BLOODROCK: BLOODROCK (1970)
1) Gotta Find A Way; 2) Castle Of Thoughts; 3) Fatback; 4) Double Cross; 5) Timepiece; 6) Wicked Truth; 7) Gimme Your Head; 8) Fantastic Piece Of Architecture; 9) Melvin Laid An Egg.
What kind of an association would you have with the word bloodrock? Any band that calls itself that should probably be imagined as some sort of particularly gory, trashy younger brother of Black Sabbath. There's even a couple horror flicks out there called Bloodstone, but, of course, the «stone» part should be swapped for a «rock» part — the band is American, after all. Actually, not just American, but Texan, which would naturally spruce up further associations with Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and when you look at the album cover, there's, like, blood on it, plenty of it, and even a rock for good measure.
In reality, though, the boys from Bloodrock were nowhere near that creepy. A bunch of honest rock'n'rollers from Fort Worth, they spent three years playing as «The Naturals» (indeed) and then three more years playing as «Crowd + 1» (because if you just call yourself «Crowd», people might suspect you of arrogant minimalism), before teaming up with Terry Knight, the producer of Grand Funk Railroad, who came up with the «Bloodrock» moniker for them. Knight, not fully satisfied by already having one big fat ass hard rock ensemble under his belt, decided to procure himself a Southern (Texan) counterpart to the Northern (Michigan) brand of GFR, took Bloodrock under his wing, secured them a contract with Capitol, and produced their first LP.
Testosterone-driven, sweaty, radio-friendly American hard rock is generally not my cup of tea at all — I can cope with the macho attitude, and I can cope with the family-friendly attitude, but combining them is bad for spiritual digestion. Fortunately, Bloodrock, especially on their first albums, went beyond that. They had a fairly testosterone-respecting lead singer, Jim Rutledge, with one of those grizzly voices that suggests pumping iron, and a crunchy guitar player, Lee Pickens, a big fan of thick, grumbly guitar riffs, of which he'd written a fair share for this album (more, I think, than Steppenwolf in their entire career). But they also had a streak of darkness and psychedelic escapism to their craft — Bloodrock is not any less inspired by the Doors and Hendrix than it is by Steppenwolf and GFR.
I think that nothing better illustrates this idea than the start of the album — ʽGotta Find A Wayʼ begins with a low, heavy, «macho» rhythm pattern, but five seconds later is complemented by a high-pitched, fuzzy, psycho-wailing «siren», and more space is given to the battling guitar and organ solos than to the vocal sections. Then ʽCastle Of Thoughtsʼ is the album's most directly Hendrix-inspired track, its rhythm being almost directly lifted off ʽStone Freeʼ, but Stephen Hill's keyboards add an extra layer of complexity, and the guitar/organ interplay part at the end is exciting in a purely «musical» way, putting the emphasis on melody rather than «power».
There may not be anything on Bloodrock that pushes it over the top: although the complete combination of ingredients is somewhat unique, it is not unique enough to turn them into prime league members overnight. But on a song by song basis, Bloodrock is intelligently written and effervescently well performed hard rock. The riffs on ʽDouble Crossʼ, ʽWicked Truthʼ, and particularly ʽMelvin Laid An Eggʼ are all perfectly respectable even for the highest standards of 1970; the lyrics, fluctuating between absurdist, idealistic, and morbid, are unpredictable and not always laughable (ʽTimepieceʼ, after all, is about a prisoner's last minutes before the gallows); and the lengthy songs have enough of dynamics to them, including softer interludes and jammy bits. Towards the end, they even try to boldly overstep the boundaries by offering a little Gothic art-rock suite — ʽFantastic Piece Of Architectureʼ is a Poe-worthy tale of disillusionment and «time-conquers-all» sentiment, ceremoniously dressed up in solemn organs, Bach-inspired piano lines and echoey guitar tinkles, and it works surprisingly better than one could expect from a bunch of down-to-earth Texan rockers (although I can't help wondering how much better still it would have sounded in the hands of an Alan Parsons).
In fact, on a song-by-song basis there are simply no bad tracks on Bloodrock at all, which ultimately makes their debut record their greatest one (as it happens much too often with second-rate bands). I even like ʽFatbackʼ, despite its lack of a great riff (the song is cleverly driven by piano chords, giving it a little whiff of modern jazz), and ʽGimme Your Headʼ, despite the fact that its own riff deserved a thicker sound and a more prominent position in the mix. Even so, these two minor creations are actually the shortest ones on the album, meaning that Bloodrock were never above stretching out a good idea when the good idea deserved to be stretched out.
Do not expect a jaw-dropping masterpiece, but do expect an interesting combination of ideas. Turning on the «grumbly old-timer» mode, I will say that, had these guys come together forty years later, Bloodrock would almost certainly be a completely one-dimensional creation; back in 1970, though, being one-dimensional was a rather embarrassing perspective, so they gave us this rather oddball take on Texan rock instead. Thumbs up.