BLOODROCK: PASSAGE (1972)
1) Help Is On The Way; 2) Scottsman; 3) Juice; 4) The Power; 5) Life Blood; 6) Days And Nights; 7) Lost Fame; 8) Thank You Daniel Ellsberg; 9) Fantasy.
More accurately, I think the album's real title is Bloodrock Passage, since what we see on the cover is the image of a ship passing between what might look like two bloody rocks. In that case, the name of the band is either Zero, which happens to coincide with the number of positive emotions I get from listening to the album, or Led Zeppelin. In any case, this band is definitely not Bloodrock, an early 1970s Texan rock outfit that produced such grumbly monsters as Bloodrock, Bloodrock 2, Bloodrock 3, Bloodrock USA, Bloodrock Live, and that great lost masterpiece, Bloodrock Play The Entire Engelbert Humperdinck Catalog Just To Prove That Nobody Ever Pigeonholes A Real Texan.
What this new band is, having just lost Jim Rutledge and Lee Pickens, i.e. the only half-decent reasons one ever listens to a Bloodrock album, is a progressive rock band with a fixation on folk, classical, and jazz influences. The new singer guy... well, imagine the Rolling Stones losing both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and replacing them with, say, Woolly Wolstenholme from Barclay James Harvest, because, I mean, who else do you turn to when you are really in such a desperate need to salvage the Rolling Stones brand? Except you have to downscale the volume a bit: Warren Ham is really no Woolly when it comes to talent. He is a competent singer, as well as saxophone and flute player, but all he really knew at that point was how to listen to others — Jethro Tull, King Crimson, ELP — and imitate them. Granted, this was better than what followed: in the early 1980s, Ham would be touring with Kansas, then he would go on to join Kerry Livgren's new Christian rock band AD as lead singer, and, finally, become a Christian rock solo performer in his own limited right.
Of course, condemning an album like Passage just because «it ain't real Bloodrock» is silly. Passage is a very bad record not because it dares to replace the heavy riffs, gloomy lyrics, and scorching solos of classic Bloodrock with more formally complex progressive rock escapades, flute solos, and synthesizer-led jams, but simply because all of this music happens to be very, very boring. The songs, mostly co-written with Ham and the band's old keyboard player Stephen Hill, all seem like pale, limp shadows of their betters, without a shred of individual vision and nowhere near close to their general energy level. In fact, I'd rather have preferred them to be awfully distasteful and primitive, like Uriah Heep — as such, they are not even any use as a punching bag. Just your basic bland, instantly forgettable crap.
Just a couple of quick examples will suffice. ʽScottsmanʼ milks the same territory as Jethro Tull's Elizabethan marches — in fact, its main flute part echoes the "I've come down from the upper class..." part of the freshly released ʽThick As A Brickʼ, which could hardly be a coincidence. But there is no sharp Martin Barre guitar accompaniment to give it teeth, nor does Ham's attempt at «heroic» singing (for which his voice is too weak anyway) have any stun power — second-hand copying at its most blatant. Further on down the line, ʽDays And Nightsʼ is stretched to eight minutes in order to incorporate a lengthy jam section, a large part of which is driven by a brass riff expressly taken from King Crimson's ʽ21st Century Schizoid Manʼ. Take it, but don't waste it — all it does is just hang there while the keyboard player noodles for several minutes around it with one of about eighty billion organ solos that were recorded in 1972 and all sounded the same (imitating either Emerson or Wakeman).
It gets worse, because Ham, Hill, and the rest of Hoodrock insist on being diverse and matching their progressive rock «skills» with time-honored Americana, so they also massacre funk (the one minute long introduction to ʽLost Fameʼ, after which it becomes an anthem to the power of the Mighty Moog), blues (ʽThank You, Daniel Ellsbergʼ, which has to be one of the lamest fusions of B. B. King with contemporary American politics that I've ever heard), and swamp rock (ʽThe Powerʼ). In conjunction with the original stiffness and lumpiness of the band's rhythm section, Ham's march-on-Christian-soldiers vocalizing and Hill's somnambulant keyboard tinkering reduce each and every one of these genres to the nightmarish question of «does humanity actually need to listen to music, anyway?»
It is all so mind-numbing that I wouldn't even want to recommend the album to fans of Kansas — as much as I hate the band, at least it had its own silly schtick sort of worked out from the very beginning; Passage is just a meandering mess with no reason whatsoever to exist. Amazingly, the album almost managed to grope its way into the Top 100 — not so wonderous, perhaps, given the fact that Thick As A Brick had made it all the way to the top that very year, but at least, not too many people were tricked into a "hey, it's got flute on it, it's just like those groovy Jethro Tull guys!" mindset, so that's okay, and there is no need to accompany the thumbs down with any extra hatred. They pretty much got what they deserved, right on the spot.