BLUE CHEER: HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIVES (1990)
1) Urban Soldiers; 2) Hunter Of Love; 3) Girl From London; 4) Blue Steel Dues; 5) Big Trouble In Paradise; 6) Flight Of The Enola Gay; 7) Hoochie Coochie Man; 8) Down And Dirty; 9) Blues Cadillac.
In order to better prove that they are not «glam metal», and that they use their heaviness for darker and deeper purposes than attenuating their sexiness, Blue Cheer hire Jack Endino to produce their next album — the same Jack Endino that had just produced Nirvana's Bleach and engineered LPs by Mudhoney and Soundgarden. Clearly, Dickie was still hip to whatever was happening musically (at least, as far as heavy stuff was concerned) on the West Coast, and it is only natural that his heart and soul would be drifting towards the emerging grunge scene rather than the hedonistic and glossy-commercial style of the hair metal crowds.
Unfortunately, it does not help. Endino probably agreed to work with those guys out of a basic sense of respect — after all, one can trace a fairly credible line from the original stoner rock of Vincebus Eruptum to the Seattle grunge bands — but there was nothing he could do about rectifying their sound or modernizing their attitudes. Duck MacDonald, a faithful supporter of Tony Rainier's legacy, keeps pushing on with «muscle riffs» and «lightning solos»; Peterson's primary points of lyrical and atmospheric interest remain in the territory of girls, hot rods, and glorifying wasted lifestyles; and altogether, there is no other point to this record than proving they can still push it all the way to eleven.
Now I couldn't even say that the riffs are «bad»: if you look at a song like ʽFlight Of The Enola Gayʼ outside of any sort of context, its pop metal lines are somewhat catchy. It is only when you realize that this sounds like an early rehearsal tape for Judas Priest that the desire to hear it one more time completely evaporates. I mean, if you are writing a heavy metal song about the bombing of Hiroshima, you want to make your listeners' hair stand on end, right? You want them to feel the terror, the heat, the megadeath in their very bones, right? So how are you going to achieve that effect by relying exclusively on decade-old heavy metal clichés? And no, «low-register guitar riff» does not automatically result in an allegory of a nuclear explosion, you have to work just a little bit more for that.
Conversely, much of the album does not stray too far away from old school 12-bar territory — ʽBlue Steel Duesʼ is nothing but your basic slow blues-rock jam, and the metallized cover of ʽHoochie Coochie Manʼ speaks for itself (granted, it is probably one of the heaviest versions of the song I have ever heard, and Peterson plays the protagonist with gusto, getting way more into character than on any other song here, but still, just how many different hoochie coochie men do you really need in one lifetime?). And what does stray away sometimes borders on the ridiculous: ʽGirl From Londonʼ is a sentimental-cum-metal attempt to conquer the heights of impressionistic romanticism à la ʽLittle Wingʼ — Peterson and MacDonald start off quiet and «deep», with nostalgically gallant-psychedelic imagery conveyed by bad lyrics ("She wears a diamond beneath the moon / We bring her flowers in the afternoon"), then gradually unwind and crank it up to high heaven, but the guitar tones and melodic structure are so predictable it's not even funny.
Maybe the best thing that can, and should, be said about the album is that it avoids power ballads: ʽGirl From Londonʼ is the only ballad as such, and it reminds far more of the early successes of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin than the pompous anthems of the hairy heroes of the Eighties. At the very least, Peterson is true to his past and consistent in his approach to music-making. But this does not make Highlights And Lowlives any less unnecessary — it just makes it a little more palatable if you do have to listen to it, for reviewing purposes, for instance. Without even a single point of genuine interest, it's a thumbs down all the way: plenty of lowlives all right, but good luck trying to pick out the highlights.
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