BLUE CHEER: OH! PLEASANT HOPE (1971)
1) Hiway Man; 2) Believer; 3) Money Troubles; 4) Traveling Man; 5) Oh! Pleasant Hope; 6) I'm The Light; 7) Ecological Blues; 8) Lester The Arrester; 9) Heart Full Of Soul.
Okay, come out and confess: who was it told Blue Cheer that they should drop whatever they were doing and start being The Band, of all people? Or, if not The Band, then at least The Doobie Brothers. All of a sudden, just as Original Human Being showed assured signs of the band set to return to their «caveman glory», they do a 180-degree twist and give us acoustic guitars, on-the-porch attitudes, lyrical tales of highway men, traveling men, money-troubled men, believers and arresters, and as if that weren't enough, Dickie Peterson only takes lead vocals on the last three tracks, leaving the rest to Gary Yoder. Granted, not a lot of people must have been paying any attention to Blue Cheer in the era of ʽStairway To Heavenʼ, but for those that were, the band's conversion to a roots-rock-oriented strategy must have been quite a shock.
The saving grace of the album, however, is that it never tries to take itself too seriously. Much to Blue Cheer's honor, they do not even attempt to generate a «soulful» or «spiritual» atmosphere, as the instrumental abilities and arranging skills of the band would be inadequate. Instead, they make good use of their pop sensibility, loading many of the songs with modestly catchy, sometimes even funny «roots-pop» choruses — like, probably the only point in listening to ʽHiway Manʼ is hearing Yoder bawl "MONEY, give me all you have!" as if he were rehearsing for a Monty Python sketch or something. It ain't much to go on haunting you in your dreams, but at least it saves the song from proverbial boredom, and that is more or less the way this entire album works — through decent pop hooks.
The title track, in particular, amounts to pure parody: its verses are set to the precise melody of ʽThe Weightʼ ("Billy Joe went lookin' round..." = "I pulled into Nazareth..."), but the uplifting / optimistic message of the chorus, unlike the obscure invocation to Fanny, is spelled out with the utmost precision: "Oh, pleasant hope / Where we're gonna get our dope? ... / Oh, pleasant hope / Grass will flow like wine" — except that even Steppenwolf sounded like they really meant it when conversing with the enemy (ʽDon't Step On The Grass, Samʼ), whereas ʽOh! Pleasant Hopeʼ is sung so nonchalantly that you don't even get to feel it for them.
But if the title track simply pokes fun at marijuana deprivation, ʽI'm The Lightʼ is downright blasphemous — not only does it mix gospel organ with Indian sitar (did George Harrison ever have something like that?), it actually means what it says: the protagonist tells his girlfriend that "I'm the light, I'm the only one you'll see" and that "It's one hand for all mankind while the other holds the flame". For that matter, the sitar plays quite a seductive pop melody — transpose it to electric guitar or flute, speed up the tempo a little bit, and you got yourself a readymade Manfred Mann pop single. Not a masterpiece, of course, but second time in a row that Blue Cheer have used the sitar in a non-conventional manner and gotten away with it.
For nostalgia sufferers, there is a bit of a heavy rock vibe here: ʽBelieverʼ is driven by crunchy distorted guitar (despite being one of the poppiest songs on the album), and ʽHeart Full Of Soulʼ (a Peterson original, nothing to do with the famous Yardbirds hit) has a dark, scruffy bassline, chaotic leads, and growling / screaming vocals straight off Vincebus — a little peace offering for the veteran fans if they were obedient enough to sit all the way through to the end. But all of this is still quite tame even compared to Human Being, let alone Vincebus, and seems to be here mainly in order to establish some sort of shaky link to the past.
Still, all things considered, I like the record, and give it a thumbs up. The fact that it never charted is expectable and understandable, as is the fact that, totally frustrated over their loss of direction and obscure future perspectives, Blue Cheer finally broke up after it had flopped. But once you get over the initial disappointment, and once you start realizing that they weren't really trying to establish themselves as a «serious» roots-rock act, but rather urged us all to take it with a grain of salt, Oh! Pleasant Hope comes across as an inoffensive, occasionally charming trifle, not entirely devoid of interest. And after a few listens, it might even come across as a concised, focused send-up of the whole genre — which, by early 1971, was certainly in need of a good send-up, like all genres that eventually start falling back on their own clichés.
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