I have probably heard this record all the way through more times than any other in my life. It is the soundtrack to my late childhood. I can't hear it now without being taken back to our living room, my step-father's reel-to-reel upspooling it through the speakers. The early 1970's is utterly incomplete without this accompaniment. With that in mind is it any wonder that, as suburban as my upbringing was, I imagined myself a product of the inner-city.
From Barry Walter, Rolling Stone, 2002:
It seems unfathomable today that War's The World Is a Ghetto was the best-selling album of 1973, a triple-platinum chart-topping blockbuster back in the days when few albums even went gold. Released in late '72, War's fifth album in three years had only six songs, three of them more than eight minutes long, all recorded live in the studio by six black Americans and one Danish harmonica player, who had the biggest Afro in the band. None were polished singers, and their sound was as much Latin jazz as it was funk or R&B, their sensibility more FM rock than AM pop.
As Curry is wont to say, sometimes a band's only got one really good one in 'em. This was War's. They never made a better album - never a more cohesive one, never a better sounding one, never another so fully-realized - they never even came close. And if you don't give them serious props for this record, I can't help you.
War's third album as an act separate from Eric Burdon was also far and away their most popular, the group's only long-player to top the pop charts. The culmination of everything they'd been shooting for creatively on their two prior albums, it featured work in both succinct pop-accessible idioms ("The Cisco Kid," etc.) as well as challenging extended pieces such as the 13-minute "City, Country, City" — which offered featured spots to all seven members without ever seeming disjointed — and the title track, and encompass not only soul and funk but elements of blues and psychedelia on works such as the exquisite "Four Cornered Room." "The Cisco Kid" and "The World Is a Ghetto" understandably dominated the album's exposure, but there's much more to enjoy here, even decades on. Beyond the quality of the musicianship, the classy, forward-looking production has held up remarkably well, and not just on the most famous cuts here; indeed, The World Is a Ghetto is of a piece with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Curtis Mayfield's Curtis, utilizing the most sophisticated studio techniques of the era. Not only does it sound great, but there are important touches such as the phasing in "Four Cornered Room," not only on the percussion but also on the vocals, guitars, and other instruments, and the overall effect is a seemingly contradictory (yet eminently workable) shimmering blues, even working in a mournful and unadorned harmonica amid the more complex sounds.