ATOMIC ROOSTER: ATOMIC ROOSTER (1980)
1) They Took Control Of You; 2) She's My Woman; 3) He Did It Again; 4) Where's The Show; 5) In The Shadows; 6) Do You Know Who's Looking For You?; 7) Don't Lose Your Mind; 8) Watch Out; 9) I Can't Stand It; 10) Lost In Space; 11*) Throw You're Life Way; 12*) Broken Windows.
While Crane was busy trying to strike a damp match with funk and Farlowe, John Du Cann spent his time jumping from one mediocre, long-forgotten English hard rock band to another, honing his chops and saving his talents. Fortunately for us all, lightning struck twice, and as the Eighties loomed upon the nation, the two masterminds behind the golden years (months?) of Atomic Rooster decided to reconvene and try their luck one more time. The decision was, in fact, to «reboot» the band — hence a new self-titled album, and a new, upgraded rooster on the front sleeve. Bigger, gruffer, and with a real mean look in the eye. Luckily, the album sleeve is just the very worst thing about the album.
The songwriting here is completely dominated by Du Cann: Crane is fully credited with one instrumental number, and co-credited on just three others, although his organ playing is still essential to every song. Du Cann is also the sole vocalist, since this is a complete re-formatting of the band (new drummer Preston Heyman is the only other official member). This helps understand the new direction. All the undercooked soul and funk is gone without a trace. The new look Atomic Rooster is a brand new fusion of 65% classic hard rock, 20% power pop, and 15% old-time «progressive» and «psychedelic» elements.
The mix is not unique or innovative enough to qualify as a «masterpiece», perhaps, but the album is still fabulous. Each single song is either insanely catchy, or intelligently moody, or ferociously bawdy. I do not quite understand why the record is often tagged as being in line with the «New Wave of British Heavy Metal»: the only thing that brings it close to a Judas Priest is the overall level of energy, because the driving force behind it is never brutal metallic riffage — in fact, the actual riffs are usually unexceptional, it is during their merger with the vocal melodies and the keyboard phrasing that all the main wonders are happening.
Actually, with Du Cann's vocals having obtained an even more eerie, mock-sinister sheen since his last gigs with Rooster, the closest parallel I can think of is Alice Cooper — as the first notes of 'They Took Control Of You' start screeching from the speakers, and Du Cann grins at you with the lines "Bright lights they shine down on you / Have they really come to take you away?", the most blatant association is with Alice's "Who do you think we are? Special forces in an armored car", even though that particular creation actually postdates Atomic Rooster by a year. (So who influenced who? Not an easy question).
Did I mention yet that the new band likes to take it fast now? 'They Took Control Of You' rolls along at a 'Highway Star'-ish frenetic pace, only with the band's trademark aura of paranoia instead of Purple's euphoria. That is not to say that the entire album is paranoid: 'Where's The Show' is a surprisingly happy pop-rocker that might even display a little punk influence (I could easily imagine the Ramones covering it, considering that some of the chord changes are exactly the same as on 'Beat On The Brat').
In between all the ass-kicking, the band does not forget about their demonic legacy: 'In The Shadows' is a conscious attempt to come up with another 'Death Walks Behind You', although the lack of an instantly memorable / mesmerizing melody brings it down almost immediately. Still, it's a respectable enough seven-minute ghost-epic, with Du Cann at his snappiest and gnarliest and Crane gathering all of his Gothic tricks in one place. Du Cann also contributes 'Don't Lose Your Mind', a booming half-power-pop, half-AC/DC style monster that must have been a veiled song of support for his unfortunate organist friend — it didn't help in the long run, but at least the plea's sincerity helped make the song into one of the many highlights on the album.
The best song, however, is the last one. 'Lost In Space' starts out slowly and leisurely, tricking the listener into thinking it's going to be a boring blues-rock shuffle, but, in a minute's time, makes the transition to one of the greatest power-pop choruses of its time — forget about Cheap Trick for a moment, and listen to these guys head for the sky, screaming about how you're «lost in space for sure, lost in space for sure — losing control, oh no, no, lost in space for sure!» while Crane is hitting higher and higher organ notes. The depressing message of the song is totally at odds with the euphoric pounding of the chorus, and usually this brings in confusion and disappointment, but not this time: this time, the effect is psychedelic rather than plainly confusing (as in, it ain't necessarily a bad thing to get «lost in space»). A classic number that ought to be resuscitated, brushed off, and installed as one of the finest songs of 1980, no doubt.
Alas, just as Alice Cooper's sales were fairly slow for this period, so were the new look Atomic Rooster's — the album and accompanying tour went so deadly unnoticed that Du Cann took it personally, and defected after a while, putting a final stop to all hopes. But let us look at it from the bright side — they did leave us one excellent souvenir, and who knows whether they'd have been able to repeat its quality? Thumbs up for this «un-forgotten» little gem.
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