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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Blue Cheer: The Beast Is... Back

BLUE CHEER: THE BEAST IS... BACK (1984)

1) Nightmares; 2) Summertime Blues; 3) Ride With Me; 4) Girl Next Door; 5) Babylon; 6) Heart Of The City; 7) Out Of Focus; 8) Parchment Farm.

A little research shows that it is not altogether correct to talk of a Blue Cheer breakup — more like several extended vacation periods. Various incarnations of the band did function in 1974, 1975, 1978-79, and 1983, with Dickie as the only permanent link; none of them, however, suc­ceeded in landing any record contracts, which is why, for many, this vinyl resurgence in 1984 appeared as a complete surprise — a feeling that the band further enhanced with the appropriate title. (Which, upon subsequent re-releases, was cheesily changed to The Megaforce Years, after the name of the label to which they were signed at the time).

In any case, the title alone clearly announces vengeance — no sissy-hussy roots-rock shite for the good old fans, this is going to be «The Beast» all the way through. The track list does not look too promising, though: half of the songs are re-recordings of old classics from Vincebus and Outsideinside, which is usually not an auspicious sign — what good is a comeback, after all, if you have not managed to write more than four new songs in thirteen years?

Expectations drop down even lower, though, once you hear the first notes of the record and see how the band tries to catch up with the times. In 1984, if you were a veteran of the bang-your-head-against-the-wall aesthetics and wanted to impress the kids, you had basically two routes to choose from — thrash metal and glam metal («New Wave metal» was more of a British thing), and guess which one those guys had taken. Nothing against Dickie Peterson, or the original drummer Paul Whaley, making a triumphant return in style; but the band's resi­dent guitarist, Tony Rainier, is a Van Halen-influenced B-grade hack, in command of a suitably nasty tone but thoroughly relying on cocky pop-metal clichés, well-tested and over-abused on Sunset Strip for several years already.

To be more precise and polite, we have all heard worse than that, but still, was it really worth coming back to let us hear a Def Leppard-style re-recording of ʽSummertime Bluesʼ? Maybe it seemed like fun at the time to try that old stuff with new production values and improved tech­nique, but thicker layers of distortion/fuzz and flashy high-pitched lead trills/arpeggios were so commonplace at the time that it is impossible to look back on that stuff without irony — where Vincebus Eruptum, with all its flaws and potential negative influence on the evolution of hard rock, was still an innovative, daring breakthrough, The Beast Is Back prompts just one inevitable question: But Who Gives A Damn This Time?

The new songs, however, are not at all bad. Once you get past the production clichés, three of them have solid pop-metal chorus hooks (particularly ʽHeart Of The Cityʼ, where Dickie manages to convey the «lethal insanity» atmosphere of being sucked into the whirlpool of city life), and one (ʽRide With Meʼ) does a good job at gradually building up tension until they botch it with the lack of an adequately climactic resolution. No masterpieces, but a decent bunch of snappy pop-metal anthems that makes one wonder whether they really needed to leave the rest of the album to useless re-recordings. In fact, calling this «glam metal» would be quite inaccurate — the songs are influenced by the commercial metal sound of the times, for sure, but they have none of that unhealthy Sunset Strip hedonism (other than ʽGirl Next Doorʼ, I guess, with beautiful lyrical lines such as "I'm gonna wait right here just to get the right meat / ...get what I need from the girl next door" — and the song is credited to Rainier, too).

Altogether — not a tragedy, but a relative disappointment, although, come to think of it, any pre­diction-yielding model would have probably guessed that, were these guys ever to reform, their first album would look something like that: re-recorded old chestnuts + glam metal production + a few nostalgic signs that hint at the band's arrival from a distant past, rather than being a young artistic cousin of Def Leppard. Giving it a thumbs up would be out of the question; putting it down would be too unjust, because I really have nothing against most of the songs, be they old or new ones. Proceed at your own risk.

Check "The Megaforce Years" (CD) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. "Proceed at your own risk."
    Heart of the City has a more than decent riff, so the 80's style shredding doesn't bother me at all. Moreover the coda is all but stereotypal glamrock with that clever acceleration, forcing Rainier to pull off some non-trivial pyrotechnics quite non-typical for hair-metal. What puts me off is the annoying backbeat drumming. Why not some nice rolls?

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  2. This unfortunate "comeback" era actually did far more harm to the BC brand than the lame hippie/country crap of the immediate post-Stephens era. At least with that stuff, you could treat it as the work of another band entirely, since Peterson was the only surviving member of the original BC.

    But with this era of the group, you're forced to endure increasingly senile repetitions of the classic material, all the while witnessing the clueless and clumsy attempts at staying relevant by trying to cop some of Motorhead's bluesy biker metal vibe. While no one doubts the authenticity of Peterson's "street" persona, he sure ain't no Phil Lynott, much less Lemmy. Avoid at all costs!

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