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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Amboy Dukes: Marriage On The Rocks/Rock Bottom


THE AMBOY DUKES: MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS/ROCK BOTTOM (1970)

1) Marriage; 2) Breast-Fed Gator; 3) Get Yer Guns; 4) Non-Conformist Wildebeest Man; 5) Today's Lesson; 6) Chil­dren Of The Woods; 7) Brain Games Of Yesteryear; 8) The Inexhaustible Quest For The Cosmic Cabbage.

All right — now that Steve Farmer is officially out of the band and complete control passes on to Nugent, you'd think The Amboy Dukes must have kicked aside all the silly psycho shit and moved on to a sort of permanently fixed 'Cat Scratch Fever'-like type of groove, right?

Dead wrong. Not only has Farmer's departure not affected Uncle Ted's testosterone level one lit­tle bit, it seems to have initially worked the wrong way — for one brief moment at least, Nugent assumed that it was now up to him to fill in the «artsy slots», left vacant with Farmer's departure. The result is, hands down, the weirdest album to ever bear association with the name of Ted Nu­gent. Were he ever to unexpectedly perform 'Marriage' or 'Children Of The Woods' at one of his shows, at least half of his fans' heads would explode. Fortunately, there is no danger of that. «He was young, he was foolish, he was angry, he was vain», Mick would describe this.

I do not like any of these songs. The Nuge still has problems coming up with memorable riffs, and much of the time he is not even trying. What he is doing, though, is being all over the place. No single song on here ends where it begins, and most go through several transformations at least — constant tempo and key changes, constant juggling around with instruments and guitar tones, constant mood-shifting that borders on psychic disturbance.

If there is any primary influence here, it is Frank Zappa, closely followed by the «street mob va­riety art rock» of Blue Cheer, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and various other heavy psychedelic bands (I have met comparisons with Jethro Tull, but that's out of the question; it is unlikely that the Dukes had even heard Jethro Tull by then, much less could have been carried away by them). The major Zappa fan in the band was keyboard player Andy Solomon: his only contribution, the crazy disjointed ten-minute suite 'The Inexhaustible Quest For The Cosmic Cabbage' is fully Zap­paesque in name and spirit, except it's also boring as hell: the free-form jazz / Brit-pop / avant­garde noise / pseudo-barbershop quartet harmony bits do not mesh together with nearly as much professionalism or conceptuality as they do on Frank's Absolutely Free, and it is not really until Uncle Ted properly picks up the guitar and starts whuppin' its ass at the tail end of the show that the track belatedly justifies its existence. Still, it's a fascinating misfire in its own way.

Ted's own brave stab at a multi-part epic ('Marriage') is much better — it is listenable as a normal and mildly interesting piece of music with progressive overtones, although its main flaw also fol­lows the main flaw of so many aspiring progressive musicians: it is basically just a set of mode­rately complex rhythmic grooves, none of which have any real significance, over which Nugent gets a chance to showcase his melodic soloing. That Ted has a gift, and that he is not merely «wa­nking» all over the studio, but trying to invoke beauty one minute and fury the next one, is crys­tal clear. That 'Marriage' is a breathtaking prog epic, capable of taking its rightful place next to 'Wat­cher Of The Skies' or 'Gates Of Delirium', is not quite so evident.

The shorter hard-rockers are more in line with the Dukes' previous body of work — meaty, braw­ny, worth tapping a toe or two or kicking a butt or three. But no review of an album like this can bypass a track as crazy as 'Non-Conformist Wildebeest Man' — which could only be described as «Nashville meets Orange County hardcore»: ninety seconds of a lively country shuffle played at over-breakneck speed, nothing in 1970 could even remotely sound like that. Alas, on the ninety first second it mutates into the mid-tempo art-metal of 'Today's Lesson', a much less interesting track, even if it takes itself much more seriously.

Had the new-look Amboy Dukes continued that way, who knows, this could have perhaps evol­ved into a whole new genre. On the other hand, Nugent clearly shows that he is in no position to pen really complex material: he gets by on the strength of his fire-breathing playing, but any em­bellishments that the band tries to load on top of his riffs mainly fall flat. Whatever you could say, some people are born into this world to bring it 'Thick As A Brick' — and some are born to sim­ply give it some 'Wang Dang Sweet Poontang'.

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