BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: MIRROR IMAGE (1974)
1) Tell Me That I'm Wrong; 2) Look Up To The Sky; 3) Love Looks Good On You; 4) Hold On To Me; 5) Thinking Of You; 6) Are You Satisfied; 7) Mirror Image; 8) She's Coming Home.
Presumably, after New Blood and No Sweat, the next obvious LP title should have been Near Tears, or something like that. I can sort of see the band passing on that one, but the bare fact remains — Mirror Image is just a gallant euphemism for Near Tears, because (a) most of these songs do bring the knowledgeable listener «near tears», and (b) the album is, to a large extent, a «mirror image» of whatever this band used to be five years before.
Setting their glam-rock ambitions aside, Fisher, Bargeron, Wadenius & Co. have now decided that neither Elton John-style balladry nor Mick Ronson-style «flash-rock» are really where it's at (for «it», feel free to substitute either «big bucks» or «the future of music», depending on the positive / negative charge of your feelings for the band). Instead, they decide to put their trust in funk-pop — those hot, catchy, sweeping dance grooves that were becoming all the latest rage and had already evolved to the state of «proto-disco». With Earth, Wind & Fire having recently begun to conquer the charts with that style, it was only natural that «Blood, Sweat & Tears» should use the same formula (most record buyers would be confusing the two anyway, wouldn't they?).
Consequently, Side A of the album is completely dedicated to trying out this new approach — steady, streamlined dance-pop interspersed with a few gentler soul numbers — while the B-side still pretends to a slice of artsiness, being almost completely turned over to a huge, four-movement suite (title track), with each movement written by a different band member or subset of band members. Speaking of which, almost all of the LP is self-penned, except for two of the most «shake-yer-booty» style songs, contributed by Patricia Cosby, wife of Motown veteran Henry Cosby, who produced the album for the band.
Also of note is another important lineup change: Jim Fielder, the amazingly nimble-fingered bass wonder behind all of the band's classic numbers, finally got fed up with the constant turnover — and, perhaps, he was feeling that this simplification of the band's playing style left no space for his talent. Replaced by the reliable, but nowhere near as impressive / expressive Ron McClure, Fielder left for a humble session musician career — leaving drummer guy Bobby Colomby as the only original member of the band.
If you are a deep fan of this funky dance music, regardless of the compositional and atmospheric value of the actual songs, that first side, actually, isn't that bad. The grooves are danceable and perfectly professional; Jerry Fisher continues to be reliable as the «never oversinging» singer; and they try to introduce bona fide brass hooks and vocal hooks to almost every song, the best of the brass riffs arguably captured on the album's lead single ʽTell Me That I'm Wrongʼ, and the most memorable vocal hook contained on ʽLove Looks Good On Youʼ, where lead vocals are taken by temporary guest member Jerry LaCroix (soon to join the mid-1970s lineup of Rare Earth).
But, of course, everything suffers from BS&T's predictable flaw — too smooth, too cautious, too middle-of-the-road. The hooks ain't Bee Gees level, the soul is tepid compared to Al Green, the energy does not begin to approach Funkadelic, the subtlety is just non-existent next to Curtis Mayfield etc. etc. Just as No Sweat fell right into the «generic glam-rock» category, Mirror Image is equal parts «generic dance music», with hardly any good reasons to single it out of the swarms of records by other, less reputable, artists riding the same train in 1974.
All hopes rest on the four-part suite — how good is that one? Well, other than a hard-funk vocal movement at the end, this is competent jazz-fusion that suffers from the very same problem: it should feel itself mighty uncomfortable in the company of John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, the Soft Machine, Weather Report, etc. Had Jim Fielder still been in the band, he could have, perhaps, supplied parts of the suite with some super-tight monster basslines — as it is, the band is still able to keep its shit together, but lacks the virtuosity necessary to push it in a whole new dimension. For instance, at one point Wadenius lets rip with an aggressive, sky-high guitar solo, but it does not either have a distinctive voice of its own, or reach the same levels of dazzling technicality as you'd expect from a Santana or an Alan Holdsworth in this context.
Consequently, like everything else on here, ʽMirror Imageʼ is as perfectly listenable as it is perfectly boring — at this point, the band really starts looking like a respectably dressed, but a pennyless ticketless passenger, desperately trying to board one train after another, regardless of the actual direction, and inavoidably thrown off upon each attempt. The only thing about this whole process that is truly curious is how the hell they all managed to stick together and retain the original moniker for so long — considering that this particular «revolving doors» approach did not even depend on one or two permanent members (like Jethro Tull is always Jethro Tull as long as it has Ian Anderson in it, or King Crimson only has to preserve Robert Fripp to go on being King Crimson). Blame it all on some sort of «Blood, Sweat & Tears spirit» that Al helped generate in 1968 — sweet, sour, or stale, it had this odd magnetic effect that simply would not wear off, whatever the circumstances. Mystical stuff.
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