Search This Blog

Loading...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Blue Öyster Cult: Spectres

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: SPECTRES (1977)

1) Godzilla; 2) Golden Age Of Leather; 3) Death Valley Nights; 4) Searchin' For Celine; 5) Fireworks; 6) R. U. Ready 2 Rock; 7) Celestial The Queen; 8) Going Through The Motions; 9) I Love The Night; 10) Nosferatu.

This is actually a very good album, but I see how it can be (and is) often viewed as a major dis­appointment, coming right off the heels of Agents Of Fortune. First of all, its lead-off track and best known song, ʽGodzillaʼ, is a straightforward novelty number — never yet had Blue Öyster Cult sounded as close to «parody» as on this song, whose thick, grumbly, but ultimately humo­rous riffs sort of mockingly imitate the tread of Japan's beloved monster, and whose braggard chorus announces ʽGodzilla!ʼ as if it were a bunch of male cheerleaders welcoming the world's latest heavyweight champion, stepping out of his limousine on the red carpet. Ironically, both of the band's biggest successes of the 1976-78 period are credited to Buck Dharma — but ʽGodzillaʼ couldn't be more different from ʽReaperʼ, and any fan who had previously admired ʽReaperʼ for subtlety and depth would only find crudeness and silliness in ʽGodzillaʼ. Which, however, does not make the song any less catchy or fun.

The rest of the album, however, remembers that the band's chief strength lies in putting meanings on top of other meanings, and not only in choosing bizarre subjects for their songs, but also in finding bizarre structures and sequences to present them in — and from that point of view, Spectres is still classic Blue Öyster Cult in very good form. If there is an overall complaint, it is that the record all but says goodbye to the pop vibe of Agents Of Fortune, but does not return to the lean, crunchy hard rock of earlier times. Instead, the band is now regularly going for an «arena» type of sound — taking its cues from Boston and Foreigner rather than Black Sabbath, with power chords, glossy, «clean» guitar melodies, lots of keyboards, and a rather grayish production tone plaguing good and bad songs alike.

Something like this could, of course, be guessed just by looking at one of the titles: ʽR. U. Ready To Rockʼ — amusingly, the song was recorded around the same time as Queen's ʽWe Will Rock Youʼ, and this is telling, considering that News Of The World was also the most «arena-rock» type release that Queen ever offered its audiences. Except that ʽWe Will Rock Youʼ, as cheaply populist as it was, at least fulfilled its promise, whereas the BÖC song, slow, meandering, and with a lazy riff, only shows that, while you may be ready to rock, the band has pretty much for­gotten how to do that effectively, even in a post-modernist manner.

Fortunately, the meat of the record lies not in its unconvincing appeals to rock'n'roll, but in some of its imaginative mini-world journeys. ʽGolden Age Of Leatherʼ is an ironic, multi-part saga about bikers — from folk chant to ballad to James Bond theme to catchy pop-rock (later to turn into ʽDemolition Manʼ by The Police), the tune has it all. Albert Bouchard's ʽFireworksʼ is a mystical story of romance and tragedy, one of those songs where the verse melody hits harder than the chorus (I love those rapidly descending "she, went, down, to-her-house, by-the-water..." sequences and the moody guitar lines that echo them, creating a sense of doom in a highly un­conventional manner). And the band's obsession with the occult/supernatural culminates in not one, but two songs about vampires closing out the album — ʽI Love The Nightʼ approaches the subject from a sentimental-romantic angle, while ʽNosferatuʼ is essentially a brief retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, done in properly Gothic fashion (echoey vocals, doom-laden pianos and Mellotrons, stately descending harmonies, whatever).

Synthesizers and thick, bulgy, arena-rock pop-metal riffs populate many of these songs, and do not always make up for fascinating listening, but the songs can grow on you over time, with hooks and meanings slowly arising from the somewhat murky turf: even something as dumb as ʽSearchin' For Celineʼ, one of the band's rare excursions into funk-pop, eventually makes its point as one of those obsessive, stalker-type songs, whose relentless exploitation of a single chord (or a couple of them) intentionally sets up a paranoid atmosphere. In the end, the only song to which I could not warm up was ʽDeath Valley Nightsʼ, a total musical disaster that rests on nothing but simplistic «bashing» power chords, and cannot be distinguished from a million billion overloud arena rockers en vogue at the time. On the other hand, ʽGoin' Through The Motionsʼ, which would later be even covered by Bonnie Tyler, is a good example of harnessing that production style by choosing an upbeat tempo, a catchy pop hook, a Farfisa organ (I think), and church bells to compensate for all the «gray». In the end, one or two bad songs aside, Spectres is nowhere near the awful letdown as it is sometimes proclaimed by those who actually fear the reaper, and deserves its stable thumbs up.

15 comments:

  1. A beautiful album. Second in quality after Secret Treaties.

    Interestingly (and maybe expected), metalheads don't like Spectres too much, but people who are into more introspective music, like singer-songwriter music, or the better side of adult rock, like it very much.

    I disagree with you about 'Death Valley Nights'. It is great, eery and haunting like the other two vampire song that bookend Spectres. Though I agree about 'Celine' - the only skipper for me here.

    'Going Through The Motions' is co-penned with Bloom's good buddy Ian Hunter. And it was later covered not by Bonnie Raitt, but (shudder) by Bonnie Tyler. The same Bloom/Hunter collaboration is responsible later with another one unsuccessful 'We Will Rock You' attempt, but later about that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And also this:

    Spectres is the most atmospheric and introspective BOC album. Disregard the arena-rock leanings, such was the zeitgeist. BOC had to have some answer to Queen, Boston, and buffoons like Styx or Kansas and their offer, and to show that they are a much better band.

    And they showed that they are more refined band than their assumed counterparts, but this attempt failed. Although this is such a great failure, if you ask me.

    There are some rumors that the title Spectres refers to the Phil Spector-like production, that shows on some tunes, like the before mentioned 'Motions'.

    ReplyDelete
  3. After Astronomy I find the second BOC song I think really great - yup, Godzilla. That riff, no matter how funny its vibrato is, kicks major ass. The melody is catchy, there is some great guitar play. Sure it's a novelty song - but as far as I know it's the only novelty hardrock/heavy metal song! So it's unique as well.
    The rest of the album - meh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I usually care little about lyrics the last line is great: "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man". How true! Except that Godzilla is nonsense, hence it's false at the same time.

      Delete
    2. "Sure it's a novelty song - but as far as I know it's the only novelty hardrock/heavy metal song!"

      Huh? There are entire novelty hard rock and metal bands - GWAR, Tenacious D, and Green Jelly are three that I can name offhand, and there are doubtlessly many more out there. Not to mention individual metal songs by general novelty acts like They Might Be Giants and Weird Al. The genre invites parody like few others; I'm amazed that anyone could be unaware of this stuff.

      Delete
    3. Hocus Pocus by Focus, Earache My Eye by Cheech & Chong also referred to as ( Alice Bowie ). Although Focus released this song as probably a fun one off, it was unrepresentative of their sound and they never returned to that well which is to bad, had they released a few more tracks similar to HP on their future records they might have been remembered as that Classically styled Progish band that cranked out a handful fun rock'n songs instead of the One Hit Wonders they became. And unlike Cheech & Chong who were being funny I think BOC were having fun making Godzilla.

      Delete
    4. "The rest of the album - meh."

      And all this coming from a man who digs the godawful kitschy pablum like Blackmore's Night (I couldn't find more decent words)... Well, I'll take this as a compliment for my taste in music. ;-)

      Delete
    5. Good idea, Simplius - and given my nice collection of modern classical music (do you own Ustvolskaya?) I think I'll take your comment as a compliment as well.
      Plus you might want to work on your reading skills. My reaction to the majority of BN's output is also meh .....

      Delete
  4. "Sure it's a novelty song - but as far as I know it's the only novelty hardrock/metal song!"

    Two words: Spinal Tap.

    Also, what Anonymous above me said.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. D'oh! How could I miss that one?!

      Delete
    2. A lot of Queen's stuff is novelty.

      Delete
  5. This phase, through to Fire of Unknown Origin, was terribly uneven. But it produced some of their best work. They began to unearth some truly haunting melodies (I Love The Night on this one) that, as Simplius pointed out, were way beyond the grasp of the likes of Boston or Kansas. Not that the musicians of Kansas weren't talented from a technical perspective, but Spectres is at times PF-level atmospheric. And they achieve it without even a lot of keyboards.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "whose braggard chorus announces ʽGodzilla!ʼ as if it were a bunch of male cheerleaders welcoming the world's latest heavyweight champion, stepping out of his limousine on the red carpet." Uh, exactly. If Godzilla actually did attack Knew Yawk, I'd expect the band to "raising their beers" in tribute to their impending doom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And that riff is right out of the Iommi playbook.

      Delete
  7. Forget about my dumbass guestbook comment. I haven't checked this site out in quite awhile and YOU REVIEWED THE VERY BAND I WANTED YOU TO.

    Udaman
    --Ethan

    ReplyDelete