THE AMBOY DUKES: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST (1971)
1) Survival Of The Fittest; 2) Rattle My Snake; 3) Mr. Jones' Hanging Party; 4) Papa's Will; 5) Slidin' On; 6) Prodigal Man.
Some pressings of Marriage On The Rocks already added a «Featuring Ted Nugent» note in small print right on the sleeve. With the band's next album, all doubts were lifted. The band is now officially «Ted Nugent And The Amboy Dukes», with TED NUGENT in thick blood-red letters and THE AMBOY DUKES in a poorly discernible, malicious yellow. If that ain't enough, there is TED NUGENT himself, staring right at you from the sleeve photo, dressed up in Native American garb and ready to shoot himself some fleshy dinner.
Still, at least there is some small connection with the earlier Amboy Dukes, because keyboardist Andy Solomon is still part of Ted's band — a very important, in fact, ingredient of the overall sound — and he even co-writes the title track. All of the other band members have been replaced: now we have K. J. Knight on drums and Rob Ruzga on bass — not that it seriously matters, since neither of the two had enough stamina to last too long around Uncle Ted. Survival Of The Fittest indeed — and say what you will about Mr. Nugent and his social-darwinist stance on life, but one thing nobody can deny is that the guy does belong in the «fittest» category.
The entire album was recorded live over two nights of playing at a Detroit theater in the summer of 1970 — home grounds boosting self-confidence — yet consists almost entirely of new material, with the sole exception of 'Prodigal Man', and even that one, by the time of the recording, had evolved into a typically early Seventies twenty-minute long jam with extended soloing from all the members. This makes Survival an obligatory must for Nuge fans — whether it is an equal must for general hard rock audiences is a tougher question.
As close as he is getting there, the Nuge still had not shaken the artsy cobwebs out properly; his wildman image is gradually starting to get the better of him, but a little bit of shyness and, more importantly, a little bit of pretense to something bigger than blunt ass-kicking still remains. The title track begins with an intentional false start — the band launches straight into the main riff of 'Journey To The Center Of The Mind' — then transforms into another 'Marriage'-like suite with alternating blues-rock and R'n'B sections; the grooves are smooth, but the little pizzazz that can push a thing like that into overdrive is, unfortunately, missing.
Other than the okayish hard rocker 'Rattle My Snake' ("rattle my snake! feel free to," a young Uncle Ted invites his audience at the end of the track, officially initiating his long history of salacious live routines) and a semi-psychedelic workout called 'Mr. Jones' Hanging Party', the magnum opus of Side 1 is unquestionably 'Papa's Will'. A slowly lumbering grumbly monster, it never truly kicks off until the last minutes, when it's all about Mr. Ted and his wildman behaviour, culminating in a series of feral screams that are almost the equal of Pink Floyd's 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene' — and, in a way, even sound more natural.
The good news is that Survival Of The Fittest drops most of the clumsy and pointless elements that Marriage On The Rocks tried to associate with the Amboy Dukes. No straightahead psychedelia or ambitious messing around with Bartok pieces — this is rock'n'roll that tries to be more than three-chord entertainment, but still remains pure rock'n'roll. And yet, the Nuge still had a short way to go: except for the rip-roaring finale of 'Prodigal Man' (for which you have to wade through fifteen minutes of mediocre drum, bass, and organ soloing), not one song on here truly cuts loose with the appropriate degree of Madness from the Motor City Madman; I doubt that 'Rattle My Snake' or 'Slidin' On' might ever rank high on anyone's top 100 list of Harder Than A Rock Classics. The flaming bits are truly flaming, but, overall, this is a boring thumbs down — a transitional stage that no one needs to spend too much time on.
I mean, this was 1970, for God's sake — with the Who, the Stones, Led Zep, the Allman Brothers, and Derek & The Dominos all at the peak of their powers that year, someone still needs Ted Nugent? Just give the smartass his due — by steering clear of drugs, in five years' time, he'd outlast all these peaks — and THEN there would be something to finally talk about.