BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: MIRRORS (1979)
1) Dr. Music; 2) The Great Sun Jester; 3) In Thee; 4) Mirrors; 5) Moon Crazy; 6) The Vigil; 7) I Am The Storm; 8) You're Not The One (I Was Looking For); 9) Lonely Teardrops.
As the band's commercial fortunes started slipping somewhat with Spectres, a shift of direction and environment was thought of as a potential good move. A radical shift indeed — the band not only ditched Pearlman (temporarily) and long-time co-producer Murray Krugman (permanently), but it also betrayed its alma mater — New York City, going to California for the bulk of the recordings. The new choice of producer wasn't too bad: Tom Werman, the guy behind several classic late-1970s Cheap Trick albums — but the choice of location certainly was, at least for 1979, the last year of the classic disco era.
Mirrors is not a disco album, but it is certainly one of their most danceable records, going very light on heavy metal riffs (no ʽGodzillaʼ for a hundred miles around) and very heavy on California-style folk-pop and contemporary R&B influences. Technically, it is not so much a sellout as an experimental attempt to plant the «BÖC spirit» into a different kind of soil and see how it works — the songs are still relatively «weird» in construction terms, and the lyrics still contain plenty of the mock-Gothic, ironic-romantic imagery of yore. On ʽThe Great Sun Jesterʼ, they even enter into collaboration with a new familiar face — fantasy goon Michael Moorcock, who probably needed a change from his long-term collaboration with Hawkwind. All in all, this here is not a case of «band on autopilot»: Mirrors is an honest-to-goodness attempt to reinvent themselves and stay up-to-date while at the same time conserving the old essence.
Naturally, it is a little offensive when a song called ʽDr. Musicʼ opens the album and sounds like a mix of ʽPretty Womanʼ, ʽOb-La-Di Ob-La-Daʼ, and some dinky mid-1970s proto-disco dance number that I can't quite lay my finger on. But it is essentially a comedy number, more of a straight parody on sexy posturing than anything else — Bloom's vocals are quite indicative of that — and condemning the band for this experiment, while trying in vain to get its catchy chorus out of your head, would be as useless as condemning the Beatles for ʽMaxwell's Silver Hammerʼ. It is much easier to condemn the closing number: Lanier's ʽLonely Teardropsʼ, riding on a Clavinet line not unlike the one in ʽSuperstitionʼ, and taking it a little more serious than necessary (the "Lord I tell you, all I want to do is get back home" bit sounds achingly poignant, but the rest of the track is so dance-centered that the vibes clash and explode).
Yet the album is diverse, enough for everybody to be able to pick at least one or two favorites. I really like ʽThe Great Sun Jesterʼ, for one thing — a fun, exciting lite-prog epic, which I could have easily imagined on a Yes album, exuberantly sung by Jon Anderson instead of Eric Bloom and with a high-in-the-sky Steve Howe solo for the climax, but even in the hands of this here band it still rolls along with a wallop of life-asserting optimism, a little surprising for a song that laments the «death of the fireclown» (a Moorcock fantasy personage), but where there's death, there's always rebirth, you know.
On the other end of the pole, there's ʽI Am The Stormʼ, the album's only seriously rocking cut: a little Boston-glossy, perhaps, but it does rock the socks off, true to its name, with magnificent lead guitar from Buck Dharma and a hyperbolic-exaggerated old-testamental anger at the betrayal of love that we haven't seen since ʽI Can See For Milesʼ. It's a pop song at heart, but they work hard to imbue it with rock fury, and I am quite won over by its theatricality. Heck, I am even won over by the theatricality of ʽMoon Crazyʼ, with its odd wobbling between old-time Kinksy music-hall and new-style whitebread 1970s pop — especially when it goes into overdriven drunken Slavic rhythmics and wild guitar pirouetting at the end.
Quite a bit of the time the record is boring, or somewhat limp: you'd have to be a major fan of the decade's conventional pop balladry, for instance, to get any thrill out of the ballad ʽIn Theeʼ (delivered way too sincerely to be salvaged by irony), and ʽYou're Not The One (I Was Looking For)ʼ seems to be a very self-conscious effort to write something in the style of that hot new Boston sensation, The Cars, but with those boring power chords for the chorus hook, the song becomes Foreigner rather than the Cars when it comes to climaxing, and gets the death sentence for that. Even so — it is at least interesting to watch it start out so promisingly and then self-destruct so maddeningly.
Underwhelming as the effort is next to Spectres, with the lack of a definitive highlight (ʽI Am The Stormʼ comes close, though), I still give it a thumbs up — if you want to look for something really bland in this style, check out the average Average White Band from the same time period; Mirrors has its own intrigue, diversity, and charming clumsiness when you view it in context and see them try to corrupt all those new influences with their irreverent approach. One of these days we might even forget them the temporary move to California, I guess.