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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blues Magoos: Basic Blues Magoos

BLUES MAGOOS: BASIC BLUES MAGOOS (1968)

1) Sybil Green (Of The In-Between); 2) All The Better To See You With; 3) I Can Hear The Grass Grow; 4) Yellow Rose; 5) I Wanna Be There; 6) I Can Move A Mountain; 7) President's Council On Psychedelic Fitness; 8) Scare­crow's Love Affair; 9) There She Goes; 10) Accidental Meditation; 11*) You're Getting Old; 12*) Subliminal Sonic Laxative; 13*) Chicken Wire Lady; 14*) Let Your Love Ride; 15*) Who Do You Love.

The band's third and final attempt to make themselves noticed in a world of gruesomely heavy competition. Some creative growth is evident: all of the songs but one are originals, and the one cover is that of a contemporary psycho-pop single — The Move's ʽI Can Hear The Grass Growʼ, very suitable for the Magoos' current interests and much more «relevant» than, say, another Jim­my Reed or Ray Charles tribute. However, this is where the growth starts and ends: in all other respects, this is just another Blues Magoos record, well on the level of Electric Comic Book, but still lacking anything even remotely close to the «bomb» of ʽNothin' Yetʼ.

The opening number, ʽSybil Greenʼ, is this album's ʽPipe Dreamʼ: a song that seems to have plenty of potential, but ultimately remains a failure — the descending organ riff, its main claim to individuality, is not given enough prominence to register itself deep in the emotional core, not against the wimpy vocals, the disappointing lack of hook in the chorus, or the simplistic power-pop rhythm guitar backing. It has all the ingredients of The Move, for sure, but none of that band's talent to make these ingredients matter.

It is all the more evident when you look at them actually covering The Move: on one hand, they honestly work to bring out to light some of the facets of ʽI Can Hear The Grass Growʼ that were underdeveloped in the original (such as the colorful guitar riff introducing the verses, somewhat smudged in Roy Wood's version, but quite resplendent here, despite worse production), but on the other hand, they completely undermine the song's psychedelic capacity by choosing a more aggressive, lower-pitched and barkier approach in the chorus: their "I can hear the grass grow, I can hear the grass grow, I see rainbows in the evening" is delivered almost like a call-to-arms, which is definitely not what this peaceful and, essentially, introspective song really needs.

Elsewhere, the Blues Magoos now come across as a slightly lighter version of Blue Cheer: on songs like ʽAll The Better To See You Withʼ and ʽThere She Goesʼ they mask the paucity of ideas with a thick, brutal sound that still lacks interesting chord sequences. ʽThere She Goesʼ has a curious solo section (some proto-electronic bleeps in the nascent style of United States of Ame­rica, battling over turf with freakout electric guitar), but that's about it. Maybe if they at least had hired an expressive singer... at this point, the lack of a good vocalist in the band really becomes a problem — their vocal melodies seem to be more thoughtfully constructed than instrumental ones, but neither Scala nor Tielhelm know how to do them justice.

ʽI Can Move A Mountainʼ aspires to become a touching epic, rooted as much in dark folk as it is in jangle-pop, but loses out just as well because (a) the production is tedious, with everything, from vocals to organ to rhythm section, glued together in tapeworm fashion; (b) the vocals, apart from the first bars of its «romantic» opening, are nasal and «wooden» at the same time; (c) the mid-section, with its twenty seconds of loud musical chaos instead of a normal solo, is pointless, because the «crashdown» comes from nowhere, is completely unexpected and out of place (un­like, just to quote the first analogy that crept up in my head, a similar «crashdown» in the middle of Bruce Springsteen's ʽAdam Raised A Cainʼ, where it concludes a ripping solo and has a well identifiable purpose of its own).

And that is not to mention minor ridiculous excesses — ʽScarecrow's Love Affairʼ, for instance, which is not only a bad attempt to cross psychedelic trippings with a barroom rock vibe, but also ends in at least one whole minute of recordings of engine noises, a minute we should all have saved for something better to do. Or the generic psycho-folk conclusion of ʽAccidental Medita­tionʼ, which is neither really a meditation nor certainly accidental. (And I'm not saying anything about the one-minute «link» of ʽSubliminal Sonic Laxativeʼ, attached as a bonus track — except that it is hardly even worth checking out to learn what it is that is so embarrassing about it).

I suppose that, on some level, the album certainly justifies its «#435 for 1968» rank currently awarded to it by the reviewers at RateYourMusic — considering the greatness of the year, #435 isn't too bad — but the rank more or less correctly reflects the order in which I would recommend adding Basic Blues Magoos to anybody's collection, as well. Style-wise, I have no problems with the record — the band has proved capable of adapting to changing fashions, shifting to heavier grooves, modernized technologies, and a larger amalgam of different styles. But the playing, the sin­ging, and the songwriting departments are still understaffed, and now that there isn't really a single song here that I'd like to keep in memory, I have no choice but admit that the Blues Ma­goos' boat had sunk back then, even before the original band split up and became replaced with a «Peppy Castro Post-Blues Magoos Experience». Thumbs down.


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