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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: SAHB Stories


1) Dance To Your Daddy; 2) Amos Moses; 3) Jungle Rubout; 4) Sirocco; 5) Boston Tea Party; 6) Sultan's Choice; 7) $25 For A Massage; 8) Dogs Of War.

Recovering from the temporary bout of "all-coveritis", Harvey, Cleminson and Co. go back to relying upon their own forces, as they deliver yet another serving of the usual stylistic melange. SAHB Stories is not one of their most acclaimed albums (even though, surprisingly enough, it brought them their highest bit of commercial success with the single release of 'Boston Tea Par­ty') — it came out at a time when the Harvey formula was quickly becoming obsolete, and 'punk' values were replacing 'glam' at an alarming rate. But, ripped out of its historical context, it can proudly measure up to any other solid SAHB album of the decade.

It is dark, though. As you look back on the band's career, you can definitely see the early comic overtones gradually recede and give way to a much bleaker vision of the world. At some point, you no longer have any lightweight vaudeville, and even basic headbanging rock'n'roll is begin­ning to be presented with a strong touch of bitter lemon. Looking at the lyrics to some of these songs, it's relatively easy to crack the usual smile, but the music, per se, is not smile-inducing at all. 'Dance To Your Daddy', for instance, would seem like a title destined to accompany some cute pop-rock ditty, but why, then, is its main riff so reminiscent of Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', and what do all the aethereal bursts of synth soloing and angel choirs have to do with it?

Indeed, most of the time the band is bent on one of two things: churning out grim, unfriendly riffage ('Amos Moses'; the unbearably catchy 'Sultan's Choice') or engaging in ominous, unsett­ling atmospherics (the never-ending, but somewhat hypnotic 'Sirocco'). Every once in a while they venture out into funky territory ('Jungle Rub Out' and especially '$25 For A Massage', also reminiscent of Zeppelin, but this time of their funk explorations on Physical Graffiti), yet im­pression-wise, these numbers do not stray too far from the overall darkness. Even 'Boston Tea Party' itself, no matter how much it seduces us with its superficially friendly singalong chorus of 'Are you going, are you going to the Boston Tea Party?' — the one whose superficial friendliness sold it so well to British audiences in 1976 — recalls the whole story of American independence in a bitter vein, and that chorus is oddly unengaging: it transfers neither joy nor sorrow, getting stuck in your head for a reason that is impossible to understand.

It may be so that the band was simply caught in a state of confusion and tiredness, and Harvey was already suffering from his spine problems. It may have been a conscious decision to 'morose up' their act. The bottomline is that the album is a downer, from the initial deception of 'Dance To Your Daddy' and right down to the openly sadistic, murderous conclusion of 'Dogs Of War', one of the most hateful tracks ever recorded by the band (and something tells me they really meant it). But downers can be masterpieces, and far be it from me to accuse these songs of slackness or to­tal 'genericness'; most are fabulous creations, with the utmost care paid to the smallest details — things like 'Sirocco' may be fairly simple in their basic execution, but what matters is the impres­sionistic sonic landscape painted by all sorts of unpredictable brushstrokes from the band's array of gui­tars and keyboards. (It doesn't exactly give out an impression of a real sirocco — rather a pre-feeling of one — but it hardly matters).

Since it is also quite consistent — not one track that feels completely out of place — the brain and heart department concur in their thumbs up, although it is still unclear which of the two is more instrumental in this decision. The heart rather goes after the basic charms of 'Sultan's Choice' (top-notch riff + catchy chorus + on-the-edge lyrics that could be about sex slave trade = first rate gut level pleasure), but the brain is most impressed with the likes of 'Dogs Of War', so we'll just leave them at that and move along.

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