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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Joker Is Wild


ALEX HARVEY: THE JOKER IS WILD (1972)

1) The Joker Is Wild; 2) Penicillin Blues; 3) Make Love To You; 4) I'm Just A Man; 5) He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother; 6) Hare Krishna/Willie The Pimp; 7) Flying Saucer's Daughter.

Another failed effort, also relatively hard to locate for a good reason. It is unclear who exactly is backing Alex on the album; accounts are contradictory, but at least one point of view is that all the members of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band were already on board for this session. I find this unlikely to be true, and completely baffling if it is true, because in that case there is no ratio­nal explanation at all to the miraculous transition from the unfunny boredom of The Joker Is Wild into the hilarious hard-rocking dementia of Framed.

Basically, Harvey is dragging on his "humorous" deconstruction schtick, with almost uniformly disastrous results. His take on heavy blues-rock, illustrated by 'Penicillin Blues', is like some ear­ly Led Zeppelin or Jeff Beck exercise in 12-bardom, but without any of the amazing guitar pyro­technics; instead, we just get a bunch of self-consciously "dirty" lyrics that are neither primitive enough to be convincing nor subtle enough to be enjoyable. (Case in point: 'you got such bad blood baby, looks like you need a shot — but I want to have you turn around, 'cause I wanna see everything else that you've got'. What is this, high school?).

It is just as painful to listen to Harvey's interpretations of 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You' (too ugly to be sleazy), 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' (the level of parody is about the same as if you and I got drunk in a downtown bar and started karaokeing), and Zappa's 'Willie The Pimp'; the latter is tied together in a medley with 'Hare Krishna' (!), and neither is funny or fun. Maybe this can be someone else's idea of humour, but I find myself completely unable to even raise a smile — and this is coming from the exact same man who, several months later, went on to make one of the most joyful records of the decade!

About the only thing that vaguely manages to entertain is the closing number, 'Flying Saucer's Daughter', a satire on heavy psychedelia where the music is marginally more complex and hea­vier on the sonic effects, and the lyrics marginally elevate beyond schoolboy pap. Even so, its fire and fury are pitiful next to the fire and fury of 'St. Anthony' (the album closer on Framed), and the tune has very little individual value. So, it goes without saying that this is a thumbs down in all respects — and the overall conclusion is that you just can skip the entire career of Mr. Harvey prior to the Sensational Band altogether. Apparently, though, sometime in mid-'72 the Flying Saucer's Daughter tweaked Mr. Harvey's brain a bit, and he's never been the same afterwards, to the great delight of all of us.

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