To be perfectly honest, I'd never heard of Maximum Joy before I listened to Unlimited (1979-1983). As it turns out, they were a fairly progressive pop group that mixed a touch of afrobeat and funk (and a touch of reggae) in with their adventurous pop music. The result is something that is vibrant and buoyant still over two decades after it originally came out. During their heyday, the group even recorded a couple BBC Peel Sessions with the legendary John Peel. Unlimited (1979-1983) is a collection of rare and hard-to-find 7" and 12" tracks, and for fans of retro-leaning pop music, it's a true gem.
The album opens with "White & Green Place (Extraterrestrial mix)" and from the one track alone it's obvious that the group is working in a different area that most artists of the time (although concurrently, the Talking Heads were pulling some similar strains of music together). The track mixes funk basslines with bursts of horns and all kinds of pummeling percussion while singer Janine Rainforth adds her playful vocals. In fact, it's the horns and Rainforth that are key components of almost every song on the release, with different elements around them changing and keeping things interesting.
On "In The Air (7" Version)," the group hustles out a horn-laced disco-funk track while "Building Bridges / Building Dub" is just what the title states, with echo effects raining down on another infectious bass line, horns, and more spoken-word style vocals. On "Stretch (Disco Mix / RAP)," the group gets even more lively, bursting at the seams with strutting chikka-chikka guitars, saxophone, rattling percussion, and odd alternately screamed and sung vocals that continue the positive message of the group (with Rainforth screaming, 'Don't say maybe / Tell me YES!') .
Even when they shift up styles, the group sounds completely ahead of the curve, and when they tone things down and drop off into more atmospheric work (as on "Silent Street"), they sound like the precursor to trip hop groups like Laika with spacey sound effects and dubby bass that swirl around minimal beat work. With several tracks running well over six minutes long, the group probably could have whittled things in places and made their work even more tight, but considering their slight jazz influence, the extended workouts don't sound too out-of-place. Completely different than some of the groups creating claustrophobic music at the time, Maximum Joy is definitely a group worth rediscovering (if you don't mind lots and lots of horns in your pop music).