THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (1974)
1) The Hot City Symphony, Part 1: Vambo; 2) The Hot City Symphony, Part 2: Man In The Jar; 3) River Of Love; 4) Long Hair Music; 5) Sergeant Fury; 6) Weights Made Of Lead; 7) Money Honey/Impossible Dream; 8) Tomahawk Kid; 9) Anthem.
God loves a third: The Impossible Dream concludes the trilogy of Alex Harvey records that no honest rock music lover should live without. If there's a breach in this fortress, it's that by now we know what to expect, and the record offers no amazing new surprises. You'll have the crunchy hard rock, you'll have the vaudeville and music hall, you'll have the generic blues-rock made non-generic through sagacious arrangements, you'll have a little bit of sensitive soulfulness, and you'll have the usual puzzled feeling of not understanding how much on here comes from the heart and how much goes as an appendage to Zal Cleminson's clown makeup.
But then, this is probably expected, and the good news is, the Sensational Band's style is so thoroughly and utterly demented that, once they're on a roll, nothing can be truly predicted. Take even the weakest tracks on here: 'Weights Made Of Lead' is standard 'Green Onions'-style 12-bar, but certainly Booker T. & the MGs would have never thought of spicing the song up with such a fun clavinet-imitating funky guitar part as Cleminson invents for the recording. 'Sergeant Fury', in theory, should bore to sleep everyone who shivers at the name of Fred Astaire, but it is hardly possible to resist the energy of the song, or the cheesy, but seductive gay overtones in Alex's chorus of 'I wanna be rich and famous, I wanna be just the same as the stars that shine on the Christmas tree...'. In short, even where it's "common", it's a ton of fun; and where it is less than a ton of fun, it is never common.
Yet in all seriousness, The Impossible Dream is centered around two major compositions. 'Hot City Symphony' features two parts, the first of which is a slower, but not any less overwhelming reworking of 'Vambo' (by now, 'Vambo' was Harvey's scenic alter ego), and the second a Zappa-influenced mock-detective story about a 'Man In The Jar' (who 'wanna get out' and is 'smashing the glass', so be careful!). Running over thirteen minutes, it doesn't feel one second overlong since you should be too busy following the misfortunes of the man in the jar to care about anything else.
But the album's true piece de resistance is 'Anthem', a song that begs for usage of this word even if it already weren't its title. Here, after fooling around with us for the duration of almost another entire record, Harvey suddenly turns around 180 degrees and yields a song of tremendous personal power, or, perhaps, even national power — he does not usually parade his Scottish heritage on record, preferring it to seep through unconsciously, but here he hauls out the bagpipes (in fact, he'd even regularly haul out the pipers onstage) and leads the band in a glorious spiritual chant à la "Hey Jude", but with a religious twist provided by the angelic vocals of Vicky Silva; unfortunately, I am unable to locate any extra info on who she was, but it is her inspired performance, by all means, that rips the song out of its classy, but traditionally-based Scottish music flowerbed and skyrockets it way up to seventh heaven.
To call the tune "pretentious" would be the equivalent of remarking, with a straight face, that the
For 'Anthem' and 'Hot City Symphony' alone, the brain and heart would gladly unite in a joyful tandem and lift their thumbs up high, but honestly, I can't find one truly weak spot on the album. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll smash your head up against the wall — and yes, you'll be offered plenty of cheese, but haven't you heard? Scottish cheese is pretty damn good.