THE BOX TOPS: DIMENSIONS (1969)
1) Soul Deep; 2) I Shall Be Released; 3) Midnight Angel; 4) Together; 5) I'll Hold Out My Hand; 6) I Must Be The Devil; 7) Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March; 8) The Happy Song; 9) Ain't No Way; 10) Rock Me Baby.
The final album by The Box Tops does not have all that much to recommend it. It is formally notable by featuring no less than three Alex Chilton originals — none of which is particularly impressive on its own, but collectively they show that the man is trying his hand at several different directions at once: ʽTogetherʼ is blue-eyed soul in the same vein as all those hits that Penn, Oldham, and Thompson were writing for the band, ʽI Must Be The Devilʼ is dark piano blues reminiscent of early Animals, and ʽThe Happy Songʼ is a short, fast, upbeat country-rocker. Of these, ʽDevilʼ is the only song that gets occasionally remembered, though, and only because its doom-laden lyrics always bring on associations with Chilton's ill-fated life and career — but in 1969, he probably just wrote all these "I can't bear to see my face, wrong's done I can erase" lines because, well, that's sort of how blues stuff usually gets written, you know.
The primary album single was ʽSoul Deepʼ, another Thompson contribution that earned them the last bit of chart success, but with Van Morrison's Astral Weeks having rewritten the rules on «blue-eyed soul» a few months earlier, you could tell that anything like ʽSoul Deepʼ already sounded a bit behind the times in 1969 — indeed, no melodic or «semantic» progress here, just two and a half minutes more of catchy soulful pop, and furthermore, the song is jubilant rather than mournful, which is not a very good thing for Chilton, to whom «sad» always seemed to come more naturally than «happy» (for that matter, ʽThe Happy Songʼ, despite the title and the lyrics, ends up sounding bitterly ironic the way he does it).
More interesting, if not necessarily better written, is another single, ʽSweet Cream Ladies, Forward Marchʼ, which has nothing to do with the recently deceased Cream, but is instead a Britpoppy march (proper brass backing included) dedicated to lovely ladies of the night and the useful services they provide to society. It's... uh... ironic, I guess, but I am not sure Chilton himself understood all that well whether it should have been sung with more sneer/irony or more empathy/compassion, and his delivery is kinda bland — somebody like Ray Davies, perhaps, would have been able to turn it into one more of his lovable social portraits, but here it just sounds like a novelty number.
In addition to other minor disappointments (such as a completely pointless cover of ʽI Shall Be Releasedʼ, following The Band's arrangement but smoothing out all the pain-stuffed edges that Richard Manuel brought to our attention so expressively), it is clear that the band did not have enough material — so, to bring the record to a proper conclusion, they recorded ʽRock Me Babyʼ once again, this time in a nine-minute (!) version taken at two different tempos (mid- and slow) and featuring extended guitar and piano solos that must have sounded totally amateurish by this time in rock's instrumental journey. For a band that began its career by having session musicians play most of the instruments, this was a rather ironic way to end that career. (Not that it's a bad sound or anything, and I know Gary Talley has a rather high reputation in some circles, but there is nothing in this playing that would strike me as specifically individualistic).
On the whole, though, the worst thing about Dimensions is that, if you play it back to back with the band's debut, you won't hear any significant difference — and no band that sounded the same way in 1969 as it sounded in 1967 was deemed worth to live, or at least to thrive, at the time. So, naturally, as Jesus Christ said, «to conquer death, The Box Tops only had to die», and so The Box Tops went ahead and did the right thing to do, upon which Chilton could finally reboot his career, shake off the «young promising blue-eyed soulman» tag, and put his talents to more efficient use.