BAKER GURVITZ ARMY: HEARTS ON FIRE (1976)
1) Hearts On Fire; 2) Neon Lights; 3) Smiling; 4) Tracks Of My Life; 5) Flying In And Out Of Stardom; 6) Dancing The Night Away; 7) My Mind Is Healing; 8) Thirsty For The Blues; 9) Night People; 10) Mystery.
Now who was it ordered a change in style? They had such a lovely thing going on, and without a single warning, in just one year's time, they went from a smooth synthesis of jazz, prog, and roots stuff to a disheartening brand of heavy funk, bordering on disco (and sometimes crossing over directly — on ʽDancing The Night Awayʼ, which, alas, is anything but a throwback to Cream's ʽDance The Night Awayʼ, even though Ginger at least must have felt a slight discomfort). I'd like to place this burden on the conscience of Mr. Snips (because what the hell of a name is Mr. Snips, anyway?), but apparently, he is only credited for two of these songs, so what we are really dealing with is nothing less than a shameless sellout by the Gurvitzes — and Ginger playing submissive accomplice.
Not that these songs are all that awful. The Gurvitzes' songwriting instincts were honed well enough by the first two albums to produce a set of decent riffs, shuffle in some variety and play around with guitar tones and overdubs. It's just that ʽHearts On Fireʼ, with its macho stomp and electronically treated guitar solos, rather belongs on a Peter Frampton album. These guys did not really have enough brawn to «sex it up» — Mr. Snips, as a vocalist, lacked personality or power, and the riffage was too clean anyway to inspire the expected dirty thoughts.
There is one interesting composition here: ʽNeon Lightsʼ, despite the misleading title, is actually a tight, swinging blues-rocker with a subtle, cool-oriented chorus and a weird selection of guitar tones — hard to describe, but it seems to generate a gloomy forcefield all its own, with a wobbly psychedelic aura, not terribly original, but standing out a bit. Everything else is simply «listenable» and even «memorable» after a few listens, but you'd have to have those few listens first, and why should you, when there were probably about five thousand albums released all over the world that year, covering the same grounds?
The band even stoops to including a generic 12-bar piece, dressed in a «blues-de-luxe» treatment (ʽThirsty For The Bluesʼ) — to my ears, even more of a lowlight on this album than the cheesy disco stuff: Adrian Gurvitz is no B. B. King, and neither is Mr. Snips, and the worst they could do was drag down the tempo so that, for over five minutes, we'd have to slowly savour each bar, delivered in pseudo-vintage fashion (and wasting Ginger's presence — this man has no business whatsoever doing generic blues material).
Granted, ʽThirsty For The Bluesʼ may simply have been a chunk of filler that they came up with at the last moment, with ideas running low and contractual obligations pressing closer. But the truth is that I really cannot recommend any other tracks — ʽNeon Lightsʼ is okay, and «funk-rock» collections may probably benefit from ʽHearts On Fireʼ and ʽFlying In And Out Of Stardomʼ (the latter is at least fast and furious, if only they had a better singer), yet even these are only impressive while they last.
Consequently, here is just another of the many examples of decent bands eaten up by the commercial bug — since Elysian Encounter did not cut it with the crowds (it hardly had a chance anyway, with progressive rock already drifting out of mainstream fashion by 1975), they tried to go the Physical Graffiti-era Led Zep route here with a foray into accessible, danceable hard-rock and predictably fell flat on their faces. The only honorable decision after that would be to commit seppuku, and that they did, disbanding once and for all. Which is a pity: had they been able to remain satisfied with what little they had, and develop it further, we might have seen many interesting developments that could organically grow out of the Elysian Encounter stylistics. As it is, they just cruelly aborted the baby, and for that, they get a merciless thumbs down from me — even though, on my third listen, having overcome the initial disappointment, I could already stomach most of these songs with good old toe-tapping indifference. But is that enough for a change of heart? And speaking of hearts, an extra -100 for the album title. I cannot exclude that Mr. Snips' heart was indeed on fire during these sessions (you'd have to be a professional cardiologist to reach a proper diagnosis), but I am more interested in Mr. Ginger, and this just isn't the sort of music that he was born to play.