BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: CURSE OF THE HIDDEN MIRROR (2001)
1) Dance On Stilts; 2) Showtime; 3) The Old Gods Return; 4) Pocket; 5) One Step Ahead Of The Devil; 6) I Just Like To Be Bad; 7) Here Comes That Feeling; 8) Out Of The Darkness; 9) Stone Of Love; 10) Eye Of The Hurricane; 11) Good To Feel Hungry.
This is, fundamentally and spiritually, as close to a legitimate «comeback» as the aging remnants of (Rotten-)Blue Öyster Cult could ever hope to get. Everything, beginning from the title of the record (which echoes Mirrors and just generally sounds like a good title for a BÖC-related something — indeed, it was taken from an old unreleased song going all the way back to 1970), going on to the stylish album cover, and ending with the unexpected return of Meltzer as a lyricist on one of the tracks, just screams that they want to be the real Blue Öyster Cult just this one more time, and make some music that is, if not worthy of their legacy, then at least consistent with that legacy. And in some respects, they succeed.
Where Heaven Forbid made a big point of being loud, heavy, and brutal, this quasi-follow-up is more subtle. The songs still rock, but there is very little stuff here like ʽDamagedʼ or ʽSee You In Blackʼ, because the emphasis tries to be on dark, brooding atmosphere. They continue their association with John Shirley, who keeps on supplying them with lyrics that fluctuate between mysticism and psychoanalytics, yet the lyrics take second and third place to melodies, harmonies, and dark, cavernous production when it comes to justifying the record's existence. Exciting freshness and instantly gripping melodies are the only things that do not let you forget that this is, after all, «just one of those comebacks», and not a proper follow-up to the band's classic stretch.
Individual missteps are an occasional pest, but they'd always had some of these, even on the best of days, so let us forgive them when, every once in a while, they accidentally slide into bland adult «hard-pop» while trying to pen another sentimental rocker in the vein of ʽBurnin' For Youʼ (ʽHere Comes That Feelingʼ). And let us even disregard the fact that the Meltzer-aided song ʽStone Of Loveʼ begins with the lines "There is a box that I have shown / And in the box / There is a fox that I have known" (swear to God, these are the exact words, and this is the only song I know of that has actually dared to rhyme ʽboxʼ with ʽfoxʼ). Really, none of it matters.
What matters is that the best songs on this record (a) take some getting used to and (b) even when you get used to them, they still sound like songs written and performed by old men, who are really more tired than they let you see, and are way too preoccupied about glancing back at their past, and maybe even idealizing it a little. Is this bad? It certainly ain't unpredictable, and it is much better than it could be — in fact, from that angle, Curse Of The Hidden Mirror is a pretty damn good last word, addressed by BÖC to themselves and their veteran fans. ʽThe Old Gods Returnʼ, all by itself, is a frickin' anthem to the past: Shirley may have written the lyrics about something completely different, but when Bloom sings lead vocals on that song, culminating in a series of ecstatic "forever! forever!"s, and Roeser whips out the ol' axe, there is no doubt who they actually mean under «old gods».
Once the songs do sink in, there are some nice riffs and choruses, though — even if they now seem a bit too dangerously close to other people's: ʽOne Steap Ahead Of The Devilʼ could be easily mistaken for a late-period Aerosmith rocker, with its «glossy-swampy» main blues riff, and the verses of ʽDance On Stiltsʼ sound rather leaden and lumpy, like a Black Crowes song, and I am still trying to figure out what the hell that dancey funky bass figure on ʽGood To Feel Hungryʼ reminded me of. More Aerosmith? Oh well, all the better than emulating «Rambo metal», which they were sometimes guilty of in the past, but not here.
Although Bloom still hasn't lost his caveman growl (I suppose the man is on a steady raw meat diet three times a day, right?), the most pinching moments still come from Buck Dharma — where ʽHere Comes That Feelingʼ fails, the power-pop anthem ʽPocketʼ that could just as well have been done by the Bangles (sorry, couldn't help it) succeeds, with a bit of a heartfelt tug, and if you can distance yourself from the hilariously abysmal words of ʽStone Of Loveʼ, that one, too, is a pretty emotional tune. In fact, now that everything has been laid so bare, it is funny to see Bloom and Roeser so vividly illustrate the two faces of Blue Öyster Cult — the «Alien Neanderthal» of the former and the «Alien New Romantic» of the latter, happy as the latter occasionally is to pour some additional kerosene on the former's bonfire. Their musical faces may have become wrinkled and a tad ugly, but they have not melted away.
Unfortunately, by 2001 most of the veteran fans of the band seem to have faded away, and the young ones were not interested — the album failed, and, consequently, their record label (Sanctuary) unflinchingly gave them the boot (ironically, since Sanctuary used to specialize on jaded-faded rock stars of the past), meaning no new attempts at studio production. On the other hand, why unfortunately? Further clones of Curse Of The Hidden Mirror would have been just that (clones), and this record really works much better as The Godfather Part III than as anything that supposedly has a future. It is good that they were able to say goodbye to us in this-a-way, much more fitting than Heaven Forbid or any of those awful Eighties' records — Curse comes full circle, reminding us of the band's original purpose and mission and pretty much saying «mission accomplished, thank you, beddy-bye now». So just a modest thumbs up here to a fitting career conclusion (not too disappointing, not too uplifting), and all in all, it's been a fun ride, despite a few bumps every now and then, particularly on those last circles.