BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: THE REVÖLUTION BY NIGHT (1983)
1) Take Me Away; 2) Eyes On Fire; 3) Shooting Shark; 4) Veins; 5) Shadow Of California; 6) Feel The Thunder; 7) Let Go; 8) Dragon Lady; 9) Light Years Of Love.
Rule of thumb: if you go to the producer of Loverboy, who has only recently completed production of a multiplatinum album by Loverboy — do not be surprised if your album ends up sounding like Loverboy. That is, of course, provided your original plan, for some reason, was not to have your album sound like Loverboy — but for all we know, the 1983 edition of Blue Öyster Cult, replete with new member Rick Downey on (mostly electronic) drums, wanted to sound like Loverboy. See, the whole idea behind Blue Öyster Cult was that they had to override this «cult» status — had to be super-bizarre, post-modern, ironic rockers of stadium, rather than small club, caliber. And if you need stadium-size audiences, you gotta hang on to stadium-size commercial success. So off you go and find yourself one of the hottest new things in town: Bruce Fairbairn, the guy who would very soon not only be the guy behind Loverboy, but also the guy behind Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet and Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation and Pump.
The real weirdness of the situation does not begin to come out, though, until you realize that substantially, fundamentally nothing has really changed. The band is still working with Meltzer (ʽVeinsʼ), Pearlman (ʽShadow Of Californiaʼ), and even Patti Smith (ʽShooting Sharkʼ). They are still writing songs about darkness, thunder, dragon ladies, and all sorts of sordid subject matters, and are still willing to play their «grinning gods of rock» game with anybody still willing to stick around and listen. They do not seem to realize, as it is, that something vital has gone out of their sound with this transition to a new style of playing and production — they probably think, like so many of their contemporaries, that it's just a matter of stylistic progression.
And back in 1983, it might have been, but in retrospect, that «stylistic progression» turns out to have been a near-complete loss of face. Songs like Gregg Winter's ʽEyes On Fireʼ are little more than instantaneously trashable synth-rock, devoid of grit and decent melody — but when they try to preserve the grit, the results are even more pitiable: no matter how much ʽFeel The Thunderʼ begs me to obey its title, all I have to say in response is «I have no true feel for Rambo Metal», regardless of whether I hear it on Alice Cooper's Constrictor or any other record. Get rid of those ugly keyboards first, and then we'll talk — maybe.
Production, occasional bad ideas, and poor outside contributions aside, Revolution By Night (can I be spared the task of pasting in yet another of these gratuitous Umlauts?) has its share of «decent beginnings» — ʽShooting Sharkʼ and ʽShadow Of Californiaʼ are both solid epic tracks that deserved a much better fate. The former is a collaboration between Buck Dharma and Patti Smith, a dark, smoky ballad of love gone bad with a touching vocal performance, a catchy funky bassline (courtesy of guest star Randy Jackson — Joe Bouchard does not have a knack for this funky shit), and moody lead guitar and sax parts: somewhat monotonous, perhaps, but still one of those ʽReaperʼ-type songs where Roeser's melancholic-romantic personality makes a temporary break from the band's usual tongue-in-cheek attitude prison.
On the contrary, ʽShadow Of Californiaʼ is completely tongue-in-cheek, a hilariously spooky portrait of a band of Hell's Angels as a Satanic symbol of the West Coast — apparently, Pearlman still hasn't quite managed to exorcise his demons, or satisfy his fetish, since the days of ʽTransmaniacon MCʼ. With a memorable riff, evocative guitar work that does resemble a swarm of bikes casting a shadow that "will grow to cover California", it could be that perfect devilish antidote to the angelic ʽCalifornia Dreamin'ʼ that all of us cynics had been waiting for — if not for the production, which predictably sucks a couple pints of blood out of this organism. Dammit, why couldn't they have written this circa 1976 or 1977?
Alas, but in addition to these problems, there are further embarrassments: ʽLet Goʼ starts out promisingly punkishly, like a deconstructed take on ʽI Can't Explainʼ, but quickly degenerates into lameass stadium football chants ("B-O-C! You can be whatever you want to be!") that rank among the tackiest things this band has ever stooped to. And the closing ballad ʽLight Years Of Loveʼ makes ʽAstronomyʼ sound like the epitome of refined profoundness and complexity in comparison — not only are the lyrics here completely pedestrian ("our love is like the shining sea?" — come on guys, we know you can do better than that), but they are delivered by Joe Bouchard in such a pathetically whiny manner, and accompanied with such a stiff guitar tone, that the song has no life whatsoever, and I have no idea who the hell it was meant to woo over — early Eighties' teenagers? bored housewives? certainly not the veteran fan guard.
We almost forgot to mention the opening track and lead single, ʽTake Me Awayʼ, but that is only because there is very little to mention: it is just another leaden, lifeless, stillborn arena rocker from Bloom and his Canadian friend Aldo Nova. There's an embryonic silhouette of a good riff somewhere at the end of the chorus, but other than that, it's pop metal mess personalized. All in all, thumbs down seems to be the only reasonable solution — a pity, since I'd almost gotten partial to ʽShooting Starʼ and ʽShadow Of Californiaʼ, but two good songs (one of them overlong at that) do not a recommendable record make. Blame it on the Eighties if you will, but really, given the band's evolution over the Seventies, we all saw this one coming, I guess.