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Monday, November 24, 2014

Blue Öyster Cult: Club Ninja

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: CLUB NINJA (1986)

1) White Flags; 2) Dancing In The Ruins; 3) Make Rock Not War; 4) Perfect Water; 5) Spy In The House Of The Night; 6) Beat 'Em Up; 7) When The War Comes; 8) Shadow Warrior; 9) Madness To The Method.

Hello, I'm Leonard Pinth-Garnell, and welcome to «Bad Rock Music». As I throw a sideways glance at the calendar, I happen to notice that we are, indeed, right in the middle of 1986, and as every true connaisseur of rock music is liable to knowing, 1986 is a year well famous for pro­ducing — indeed, festering, as some might say — some of the absolutely worst rock music ever known to man, woman, kitten, or door-to-door salesman. As we have only just found out, the year was no exception for once popular and creative, ever so slightly post-modern rock act «Blue Öyster Cult», who have confirmed the rule with their newest LP, one that sports no less than one of the absolutely worst LP titles in the business — Club Ninja — and contains some very, very, very bad songs that seem almost custom made for our show.

To begin with, it must be noted that, while this band had previously been known to write the majority of their material themselves, and harvest some verbal help from the likes of acclaimed celebrities and pop-culture-intellectuals such as Richard Meltzer, Sandy Pearlman, Patti Smith, and Michael Moorcock, Club Ninja is their first record to have a mind-blowing four songs pro­vided by completely outside songwriters — corporate songwriters, one might add. With contri­butions by Larry Gottlieb (who had also written songs for Marie Osmond and Kenny Rogers that very year), Bob Halligan Jr. (a hard rock singer who'd written a couple of tunes for Judas Priest), and another song taken over from the Leggat Bros., there is little reason to doubt that Columbia Records played the usual trick on the poor fellows — saddled them with «commercial» material in order to have a hit on their hands. Unfortunately, what worked for Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and even Eric Clapton (in terms of popularity, not artistry) backfired for Blue Öyster Cult, who simply lost their reputation without any financial gains to compensate for the shame.

In the midst of this utter travesty, it remains almost unnoticed that the band also lacks their keyboardist, Allen Lanier, now, temporarily replaced by Tommy Zvonchek. This might even be for the better, because the keyboards are not so much at the center of the sound now as they were on the previous albums — but what is at that center? Rotten, faceless pop metal guitar, for the most part, acting primarily as a monotonous background for the band's pop metal gang choruses. If you thought "B-O-C! You can be whatever you want to be!" was bad enough, wait until you hear "ROCK NOT WAR! Make ROCK NOT WAR!" or "BEAT 'EM UP! BEAT 'EM UP!" (the latter song, courtesy of Bob Halligan Jr., also features probably the worst verse in BOC history, which simply must be quoted: "You take a lickin', keep on kickin' / This fight we both can win / We'll stop sockin' when you stop rockin' / You don't give up, you just give in" — the idea, of course, is that you are supposed to deliver these words while keeping a straight face, which was probably only possible circa 1986).

The biggest disappointment is Roeser, who finds himself very much a part of this travesty — for instance, handling the lead vocals on ʽDancing In The Ruinsʼ, the Larry Gottlieb song that was supposed to become a hit for the band but did not, perhaps because the song never manages to properly let us know if it is «romantic» (Roeser sings it that way) or «apocalyptic». In any case, the great American nation much preferred to be ʽDancing In The Darkʼ at the time, so Buck Dharma's effort to make this boring piece of schlock come to life was doomed artistically and wasted commercially. The problem is, his own contributions are not much better: ʽSpy In The House Of The Nightʼ does not even reach the catchiness of ʽBurnin' For Youʼ, and I really hate the way he drawls out the word "rendez-vous", as if he were a Vegasy crooner for a second.

Arguably the only song on the entire record to merit somebody's attention is ʽMadness To The Methodʼ, a seven-minute final epic where the band suddenly remembers that their «bad boys of rock and roll image» is supposed to be an ironic front, after all. Had the album been a commercial success instead of a flop, the P.M.R.C. would probably have had a thing or two to say about such totally gross lines as "it's the time in the season for a maniac at night" or "there's a lot to be said for a blow to the head", but, of course, the song really just pokes bitter fun at the «violence men­tality» of rock music, or, at least, it definitely reads that way when it is not «drunk caveman» Eric Bloom taking lead vocals, but «quiet melancholic» Donald Roeser. Even so, the song never truly grips the senses — musically, it is a rather generic, monotonous New Wave-style rocker that sounds tired rather than inspired. Ironically, it is Mr. Zvonchek, the band's new keyboardist, who provides the best bit with a beautiful piano solo at the end — probably wanted to make a real good impression for his first time.

After all this, minor questionable trivia (such as the infamous Howard Stern reciting the spoken-word introduction to ʽWhen The War Comesʼ) are of no importance, and all that remains is to issue the predictable thumbs down and deposit the unfortunate LP in the specially designed trash bin. The worst thing about this, though, is that we cannot even say «This is no longer Blue Öyster Cult», because it is — the band's fascination with all things BÖC-ish is still very much in place, you know, darkness, vampirism, sci-fi, heaviness, «rock warriors in po-mo garb», whatever. It has simply mutated into a totally gross, grotesque, faceless form. And, ironically, it is also their first record in a while for which Sandy Pearlman has returned as a producer. Boy, did he ever produce a mess. Bad, bad rock music.

8 comments:

  1. This was the first BOC album I heard the radio single for, and then proceeded not to buy. I've since gone back and heard the whole thing on Youtube and, yep, it was a good decision. On the one hand, it's a damn shame BOC couldn't get the hit they needed to survive into modern times. But, perhaps, with rock a dead issue in the 21st century, there just isn't much need for BOC in 2014, except as a nostalgic act.

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  2. "Madness To The Method" is interesting only at first listen. Subsequent listens reveal it as a dull proggy song, with stupid shouts in the chorus ('We will, we will.. we want, we want..'), pompous synths, pseudo-Bittan piano, and Buck almost groaning to extract what is possible this song somehow to work.

    The cover sleeve is also atrocious, like anime for toddlers.

    If you ask me, only "Perfect Water" is worthy of attention. But it's marred by stupid 1986 production (that maybe worked for Billy Idol) and Buck sounding too much like sterile Mark Knopfler from 1985.

    Another Pearlman's protege destroyed itself in this 85/86 season - The Clash, with a similar "If Billy Idol can, so we can, too" move.

    So, who's to blame? CBS? The Reagan-Thatcher zeitgeist? Or the stupidity of the artists?

    Very soon, Pearlman himself will be wiped from the A-list of prestigious rock producers. His direct presence on this album showed promise, but only a glance on the cover and the lack of in-house songs (without any listen) should reveal how awful is this album.

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    1. "The Reagan-Thatcher zeitgeist?"
      Madonna and Rambo included.

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    2. On a positive note, everything BOC produced after "ETL Live" was so disappointing to fans, and so unremarkable to potential new fans, that it's all simply been wiped from human memory. Ask any old timer that even vaguely remembers BOC, and the very last thing the majority of them will remember is "Burnin' For You". So, in a way, even though later BOC is dire, it's not SO dire that it calls out for special treatment by critics who love bad music. That in itself is a blessing of a sort.

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  3. BTW George, on a seemingly unrelated artist, but in a similar situation:
    Do you still hold dear "Giant For A Day"? I remember you liking it very much.

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  4. 1) I have removed the first comment and the thread under it. We don't have to impersonate a Youtube comment thread here, do we?

    2) Yes, I still like "Giant For A Day" quite a bit.

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    Replies
    1. Yet another band I have to thank you for - even if Interview is my favourite album and Design is one of my favourites of the band .....
      Unfortunately the G is still far, far away.

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  5. Even though this album is most probably the weakest BOC offering, I had been preconditioned over the years to expect a REAL stinking mess. Dancin' in the Ruins and Perfect Water are both great tunes which should have been included on compilations like the one which introduced me to the band.

    George - have you heard the Buck Dharma solo record Flat Out? There are a few tunes on there which could have beefed up some of these patchy early 80's BOC albums.

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