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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Blue Cheer: Outsideinside

BLUE CHEER: OUTSIDEINSIDE (1968)

1) Feathers From Your Tree; 2) Sun Cycle; 3) Just A Little Bit; 4) Gypsy Ball; 5) Come And Get It; 6) Satisfaction; 7) The Hunter; 8) Magnolia Caboose; 9) Babylon; 10) Fortunes.

The idea of a band like Blue Cheer trying to add a little «intellect» on their sophomore record may sound fairly scary in theory, but the results are hardly catastrophic — most importantly, the album does show that they were something more than just a one-shot act, if not something much more than a one-shot act. Given the context of the times, their decision to push the controls some­what farther in the direction of psychedelia and even the newly-emerging «art rock» ideology was not surprising; what was surprising is that, in a certain way, they almost managed to get away with it. Under a slight risk of getting sued for slander, I'd suggest that, perhaps, this was due to their fortunate rejection of originality — most of the musical ideas on Outsideinside belong not to Blue Cheer, but to somebody else, although all of them were properly subjected to the patented Blue Cheer treatment (louder, fuzzier, clumsier).

First thing one hears is a piano. A piano? Not a mistake, no, the band has indeed enlisted the ser­vices of Ralph Burns Kellogg, a professional musician, to help them get accommodated in this brand new world that just keeps upping its requirements for bands that want to stay alive and well and ahead of the competition. Next come the overdubs — the vocals on ʽFeathers From Your Treeʼ come from all sides, echoing the verses and framing out the choruses like they belonged to a small band of angels. The only things that still remind us of the beast inside is the obligatory heavy fuzz of the guitar and the brawny screaming of the lead vocalist. The end result is indeed quite trippy, if not particularly good: as far as soaking basic, brutal, fuzzy hard rock in psy­che­delic effects is concerned, Hawkwind would later take this art to a whole new level.

Although, formally, there are only two covers on the album (an intentionally «Godawful-™» ren­dition of ʽSatisfactionʼ and an altogether less shocking and much more reverential ʽHunterʼ from the stockpile of Albert King), like I said, much, if not most of the other stuff is thoroughly deri­vative as well. For instance, ʽGypsy Ballʼ is what Jimi's ʽWind Cries Maryʼ might have sounded like if the guitar were three times as distorted, the drummer tossed aside all modesty, and the overall point were to crush, rather than seduce, the listener. ʽBabylonʼ is a slowed down and fun­kified take on ʽSweet Little Sixteenʼ, sometimes drifting off into generic 12-bar blues territory. ʽFortunesʼ is like a «heavy bubble-gum» amalgamation of ʽFortune Tellerʼ and some Nuggets single whose title escapes me at the moment. And so on and on and on.

Yet, at the same time, taken in context, Outsideinside comes across as an amazingly crude pio­neering effort. All those early 1970s bands trying to put a «heavy» spin on every musical style (and subtlety and «tastefulness» and meticulous planning be damned), be it psychedelia à la Hawkwind, pub-rock à la Slade, or bubblegum-rock à la Sweet — in embryonic form, it's all here on Blue Cheer's second album. It is embarrassing, yes, because it clearly aspires to some­thing «higher» than a simple urge to bang your head against the wall while trying to overcome your sex drive, and it is pretty hard to aim «higher» while still trying to bang your head against the same wall — especially if you are not endowed with the chops of a Jimmy Page or even the simple genius of a Tony Iommi.

But in between all the embarrassment, there is still plenty of sheer amusement going on. Every­thing is unpredictable — you never know when they are going to speed up, slow down, throw in a guitar or organ line that absolutely and utterly «does not fit», or just boogie along without a set purpose (ʽMagnolia Cabooseʼ, a brief, ferocious instrumental that might actually be the most passionate track on the entire album — even if, like everything else, it is highly derivative, this time from Jimi's ʽDriving Southʼ, I believe). And for every single piece that does not work, like ʽSatisfactionʼ (useless without the sneering attitude), there is a ʽHunterʼ that does work — few people could say "I've got you in the sight of my love gun" more convincingly than Peterson did that in 1968. It all adds up to a thumbs up, after all. Plus, Outsideinside would turn out to be the last album by the original lineup — Leigh Stephens would quit soon after the official release, and the band would never be the same again, so one more reason here for every fan of Vincebus to pay extra attention.

Check "Outsideinside" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Outsideinside" (MP3) on Amazon

5 comments:

  1. About a year later Led Zep completely would annihilate Blue Cheer's version of The Hunter (How many more Times). If you think that over the top there is The Free Live from 1971 who hit the nail with much more precision. Heck, I even know a bootleg from Rough Diamond (yep, David Byron) with a more interesting version than this one.

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  2. This is, indeed, the last chapter of the original Blue Cheer, and probably their last fully relevant statement (the Randy Holden side of "New, Improved" is yet to come).

    They were doomed to fail once they quit banging it out at full speed, but for a few precious moments they did it faster and harder than anyone. Sure, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath had more precision, but also more pretension. BC pretty much gave you the energy, and left you to draw your own conclusions, which ultimately places them closer to the original spirit of rock and roll than nearly any of their successors throughout the 70's. It's really not until the 90's that BC began to be somewhat sheepishly acknowledged as an influence on groups ranging from Black Flag to Mudhoney to Sleep.

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  3. For those of us that loved the first album it was already over when we heard this one. Anyone expecting V.E. part II will be sorely disappointed and better off seeking out some early Monster Magnet.

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    1. You'd hardly have Monster Magnet, or any stoner rock group, without this album in particular. The first album leads only to straight old school metal of the trad variety.

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    2. Perhaps I'm a little hard on this album. It was certainly nowhere near as intense as Vincebus Eruptum.

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