There’s something grotesque about “Chain Reaction” – Miss Ross, voice as slender and cut-crystal as ever, strapped into the musical equivalent of an Iron Man battlesuit, a chrome-plated machine that turns human reflexes into battlefield ordnance. Those drums! They’re a multi-kiloton version of the convulsive tattoos that gave Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” lift-off, and that song in its original was a harder take on the addictive, hardly subtle beat that made Motown its fortunes. A study in musical escalation, leading up to this.
Another singer might have done more with the beat’s unyielding strictness, fought against it or put it to dominatrix use – but with Ross it brings out her tendency to neatness. There’s a schoolmarmish precision about the lead vocal in “Chain Reaction”, unfortunate since it’s a song about the unstoppable throes of orgasm. (Not that anyone could do much with a line as coy as “Nature has a way of yielding treasure.”)
It’s a flawed, preposterous thing but for all that I can’t help enjoying it. It was one of those records that you knew would be Number One as soon as you heard it – in an era of bloat its particular style of big still muscled through, marked itself as an event. Wholly down to the brothers Gibb, I think – their lyrics may be utter nonsense but having written such a mighty chorus they work it with unrestrained glee, joining in themselves as the song rises through its key changes towards its treblesome meltdown, when “Chain Reaction” finally earns its atomic metaphor and convinces you it’s as huge as it wants to be.