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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Framed


1) Framed; 2) Hammer Song; 3) Midnight Moses; 4) Isobel Goudie; 5) Buff's Bar Blues; 6) I Just Want To Make Love To You; 7) Hole In Her Stocking; 8) There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree, Mama; 9) St. Anthony.

By late 1972, Harvey had permanently teamed up with fellow Scotsmen band Tear Gas (from Glas­gow), led by guitar wiz Zal Cleminson, and the results were astounding. All of a sudden, in a matter of moments, the exact same musical approach which, on Harvey's first solo albums, soun­ded stupid and boring at the same time, turns out to be both intelligent and exciting.

It was up to Cleminson to transform Harvey's act from weak lounge-like parody into one of the toughest, raunchiest glam-acts of the decade. You get fat crunchy riffs à la Sweet, but more me­morable, wall-of-sound guitar overdubs that David Bowie never dreamed of, and, where the need arises for it, a brawny Glasgow barroom-rock atmosphere to rival the drunken-est escapades of Slade. But all over it Harvey's pre-post-modern persona still looms as large as ever, and now, when it has a solid musical backbone, it's no longer laughable, but rather hilarious — and, at ti­mes, sincerely intimidating.

Just for a laugh, it is advisable to play the old and the new versions of 'Midnight Moses' back to back. Unless you're a staunch hard-rock hater, I can't even visualize the perspective of someone willing to prefer the original, what with all the fury that Cleminson invests in this reworking. The brass section has been retained for 'I Just Want To Make Love To You', but now it's also being propped up by terrific guitar work, not to mention the tight rhythm section, and now the extended coda is involving, not excruciating.

Whether it is the old stuff or the new stuff, there is nary a weak spot on the entire album. Leiber and Stoller's 'Framed' is recast as a slow, plodding, mammoth Seventies' rocker; 'Isobel Goudie' is Harvey's tongue-in-cheek contribution to the progressive excesses of the age, replete with dark distorted organ chords and smooth transitions between quiet/hypnotic and loud/bedazzling (as would probably befit a song about a creepy Scottish witch!); we then get our feet firmly back on the ground with 'Buff's Bar Blues', Harvey's best-ever drinking song with a jaw-dropping guitar solo from Zal (but what sort of a drinking song would ever in­clude a verse like 'drinking up Spumanti, reading John McLain, his sister in the grubber and his brother was the same' — and who the heck is John McLain anyway, and how do you even spell him properly?); we get a wonderful retro vaudeville number ('There's No Lights On The Christ­mas Tree, Mother' — apparently because 'They're Burning Big Louie Tonight'); and we round things up with the sacrilegious naughtiness of 'St. Anthony', a track that not only throws a suspi­cious light on the nature of St. Anthony's temptation (and even his true ability to resist it), but also wraps the poor saint in a web of wah-wah and not so wah-wah guitars that raise some of the loudest ruckus and rumpus to come out of the British Isles in the early part of the decade.

In short, Framed is a fascinating musical journey, and double so when it is taken in the context of all the disasters of the previous limp decade of Harvey's career. Wholesale admirers of the man's talent and personality will argue that it took the arrival of the sarcastic spasms of the glam rock era to properly put Alex in his place, while in the Sixties he was simply steadily being ahead of his time, and they may be right, too, but the fact is, being ahead of one's time is not always a good thing — "ahead of the times" may be just as disastrous in terms of pure listenable power as "behind the times", and if it took Cleminson's hard-rock backing to make Harvey sound like an ironic versatile showman rather than silly irritating clown, no one is required to wreck one's brains trying to spot the future ironic versatile showman of 1972 in the silly irritating clown of 1969 or earlier. And this is certainly not downplaying Harvey's own achievements: I doubt that the work of Tear Gas could have easily stood the test of time without being linked to Harvey's personality, either. The Harvey/Cleminson match was — no second opinion about it — clearly made in Heaven, and if they had to wait ten or twelve years to find each other, well, who are we to judge Heaven's judgement? Thumbs up.


  1. So I read that thing about John McLain and... well, wasn't the main character of the Die Hard series called John McLane? A reference?

  2. Isobel Goudie is a song I love very much. I think it does the progressive rock vibe very well and after a couple of listens the question of whether it's tongue-in-cheek or not fails to be significant.