THE ASSOCIATION: STOP YOUR MOTOR (1971)
1) Bring Yourself Home; 2) Funny Kind Of Song; 3) That's Racin'; 4) P. F. Sloan; 5) Silver Morning; 6) It's Gotta Be Real; 7) The First Sound; 8) Along The Way; 9) Travellers Guide; 10) Seven Virgins.
Growing extra facial hair and finally changing from suits and ties into somewhat more loose and leisurely Californian outfits was a telling sign — the band was ready and willing to update their sunshine pop values of the 1960s to the bland MOR values of the 1970s; they weren't above competing on the same market with Bread, James Taylor, and the Carpenters, contrary to strange opinions that «the Association sounded completely out of step in the 1970s» — for Led Zep fans, perhaps, but it's not like the Association targeted their Sixties' music at garage rock lovers either. Listen to 'Along The Way' and have the nerve to state that it is not a perfectly generic early Seventies ballad — Stop Your Motor belongs in 1971 as sure as America belongs in it.
If there's a problem here, it's in the strange manner in which the album's material is divided into a rougher hewn country-rock part and a tenderly crafted ballad part. The latter is, for the most part, proverbially gorgeous and is about as good as anything the band ever produced. The former is, for the most part, either boring or atrocious garbage, replete with clichés and silly hillbilly accents that make the songs dumb without making them hilarious. One of these, 'That's Racin', probably the most ridiculous song the world has ever known from Terry Kirkman, they even tried to release as a single — thankfully, the public didn't get the joke, and it flopped just as assuredly as the good singles from this record (or else Warner Bros. could have extended their contracts on the condition that they release even more of that hicky stuff).
Jimmy Webb's 'P. F. Sloan', a friendly-catchy pop rocker about the ups and downs of being a corporate songwriter (or any songwriter, for that matter), is just about the only upbeat tune on the album that goes someplace good, but even this generally harmless ditty suffers from an obvious flaw — the endlessly repeated chorus ("Don't sing this song — it belongs to P. F. Sloan!") can be deemed way too cutesy, if not corny. (Although I have no idea why this single, too, did not chart: the na-na-na-na's get ingrained in the brain so firmly after one or two listens that the only reason I can think of is forgetting to put it on the radio in the first place).
But on the positive side, 'Bring Yourself Home' is a swooping, fanfare-attractive type of ballad that succeeds marvelously; then there is 'Silver Morning', an almost «progressive» five-minute suite with several movements that is, at worst, a meticulous and complex piece of work, and, at best, a little bit of wandering genius (the fact that Kirkman is credited for writing both this number and the near-cretinous 'That's Racin' almost boggles the mind); and 'It's Gotta Be Real' and 'Along The Way' are just decent, solid ballads.
These highlights show that the band was not on such a desperate downward slide as it might have seemed. If anything, they were simply deteriorating at the same rate as mainstream pop music — or, perhaps, much to their credit, they were trying to resist the deterioration of the mainstream while at the same time trying to remain in the mainstream, an absolutely impossible task. They make the necessary concessions — grow beards, reject much of the instrumental experimentation from the freshly deceased «psychedelic era» (no sitars or kotos in sight), put more emphasize on syrupy strings, but still try to remain on the intelligent side of the street.
Which, perhaps, explains why they were eventually pushed into the gutter — this kind of soft rock was a bit too demanding for those who like their rock butter-soft. As time goes by, though, I hope that more and more people will want to experience the gorgeous harmonies of 'Bring Your-self Home' without any silly genrist prejudices — and as flawed and disconcerted as this record is, it honestly fulfills its historic function as The Association's swan song (had they known it themselves at the time, they might have refrained from ending the record on the mock-rock disaster of 'Seven Virgins'). Thumbs up, with lotsa reservations.
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