Reviews: Kælan Mikla, the Bordellos, Hawkwind, Mike Hurst, Vespero, the Orange Drop, Hello, James Young, E-Gone, Grit, Plankton, Bridget St John, Croydon Municipal, Blue Oyster Cult

1Kælan Mikla

Kælan Mikla LP/download)

(https://kaelanmikla.bandcamp.com)

Kælan Mikla are Laufey Soffia, Sólveig Matthildur-Kristjánsdóttir and Margrét Rósa Dóru-Harrysdóttir, an Icelandic trio with roots that dangle both in avant-punk poetry and drifting, dreaming dark wave, but who blend them in a manner that is both eccentric and electrifying, one of the most immediately intriguing bands to emerge from those pastures in years.

Named for the spirit of winter in Tove Jansson’s Moomins books (literal translation is “the Lady of the Cold”), Kælan Mikla are largely, but not entirely unknown outside of their native country.  European touring has taken them far from home, and a feature in the latest issue of The Wire helps further introduce them to the English-speaking world.

Already, though, they’ve come a long way.  Last time out, on the album Glimmer & Aska, the band’s punk poetry roots were still first and foremost, and the opening“Kælan Mikla” was a minute of furious bass and impassioned poetics, which bled breathlessly into the roiling, squawking “Næturdætur.”  The rest of the album just took it from there.

This time around, the same opening number is five minutes of atmosphere and atmospherics, a low drone punctuated by punches, vocals that hang in the mist before merging with the air, then reaching out to grab your throat.  Their sound is ostensibly that of “classic” electronics, great walls of synthi-sound that harken back to whichever eighties pioneer or nineties miasma you prefer.

But the vocals hover wildly and occasionally even discordantly above the bedding, shrieking on “Myrkrið kallar,” robotic within the percussive drill of “Líflát,” insistent across “Upphaf,” and on until we reach the album’s closing masterpiece, the epic “Glimmer og Aska,” restating the title track of the last album as an icicled wall of unknown pleasure, all murmur and whisper and soft invitation.

Icelandic lyrics should not deter Anglophone listeners – maybe you can’t sing along with the songs, but you look daft doing that with the headphones on, anyway.  Suffice to say, some sounds don’t need to be translated.  You know what’s going on, regardless.

 

2The Bordellos

How To Lose Friends and Influence No-one

Small Bear/Bandcamp

More lo-fi loveliness from one of the most delightfully disheveled bands ever to tumble out of the garage, a band that states its case in its opening chorus, “I Don’t Believe in Motherfuckers Anymore,” and simply kicks on out from there.

The deliberately down-market instrumentation (and, to save you saying it, purposefully provocative titles) cannot obscure the sheer strength of the lyrics, of course.  More than any of the Bordellos’ myriad other merits, it’s the words and sentiments that raise them so high, an often caustic commentary on recent pop culture – a point best illustrated by “Unhappy Song,” which is indeed an unhappy recitation of all the bands that didn’t write their favorite song, before finally naming the one that did.

The single “Gary Glitter” is revisited, riding its roar of distorted guitar; while “Village Green Revisited” updates one of Ray Davies’ loveliest songs by detailing what he’d find if he went back there today.  But it’s impossible to play favorites with either songs or titles, simply because there’s so many to choose from.

“Did the Bastards At the BBC Kill John Peel?” asks a question that probably nobody else has ever asked;  “I No Longer Speak the International Language of Kojak, Kapiche” mourns a dilemma that, again, is unlikely to have confronted any other songwriter in history.  And “Vinyl Record Stamp Collector” speaks for itself, and will therefore be ignored by every balding middle-aged man who has hoarded every record Fruits de Mer ever released, and has never played a single one of them.

“Betty and Siouxsie” mourns a lost love who looked like Betty Boo and danced like the Banshee, and “Piss On Spotify” is another of those songs that a lot of people ought to sing, but surprisingly few ever have.  All of which means… it’s impossible to heap too much praise upon the Bordellos; on the casually crunching and crashing backdrops that so cunningly color the lyrics; on the sense that you’re listening to an album that shouts exactly what you wish someone would say; on an album which, whether it knows it or not, completes the holy trinity that Joe Meek and the Len Bright Combo have spent their entire immortality-to-date awaiting.

You’ll probably hate it.

 

3Hawkwind

The Charisma Years 1976-1979 (4 CD box set)

(Atomhenge/Cherry Red)

It’s probably too late to convince the authors of rock history that Hawkwind’s “classic era” did not end when Lemmy left, or even when Nik Turner’s departure reduced the ranks to just one founding member, Dave Brock.  That belief is so firmly nailed to the cosmos that you could tie the encyclopedias to the railroad tracks, and they’d still bleat on about Space Ritual.

Kick perceived wisdom to the sidelines, however, and in many ways it’s this collection that represents Hawkwind’s purplest patch, the four albums with which they bade farewell to the seventies, and parked the space ship as well.  The makers of Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music (1976) and Quark, Strangeness and Charm (1977) were scarcely recognizable as the cosmic cowboy of old, and by the time to 25 Years On, they weren’t even the same band – released under the name of the Hawklords, the album was supposed to represent a whole new beginning, and though they reverted to the old name in time for PXR5, the determination itself continued.

With on-off frontman Robert Calvert finally installed for the (comparative) long haul, these albums are Hawkwind as post-punk pioneers, before punk even knew it had no future.  True, Astounding Sounds is jazzier than we expected, and more democratic that it ought to be, and it ultimately revolves around just two stone cold classic cuts, “Reefer Madness” and “Steppenwolf.”

But 1977’s Quark might well be Hawkwind’s most solidly consistent album since Do Re Mi five years before, opening – at last! – with the “Spirit of the Age” lyric that Calvert was dropping into the live set at the very dawn of his time with the band; peaking with a title track that a perfect world would have sent to the top of the charts, and then touching perfection with “Hassan I Sabbah,” a desert trip that builds from chant and electric violin and is, in its own way, as culturally incendiary as 1973’s “Urban Guerilla” was supposed to be.

Personnel eruptions splintered Hawkwind at the end of the year; but Brock and Calvert regrouped as Hawklords with a whole new line-up, and continued to follow Quark’s lead, short sharp songs that placed Calvert’s lyrical brilliance at the forefront of the sound, but never lost sight of the propulsive guitars and driving soundscapes that gave Quark both its charm and its foresightedness.  A couple of years on, and the New Wave would all be making records like this; for now, the Hawklords were a voice in the wilderness.

Although it was actually recorded before the Hawklords album (and, therefore, the split), history proves that PXR5 was a transitional set, Calvert’s last with the band, and the first indications of the band’s gradual morph towards something that could be termed Heavy Metal.  They never went all the way, of course, but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal adopted them regardless, and Hawkwind would repay that kindness.  And still “Death Trap,” all manic vocals and squealing breaks, stands among the band’s most electrifying rockers ever, a cross between JD Ballard’s Crash and the only reason most of us watch motor racing in the first place.

It was, in many ways, a piecemeal set.  Three tracks (including the “just like old times” thrust of “Uncle Sam’s On Mars”) were recorded live on what was now a two-year-old tour; “Infinity” and “Life Form” were both diverted away from a projected Dave Brock solo album; and “High Rise” sounds like it should have been on the Hawklords album.  But still it hung together with insouciant charm… even if it is best remembered for its original cover art, showing the completely wrong way to wire an electric plug.

The box set contains just the four albums, with none of the bonus tracks and extra discs that dignified their individual reissue a few years back.  Liner notes there are none, but a fold-out mini poster plasters photos and the spoof classified ads from the inner sleeve of Astounding Sounds.  And really, if you’re looking for a way into an era of Hawkwind that has nothing to do with deep space, middle Earth or narrow-minded critics – well, here it is.

 

4Mike Hurst

Producers Archives Volume 4, 1966-1980 (CD)

(Angel Air)

It’s been a long time coming, but finally the fourth installment of producer Hurst’s trawl through his voluminous archive arrives – and anybody thinking the first three had exhausted the best of the bounty ought to think again.

First spotted as a member of the Springfields, Hurst moved to the other side of the studio in time to be present at the birth of Marc Bolan in 1965 and Cat Stevens the following year.  Thereafter, he became an unstoppable force in both chart and cult terms. Hurst gave us New World, Showaddywaddy, Shaking Stevens and Samantha Fox.  But he also served up Warm Sounds and the Alan Bown, Barry St John and Fumble, stories told in previous volumes.

Here we open with a monster American hit single, Fancy’s 1973 soft-porn reworking of the Trogg’s “Wild Thing,” still riding the squelchiest, filthiest bass line ever to get past the Thought Police, and its “Touch Me” follow-up, too.  New World resurface with a James Taylor b-side; and fifties rocker Billy Fury, making a comeback in 1970.

There’s another late-in-the-day revival… the Bachelors from 1977 (“they were… on their last legs when we made this,” Hurst’s refreshingly honest liner notes admit), and also a handful of cuts by bands which he acknowledges he simply doesn’t remember.  But we also hear Human Instinct, a New Zealand psych band that you need to hear; and the Cymbaline, who Hurst describes as a Beach Boys style band from England’s industrial north east.

And more and more and more, twenty-two tracks in all, that also see Hurst at the helm for singles by TV comedians (Russ Abbot’s rather spiffy “(The Space Invaders Met the) Purple People Eater”) and presenters (Ayshea Brough’s “Moonbeam”); a youthful Gary Barnacle and even his own pop orchestra.  Add this disc to the other three volumes and you’re on the way to a lesson in British pop history that nobody else could tell.

 

5Vespero

Azmari: Abyssinian Liventure (download)

http://music.vespero.ru

The band should have the first word: “The Azmari are singers and musicians wandering through the territory of Ethiopia. They carry the stories of different worlds, the sagas of mysterious seas, of lush whispering trees high in the skies, of the flowers blooming in the clouds, of flying islands, of the demoted Ethiopian Princes and their doubles … ”

Or so wrote the chronicler Tekle – Ēzānā back in 1698, and listening to the album, one has no cause to disbelieve him.  Perhaps best-known on these shores via their occasional contributions to the Fruits de Mer catalog, Vespero hail from Astrakhan, near the Caspian Sea, and long ago established themselves among the most propulsive proponents of modern space rock – assuming all the astronauts are musicians from a range of times and places, and jazz rock has a planet that is all its own.

It’s the collision of those locales that make Vespero stand out so proudly, the clash of Romany fiddle, free form sax and ninety-notes-per-minute guitars, battling for supremacy over backdrops that flash and crash past your ears and don’t let up till they feel like it.  The album’s opener, “The Course of Abagaz,” is seventeen minutes of improvised fury, nailed to riff and rhythm; but only after luring you in with calmness and soothing, and only that sax to shatter the mood.

“Maui” is a wild horseback ride; “Tall Tree” a guitar- and cymbal-led rumination on broken silence; across eight tracks, Azmari… is a weird and wonderful ride through peaks that might seem familiar if they weren’t simultaneously so strange.  Play it loud!

 

6The Orange Drop

Stoned In Love (CD/LP)

(Mega Dodo)

In which Philadelphia’s Orange Drop channel everyone from the early textures of classic Loop to the later, dreamier Verve, to fashion a breathless, dreamy pop that might stake some kind of psychedelic claim with a very faithful cover of Pink Floyd’s “Julia Dream,” but neither belabors the points which that decision might make, nor insists on eschewing them, either.

It’s true, “The Curse of Kukaku” might have emerged out of a fond recollection of “Echoes,” but it’s really just a couple of moments that let you draw the comparison, as the rest of the song (and it is a song, as opposed to a sidelong link between extraneous guitar solos) floats closer towards Stone Roses territory, with a soupçon more menace around the vocals.

Indeed, Marc-Andrew Basile’s vocals are key to Stoned in Love’s overall mood, oozing the kind of desperation that gave the end of the sixties such a bad name.  Besides, the crashing instrumental section that does close the piece feels more like Wishbone Ash in space, so clearly it’s a waste of time dropping names all over the place.

“Substance D,” brief though it is, shows off the Orange Drop’s less conventional chops; while “J’admets” could be a lost Noir Dèsir single than anything that might have crept from the past, and not just because it’s sung in French.  “Hey Man” is an insistent acoustic figure that threatens to lurch into a light reggae beat; and the whole thing wraps up with “If You Feel It,” which has a wonderful Stonesy, circa Primal Scream’s third album, vibe to it, until the vocals lock it in the nearest garage and force feed it old Sky Saxon singles.

So yeah, you can drop the orange into the new psychedelic bag, but you do so at the risk of ignoring a lot more.  Another Mega-goody from the only Dodo that matters.

 

7Hello

The Albums (4 CD box set)

(7T’s/Cherry Red)

In the UK, Hello are best remembered for the string of top rate glam rock hits that circled around their debut album – “Tell Him,” “New York Groove,” “Star Studded Sham” and “Game’s Up” (actually, the Glitter Band had the hit with that, but Hello’s version was far better).

In Germany, they are more likely recalled for the string of hits they scored later in the decade, ranging from “Shine On Silver Light” and “Seven Rainy Days” to a cover of “Hi Ho Silver Lining.”

And in America, if you say Hello to someone, chances are they’ll simply say “hello” back, and if you mention “New York Groove” they’ll go all Ace Frehley on you.  The thing is, if the cards had only fallen correctly, Hello would have been founding fathers of Glam Rock.  Already up and running in 1972, their first time on television saw them being given make-up tips by David Bowie… and they probably wondered who he was, because it was his first time on TV in years, and “Starman” had yet to start rising up the charts.

That same year, Chinn and Chapman wrote them a sure fire hit… and then took it back and gave it to Mud instead; “Dynamite” became a monster, Hello just kept on hoping.  It was 1974 before Hello finally scored a hit, with a souped-up retelling of the Exciters’ “Tell Him,” by which time the Good Ship Glam was already irreparably holed below the waterline.  But the first disc in this box set, Keeps Us Off The Streets, proves how gallantly they tried to keep the thing afloat, while a dozen bonus tracks tell some-of-the-rest-of the story so far  And that includes “Lightning,” foolishly wasted as the b-side to that first chart hit, when it should have been saved for a follow up.

Shine On Silver Light and Hello Again, the albums that followed, saw the band shake off the glam togs and move into more mature musical pastures; they saw them lose, too, the bulk of their UK following (and their UK deal as well), but relocating to Germany, they became bigger than ever, solid song writers with an eye for killer hooks, and adept plunderers of pop’s past as well.  Their “Hi Ho” finds the silver lining that Jeff Beck insists the song always lacked (famously he hated it, even though it was his biggest hit ever), while their take on the Turtles’ “Eleanor” packs all the innocence, and twice as much joy, as the original ever sustained.

And finally Glam Rock Rarities gives us that legendary take on “Dynamite,” alongside other lost gems and a smattering of demos, to effectively complete the Hello story and remind us what an epic it was.  They really were a fantastic band.

 

8James Young

Songs They Never Play On The Radio (CD)

(Gonzo Multimedia)

These last few years, it’s been open season on the memory of Nico.  First, Chris, Cosey and Peter Christopherson curated X-TG’s reworking of her Desertshore album, initially alongside a host of guest vocalists; then as an absolutely stunning evil twin; and then as a glorious live remix.

Earlier this year brought the Soundwalk Collective’s collaboration with Patti and Jesse Paris Smith for Killer Road, a spellbinding collection of atmospheric themes and effects, over which Patti softly intones Nico’s lyrics.  And now comes this, keyboard player James Young’s musical tribute to the years he spent touring Europe with Nico through the early 1980s.

It’s a beautiful album, maybe reminiscent of Nick Cave in places, and a mellow John Cale as well, but it’s Nico who hangs almost unmentioned over all.  Although almost every track is a Young original, the arrangements deliberately echo those that Young and his bandmates grafted onto Nico’s own songs during their time alongside her… think of it, perhaps, as a second cousin to her final studio album, Camera Obscura, and feel that link even further as the album closes with “My Funny Valentine,” which she did indeed cover on that LP.

The album’s title, and title track, of course are taken from Young’s written memoir of this same timespan, a book that tells its story in unflinching and occasionally unthinkable detail.  The music, however, is neither a soundtrack to the book nor a booktrack to the sound – that, after all, was done back in 1994, on an album that confusingly shared its title with this, but which bequeaths just four tracks to the latest project.

And, terrific though that earlier album was, this one is better, effortlessly smoothing the cracks and weak spots that lightly tarnished the Creation album with stronger songs (“Down By The Wannsee” is breathtaking), effective instrumentals (“She’s In My Ears”) and, yes, “My Funny Valentine,” which hangs even more haunted and isolated that Nico’s own rendering.

It’s true.  It has been open season on Nico’s memory.  But you wouldn’t want to forget a thing.

 

9E-Gone

Advice to Hill Walkers

(Sunrise Ocean Blender)

The lavishly-packaged CD release for an album first released last year on cassette only, Advice to Hill Walkers is the kind of album which, if you came across it unknown and unaware, you’d peg as a lost treasure of the early 70s, a folk rock instrumental set that glances in a dozen geographical directions, while conjuring an atmosphere that is wholly its own.  And just happens to deploy a bunch of sounds that had yet to be invented back then.

Menacing airs that playfully cavort with titles that suggest, but never insist, on the images that will dance through your ears: “Follow Moonmilk Rivers,” Fast Before Stalker Season,”  and the lost TV spy theme that is “Continue Ascent While Blindfolded.”  Maybe they do things differently in Sweden…. “Mark The Spot Where You Leave The Injured.”

Drones dominate, but they rarely merely drone; rather, the instrumentation builds deliberately through the darkness, fresh layers that shiver through electro nights, but have no compunction about unleashing wind and rain as well; and it all leaves you thinking of eastern bazaars while sloshing through a western bog.

Bodhran bobs, harmonium hums, zither dithers and darbouka drifts, and with every fresh layer of sound or texture, fresh visions spring unbidden to mind, until you feel as though you really are hill walking, but wondering whether you turned to quite the right guide when you happened to ask for advice.

Don’t worry,  You did.

 

10Grit

Live at Kramus Deluxe Studio (EP)

Greasy

Three thunderous slabs of unadulterated raw power introduce Paris’s Grit to the outside world.  It’s a sound that sets some ears drifting back to the early days of Seattle-shaped grunge, but that’s testament more to the band’s sheer energy than a workable description of their music.

Besides, if “GFY” is all tight riffs, manic percussion, violent vocals, abrupt endings, “Ready Or Not” fools you into thinking you’ve sideslipped into a jazz club, and then turns everything up to twelve.  Best of all, though, is “Sister,” which again flatters before it flattens, and is punctuated by a recurrent, raucous buzz that would be a hook if it wasn’t so crooked.  And if there wasn’t an even better one on its way, in the form of an extended instrumental break that throws everything at the wall, and then dances through the rubble.

Three tracks, then, and thirteen minutes of invigorating adrenalin.  You know you want to hear more.  And you will… Grit promise a concept album next time.

 

11various artists

Plankton: A Fruits de Mer Collection (CD)

(Fruits de Mer)

Reviving a compilation album that first appeared as a strictly limited edition back in 2013, Plankton is the answer to any number of prayers among those folk who simply cannot afford to hunt down the label’s first few singles… at the same time as inserting enough subtle twists that you’ll still need to find them regardless.  Vibravoid remixed their contributions, and served up an extended version of one of them; Stay, too, delivered their unedited take of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Rainy Day, Mushroom Pillow.”

Elsewhere, however… the eternally fabulous Schizoid Fun Addict kick off the album, as they did the label, with their dramatic distortion of Van Der Graaf Generator’s “Theme One” – which was actually written and first recorded by George Martin, so here’s a cover that’s three times removed, and it sounds all the more manic for that.  And Hausfrauen Experiment kick in with what must be one of the most remarkable covers of an Eno song ever conjured, a haunted, throbbing “Baby’s On Fire” that could barely be stranger if they’d played it on trumpets in a 1930s speakeasy.  Or let Eno himself have a go at it.

Alison O’Donnell’s lovely “Day Is Done” and Us and Them’s similarly superlative “Home to Stay” haunt what we might lazily call the folkier end of the spectrum, although neither would thank you for doing so; Mark Fry’s “Dreaming of Alice,” too hints at something wicked lurking beneath the acoustic guitars. Sidewalk Society and the Chemistry Set both flex all the muscles for which they’re renowned, while the Pretty Things kick in with a live “Midnight to Six Man” which refuses to believe it was only recorded a few years ago.  If they sounded like this in 2012, can you even imagine the noise they made in ’64?

And that’s the reason you need this album.  Not because it has the Pretties, and not because it’s stuffed with rarities.  You need it because it’s probably the most enjoyable label compilations of the year, and one of the best since A Bunch of Stiff Singles, back in ’77.  Which itself is appropriate because Fruits de Mer is probably the best record company since those halcyon days as well.  And it’s just as collectible.

 

12Bridget St John

Fly High: A Collection of Album Highlights, Singles and B-Sides, Demos, Live Recordings, Sessions and Interviews (2CD)

(Dandelion/Cherry Red)

The subtitle says it all.  This is the box set for which St John supporters have dreamed, slimmed down to just a couple of discs because, of course, they’ve already got all her regular albums.  And, if they don’t, highlights from her first three (Ask Me No Questions, Songs for the Gentle Man and Thank You For) devour disc one, alongside a couple of tremendous tracks from a 1972 gig in Montreaux.

It’s the second disc that’s the real meat, however, opening with four songs which she recorded for Al Stewart in 1968; moving onto her first radio session for long time supporter John Peel in 1969, a couple of obscure b-sides and a bevy of period broadcast recordings, too.  And all of them remind us of one incontrovertible fact.  In an era that was positively lousy with unprecedentedly remarkable British female vocalists (no need to name them… you know who they are), St John was as unprecedented and remarkable as any of them.

Then again, she’s also been compared to Leonard Cohen and Nico, and you can hear that in places, as well.  But, if you’ve not heard her, you should.  The three albums she cut for Peel’s Dandelion label, and all that transpired round the musical edges (including work with Kevin Ayers and Mike Oldfield) is so peerless that it hurts.

Disc two is also pocked with brief interview snippets, effectively rendering it a documentary as well as an anthology (and confounding anyone who chooses to play it through on “shuffle”), and a packed booklet is littered with photos and ephemera.  So, again, this is the box set of which we have dreamed.  It’s just a shame it wasn’t four discs.

 

14various artists

Doo Wop Soda Shop – Atmospheric and Romantic Harmony Records from the 50s and 60s (CD)

And This Is Me – Britain’s Finest Thespians Sing (CD)

(both Croydon Municipal/Cherry Red)

Two more delights from Bob Stanley’s ever-enterprising, if singularly peculiar Croydon Municipal label, and the ceaseless glee that it derives from delving into the darkest corners of the thrift store bargain bins, in search of the singles that nobody buys.

Actually, that’s not strictly true.  The doo wop disc rounds up twenty-four sides that would certainly set any crate-digger’s pulse a-pounding, from the Wanderers and the Uniques to the Bel-Aires and the Vibrations… what marks them out here is that they are not necessarily the records that get seized upon every time another doo wop compilation comes around.  When you listen to them, though, you can’t imagine why.  Almost every track is a gem; almost every track is a time capsule.  You wanna meet me for a soda pop after school?

And This Is Me, on the other hand….

Pop, particularly through the 50s and 60s, had a peculiar relationship with stage and screen celebrity, convincing itself that just because a star was a star in one medium, then he or she ought to be one in another.

Sometimes it made sense.  Delving through the twenty-plus British TV stars that people this collection, at least one (Max Bygraves) was already well-known as a singer; while there’s also a lot of comedians here, with tunes that adhered to that discipline.  Bernard Cribbens, Spike Milligan, Clive Dunn (who went on to score a UK #1 with the lachrymose “Grandad” – mercifully not featured here), Charlie Drake and Bernard Bresslaw are all common sights on those earlier comps that round up the novelty hits of the era, although Stanley must be commended for not repeating the famous tracks here.

Rather, And This Is Me dives into deeper waters – b-sides, album tracks, outright flops – to prove that comedy gold did not necessarily go gold.  Sometimes it just stood unnoticed in the corner and told its best jokes to itself.  As Ian Carmichael fans will now discover.

Talking of jokes, of course, there are a few tracks here that the average discerning listener will be happy never to hear again; what was effective, or funny, or simply deemed releasable in, say, Oliver Reed’s opinion, might also explain why most people were unaware that he ever had pop musical dreams.

Overall, though, this has to be one of the most delightful, daft and all-round doolally compilations of the year, if not the decade.  And for that reason alone, you need it.  Else you might never hear Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques declaiming “We Go Together.”  And you need to.  You really, really do,

 

15The Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult

Tyranny and Mutation

Secret Treaties

On Your Feet or On Your Knees

Agents of Fortune

Fire of Unknown Origin

16Mirrors

Spectres

Cultosaurus Erectus

Some Enchanted Evening

(all Culture Factory USA)

Exactly how seriously were we supposed to take the Blue Öyster Cult?  There was always something slightly silly about them, after all, a sense of subtle tongue-in-cheek outrage that reached from their early flirtations with Nazi era aircraft, through their occasional dalliance with S&M imagery; the black-leather-and-shades look that beguiled the heavy metal crowd a decade before it became hip to do so; and, most of all, their song titles.

“I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” is as groan-inducing a pun as “Seven Screaming Dizbusters” overflows with meaningless mirth; “OD’ed on Life Itself” sounds like something Tubes might have saved for later; and it doesn’t matter how heavy their version of “Born to be Wild” was, you couldn’t help but think they were laughing at you.

As though rock’n’roll was all some grand competition to see who could pull the wool furthest over the audience’s eyes…

Ah.

But there’s no denying what a great band they were.  Indeed, across the first three albums and the first live double, they arguably sewed the seeds for all that the eighties had in store for us… and across the last six and the second live set, they harvested them as well, which left the rest of the pack with nothing to do but follow where the Cult had led.

Has anyone ever conceived a better live album title than On Your Feet Or On Your Knees?  Okay, “so-and-so live” runs it close, and “in concert” is pretty snappy as well.  But “on your feet or on your knees…”; from the moment the MC screeches it out to the audience as the laser hits track one, you know this is not just another night.  And if you don’t, the blisters on your fingers at the end will remind you.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” might now be one of the most over-played songs in radio history, but the first time you heard it, you have to admit… it was one of the greatest singles you’d ever met.   And let’s not forget that when the Cult first played Britain, the only band capable of opening for them was the very first line-up of Mötorhead – the only other group in history that was able to take the umlaut and make it look good.  And who also liked leather and shades and World War Two.

The first three studio albums are the Cult in extremis, truly going hell for leather and living every slathering syllable that they spit out above the noise.  From Agents of Fortune on, they start to settle down a bit, but they could still spit blood when they wanted to.  Yes, “Godzilla” was way too self-conscious to really match their earlier icons, but it remains the King Kong of metal monsters regardless; and if “Fire of Unknown Origin” was a bit too Patti Smithed for some fans, well she also wrote “Career of Evil,” and no-one has ever dared knock that.

Released within Culture Factory’s series of CD-vinyl replicas, and perfectly packaged in facsimiles of their original sleeves, the Cult collection is one that everyone needs to hear at least once, and probably own at least half of, as well.  And if the Reaper comes calling while you’re listening to them, don’t fear.  His ears will be bleeding long before he gets in.

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