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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Next


THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: NEXT (1973)

1) Swampsnake; 2) Gang Bang; 3) The Faith Healer; 4) Giddy-Up-A-Ding-Dong; 5) Next; 6) Vambo Marble Eye; 7) The Last Of The Teenage Idols.

The loony carnival continues on Next, an album that stretches the capacities of the band to the limit — in fact, to the limit of becoming offensive, as not a few people even today express genu­ine indignation at a song whose chorus goes 'Ain't nothing like a gang bang to blow your blues away'. Well, what do you know: offensive for sure, but who could argue with the truth of it?

Next is not afraid to take risks, not only lyrical, but plenty of musical ones as well. There's only seven tracks, one of them multi-part, one — a lengthy, slow-developing art-rock romp, and the rest are an even wilder mish-mash of styles than Framed; but this is to be expected from the sort of meaningless, but exciting and titillating "rock cabaret" that Harvey and the gang are going for. The question is, does it excite enough? Under the musical leadership of Cleminson, it certainly does, enough for it to be completely unnecessary to make sense of it all.

Then, come to think of it, there is a general sensible thread running through the whole thing: sex, sex, sex, sleaze, and sex again. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that Bon Scott, in his stage and studio persona, must have been hugely influenced by the Harvey of Next, a fact rendered even more plausible by the brawny Scottish heritage of both gentlemen. But The Sensational Alex Har­vey Band was, of course, a more adventurous outfit than AC/DC, and in their everlasting quest for more raunchiness, they channel as many naughty spirits as they are able to find the proper seats for within the confines of one record. The spirit of barroom brawl on 'Gang Bang'; the spirit of Southern rock on 'Swampsnake'; the spirit of heavy metal on 'Faith Healer'; the spirit of rock­abilly on 'Giddy Up'; the spirit of doo-wop on the outro section of 'Last Of Teenage Idols'; and, wildest of all, the evil Voodoo spirit on 'Vambo Marble Eye', a veritable Ogoun Badagris of a rock tune, all covered in the fireclouds of Cleminson's wah-wah playing.

Once all these spirits have taken their places, I cannot see how an album like Next could fail to be one of glam-rock's quintessential statements, a record that perfectly holds its own alongside Elec­tric Warrior or even Ziggy Stardust. Speaking of the latter, one exact thing Bowie and Harvey had in common was an adoration for Jacques Brel; the title track is a tango arrangement of the latter's 'Au Suivant', with an excellent translation/reinterpretation of the lyrics and perfect place­ment — it cuts across the middle of the record, interrupting the schizophrenic spirit dance for a few minutes of intelligent pause, as if the tired actors, clowns, and mimes took their masks off to catch their breath. Allowed to wallow in their misery a little while. Then it's show time again, and Harvey's/Brel's promise — 'I'll do anything to get out of life, to survive, not ever to be next!' — is cut short as the masks are up to the ominous wah-wah intro to 'Vambo'.

Of course, Next, like all Harvey albums, is clownish, meaning that it will never be able to achieve the same level of critical respect as Ziggy. In the eyes of the thinking person, it's more like a spoof on Ziggy-type material than an independent thinking person's artistic statement. But every now and then, clowns come closer to the uncomfortable truth than thinking persons, and, besides, Harvey wisely alternates between the clown's clown and the tragic clown — the latter is mainly seen on 'Next', but also emerges later during the first part of 'Last Of The Teenage Idols', where the tragic clown seems to be making fun of the clown's clown. There's real substance here behind the cabaret, which is how things should indeed go with all high-class cabaret; it only takes a will­ingness to go beyond the smut of the twenty seven guys of 'Gang Bang' to realize that.

Last hurrah should go to Cleminson, who continues honing his musical skills — the guitar playing on 'Vambo Marble Eye' and 'Faith Healer' is exceptional, and his tango riffage in unison with the piano on 'Next' is a perfect desperate foil for Harvey's perfect desperate singing. There is a great video of a performance of 'Next' from the Old Grey Whistle Test with Zal, in his trade­mark Pierrot makeup that he always donned at the band's live performances, not only plays, but mimes along to Alex's singing: the two make quite a lovely couple. Thumbs up on all the tracks, unanimously agreed upon by the heart and brain departments alike.

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