Wednesday, March 13, 2013

RENIA'S FIRST OFFENDERS AND MAGIC LANTERNS' SHAME SHAME BRITISH MELODIC WITH VOCAL BRILIANCE

Nothing to trash or slander this time just pure complete brilliant great music. Back in the 1960s and 1970s there were some of the best bands and worst bands and together with solo artists the voice was often a reason for why they were brilliant or why they were dreadful. It probably isn't a surprise that some of the most commercial bands had the best singers whilst some of the most "progressive" or the wrong kind of "psychedelic" had the worst. It would be hard for Grace Slick to hold her own against someone like Linda Rondstadt and The Stone Poneys were always miles better than The Jefferson Airplane. The same goes even more for male vocalists. The psychedelic boom in England differed from that in America in that the whole bedrock foundation upon which British Rock was built was completely unlike the American psychedelic rock of the same era. Most British bands began as beat groups or began as pop groups. Most American bands began as garage rock or folkies who went electric when Dylan did- a big difference. A lot of American psych is great and a lot of it is grating. Many of my favorites don't get rated too highly because they took more of a pop/rock approach to psychedelic rock and were more influenced by bands/artists/sounds from "across the pond." That isn't to say that there aren't great bands that sound "American," but the wrong kind of American is pretty hard to listen to. Macho and you say you're a "hippy?" No way. Most British and European bands both successful and unsuccessful in the 1960s through the 70s didn't have an ulterior motive. The music and fun was the reason for making it not to make a quick bundle of cash off of a "product."         
       You have to understand that a commercial British band like Magic Lanterns really came from a soul/beat background and that they were making music that may have sold at the time better than a lot of other artists did, but that it has stood up better when you hear it now. I'd go straight for SHAME SHAME and pick this album up if I were you. I own the American version of it and since the title track was a huge hit in the States it may only have been released with this track listing in the States. Magic Lanterns DID NOT contain THE Ozzy Osbourne and it's sad that the main selling point dealers use isn't the music contained herein but that a guy looks like Ozzy, but isn't Ozzy. For one thing Ozzy didn't play bass and for another his real full name is John Osbourne with a "U" not Mike "Oz" Osborne with the "U" taken out. More interesting than any of the lying "Ozzy's first band" claptrap is that of the two lead vocalists in the band Jimmy Bilsbury would just a year later go to Germany and form Megaton! So if you're looking for an explanation for that great little album's hooks and killer vocals it was Bilsbury doing Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant!
     Jimmy Bilsbury cowrote all tracks on Megaton, but Magic Lanterns didn't write their own material. That doesn't detract. In fact there isn't anything that detracts. The music has a bit more of an edge to it than other great British pop, but also there are some soul influences particularly in Bilsbury's classy vocals. Of the two singers Bilsbury sings the grittier stuff and I think it's "Bev" Beveridge who has a smooth very English voice that reminds me of Mick Richardson in Forever Amber. Perhaps Forever Amber sans psych adequately describes songs like "Impressions Of Linda" and "Brunette Lady," but I would say there are some psych undertones to the tracks on the album and I'd also have to note that of the 12 selections I wouldn't change a note or line in all 12 of them. This is solid great stuff. Yeah "Pussy Willow Dragon" may be a twee track, but I'll take it any day over the garbage that some other bands went for when they were trying to be clever.
   The beat boom had its survivors who barely survived like The Koobas who were already throwing the towel in when they made their record and it had bands like Vanity Fare and Magic Lanterns who were determined to make it no matter what they had to do. In both cases had they been writing their own material it would have lasted for one or at most two albums of solid melodic hard rock, but the outside material meant they made great pop/rock that was far from AM radio cannon fodder. There's no Jimmy Webb or Association covers on SHAME SHAME just strong quality real music with catchy melodies and fantastic arrangements. "Impressions Of Linda" is one of the most perfect songs I've ever heard and is a great way to start the album. The harmonies are amazing and the lead voice is very sympathetic, crystal clear,  and devoid of pretensions. "Shame Shame" follows and why the song has been forgotten by radio since shortly after it was a huge hit completely eludes me. There are two versions of "Shame Shame" and Magic Lanterns' hit version way beats out the previous flop by Thee Prophets. There's some songs on the SHAME SHAME album that try for clever vocal themes and one of the standouts is the closing track on Side One "Give Me Love." This track tries to not just say love and sex are the answer to everything, but that from the dawn of history on through Napoleon it has been the reason for existence. The whole second verse about Napoleon and Josephine is priceless. Napoleon is smiling down on you Magic Lanterns! It says that Napoleon won every battle he won because Josephine seduced him before every one of them! "Never Gonna Trust My Heart Again" is the 3rd track on Side One and would have made a great follow up single to "Shame Shame" with some very appealing vocals from Bilsbury and horns used tastefully, even bordering on somewhat experimental. Magic Lanterns only had one hit in America and unfortunately in England they also never rose above a cult following. Most bands would have given up, but they stayed together for a long time and made several elusive records that I've never even seen in England. They came from Lancashire and that puts the whole Ozzy thing firmly in the ground as Ozzy/Sabbath were all Brummies (that means from Birmingham).
     My favorite tracks on the album? "Impressions Of Linda" definitely great pop psych that should have been on a Rubble compilation is one. "Shame Shame goes without saying. There also is "Out In The Cold Again" on Side Two which leaves me breathless thanks to the sharp guitar chords and Jimmy Bilsbury's amazing soulful voice. A Really great pop/rock track with muscle. I used to hate the closing track "When The Music Stops" and condemn it as "overblown," but now I see that the art song attempt has its merits and really is a good song with a lot of serious ambition to it. You may hear from a lot of dealers that this record is common, but it actually despite the huge promotion put into it at the time and huge pressing is surprisingly hard to locate. You should scour every record store for it or search for it online and find it for cheap.
    Your $25 on this is gonna buy you much better music than $5,000 on Apple's An Apple A Day which just doesn't work. Just like the much more progressive and psychedelic FOR FOX SAKE by The Fox SHAME SHAME isn't given a fair chance or a fair rating simply because there are American copies around sometimes. Apple I have never seen. I would love to hold it in my hands, but the truth must be faced: Apple had a few wonderous tracks like "Buffalo Billycan" and "The Other Side" with a whole lot of boring filler material thrown in. Had Apple been a band with a more substantial track listing they may have gone further and the rarity is partly because Apple were just another band who didn't take off. I've always wondered about just how small the pressings were in countries like England, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The Netherlands if the label wasn't behind the band. A safe guess would be brutally small.
    Here then is an exception as it came out in America and not just that it had a big hit to make them press a whole bunch. This won't be in a "prove it exists" file for long if you look hard enough.  The slight psychedelic edge and vibe of Swinging London makes this album a real winner and one of the best pop albums ever made. Even "Pussy Willow Dragon" is good with its way sub Move pop psych and the soul oriented stuff like "Sarah Wear A Smile"and "Missing Out On You" is great.
     Renia never had a hit. Blame that on a melodic rock/progressive blues rock band on a folk label (Transatlantic). Comprised of brothers Peter (keyboards/vocals) and Malcolm (Bass/vocals) Sutherland, John Robinson (guitars/vocals), Kenny Stewart (lead vocals), and Dave Matthew (drums) they lasted long enough to make FIRST OFFENDERS which could be the best melodic progressive rock album ever recorded by a British band. The great hooks and melodies are abundant in every song. The commercial vibe and Free like bluesy rock influences sound great when paired with the brilliant songwriting and great vocals and there is a happy, friendly atmosphere to the whole record. I've written a few raves on this album before, but here I'll go into detail.
   The liner notes on the back are from the heart and not just a gimmick to sell the record. In fact, Renia's FIRST OFFENDERS is one of the rarest and most poorly promoted British records especially of the early 70s. The songwriting is up there with the best and I actually prefer this album to Dog That Bit People. My major complaint about Dog That Bit People I have said is that it simply tries too hard to cover too much ground and please everybody. This album has more of a really melodic progressive hard rock direction to it from start to finish.
     Renia stick to a solid program of Free influenced melodic hard rock and soaring melodic progressive pop/rock on FIRST OFFENDERS and they remind me a bit of Fable or England if they went commercial and there is nothing wrong with commercial when the songs are this impressive. "You'd Best Believe It" is about everything going wrong for a guy, but in a humorous kind of a way and you can just lay back and have fun listening to it. Renia make you want to crank the speakers up and dance. They have an infectious quality and will pick you up when you feel really down. I'd say play this and Mike + The Mechanics and you can't go wrong. There aren't any Genesis influences, but in the same way that Mike Rutherford was trying to get away from the shlock of later Genesis Renia are trying hard to play progressive rock devoid of pomposity. That may sound hard to do, but this is Shape Of The Rain and Fable styled progressive rock not Beggar's Opera or Curved Air crap. There is a big difference.
     Nowhere near as heavy in fact not heavy at all when compared to Leaf Hound Renia are almost a pop Leaf Hound or Leaf Hound if they'd lasted long enough to mellow and mature. That group weren't given even half a chance. Decca fucked my good friend Pete French and Leaf Hound over and destroyed their career, but Pete French rebounded. Unfortunately, when lead vocalist Kenny Stewart rebounded in Dirty Tricks after Renia he developed a bad habit of screaming his head off in blatantly poor Robert Plant imitations in the Led Zeppelin wannabes Dirty Tricks who after a good start became just another bad broken down loud blues band.
     The blues influences in Renia are subtle, but Free often come to mind for Kenny' s awesome singing and the catchy earthiness of the songs on FIRST OFFENDERS. The best tracks are hard to choose, but a lot like "Friend Out On The Road," "Shelter," "Cowboy's Dream," and "Slow Down" beat the living shit out of most of what was popular on the radio at the time. To Hell with The Doobie Brothers and Lynard Skynard this is real music. Yeah, I'll readily admit I prefer European and British bands to successful American music in the 70s, but there is a good reason for that. Most of the best American bands of the 70s commercial or uncommercial failed to make it because of poor promotion and record label skullduggery, but there are exceptions.
    I always break into a smile hearing Daryl Hall And John Oates because their music is so tasty. Both of them would love Renia. Soul influences can hurt if the guy is trying to be James Brown, but if he's trying to be Steve Winwood or Motown it can be brilliant. Winwood has a perfect voice, but even he would go in a bad direction later on when he resurrected himself as out and out pop around 1987. "While You See A Chance" and the album it came off of ARC OF A DIVER are undoubtedly his best after the best of Traffic. Traffic, Free, a little Deep Purple without obnoxious Ian Gillan, earlier Spencer Davis Group Steve Winwood, it's all here and it's really brilliantly done. I like Free, but I don't own any of their records. I tend to think that Free always sounded like a band who may have been better if their sloppiness had translated into excitement more often.
      John Robinson in Renia is a pretty slovenly guitar player, but he sounds miles better than Paul Kossoff did. There also is a bit of Spooky Tooth and Uriah Heep in the driving organ and piano, but not with the heavy metal bombast of those two bands. What Free, Uriah Heep, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic have in common with Renia is the high energy and a great heart with a lot of soul put into the music. Every track is amazing on here and some of the harder rocking ones like "Breakneck" and "Drive Me Wild" are tuneful hard rock at an absolute best. "Mighty Queen" closes the album on a splendid note with awesome vocals and an amazing melodic sense. There is no doubt about it- Renia are the best kept secret of 70s British melodic rock.

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