Through more than five decades, Kool and the Gang redefined cool and calm, and celebration, and little has changed since the New Jersey group formed in 1965. Members have come and gone, some have passed on, and through it all Kool and the Gang continue to keep the spirit alive on their 25th album Perfect Union (Omnivore Records).
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Produced and written predominantly by founding member Robert “Kool” Bell brother Ronald Khalis Bell, who passed away suddenly in 2020, Perfect Union is a reunion in brotherhood, and a collective call to return to good times reminiscent of the group’s earlier hits “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebrate,”—Kool’s 1980 hit, which was recently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame—while addressing social issues and a return to what the world needs now: more love.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” says Bell. Adding to the group’s loss this past year, co-founding member of Kool and the Gang, Dennis Thomas (“Dee Tee”) also passed away in August of 2021 at the age of 70.
“Having this album is a beautiful thing right now,” says Bell. “There’s some kind of comfort knowing that you have this album to put out, and it’s a new beginning in a way.”
Following up the group’s previous album Still Kool in 2007, Perfect Union celebrates the ups and downs from the opening on “Pursuit of Happiness,” a song written when President Joe Biden first accepted the nomination for the presidency.
“In his speech, he spoke about the perfect union,” says Bell. “He spoke about coming together and the pursuit of happiness. The title pretty much came from the election and kind of spilled into everything that was kind of happening in the world.”
I wanna live in a world full of peace / The color of skin, it just don’t matter / Let’s get along and let’s get better / I want a life full of love, full of peace / Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness—“Pursuit of Happiness,” which also has a bonus rap rendition on the album, is a call to action, with more acceptance and unity.
Moving through the summertime bliss of “The Weekend,” the Latin dance beats of “High” and swooning through “Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours),” Perfect Union is grounded in the pursuit of living life, freedom, and happier days.
Now celebrating their 50th anniversary, Kool and the Gang are still moving, most recently playing a jazz festival in Helsinki, Finland and other tests in Mallorca, Spain, and Belgium with continued shows in the U.S., and there’s always time for new music ahead.
“It’s about coming up with ideas and concepts and that’s how it’s been since the very beginning,” says Bell. “We started out as a jazz band and called ourselves The Jazziacs in 1964. Then we moved on to The Soul Town Band and then The New Dimension. This is just a continuation of what we do.”
Bell adds, “We have been blessed and pretty successful with what we do. You make your mistakes, but you learn to live and live to learn.”