Early 1970s Croatian artists: Krunoslav Kićo Slabinac

Krunoslav Slabinac Kićo (1972)
Before he went solo, young Krunoslav Slabinac performed in a band "Dinamiti" so I assumed that like Dalibor Brun he might have been similar case of soul singer who eventually got swallowed by MOR festivals, but apparently I was wrong - judging from his first album (released after a string of very successful singles that made him a million selling artists) Slabinac had no aspirations towards becoming cult singer and right from the start he went straight for the mainstream. Strings, flutes, grand orchestrations and all. This is basically the stuff he sang on countless festivals, big ballads that started with a whisper and got bigger and weepier until crescendo swept everything away. Not that anything is wrong with it - its all done very professionally - its just that I expected something else, perhaps a glimpse of rebelliousness under the layers of whipped cream. 

The opener "Tužna je Anuška" is a rare thing, full-blown country hoedown right in the middle of early 1970s Croatian pop music and it signifies singers well documented love for country but this is exception from the rest of material, which is mainly focused on mellow ballads. To be honest, Slabinac did have very attractive voice and he croons for all he's worth, even nowadays that kind of singing might appear dated. For his first debut album, "Jugoton" gave him a regal treatment where he is served the best collaborators around - people like Maja Perfiljeva, Zdenko Runjić, Ivica Krajač, Stipica Kalogjera, Silvije Glojnarić, Drago Britvić, Miljenko Prohaska and such, each of them respected and experienced, however this is a case of carefully assembled schlager team so although wide mainstream appeal was guaranteed, there are no sudden funk surprises tucked away somewhere, like on albums of Dalibor Brun or Darko Domijan who also flirted with schlager but recorded occasional dance burner. What is surprising is the gentle sophistication of album - old buddy and great arranger Ićo Kelemen was involved and his touch is very classy. Best of all is involvement of Arsen Dedić who serves the singer with true bossa nova which is completely unexpected and it must be said that on "Tko si ti"  Slabinac holds himself surprisingly well, it is such elegant and neat moment that lifts the whole album in another dimension - obviously Slabinac was wonderfully versatile and it was just a question of direction he might explore. Liner notes written by respected poet Zvonimir Golob suggest that young singer was held in high esteem and Golob even suggest that he might have international career in future. 

"Krunoslav Slabinac" (1974)
Except a handful of notable exceptions, early 1970s albums released by "Jugoton" were usually collections of already known singles and this compilation was no brainer as it neatly sums up the years between 1969-74 when young Krunoslav Slabinac was prince of pop. Some if his greatest hits and indeed signature songs were included here, although it has to be noted that this was just a start and Slabinac continued successfully later, but as far as discography goes, this might be his most important period.

Both of his all-time classics are here: the bolero-like "Plavuša" harkens back to his days in a band "Dinamiti" and this 1969 version basically follows the original note for note. 
Since this ode to a blonde woman became smash, Slabinac followed it in 1972 with another lovelorn paean, this time to black hair "Zbog jedne divne crne žene" that forever established his music persona and faithful female audience ever since. As for the rest of the material, the songs were well-crafted, early 1970s pop but the most interesting thing is that even with inclusion of several celebrated composers like Zdenko Runjić, Aleksandar Korać, and Kemal Monteno the majority of material was actually written by singer himself: since at the time he was really million-selling artists, Slabinac was apparently no slouch when it came to writing hits and he had uncanny understanding what works in a studio. 

With exception of explosive, uptempo "Sviraj, svirče" (written by singer himself) the rest of singles were orchestrated ballads, arranged by ever dependable Ićo Kelemen: as Slabinac decidedly pursued schlager direction (and found success there) there is no much point of criticizing it in retrospective - these singles were made for radio plays at the time and not for critical analysis four decades later. It could have been more interesting if Slabinac pursued his love for country or rock and roll instead but it seems that at this point he was doing perfectly fine crooning waltzes like "Tri slatke riječi" that endeared him to MOR audiences. Mind you, I do vaguely remember almost all of these songs constantly wafting trough the radio waves in my early childhood, with my mother singing along in the kitchen (probably imagining its her hair Slabinac sings about) so no matter how dated the material sounds today, it was something other singers would give left hand for at the time. If you love orchestrated, early 1970s pop, there are several gems ("Više nećeš biti moja") well worth listening.

"Da sam tvoje riječi slušao majko" (1976)

Apparently "Jugoton" in the 1970s didn't really master the art of the album covers - either somebody in that recording company had a fun selecting the worst pictures (there is a truly abysmal single sleeve by Elvira Voća for "Jedra bijela") or these people really looked kind of strange. Judging by this picture, you would never guess that Krunoslav Slabinac was at the time considered handsome. Actually this is how Slabinac appeared  representing Yugoslavia on Eurovision in 1971, hair blown in some ill-advised bouffant (needless to say he didn't win).

Appalling cover aside, this is second compilation of singer's work up to that time, summarising his career from 1971 to 1975 and even though it does not have such classics as "Plavuša"  or "Zbog jedne divne crne žene", it is a surprisingly strong collection, mainly because this time the focus are not only weepy schlager ballads but things are lightened up with occasional uptempo number ("Ljubavi, ljubavi lijepo ti je ime", "Ostavljaš me samog", "Budi to što jesi", "Živim svoj život", "Dajem ti svoju riječ") and this nicely balances mood as I was never exactly bowled over by all these melodramatic ballads where last note was belted and gasped with a dying breath. I understand it was done at the time, however it gets tiresome after a while. All these now dated ballads bogs things down a bit, but uptempo numbers are just fine - not surprisingly, all of them were composed by singer himself and I noticed already that Slabinac himself had a far better songwriting talent than all of these allegedly famous and respected composers who now appear stodgy where his own songs were always lighthearted, irresistible and contagious. It makes you wonder why he even bother with all these people and didn't simply bite the bullet and composed the material for the one solid album instead. His own songs like "Budi to što jesi" or excellent "Ostavljaš me samog" are perfect argument for the case and it is very good that they are compiled here, since otherwise they might have been completely forgotten on singles. Its very interesting because Slabinac was mainly famous for his weepy ballads (no doubt lots of people loved them) but personally I find him much more appealing in uptempo material, which was very evident when he swiftly and effortlessly won all the hearts as a TV show entertainer. 

"Pružimo si ruke" (1976)
Opener "Jedna jedina od svih žena" is such irresistible, steam-rolling, truck-driving & feel-good number that listener can be forgiven to think that Krunoslav Slabinac have finally left easy-listening MOR behind and turned to kind of country-rock in the style of "Long Train Runnin" and The Doobie Brothers". Even the cover photos show different Slabinac, the one with a tight pants, longer hair and full of attitude. Alas, dear reader, it was not meant to be. 

I noticed already that Slabinac himself was occasionally a killer songwriter and although his recordings usually have a long list of collaborators, the standout numbers were without exception written by him. Same here - rollicking "Jedna jedina od svih žena" and "Ja moram na put" start this album with a punch and just when you start thinking "hey, this is actually great" everything suddenly somehow slides sideways into usual schlager business. Even surprising turn to traditional folk "Ja kakva je na Bendbaši trava" (here re-imagined as a rock number) is simply a gimmick. Energetic and charismatic he might have been (allegedly great live performer) Slabinac still didn't want to alienate his core mainstream audiences with turn too sharp - it would have been great if he went country-rock all the way, but unfortunately most of the album is bogged down with exactly same old weepy ballads he was doing earlier. So it's one step forward and two steps back. 

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