Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘B’.
Blue Oyster Cult – Mirrors (CBS)
Former hard rock kings Blue Oyster Cult go soft but do it well on Mirrors. 7/10
Dust my broom, it’s the British blues boom (take two). Fifteen years have elapsed since swags of earnest young Britons, spearheaded by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and lesser-known names like Cyril Davies and his Allstars, set about carbon-copying American blues and rhythm and blues.
Fifteen years on (afar and asunder), in the wake of the concentrated energy of punk and new wave, music fans are once again searching for new fads to latch onto. Consequently, in the space of one year, we have endured powerpop, mod, ska and now full-circle back to a good ol’ blues revival.
Ironically, the Blues Band consists of old pros who were in the midst of the first British blues boom, most remarkable of which is the case of drummer Hughie Flint, former sticksman for the legendary Bluesbreakers along with Eric Clapton and John Mayall.
Of the others, Paul Jones is best remembered as vocalist on many of Manfred Mann’s biggest 1960s pop hits, Tom McGuinness played guitar and sang in Manfred Mann and later formed his own group, McGuinness Flint, Dave Kelly backed bluesmen such as Howlin’ Wolf, and Gary Fletcher has a less famous background in country, soul and of course, blues.
Official Blues Band Bootleg Album does not win any awards for originality but makes for a great old fashioned party album (as in dancing – remember dancing?) It’s a hot’n’sweaty offering in which the group play (for enjoyment’s sake alone) largely blues standards with an agreeable lack of reverence for the originals.
The songs are all pretty much on an equal footing. From Elmore James’ opening ‘Talk To Me Baby’ to the finale ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’, the rhythm section pumps out a fat, driving backing, and Jones’ golden rust blues harp dominates solo proceedings.
If there was to be one criticism, it would be the lack of variety. The band seem to treat every song in approximately the same way, which is great for partying, but not such a good thing for the record listener.
But that’s a minor consideration. What Bootleg does offer in abundance is a rare commodity among today’s studio sterility: charisma. 7/10
David Bowie’s importance to 1970s popular culture was manifested in the relative mass notoriety he gained in an image. Today, he keeps a lower profile. In his last three albums (Low, Heroes and Lodger) he explored musical landscapes and psychological boundaries rather than the hedonistic fashion image pursuits of his former characters.
The fan corps remain devoted. Bowie has been over-estimated in some quarters as a musical innovator but his new album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is solid justification for the more rabid claims of his devotees. Here, Bowie looks both backwards and forwards. Backwards in his dissection of former pretensions, both lyrically and musically. Forwards in the emotional honesty and world-weary tinge of desperation in his singing.
The musical backing is almost a parody of his first popular era, particularly on ‘Up The Hill Backwards’, on which old cohort Tony Visconti plays acoustic guitar. His chosen musicians appear to represent different periods of the past decade right up to the present with Robert Fripp’s spine-chilling electric guitar on six of the nine cuts, and way back down the line to Pete Townsend on ‘Because You’re Young’.
The album’s sounds are harsh, aside from the atypically beautiful ‘Ashes To Ashes’, which amply demonstrates a possible imminent shift into a mellow groove. But unlike Bryan Ferry’s version of mellow, this is style with content.
While Bowie may represent to most the (former?) kingpin of pop fashion, he expresses his in terms of individuality, and is not above criticising the parrot-fashion crowd: “Fashion – turn to the left/Fashion – turn to the right/We are the goon squad/And we’re coming to town/Beep-beep” (‘Fashion’).
On this album Bowie’s for real – a soul singer for the 1980s. There is no readymade, encapsulated character presented here. Bowie is instead little bits of conflicting character vying to express themselves, much like the real world. At the same time, the artist realises that this is too much of a dangerous time to mess around with artifice and pretence: “I am barred from the event/I really don’t understand the situation/So where’s the moral/People have their fingers broken/To be insulted by these fascists – it’s so degrading.” (‘It’s No Game’). 9/10
Gary Brooker – No More Fear Of Flying (Chrysalis)
Gary Brooker (former leader of Procol Harum) proves how the mighty have fallen with No More Fear Of Flying. 5/10
The Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady is already nostalgia. It is in fact a collection of the group’s singles, up until now unreleased in this country. In short, it’s a delight, and is punk inasmuch as the guitar sound is a niggling, ugly background buzzsaw and the lyrics occasionally go for slightly more explicit meanings than the average Max Bygraves album.
But the tunes (yes, real ones too!) are worthy of The Beatles, and the Buzzcocks’ performance of such is filled to the brim with youthful enthusiasm.
Pete Shelley’s lyrics are the eye-opener. They’re love songs all, but always pessimistic to the point of depression. They explore relationships with a detail that may seem egotistical but is in fact honest. Chances are we can relate to them.
Most of the 16 tracks are excellent, but particularly notable is ‘What Do I Get’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Love You More’, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, ‘Promises’, and a tune which sounds like it should have been a 1960s pop classic, ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’.
Like The Shoes or The Records, Buzzcocks make modern pop, but unlike those two examples, Buzzcocks play and write it with passion, rather than perfecting it stylistically as an art and thereby losing its charm. Recommended. 9/10