and musically-rich song that sounds a bit ahead of its time to me, with musical elements that don't end up showing up commonly until hip-hop of the 1990's and later.

These three songs illustrate that this album spans a huge range of diverse musical styles (probably more than Faces, which sounds more consistent throughout, even while innovating.) But overall, this album is beginning to sound more 80's, although it doesn't have quite the intense 80's sound of the albums to follow.

When I searched Amazon, this album was more expensive and temporarily out of stock. You may wish to do your own search if the link below doesn't show an affordable audio CD; sometimes other sellers in the Amazon marketplaces offer better deals.
Raise! (MP3)

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Touch the World (1987)

This album is so 80's it hurts. Most songs feature the classic hard beat and electronic sounds that define 80's music. At the same time, this is my favorite Earth Wind & Fire album to come out of this era.  The songs are musically and harmonically rich.   This album takes what Earth Wind & Fire did to funk in the 70's, and does much the same thing to 80's music--introducing a new level of depth and complexity to the harmonic structure of the music, with interesting chord changes and changes in musical texture that is completely absent from most other pop music.

My favorite songs from this album are Thinking of You and System of Survival. Incidentally, this album is one example of where my personal tastes coincide with the mainstream: both of these were top-charted songs, reaching #1 on dance music charts. If you want to dance to 80's music, these two make an excellent addition to your playlist.

For some reason I also couldn't find an affordable audio CD. If you click through and it still shows as unaffordable, try your own search.
Touch The World (MP3)

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Earth, Wind & Fire: Touch the World [Vinyl Lp Record]

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The Promise (2003)

A produced album with beautiful lyrics and rich, soulful harmonic textures, but slightly monotonous drum machine rhythms.

With The Promise, Earth Wind & Fire forges into new (and more modern) territory. I love this album, and it is one of my favorites, but at the same time it disappoints me on the level of the rhythms.  This is a produced album, made with drum machines rather than actual drummers, and it shows. While the musical textures are rich and complex, I find the rhythms to be a bit monotonous and repetitive at times.

The vocals and harmonic textures are so incredibly rich on this album that I think that if it had real drums, it would probably be among my favorite albums of all time. As it stands, it's just an album that I solidly enjoy.

If you're someone who enjoys produced hip-hop and R&B with drum machines for rhythm, but organic vocals, you'll probably eat this album up.  But if you're a die-hard fan of the band's original sound, with its more organic drum textures, you may find this album lacking. I'm on the fence about it.

"All In The Way", the first track on this album, is in many regards typical of this album's style, showing both what I like and dislike most about it. If you like this song, you'll probably like the whole album.

Illumination (2005)

With Illumination, Earth Wind & Fire does something in a vaguely similar direction to The Promise, yet also novel.  This album continues with a more modern feel (and a produced sound), and for this reason I mentally group it together with that album more than any other.  I find the beats and overall structure and direction of the song though feel less monotonous, and this may be that the songs seem to put the jazzy flair of the band's horn section, as well as the soulful vocals, more at the forefront.

This album is also packed with guest artists, which I think adds to the variation in sound and style, and imparts greater novelty than on The Promise.  At the same time, the variation in style and sound leaves the album feeling like a bit of a hodge-podge.  Whereas with The Promise I tend to like all the songs roughly equally, and enjoy listening to the album as a coherent whole, Illumination is an album where I tend to like individual songs, and often like to put those songs on specific playlists with other songs that match their style; I don't like to listen to this album start to finish.

My favorite songs are Loves Dance and This Is How I Feel, both high-energy, upbeat tracks that make me want to dance, but I also like Show Me The Way and some of the other slower tracks.

This is one of my favorite albums by Earth Wind & Fire, but it is also one of the least typical and most divergent from the band's classic sound or style.  More so than their other album, I recommend listening to a handful of songs from this album before committing to buying it.   If you're like me, you'll love it, but I also think that this album may appeal to a slightly different audience from the people who like the old sound of this band.

This song illustrates the typical feel of this album, a more modern hip-hop beat and song structure, but with jazzy interludes from the band's horn section, and really soulful singing.
Illumination (Audio CD)

On Illumination, the 23rd record of their extraordinary career, Earth, Wind & Fire collaborate with generations of appreciative artists that have gleaned profound inspiration fr...

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Illumination (MP3)

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Now, Then & Forever (2013)

One of my favorite albums, a throwback to the band's classic sound from the 70's.

Earth Wind & Fire blew me away by releasing this album in 2013.  Now, Then & Forever is a throwback to the band's classic sound, yet at the same time it forges into new territory. It is one of my all-time favorite albums not only by this group but by any group.  I also like every single track on the album.

My favorite song is the first, Sign On. It most embodies the classic sound of the group, but it also has a strong message of social justice, one that I find is presented in a way that is powerful, spiritual, and deeply moving.  In terms of innovation, I love Splashes and Guiding Lights.  Both of these songs have a more mellow feel, with a rich and evolving soundscape.

I especially recommend this album if you like the classic albums from Earth, Wind & Fire, the period from 1969 through 1980, and want to buy one of their newer albums.

Now, Then & Forever

The new album from Earth, Wind & Fire, Now, Then & Forever, marks a return to the signature sound that made them international superstars. After an eight-year absence from the s...

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Updated: 06/24/2015, cazort
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candy47 on 06/24/2015

Thanks for the memories!!

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