There’s a Riot Goin’ On opens to the sounds of an urgency it desperately wants to hold on to. “Luv N’ Haight”‘s chorus is a continual climax, moving up and up and up toward something that’s just out of grasp. The bass hammers toward some indeterminate end point instead of thumping and popping around the margins of Sly’s shouts. It works in purpose with the upward swell of the backing vocals and strain of horns to suggest that this is a band with some real optimism–the kind that can play “Higher” and “Dance to the Music” with honest, unfeigned conviction. But, the climax is abandoned partway through the song, and the delirium that swirls around the edges of the entire album takes over. Purpose and clarity is lost and the song nods off into something sloppier and darker.
It’s in this tone that “Just Like a Baby,” the following track begins. A lazy day of a song, it (along with the unimpeachable groove of “Family Affair” and the caged aimlessness of “Brave and Strong”), comes close to defining There’s a Riot Goin’ On‘s ultimate theme: pretending at a happiness that can be hard to believe in.