Saturday, November 17, 2012

Finally Getting My Holy Grail in GRAIL- England's Rarest Record Never Even Released There And What A Record It Is!

 I've said it before and I'll say it a million times. American music took a real backseat to British and European music even during a lot of the 60s, but at least then we had enough great bands and artists to sustain us and make us a creditable nation for some prime music. Some of the best music even I will readily admit originated in America. There were a lot of bands and the scene everywhere around the world back in the tumultuous but sweeter period of 1966-1969 was full of real excitement and FUN. Then something bad happened in America. Call it Altamont, Kent State, People's Park, or the deaths of Jimi Hendrix Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, but the death of something beautiful resulted in the birth of something more hideous than having a knife shoved at you in a dark alleyway in a bad horror film- Death, murder, destruction, and dismemberment became the order of the day for subject matter in the American charts. Blame the beginning of this trend on the worst of them all- Fort Worth Texas's sick in the head hick bastards Bloodrock- a band who should have been cut through with that proverbial knife of good taste before they could have a hit with the sickest, goriest, most disgusting and graphic pile of shit ever "DOA" and blot the entire nation of America by bringing on Southern Heavy Metal and making for a depressing run of bad pop death songs and bad Prototype metal death songs from their shit to the ex Frederic loser David Geddes' one bloodbath hideous hit "Run Joey Run" to the Buoys ode to cannibalism "Timothy." The worst period ever for American music.         
                     -Grail The Music Of Darkness And Demonology A Prelude-
    The thing is that death and destruction can have a place in rock and roll and Grail were onto that. Grail, from England, are a band who not only couldn't gain a US deal although I doubt it was even tried for them, but despite production duties going to Rod Stewart no label in England had the guts to put them out. Their violent, heavy, dark, doomy, and menacing sounds brought to light The Crusades and other references to history and mysticism. They drew on 1960s influences and obsessions like music from India, The Middle East, and The Orient, and somehow combined a million different kinds of music into the most deliciously deadly brew ever invented. Grail's lyrics are usually pretty dark and very downcast, but they managed to do so in a way that is tasteful, haunting, and has something the Yanks never could grasp onto- Gothic Level Heavy. That's right. With a name like Grail and with both the German and superior French issue coming in very strikingly bleak covers Grail had a sound that brings to mind clashes of swords, knights gathered around campfires strumming lutes and singing drunkenly, skies full of fire and battle cries, and all manner of darkness. They had a demonic and raving lead singer named Chris Williams who sadly died back in 2008 and he really was almost the only singer on the record. Sometimes Williams sings in a soft world weary quavery voice that recalls American bands like Earth Opera at their best and sometimes he snarls, growls, and goes into maniacal raving fits of hysteria that no one else got away with at the time. In some ways Grail were a band who may have been doomed to obscurity from the start. They were so intelligent, so dark, so violent that they probably alienated the commercial audience whilst they were too melodic and adventurous to appeal to stupid metal/at-that-time-hard rock-heads. I certainly run into a brick wall with my love of their music. If I wind things back to when I first heard Grail in 2002 my first reaction was that I thought they were too horrific to listen to. So I was going to be alienated by Chris Williams and the manic guitar, drum, bass, and everything smashing ups of the first track "Power," but then I played the whole CD- it was just a CD reissue I had then- and I flipped. It all made sense. Over the years "Power" before metal even existed is the penultimate dark metal song and beats out anything any band recorded at the time (Horse, Andromeda, Human Beast, and their ilk) or after it. The rest of the album is very full of variety, but I have read nasty reviews that say Grail go soft after such a heavy beginning. Well, that's wrong so let's move onto this album as a whole- let's get down and let me put my pen to work trying to make you put down Grail on your list as your Holy Grail Album.
                    -Grail From Start To Finish The Holy Grail Album Of My Dreams-
"Power" written by Chris Williams starts this album off on a note like nothing else in the world. Of the five members of Grail 3 were multi-instrumentalists and a prominent feature in "Power" and every track on the album is a mournful, moaning, twisted Gothic cello. I could describe the cello's effect in this song as "Medieval Hard Heavy Rock." The words to the song are one frantic verse, bridge, and chorus growled, snarled, and screamed by Chris Williams in a fit of anger and vengeful wrath. He sounds truly frightening unless you get past the exterior in which case Grail become truly exciting. Gnarly slashing screeching guitar solos, insane vocals, pounding drums, groaning cellos, and finally over the top guitar pyrotechnics and instrumental mayhem go on for over 7 minutes before the song ends.  This is the hardest, heaviest track on the album and also possibly the heaviest track ever recorded by any band from anywhere in the world.
  Grail go into an abrupt change on "Bleek Wind High" which is a stark flute and acoustic guitar medieval ballad with haunting vocals, beautiful imagery in the lyrics ("Out In The Shade/Deep In A Greenwood Glade A Young Man Lay In Coloured Clothes Waiting For His Maid/His Summer Was Coming In"), and Chris Williams has changed his yowling to a whisper almost. He sings in a gentle, sad, relaxed voice and even with the happy lyrics Grail sound somewhat mournful. Perhaps its that their dream back in the 60s is gone now. That's just pure speculation on my part. This is a beautiful, kind, sweet song that is dreamy and evocative. It brings to mind the sun coming through dark clouds and realizing how much beauty there is among the ugliness of the world. Go hug a soldier or other adorable boy. Go buy some flowers and draw them. Yeah, let the sweetness in just don't coat it in too much sugary stuff which these guys do not do thankfully (no Sagittarius here thank Christ)
    Then another change! "Day After Day" (misspelled "Day After Way" on the back cover and of no relation to the Badfinger song) leaps head first into baroque psychedelia with a catchy classical piano motif, loudly strummed guitars, sharp tempo shifts, and great vocals from Williams. He lets his voice float above the music and sometimes hides in the background to let the band come out with brilliant performances all round. There's some nice 60s influences here and a good bit of classical and Medieval Folk coming into play with even some 60s full on psych vibes.
   The 6os psych really comes to you like a flash from those beautiful lost days in the Majestic title track. Sitar led and full of a really heavenly yet very dark haunting vibe this one can creep under your skin and then sooth the beast that "Power" gives your heart at the same time. I can hear a lot of 60s influences here from The Beatles to Fairport Convention yet the prominent use of sitars, slow and magical music, and subtly psychedelic vocals makes the word "Folk Psych" probably not a proper description. I could say that, but "Grail" is much for psych than folk. Lyrically, this song deals with how the search for something grander, something more powerful and life-affirming never ends. The lyrics say the search is never ending and that probably is true. Grail recorded this album in 1970 right at the cusp of underground acts taking over from the 1960s heavyweights, but the record was not released until a year later bringing about a loss of momentum that may explain their short career.
    Side Two is more "Power" and less of the melodic introverted side of Grail's music. "Camel Dung" was penned by the full group and deals with The Crusades. You may find this track really, really menacing, but you'll keep coming back to it because it really is something new and different. Williams goes between his Peter Rowan of Earth Opera poetical musings and growling snarling menace and it works amazingly well. The chorus is what British underground music is all about. If you think for two seconds we ever had this kind of excitement in the States I say one word- Kak. Kak were the one American band who could have pulled off some of the mystic psych magic heard on Grail's one album and it is one of the tragedies of American music history that we lost them so fast. You may also want to check out Earth Opera's self titled first album with the "White Cake Cover" for a lesser variation on this kind of magic, but that is not to say that Earth Opera are inferior- not at all. "Camel Dung" won me over way back when I first heard the album. It was the track that got me to make this my Holy Grail album as I've still heard nothing this much like a movie of the best most surreal kind or a true work of wonderful art than this and the rest of Grail's brilliant one-off. My only complaint on "Camel Dung" is a bit of sloppiness to the cello parts, but of course I can live with that.
   "Sunday Morning" is a very dark track. Clearly Side Two is going to be the full exorcism of demons and this is not music for the meek or timid or mild. The whole song is really distant sounding, very plaintive. There is something very wrong going on in the world yet neither they nor you can see it. Freaky. "Somebody Has Died But Really Goes On Living/Singing Words Of Make Believe On A Sunday Morning," This is like if you woke up one day and you had an epiphany that you alone would have the whole earth and all its beauty because nobody else could see it or find it and all gave up on life. It isn't really the end it's the start of something that may in fact be very rewarding.
   "Czchers" and "The Square" are a return to "Power." The two tracks are joined together cleverly by instrumental passages and a lyrical theme on both songs that is about when the Russians went into Prague (the Czechs Say "Praha") and killed students in a brutally fascistic display of fake power and destruction of human rights. Violent, menacing, scarily like something out of a Gothic Graveyard vigil this continuous track is the peak of British underground heavy psych. The Russian melodies played fiercely on guitars, ominous vocals, and crashing percussion work really exorcise the frightening element that you may feel and turn it into something exciting, something even invigorating: "WHY CAN'T YOU SEE WE WANNA BE FREE! WHY CAN'T YOU SEE WE GOTTA BE FREE!" Williams wails in the middle. A very sad loss and it took me aback to hear of his passing on the evil youtube. Chris Williams went on to make four albums with the German band Abacus which were just like Gary Yoder's work with Blue Cheer after Kak a real let down with just a few flashes of the earlier brilliance he had shown. On "Czechers" And "The Square" Grail are in hard rocking top form with plenty of room for dark Gothic slow passages and fast paced charging guitars, bass, and drums. When the first part ends and goes into "The Square" I would come right out and say these guys should have been even more successful and are even more impressive than Sabbath, but Ozzy sounds like a saint compared to Chris Williams on this track! A stunning close to one of the best albums ever made!
 Grail and Black Sabbath, all the great challengingly progressive British and European bands they took over. America had gotten into a quagmire and it was becoming really hard for a good band to even earn a living. There were exceptions like the awesome Smoke Rise, but Smoke Rise weren't the only band promised everything in the world with it all to fall through. Smoke Rise recorded their concept double LP THE SURVIVAL OF SAINT JOAN for a movie that never happened and despite the huge hopes when the movie wasn't gonna happen I leave you to figure out the rest. What had gone wrong? Hadn't we once been producing really good music not so long ago? The 1960s were fading, but in truthfulness they were being pissed on. Bloodrock who should have been literally given the axe or better hung drawn and quartered weren't the only ones to piss all over the dream of democracy, peace, equal rights, love, and hope for a better more balanced nation. Soon Southern Rock which was a banner for the Ku Klux Klan emerged from all over the South to huge acclaim while the brilliant Houston  Anglophile psych/hard rock/progressive band Blackwell or the amazing Bloomsbury People from Wisconsin or late on Local Heroes National Nobodies Circus from Ohio gained no ground at all and had to deal with a completely apathetic buying public. It's sad and it's sorry when the best song you can hear on the radio from those days is "Precious And Few" by Climax. In the 1990s hatred of the 1960s was at a peak and I was fighting it throwing myself right into conflicts and defying everything that the worst factions of this country stand for.  I didn't even know who Grail were then, but I think I would have dug them. My story is coming to an end. Let me tell you how things close out.
             -Holding The Sacred Grail In My Arms And Reborn From The Dead-
Last night I suffered a total system failure and collapse which lasted an hour and could have been the end of my life. Today against all the odds I faced last night I love Grail and music and my life and will never take for granted the fact that I am alive for a reason. I will fight the white trash rednecks who bring us down and bring us shame to the end. I will get to a better life and more control over my life. I will continue to fight on the right side and never cross over to the dark side. I'm going to tell you straight out that I fight for my music, I fight for my beliefs, I fight for all that matters to me with the kind of dogged determination of a true warrior. And now I hold Grail- My Holy Grail- in my arms and treasure it. I'm gonna win and you fools who oppose me are going to rot in your self-composed graves!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How To Have FUN With FIckle Pickle's Helping SINFUL SKINFUL!

People are so hung up on their prejudices, over seriousness, fears, lies, and selfishness that it's damned sad to know that they just can't have any fun in their lives because they won't allow it. When the only joy people get is to mock others over stereotypes it is such a load of shite and hogwash that it brings me down myself. I personally have two major loves that keep me going: Soldiers and Music. I'd like to spend more time with soldiers. I love to talk to them, yes I am attracted to them and not ashamed of that at all, and they bring us a lot of good things that we take for granted. I find most soldiers whether they are German, British (the two best right there), Canadian, American (the Marines are the best), or any kind really to be very fun loving and strong willed people who bring me a lot of pleasure and who I am forever indebted to. I doubt I would have been so resolutely able to face up to my desires, my hopes, my fears, and my lifelong goal were it not for them. So thanks very very much is not enough thanks to them! Cheers and catch you soon my mates and comrades!
         -Fickle Pickle or A British Humorous Pop Psych/Progressive Masterpiece-
        A band who didn't take anything at all too seriously and who it really could be debatable whether they were a band or just a studio one off is the mightily connected Fickle Pickle. All 4 of them hailed from York in Yorkshire and I give my love to the people of that very badly hit city and county where I have one of my very best friends. York produced all of the bands they are interconnected with and it's a pretty stellar list indeed. Geoff Gill (Drums, vocals) was a founding member of The Smoke whilst Cliff Wade (guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, vocals) was in the early 70s incarnation of that group together with former Motherlight/Orange Bicycle/solo artist Wil Malone (Keyboards, vocals, string arrangement). They met up with a fellow Yorkshireman in Red Dirt lead guitarist/vocalist/bass guitarist Steve Howden and became known both as a 70s Smoke line up and more importantly to this entry Fickle Pickle.
    All of the 4 had cut their teeth in 1960s Beatles influenced Mod bands so it is not surprising that echoes of 1967 to 1969 psychedelic pop are a huge part of every song on their album. Much heavier than The Smoke's 1960s output, though, the right comparison to a 60s behemoth group would be The Move. There are also heavy Beatles, Beach Boys, and Small Faces influences cropping up making for more of the 1967-1969 vibe where things were really happening and then getting a bit heavier, but shockingly Fickle Pickle met with complete indifference in Great Britain. It hadn't been going well for them in any of their previous outfits and as a joke or just a blind hope for a hit they recorded in England and released a version of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" in Holland. The single took off and so the strange irony of Dutch success and British indifference led to their only album SINFUL SKINFUL which comprised all original material only released on a tiny Dutch label Explosion. You'll have a lot of trouble tracking this one down. Even the CD reissue of it is really hard to find and my only way to get the original album was to get it through an online dealer in (you guessed it) The Netherlands. It was well worth the investment and after stupidly letting it go once I saved it for a permanent residence in my collection. This album is brilliant!
     The Dutch knew a lot about psychedelic, pop, and progressive music with a scene full of exciting bands in the 1960s such as Sandy Coast, After Tea, The Shoes, The Motions, later on Earth And Fire, Shocking Blue, early BZN (actually their first incarnation came about also later around 1971), and a whole host of others. So much great music came out of Holland that together with their old enemies Germany they were the top country in Europe for quality. Also, some British bands not unlike Fickle Pickle fared better in The Netherlands and Germany than they did in England eventually giving up on any hope of British success. Fickle Pickle's one off album and several singles are as British as you can get and that makes me really wonder about just what was wrong with the buying public and record labels in England. However, The Smoke had only had a brief amount of success in Germany and Motherlight had had none anywhere making it not too big a surprise that when they joined forces with Howden from the equally ill fated hard rock band Red Dirt to form Fickle Pickle that it wasn't exactly going to take off in a big way.
      The surprise is this: SINFUL SKINFUL is one of the most musically relevant works ever to be recorded by a band from anywhere for pop psych into glam, melodic prog, and hard rock with nods to the later period of The Move and not just the 1960s one, a sort of premonition of 10cc's genius, and even bands like Slade (just one track, though, Side Two's rocker "Let Me Tell You Something") and Badfinger.  Heavy Beatles influences appear in the harmonies, Macca like lead vocals and melodies, but Fickle Pickle weren't copycats they were the real deal. Miles better than any number of hugely priced other pop psych or progressive albums there is plenty of high spirited fun and variety on their album. From the very Beach Boys/Idle Race/Beatles numbers such as the first track "California Calling," "Sandy" (part 2 of a 2 part suite with the magical title track), "Saturday" (with an impressive nod to The Move), and "Sunshine Pie" to the bagpipe rural rock weirdness of "Only For The Summer" which recalls a heavily drugged Honeybus to progressive psych numbers like the wonderful Small Faces meets Prototype Queen of "Down Smokey Lane" this record is killer from start to finish. Up there with the very best melodic records there are two giant leaps into complete lunacy with the crazy "Doctor Octopus" and the Music Hall gone wrong on purpose mellotron weirdness of "Blown Away." Wil Malone wrote the string arrangement that graces the lovely "Saturday" and he even looked a bit like Move mainman Roy Wood! Move and Beatles comparisons are inevitable, unavoidable, but don't worry about anything derivative or unoriginal as those are two things this album firmly avoids. Instead you get an album's worth of genius level pop psych and progressive power pop right up there with the best like Honeybus, Tin Tin, The Move, The Idle Race, The Left Banke, and the best of early solo McCartney, 10cc, and Queen.
    Why are people so intent on placing the blame of their own shortcomings on whole countries or other asinine stupidities instead of themselves!? I must admit I really do love Germans and I could care less about the fill-in-the-blanks in the past as all could have been prevented and do you think the Germans liked having nearly their entire young population wiped out by an insane dictator? NO. The Dutch can be pissed off to a certain extent, but most of the soldiers were just kids and men who didn't know what the fuck was going on. They would all, like The Dutch, The French, and all the countries that suffered, have rather there be no war at all. If you think that soldiers enjoy being pushed over the edge of reason into the polar opposite of that look out because you are wrong. I try not to fill my time up with depressing miserable thoughts and it can be hard to do, but you can do it. Let go of all nationalism and prejudice and lay back and love the good things like Fickle Pickle's SINFUL SKINFUL.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How The Tages Beat Even The Zombies- STUDIO The Best Pop Psych Song Cycle Of Them All

Well, on a political note we finally did get a concession speech from bastard Mitt Romney and there was no way they could hide from the fact that Obama is again our president- re-elected thank God.
I stayed up really late listening to music last night and soaking in the vibes of a happier, safer future for our country even while my life is being decimated at home. No more on that note. Personal stuff stays private and certainly stays out of blogs.
     -Getting Into The Mood Of Prime Swedish Psych + I Also LOVE ABBA + EUROPE-
    The last album I played at 4 '0 Clock in the morning to close out was the magnificent, wonderful, amazing, and best most perfect record ever for melodic psychedelia STUDIO by The Tages who were Sweden's most successful band in their own country, but who would later make it for a brief time internationally when after constant arguments between the two group leaders Tommy Blom (Lead vocals, composer) and Goran Lagerberg (Lead vocals, backing vocals, bass guitar, main composer) the group split off into the Lagerberg fronted band Blond who scored an international hit with the hard rocker "Six White Horses." This would be huge for Sweden as finally the very talented and musically rich country was on the map. Several years down the road Swedish music was heading firmly towards the progressive sounds of bands as awesome as Panta Rei who I'll have soon, but even those bands owed a great deal to what The Tages and Blond had accomplished. There was a lot of talent in Scandinavia especially Sweden and soon some of the country's biggest stars collectively married each other and formed a supergroup. That band, as we all know is Abba. Abba had been around for about a zillion ages in other groups, but with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaues joining forces as writers they made it huge worldwide and are still considered by the good people with an open mind to be one of the best pop/progressive bands ever created. Abba followed after Blond for me. I was a huge fan of Blond and still am. Their one record THE LILAC YEARS begs us to ask the question why didn't Blond last for more than one pretty successful (but for the European pressings rare) album? Thankfully, with pop music going down the drain in America Abba got together with a little song called "Waterloo" which was clever as can be and soon became a smash here and everywhere else. Abba get knocked by a lot of people as a "Cute Swedish Pop Group" or summat bullshit like that, but that is WRONG! Abba practically are on the level of classical music and that classical tradition of symphonic influences in Swedish rock goes right back to The Tages and Blond. Songs such as "As Good As New," "Lay All Your Love On Me," "Knowing Me Knowing You," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," "Voulez Vous," "S.O.S," and the more experimental ones like "Soldiers" can make me smile and sometimes in the case of the very sad "Soldiers" or the really moving "Thank You For The Music" nearly make me cry . Abba's emotionally powerful songs would later find some very different musicians coming up with music that was led by strong melodies, but this time much harder rock in the form of the also much lambasted, but absolutely amazing band Europe. 
   Europe, the song and heavy guitar/keyboard based pomp hard rock band were formed by Joey Tempest and the best guitar player ever John Norum when the two were only about 15 years old. Their early masterpieces like "In The Future To Come," "Scream Of Anger" (which I kid you not sounds just like Diamond Head)," "Wings Of Tomorrow," "The King Will Return," "Stormwind," and "Lying Eyes" leaned heavily towards a very melodic epic metal sound, but later on pop symphonic influences took over with a worldwide smash in "The Final Countdown." Whilst the song's heavily keyboard oriented sound and Tempest's lavish vocals would lead to more brilliance in the Kee Marcello on guitar era "Superstitious" and "Ready or Not" Europe were making more enemies than friends in the metal press as they rapidly had moved away from heavy metal starting a whole new wave of bands out of Scandinavia based on their success. The metal magazines and really heavy metal fans have always had their head up their ass so I just ignore them. Bands that followed Europe tended to be even less heavy especially in the case of the brilliant Norway band Da Vinci who to me at least are a keyboard pop/rock band with over the top heavy guitar solos. A lot of the bands didn't have Tempest's fluent English, but the music world definitely had become open to successful European bands thanks to the likes of the earlier pop/symphonic rock of Abba and the just as symphonic melodic rock/pomp of Europe. For a time things were really good for heavenly melodic splendor.
    I will stand by Abba and Europe as two of the best of the best bands when it comes to lavishly arranged and performed rock, but it all began for Sweden as it all began for all of Europe/England back in the transitional era from beat to psychedelic rock from beat to Bach as I sometimes say.
                               -The Tages Before STUDIO In Brief-
Before The Tages recorded STUDIO they were a much less powerful force on their albums. Whilst some songs here and there would make enough for half of a great record and would be the original material written by Blom or Lagerberg bad and inept soul covers cluttered up way too many of their earlier albums. The Tages made their recording debut in 1965 and scored an instant Swedish smash with "Sleep Little Girl," but even with their original songs all making it to hit status horrible soul covers made up the majority of their earlier records. Always patchy affairs they had brilliant moments, but the covers had to go out the window or The Tages were not going to get very good as an albums group. The signs of change began showing with such experimental pop psych masterpieces as "Every Raindrop Means A Lot," and some better cover versions on CONTRASTS, but even that album contained two stupid obnoxious soul covers in "Sister's Got A Boyfriend" and "House On Soul Hill." Clearly, if you were looking for a full album to spin and be wowed by that would not happen till STUDIO changed everything.
    It probably had not been the fault of The Tages that their earlier records hadn't enough original material on them as during the beat era most bands in every country relied too heavily on boring cover versions, but their lack of ability to make solid records finally ended in 1967 the same year as CONTRASTS when finally they firmly decided to become an ALBUMS GROUP. The Tages were sick of only making it with hit singles in Sweden. The Beatles comparisons that landed them with a contract with the Swedish and Danish wing of EMI Parlophone finally could be taken seriously when they made up their minds to devote an entire album to original, exciting, and unusually crafted psychedelic/symphonic pop. This would lead us to STUDIO- their last full length album in 1967 and their one start to finish masterstroke. Now, on to that album.
  -STUDIO: The Tages Make The Best Psych Record Of 1967 And One Of The Best Ever-
    STUDIO is the one Tages album that from start to finish is completely awespiring. There are no weak links and no filler tracks on this amazing record which represented an album that was a true album gatefold sleeve and all. With Blom and Lagerberg composing nearly the entire album and no more soul covers this would be the record that would put The Tages at the top of the pop psych heap for me. Even more clever and delicious than ODDESEY AND ORACLE by The Zombies not to mention a whole lot less morbid STUDIO draws on influences from SERGEANT PEPPER and 1967 era Beatles to the baroque pop brilliance of The Left Banke to their very unique own sound which utilized heavy classical and traditional Swedish influences. Sometimes they are as heavy and storming as The Koobas as in the extraordinary "It's My Life" and for much of the album the songs are characterized by strong vocals, inventive harmonies, and beautiful melodic songs that really bring out the Summer Of Love vibe with some very impressive social commentary on the first track "Have You Seen Your Brother Lately." This song deals with poverty i.e "While You're Having Worries With Your Tax Pay/He Is Having Worries How To Get His Food Today," but aside from that line none of the gloom and doom of ODDESEY AND ORACLE which this album blows the lid off of or The Bee Gees amazing, but again too morbid early material hinders the album.
    I thought ODDESEY AND ORACLE was the best album ever recorded for many years and it is a precious piece of work, a really brilliant and inventive record, but somehow it ends up coming a bit short of this one. I would say this is because not all of the songs are as perfect as the best ones and there even is a throwaway in the blood and guts stupid goriness of "Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)." I don't mean to sound like I'm knocking The Zombies, believe me I love them and I love Argent very much too, but The Zombies AND Argent had one huge problem- completely useless guitar players. Russ Ballard is a great singer and songwriter in Argent, but a worthless guitar player who plays great riffs and nothing solos if any at all. The late Paul Atkinson in The Zombies didn't even write making him completely questionable as to why even have a guitar player in such a group.
   Both The Zombies and Argent relied so heavily on keyboards that it would become monotonous over time. You'd get the big symphonic grandeur of Rod Argent's organ and Colin Blunstone's way tastefully beautifully evocative vocal contributions, but I want my psych with the guitar upfront or at least with some real variety of material. Here's where STUDIO and The Tages wipe the floor with any other psych album that also is a symphonic pop song cycle. There is not only some roaring blasting guitar work in the context of melodic songs, but so much variety on STUDIO that every song tries something a little different. There are the pop classics, short little comedies like "I Left My Shoes At Home" and the imaginative "It's In A Dream" and also there are such psychedelic mind melters as the previously mentioned "It's My Life" and "Seeing With Love." Abrupt tempo changes, ornate string arrangements, strong yet very gentle vocals, and a sense of optimism and fun make this a really wonderful, brilliant album. The Tages did not have a keyboard player and the two guitar instrumentation often brings to mind The Beatles more than The Zombies, but I do hear some of the best of ODDESEY AND ORACLE in here too.
   Some of the songs on STUDIO get pretty out of this world psychedelic such as the very interesting gay/transvestite themed "She's A Man" which was written for them and is one of the earliest songs to deal with homosexuality. There also is a nod to classical experimental psychedelic movie music in the record's instrumental closing epic "The Old Man Wafwer." Both of these songs sound like The Beatles on a heavy acid in the first case and classical meets "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the second case "The Old Man Wafwer" trip. Some other songs are straight upbeat ebullient melodic pop masterpieces like "What's The Time," "Like A Woman," and again a song I mentioned earlier "I Left My Shoes At Home." Blom's "People Without Faces" takes a swipe at conformity in an almost Ray Davies like manner. As you can see STUDIO is an album of SONGS. Eclectic as it may be there are no self indulgences or ego binges on the record with great melodies, beautiful arrangements, some out and out rockers, and a lot of wonderful pop psych to the fore on the whole album. I can think of no other record that tops this one. It represents the best of all pop psych and is the zenith for Scandinavian psych records including ALL SCANDINAVIAN COUNTRIES. Abba would follow this same path of adventurousness and then Europe much later on, but the band that eventually from a slow start went on to be the most brilliant of any group are The Tages and the 1969 one off THE LILAC YEARS by Blond which featured heavier, but just as brilliantly melodic songwriting and performing. Both STUDIO and THE LILAC YEARS go for a lot now and are heavy collectors items, but they are worth every cent of the investment. Psych never sounded as good as it does on STUDIO and you should track it down at your earliest convenience.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Bastard Sore Loser Republican Rats Destroyed By Obama And Reflecting On The Groovy Rats From Birmingham 1974- A Classic!

Tonight was a very important night. The bastard, infantile, cheap rich Republicans are not surprisingly the sorest losers they can be in this election which meant either the re-election of a gentleman and an honorable person all round who just has to get tougher or what would have brought this country and the world to the lowest ebb in history: if Mitt Romney had been elected. I was very uncertain about Obama's chances to win, but when he pulled off Ohio and then it was soon all over I had a huge sense of relief and the first swelling of joy in my heart in many days. I was so worried. If we got Romney it would have meant the beginning of the end of the world, but now we all can look towards a better future. That is if we prevent the scenario I am about to describe. For a long time I've had a fear of living to see The End Of The World and with all the skullduggery of the Republicans, the ultimate sleazebag asshole Donald Trump screaming for revolution, and the Romney campaign refusing to even grant Obama a concession speech as of now are we headed there? We better watch out. We better get together before we forget the meanings of words like "Brotherhood" and "Togetherness."
       -Past Decline And Fall Or Living The Right Life: The End Of The World And How We Can Avoid It-
It's been written about in a million songs some of them meticulously crafted genius like "Future World" by Pretty Maids, "Brave The Storm" by Shy, and "In The Future To Come" by Europe and often very poorly and gratuitously, but now the question is asked: is the world headed towards its final days? The war in Afghanistan has killed off so much promising young life and yet it still goes on. We are victorious with the re-election of Obama, but we are a firmly divided country- almost like two countries in one. There is the thankfulness and joy of Obama getting a second chance, but there is the fear of what could happen if people lose all sense of reason and how we have to teach our children to despise war and make peace. I am afraid of Nuclear Holocaust, poisoning of the environment, more needless bloodshed in another war, poverty, and the complete destruction of the earth. Will it come in my lifetime? Will I wake up one morning and see no sky just darkness? Sure it sounds corny, but that's a real life fear that we all have to face. We can stop it- it's not too late just yet, but time is running out. America has made the right choice, but still has an awful lot to answer for going back to its very formation. It started to lose all its credibility as soon as it began with the mass genocide against the Native Americans. Now the people who founded our country before the Colonists and taught them to live with the land live and die on reservations in the 21st century. Now we have had so many wars and so much skullduggery and so much more of that to come that I don't see how any country would respect us at all. Politicians are the same everywhere- they lie to us instead of even speaking to us as every word is a lie, but at least Obama represents a truly gentle person and a respectable man. He has not been able to fulfill his promise because this is the most racist country on the planet. The racist bastard Republicans too long have been having their way and not only are they racist need I say they love war and destruction to the point of still believing that it's "Glorious." This is a bad place to be in, but we can make it better. We can believe in Barack Obama and know we made the right choice in choosing a man who stands for all the right things. A polite, intelligent, good, well meaning individual who just needs to be a bit better as a world leader. Thank God for BIG MIRACLES!
To end with politics I've had  a lot on my mind of late and I find that I am happiest when I am dreaming. I also find that my musical taste just gets more and more eclectic, but I'd like to share with you one of my most beloved records by a maverick amazing hard rockin' band from Birmingham. Here's my ruminations on some very potent music from back in 1974 by the "Right Kind Of Rats."               -RATS FIRST is The Rats First And Last, But A Power That Resonates For Eternity-
Formed from the ashes of several local Birmingham bands including the magnificent World Of Oz who included their lead singer Dave "Kubie" Kubinec, The Rats struck gold on their one long player RATS FIRST not in financial terms alas, but in the pantheon of classic hard/prog/psych glam rock this may well be the best record ever made by a one shot obscure group. The record was more distributed in France than in England on really cheap thin vinyl, but my French copy sounds Wonderbar! They were relatively ignored at the time largely because of poor promotion and a small label (Goodear), but The Rats were a band who deserved a lot better chance at success and making it to legendary status then they would do. A quartet of Roddy McKenzie (Lead guitar) Jeff Allen (Drums and ex Steel Mill a real loser of an album! also ex Mouse good but too expensive for what it is!) Peter Kirke (Bass), and Dave "Kubie" Kubinec (vocals) they had a powerful yet very melodic and dark sound that managed to put very disparate musical influences together into a stunning, amazing, wonderful album entitled simply RATS FIRST.
     Packaged in a really tasteful Shoe Polish Box or olde Gramophone advertisement sleeve of  the album and band logo and a very cute black rat the band are a very serious and menacing looking bunch in the inside gatefold black and white picture of them which does not give you any idea at all of how closely linked to glam rock (especially David Bowie and Marc Bolan) gone dark they are in their music. McKenzie's guitar is cutting, precise, often phased, sometimes augmented by lush Baroque harpsichords, and in the more acoustic tracks very atmospheric and tasty with idyllically strummed chords that belie the menace of Kubie's lyrics. Most of the songs on this record are somewhere between the late 1960s popsike of Kubie's World Of Oz and their biggest influences the early Bee Gees and Beatles and the hard rocking menacing glam sound of Bowie or T. Rex jamming with Black Sabbath. Since The Rats came from Birmingham the Sabbath comparisons probably are gonna go without saying. The only songs on the record that do not deal in dark subject matter are the closing tracks of each side "L.A Highway" a great Stones alike rocker on Side One and the upbeat glam/power pop of "Turtle Dove" on Side Two which Bolan would have killed to have written.
   Much of what is on offer here is about death and the metaphysical. About "Where We Go To When We Die." "Oxford Donna" is a powerfully sinister mellow to really menacingly intoned number about the rape and brutal murder of a prostitute whilst a song like "Glad That You're Not Me" deals with the cycle of life from birth through to death. He is born at the beginning with everyone rejoicing his birth and wishing they were him and then at the end he dies with everyone relieved they aren't him. Very sombre. Very dark. "Very Small Child" was first done as a song Kubinec had written back in the early 70s by the worst band ever formed in the history of music Warm Dust (avoid all their disgusting records at all costs) and as a Dave Kubinec solo single, but here it is an outstanding track on the album. An acoustic number like the harpsichord driven "Glad That You're Not Me" this song is all about "Nobody Knows Where We Go When We Die/I Wonder Why/And Though They Can Go To The Moon They Can't Tell Us/Where We Go To When We Die" and then says nobody can answer that question because we are spiritually in starvation. Unlike Black Sabbath who I will state for the one zillionth time were Christian and NOT Satanic there are no Satanic or Occult references at play here.
    Everybody is going to flip after hearing the hard rock tracks on this record. There are plenty of them from the confident rollicking opener "Child He Die" to the gay themed lightheartedness of "Queen" to totally killer almost Jethro Tull (but without the flute) like fare such as can be found on Side Two of the album. Thankfully, instead of noise the guitars are confidently melodic and charging at the same time and the production is sympathetic to the music by not being too clean or too compressed. There are a few albeit scant progressive leanings, but most of this album is somewhere between pop psych and hard Glam rock. There aren't any boogie or blues numbers thankfully- instead The Rats come across as intellectual and intelligent. Whilst the lyrics can be very ominous and so can Kubie's voice and that won't win over the teenybopper glam fans this album has a very wide appeal where hard rock, glam, power pop, and psych collectors should fork out for a copy as soon as they can locate one.  
     Unfortunately, this will not be easy to do. A very rare album RATS FIRST is one of the hardest to track down albums of the entire 70s British underground scene and considering the massive appeal it has it is a shame so few people will get to hear it. An essential record to own for a lot of reasons it is worth all the hard time and possibly the high cost a copy may command. Sadly and strangely, it never has seen a reissue. Rats could have been a huge success in the underground sense, but their firmly intellectual and dark stance and sometimes raunchy approach to some of their material would have made mainstream success impossible. Thus it may not be surprising they never made it. Despite hugely appealing music they also suffered from being around at a time when a lot of British hard rock was being made, but not selling in huge quantities for a lot of acts. They would have made an awesome underground Sweet which is sometimes what I think of, but they didn't ever break through and were only around for about a year. Most of the band members never resurfaced, but Kubinec would try to further his solo career with some equally commercially ill-fated releases one of which looks to be a punk/metal record that would be best avoided, but I've not heard it. To me these guys are as good as or better than any number of praised and hyped records on the market from the golden age of psychedelic and hard rock with much better songs than many more well-known hyped bands of the era. There are the classics that I will always stand by like Czar which I wish I'd kept my original of, Shape Of The Rain which is finally rightfully up there, The Koobas who it goes without saying are a a great one, FAINTLY BLOWING by Kaleidoscope (Far and away their best record and one I'd love an original of), the delightfully zany Fickle Pickle who are almost as unknown as The Rats, and some real great ones coming my way this week I look forward to fully digesting and writing about. I first heard Rats back in 2001 11 years ago. Now we have a better president and he has to really come up tougher than he was in his first four years, but one thing is for sure: neither Obama nor any of us is going to ever know just whether we'll get to Heaven or where we go in the Afterlife so just live for the time that is now and the space that is the moment. Only you can make things better, safer, and happier for you and your mates. Thank Christ Obama can now show us some true good real honesty which the wrong kind of rats, the Republican Party won't even grant him in a massively delayed concession speech! Rock on and live a good life. That's what you do. Fight to the end for the things you believe in. And love The Rats and then finally that's Enough Said.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Tribute To The Greatest, The Best, The Most Sadly Missed FREDDIE MERCURY, And QUEEN

"Mama Life Had Just Begun/But Now I've Gone And Thrown It All Away" So goes "Bohemian Rhapsody." I guess he was way closer to his Mama than sometimes I am although sometimes I'm very close to her. Songs about how much a boy or a girl hate their parents and want to kill them are stupid, trite, and childish nonsense yet you'll hear the Alice Cooper or AC/DC school of writing getting all the praise and I'm not saying those two write a million songs on that subject I just associate them with that kind of drivel. The best song having to do with obnoxious parents would have to also be a song by Queen written by Brian May, but song by Freddie "Tie Your Mother Down." Right now I'm disillusioned with my dad and in deep mistrust of my mother, but there will always be issues when people have been living with each other for what for me is now 36 years and there are disputes. The best song about never coming to terms with a family member is the most tragic, yet also the most poignant "The Living Years" by Mike And The Mechanics who are one of my favourite bands. Go ahead and knock me for it, bring up the kiddie chorus again- it worked brilliantly. Paul Carrack and the late Paul Young are/were/are two of the best ever which leads me to the topic at hand. The best singer we've ever had who also just so happened to be a genius as a writer was undoubtedly without question Freddie Mercury. It's here my story begins with "Mama Just Killed A Man" and "Bohemian Rhapsody"
       -The First Song I Ever Heard And I Want It To Be My Last: "Bohemian Rhapsody"-
   When I was born in 1976 Queen were at their height of popularity and the first song I ever heard was "Bohemian Rhapsody." I can, now 36 years later, never get enough of that song, never cease my amazement and what Freddie Mercury brought to us with all his heart and all his soul and passion. The line "Mama I Don't Wanna Die/I Sometimes Wish I'd Never Been Born At All" through all my miserable life has been MY LINE. That feeling of not wanting to be dead, but being horrified at your life and your situation. Basically, the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a kind of tragic/comical/serious/funny rock opera which is what Freddie Mercury's writing, what his stage presence, what his music is all about. Freddie later wrote the great song "Let Me Entertain You" and that's what he wanted to be- an entertainer. Alas, Freddie was a very tortured and self-lacerating person who deeply hated himself for all his life. I can't understand that. I can't understand how someone who brought so much joy to so many people and who seemed to really have a huge passion and love for what he was doing could have so much self-hatred. "Bohemian Rhapsody" if you listen to it reveals a little bit of what Freddie was suffering from. It's subtle to the point that you may take ages to realize it, but Mercury was essentially saying his life was a monstrosity and a comedy where he wasn't being laughed with he was terrified of being laughed at. Despite the dark nature of the song it is the first song I ever heard, maybe my most loved song ever, and I want it to be the last song I ever hear.
        -Going Back To That Horrible November In 1991: My Hero Died Of AIDS-
        Less than when I listen to Badfinger who now I find it hard to listen to, but still painfully when I hear Queen now it takes me back to when I first was a huge admirer of their music and struggling with my very closeted at that time homosexuality. I had just gotten big into Queen again in the same year that in that horrible November Mercury (born Ferup Bulsara) succumbed to AIDS. My first thought was I wanted to take a knife and carve up Sebastian Bach with it for his disgusting "AIDS Kills Fags Dead" T Shirt and I was feeling the hatred only a true homosexual or anyone who is attacked and then the blow gets worse can feel, but then the violent thoughts turned to sorrow. Here I was listening to early to mid Queen, loving their music, and ever since they'd released INNUENDO their last record I knew something was really wrong. Why were all the songs about death? That's what stuff like "Show Must Go On" is about. Freddie knew he was doomed long before his death. He had been in very poor health and was doing all he could to disguise it, but then he finally admitted it. He was going to die from this horrible illness and the next day he was dead. Now, if I hadn't been so young (I was 15 years old at the time) I would have known that something like "Who Wants To Live Forever" or "One Year Of Love" from even back in the 80s was hinting at the fact that life was fading from Mercury and that he was destroying himself, but the fact that it was AIDS he died from made me painfully aware of the illness. I was so scared, scared shitless, that I would hide my true identity and homosexuality for years afterwards. I never will be promiscuous and I can't help but feel that in some ways Freddie Mercury's rampant self-destructive and sexual urges brought him to his doom. In his most famous interview which he gave during the 1980s it is so sad, so hard to watch this genius, this hugely talented wonderful person be so down about himself, so self-mocking in a way that is anything but funny. I really had trouble going to school the day Freddie died. I was in a horrible place where education had flown out the window for hatred of children and I just couldn't handle it. I don't think I hardly said a thing the whole day. I still get horribly sad listening to someone who is no longer with us, but no one was a more devastating loss than Freddie Mercury. Thank God his music will live on forever. We all love you and we lost our soul the day we lost your life. Now only your music gives that fullness and richness of life back to us.
                      -Queen As Brief A Rave As I Can Make It For The Best Band Ever-
      Queen were/are the most intelligent, sophisticated, exciting, brilliant, extravagantly passionate band ever formed. Formed at The Royal College Of London they had way higher IQ levels than the losers and idiots who are Pink Floyd and if you want to dispute that it was Brian May who went on to a PHD in Astro Physics or something of the sort and most certainly NOT Roger Waters or David Gilmour. Queen came together in the line up that we know and love around late 1970 early 1971, but they would wait till 1973 before launching their first album and starting from the bottom to climb up. The first Queen record self titled doesn't impress me anywhere near as much as what would follow it. The ingredients are there, but Mercury's needlessly morbid "My Fairy King" or the boring heavy metal noise fest of "Son And Daughter" are downright nothing compared to the good stuff on the album of which there are several real standouts. My favourite song has always been "Liar" because it is the heaviest thing Queen ever did and sounds like Queen meets Led Zeppelin. Already the epic tendencies were flowing over with the shockingly dramatic "Great King Rat." Queen were never a glam rock band they were always far from that. As QUEEN II would prove Queen are heavy/progressive art rock with strong melodic pop brilliance thrown in. In the beginning their music was very much at its heaviest and hardest, but there was something very different going on. Unlike the boring macho posturings of later iconic metal singers like Bruce Dickinson Freddie Mercury had a lightness of touch, a subtle kind of soft/hard shading to his voice and his lyrical input which were at a stark contrast to his running around the stage with long black hair, black nail polish, and completely free and easy abandon. By QUEEN II Queen had gone from a band with some good ideas and some bad ones to practically flawless. Now how many other bands can do that? None. Are there any other hard/prog albums with pop know how that are as brilliant, as perfect, as exciting, and as rewarding as QUEEN II, the killer song "Killer Queen," the amazing 3rd record SHEER HEART ATTACT and all that would follow it in their 70s output? No. Queen I describe as "The Beatles Of The 70s" and maybe even that praise isn't praiseworthy enough. The 70s were a decade firmly in my mind owned by two bands for successful bands- Queen and a lot of what Yes would record. Both bands had the two most unique voices and lyricists/composers in rock Queen Freddie and Yes Jon Anderson. When Jon Anderson nearly died it was terrible. Thank Christ he came back from 3 close brushes with death and serious health issues. I've seen Anderson live twice. A great show both times. I saw perhaps the most underrated singer, although I'll admit he's really great at pop and not much of an out 'n out rocker, Colin Blunstone once, but my biggest regret is never getting to see Freddie Mercury when Queen were at the peak of their powers. I, however, saw a Queen tribute band two years ago right here in Princeton where the guy could sing almost as good as Freddie and it was both a joyful evening and heartbreaking as he included in his show a song that told more about Freddie than anything else and was released after he died: "Too Much Love Will Kill You." It was quite an emotional experience.
    Always great performers, by 1980 Queen had sadly run their course as an albums band. Maybe they'd had too high a peak with killer record after killer record, but their biggest flaw was to try and keep up with the changing times. Soon the most formless side of pop would come up with such banal and trite throwaway rubbish as "Don't Try Suicide" and "Body Language," but they still had a lot of great songs! "Hammer To Fall" is awesome. So is "One Vision," Mercury's solo shot "I Was Born To Love You," "Play The Game" which is just a wonderful slice of power pop, "The Miracle," "I Want It All," "Save Me," and many others including the previously mentioned sad as can be "One Year Of Love" and the funny kitschy David Bowie duet "Under Pressure," but Queen were no longer making great records. With most bands this really would have hurt them, but with Queen they had been so incredibly gifted and brilliant for the whole of the 1970s that it didn't matter at all.
   If you wanted an albums band there was Magnum- a band who showed strong influences of David Bowie, Yes, early Genesis, and especiall Queen before their more hard rock/pop rock AOR period where instead of falling flat on their face they were great. Queen inspired a lot of bands. A lot of the entire 80s metal/hard rock/power pop owed a whole lot more than its fair share to what Queen had accomplished.You even had a band who though as far from Queen musically as can be (they were at best a great Canadian melodic/hair metal/glam hard rock band) called themselves Brighton Rock most certainly I would guess because of the awesome Queen song. A band who spring to mind as the most creative band of the 80s vocally and arrangement wise and who showed some heavy Queen influences in their harmonies is Austria's best kept secret Opus.
People weren't just jealous of somebody as talented as Freddie, they were afraid of him. When the sickening Kansas opened for Queen it led to their stupid and talentless leader Steve Walsh gay bashing and Queen bashing not just because Queen blew them off the stage. Freddie's talent was always staggering, but so was what he stood for- "I'm Gay And Too Bad If You Hate It." This was at a time when homosexuality was still against the law in England and people's awareness of it and what it really means were at a pretty dismal low.
    An out of the closet homosexual is always going to have a hard time of it, but for Freddie Mercury it was even harder than it was for Rob Halford. Halford could get by without hating himself or going into fits of perfectionist-at-play-this-just-isn't-good-enough, but success had destroyed Freddie. A very private man and an outcast from birth considering his often persecuted Parsi birth and upbringing (The Parsis are a rare tribe who don't exist in large numbers and Freddie was born in Madagascar), Freddie couldn't handle success. Excessive sex binges were his woeful remedy and his death. The bigger Queen got the more Freddie hated being a pop star. He never had wanted that. In fact no one in Queen had wanted that. They had been all about the music from the start and to be one of the highest selling bands and a living legend back in the 1980s was a horrible amount of pressure on them.
     Queen hit their peak with A NIGHT AT THE OPERA to me. This album included wonderful songs from Brian May in the sentimental pop rock of "39" which dealt with WW2 in a space age fantasy, John Deacon who coined the lovingly sung by Freddie brilliance of "You're My Best Friend," and Brian May wrote the apocalyptic heavy metal opera of 'The Prophet's Song." Roger Taylor sang and contributed the quirky hard rocker "I'm In Love With My Car." Still, the lion's share of the material went to Freddie whether it was the ultimate put down/hate song "Death On Two Legs," the Music Hall inspired carefree pop of "Seaside Rendezvous" and "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon," or his epic creative genius on "Bohemian Rhapsody." Mercury and Queen now went from a popular attraction to #1 multi-platinum status. Any other band probably would have cracked under the pressure of having made such a brilliant record, but Queen would do it again 3 more times. A DAY AT THE RACES isn't quite as exquisite as A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, but it's still one of the best records ever made and many of Queen's most brilliant songs that get overlooked such as "The Millionaire Waltz," "Long Away," and "You Take My Breath Away" are on this album. Then NEWS OF THE WORLD was Irony Of The World. Freddie Mercury wrote the two ultimate sports anthems as gay anthems! Now homophobes are stupid, but their chest beating while Freddie is positively out with his homosexuality in "We Are The Champions" and "We Will Rock You" is enough for me to break out into fits of laughter at them. NEWS OF THE WORLD is a really great one and it seemed when they made their last masterpiece JAZZ that there was no stopping them. And you know what, there still is no stopping them even with the tragic life and even more tragic fate of Freddie Mercury. He died without the love of true friends and never found true love in his life. That is the saddest part of all, but I will always love him and cherish him like he was my brother, like I actually knew him and there is definitely a feeling of intimacy when I listen to Queen and Freddie's music. Queen rock on! Be Gay! Be Proud Of It Too! It's The Good things that last and the bad things that are all gonna die.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


My life as a record freak has not improved, in fact it's worsened. No sooner are we through a horrific storm that has devastated the entire state of New Jersey then a personality clash over records again has come up and honestly I don't blame my mother for being a bit perturbed at the whole thing, but as usual she overreacted yesterday. When I'm not getting along with someone the best thing to do is just keep yourself out of their way. There is no use in making a bad situation worse. That's what I tell myself. Forget about people who you get angry at. If you momentarily or permanently can't get on with someone just leave them be and get on with what you dig. Put some good music on, relax. Don't freak out.
                          -Power And Light Come Back On With Renia-
    As you may well know there was a terrible hurricane this past week and it led to serious, horrific damage to the East Coast and scarily my home state of New Jersey. Parts of the state, mainly the coastline, are destroyed and it seems unlikely they ever can be fully rebuilt. When the power was off and it was freezing for over two days I just slept and dreamed peacefully of the past. I woke up in the night, I believe on Wednesday night, and the power was back on and joy and delight filled my heart. I must tell you that the first record I played to celebrate is Renia's sole contribution to the world of melodic progressive/softer hard rock as I call it FIRST OFFENDERS and this album has gone from firmly loved to one of the best records ever made. Hearing the album in such a lovely mood was a real blessing to me. Kenny Stewart for once sings fantastically and not excessively for a whole album very much like Steve Winwood and Paul Rodgers without going into his later blatantly poor Robert Plant emulations in the later stages of his second band the vastly inferior Dirty Tricks. Malcolm and Peter Sutherland do most of the songwriting which is filled with superb harmonies, great melodies, and very memorable hook laden melodic rock songs. In 1973 the two best melodic British rock masterpieces were made- Fable's one record and this album by Renia. While there are definite progressive leanings I would say that like Fable this is a bit progressive, but less so than just straight up strong melodic British rock. I'd say both bands are similar with killer melodies and a bright cheerful atmosphere to most of the album, but the keyboard sound is more extensive in Renia with organ, electric piano, piano, and on the track "Shelter" some great mellotron. The liner notes rave about the band and I guess we'll all just wonder what could have happened for them if they hadn't been so short lived. The time span of a lot of bands back then was very short. Really, you'd be lucky to get a second record out of most bands in the early 70s. In the 1960s there were one-offs, but it seems that even in the earlier half of the 70s the business was becoming brutal. Renia play and sing like seasoned professionals and every track here is amazing. Particularly noteworthy are "Friend Out On The Road," "Breakneck," "Cowboy's Dream," the previously mentioned "Shelter," and the sassy sexy dirty rock closer "Mighty Queen" which reminds me of Free if they were less slovenly. So you can see that I've named a lot of bands and influences that would crop up later in Dirty Tricks, but at that point after the first album Kenny Stewart wasn't such a good writer and his vocals had left behind the relaxed and tastefully done melodic splendor of Renia for a lot of screaming and Dirty Tricks were just another band. Renia most certainly were not just another band and deserve more of your attention.
          -Strange Sounds From 1966 To 1970 In 1984 Wolf On the EDGE OF THE WORLD-
    I've found myself, whilst waiting for some great records to come in what has been the most nightmarish deal ever for me (and firmly the last...) going back to old favourites like Queen and it was last night that I pulled out this strange little record by a band from Cheshire (I believe, but don't quote me on it) England (that part I know for sure!) called Wolf and was again mesmerized by it. What the fuck was the drug or elixir or the influences that led to such a strange record!? Was the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal begun in 1966!? I swear I hear influences going back that far on this album called EDGE OF THE WORLD and every time I hear "A Soul For The Devil" I think of 60s garage taken to somewhere really bizarre, really unsettling. If you want your metal heavy metal avoid this record cos you won't be strong enough to take it and you'll be too narrow minded to even listen. As soon as you hear the opening bars of the first track which incidentally is the title track you'll know this is not a heavy metal record. Don't get me wrong, Wolf can get pretty hard rocking, but they keep going back to the strange melodic sound they have and Chris English's vocals are for most of the album about as soft as a whisper. He never goes over the top, but he does get across and sounds very appealing. He has a soft voice, a voice that is not huge in range, but is very different and very distinctive. On "Heaven Will Rock 'N Roll" he sounds like Brian Connolly the late lamented great from The Sweet under heavy sedation and I'm reminded of a band you'll have to look for later on when I dig their record out called Fairfield Ski who never made it to pressing stage even. Instead they were put out in a low class hack job by one of the worst record dealers who thankfully is long gone and who had the nerve to change their name to Fairfield "Sky."
    The cover and everything about Wolf's EDGE OF THE WORLD visually is metal. The label is that strange Belgian monstrosity that brought us some real winners Mausoleum, but unlike most of the bands on Mausoleum who at least kept up with the times even if they were good hard rock and not the label's throwaway bad heavy metal of which it had way too much Wolf don't try to keep up with anything. The line up that made the record is Chris English (Vocals) Simon Sparkes (Lead guitar) Bill Keir (Guitar/keyboards) Stewart Richardson (Bass) and Mike Thorburn (drums). You get some of the weirdest keyboard sounds on this album like something between a synth and a farfisa organ and God knows why, but these guys seem to have a real affection for older music forms. The closest you get to 1984 is "Edge Of The World" or "Shock Treatment" and that doesn't even come close to sounding like music did then.
     Formerly known as Black Axe I am not meaning to make Wolf sound dated, not up to the current music, or derivative in fact they are none of the above. This record is a really strong record, but it's a record that is more likely to appeal to someone like me than someone who wants heavy, heavy, heavy metal. I don't hear much metal at all here. The guitars sometimes get pretty hard hitting, but hard hitting in a watered down early Black Sabbath kind of a way while if there is any metal band you can compare these guys with it would be a more low key sounding Sabbath. The songs are neither fast nor slow instead the pace is sometimes doomy slow mainly mid paced. The guitar playing of Sparkes and Keir is really really good and the rhythm section is really good too. Lyrically Wolf are again something a bit strange. Are they occultists or Christians? One cannot tell. First they go off on some thing about The Bible in "Shock Treatment" that could be taken either way and lead in both cases to confusion and then the strangest, most otherworldly of lyrics and songs closes Side One- "A Soul For The Devil." It has a creepy, eerie, dark and unsettling menace to it that instead of metal menace is all the kind of creepiness heard in some of the cruder psychedelic/garage mid 60s groups. Chris English's vocals are distant and tortured while some really frightening effects are created through a few Iommi like guitar chords and freaky sounding keyboards. The lyrics sound like somebody in the 60s who took that trip you never want to take and was coming down from it in a haze of confusion. Yeah, this is one strange band! I don't know who I would compare Wolf with except that I would compare them with no one. They look somewhat older than most fresh faced New Wave Of British Heavy Metallers so who knows what the story is behind this album and this band. I have stopped trying to contact members of bands and artists I listen to because of a very sad reason- the further on time goes the more horrible the chance is that you try to reach somebody and they are no longer with us. The death toll is horrendous, and we don't even know about half of them. Wolf don't sound hard living, but they look it. They look pretty scary with really intense gazes in that black and white back cover.
    I have my favourites here and some of the best Neo 60s meets hard rock you'll ever run into if that is your thing would definitely be on this album. As I have stated if you like your heavy metal don't buy this album- you won't get it at all. If you are more interested in hard rock, melodic hard rock, garage, psych, and beat music then by all means don't let the cover scare you- scour every store you respect if any for it and be delighted by it. I didn't know anything about this band when I got the record off my most hated record dealer in the world. It was a chance I took and for me as someone who hates noise-is-us heavy metal I was really knocked out. This is some seriously impressive creepy melodic stuff. It isn't as frightening as Black Sabbath, but it definitely has those dark heaven and hell and purgatory images on it we've come to associate with prime English underground rock. Thing is, though, there is nothing underground about much of EDGE OF THE WORLD. The sound is clear, crisp, and pure. A song like "Medicine Man" which is about healing powers is just the most perfect closing track for an album of carefully played and constructed melodic hard rock with the accent on a lot of very earlier influences. There's nothing else quite like Wolf and that they are forgotten now isn't surprising, but it is sad. You'll often hear me go into rages about how a band was in the right place and the right time and got fucked over. Well, sorry to be so blatant about it, Wolf, you guys were in the wrong place at the wrong time! There could have been a better marketing scheme, to not follow the path of metal at all and go for a whole different image, but who knows what was going on behind the scenes with Wolf. Their album is a really cool one. Its unsettling, but so too are some songs by even the most innocent of the 1960s bands they remind me of. Good stuff for sure and definitely recommended listening.
      Put out your problems. Stay away from your hang ups. Keep yourself intact and if people give you shit just ignore them. They aren't worth any attention whatsoever.