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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: Nuclear Blues

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: NUCLEAR BLUES (1980)

1) Agitato; 2) Nuclear Blues; 3) Manic Depression; 4) I'll Drown In My Own Tears; 5) Fantasy Stage; 6) (Suite) Spanish Wine.

Losing the entire band after Brand New Day had infamously ended up as the «Same Old Flub» was no big deal for Clayton-Thomas — after all, earlier on in the decade the entire band had lost him, so a quid pro quo was in the works anyway. Some sources state that he was not going to use the BS&T tag at all, but that the band's old manager somehow persuaded him, so David simply enlisted a bunch of his Canadian friends and ploughed on, brave guy.

Listening to Nuclear Blues makes it fairly obvious why this «new» Blood, Sweat & Tears was only able to get one new album on the MCA label. The reason is that the lineup may be new, but the music, the vibe, the sentiments stay exactly the same — by the standards of 1980, these guys might just as well have been «reinventing» the Charleston. In retrospect, Clayton-Thomas should probably earn our admiration for the obstinacy. In general, it did him no good: the album expec­tedly sank again, and most people probably did not even go to the trouble of noticing that it did come out. But those few people who are ready to take note might actually find something they can not only respect out of a general respect for bravery, but actually enjoy.

When the album is being bad or silly, it is the kind of badness / silliness that we are quite used to from Clayton-Thomas. Not for the first time, he picks out a solid soulful oldie (Ray Charles' ʽDrown In My Own Tearsʼ), then slows it down and stretches it out to breaking point, mutilating every inch with his overacting. For the hard rock part of the show, he picks out another solid oldie, Jimi's ʽManic Depressionʼ, and gives it a flashy brass reading that only works if you forget all about the schizo-psycho original. From his own songwriting gut comes the title track, a pas­sable piece of funk-blues that does not sensibly match the song's ominous lyrical message — and the predictable piece of cabaret schlock, ʽFantasy Stageʼ, which could work in Las Vegas, but hardly in my or your living room.

However, the unsung hero of this album is not Clayton-Thomas, but rather his hitherto unknown pal, trumpetist Bruce Cassidy. He not only contributes the opening instrumental (ʽAgitatoʼ), but is also responsible for a large chunk of the closing 15-minute suite, ʽSpanish Wineʼ — an inventive mix of various Latin musical forms with elements of fusion. In between both, this makes for twenty minutes of competent, energetic, and occasionally memorable music. Naturally, a third-, if not fourth-generation BS&T circa 1980 could hardly be capable of pushing boundaries or any­thing, but the various movements of ʽSpanish Wineʼ, most of them intelligently sewn together with Dave Piltch's subtly thrilling bass part, form an intriguing, if not very deep, composition, something that the old BS&T hadn't really tried out since the early 1970s.

All in all, this almost desperate attempt to stick even harder to their guns and go all-out retro on listeners who were just saying goodbye to the age of disco and hello to the age of electrofunk, synth-pop, and man-machines, was as good a «swan song» for BS&T as anything — it goes with­out saying that this nostalgic meandering, sometimes impressive and sometimes embarrassing, was much preferable to the option of trying to fit in with the times and incorporate contemporary synthesizers, drum machines, and pop-metal guitars. Hence, despite the many problems of Nuc­lear Blues, I will succumb to the temptation of giving it a thumbs up: at the very least, ʽSpanish Wineʼ deserves one all by itself, even if it comes in tandem with some gummy Ray Charles.

Check "Nuclear Blues" (MP3) on Amazon

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