BRINSLEY SCHWARZ: SILVER PISTOL (1972)
1) Merry Go Round; 2) One More Day; 3) Nightingale; 4) Silver Pistol; 5) The Last Time I Was Fooled; 6) Unknown Number; 7) Range War; 8) Egypt; 9) Niki Hoeke Speedway; 10) Ju Ju Man; 11) Rockin' Chair.
This is where the Brinsley Schwarz formula undergoes the last cosmetic modifications... and turns out to be a very polite, accurate, and somewhat tepid formula after all. The songs are shortened, cleaned up, straightened out, and made to completely conform to the standards of folk- and country-rock, with no «progressive» ambitions whatsoever, and nary a hint of hard rocking, either. So this time around you will never once confuse this band with early Yes or late Steppenwolf, much as you'd want to. However, you might perhaps confuse it with Wildlife-era Mott The Hoople, and probably with several dozen other bands that had this sort of sound at the time — Byrds-Band-style roots-rock, but without the uniquely expressive features of either of these bands, and without a whole lot of impressive songwriting, either.
New member, bass and rhythm guitar player Ian Gomm, steps in here as a supporting songwriter, getting credits for four songs (Nick Lowe has six), and there are also two covers of American singer-songwriter Jim Ford, largely unknown but, apparently, hugely favored by Bobby Womack, who would record a shitload of songs of his for The Poet and The Poet II later on. The Jim Ford covers are actually distinctive — they are the two songs at the end of the album that display the highest energy level: ʽNiki Hoeke Speedwayʼ is a loose, drunk-sounding blues-rocker, and ʽJu Ju Manʼ is an uptempo boogie piece that, in this rendition, kicks about as much ass as the Grateful Dead when they were playing rock'n'roll. Which is not that much, as you could guess, but for those who like their rock'n'roll at low chamber temperatures, very stylish and tasteful.
Unfortunately, there is very little I can find to say about these songs, and what little I can find will not be flattering. As much as I respect Nick Lowe's songwriting in theory, let's face it, it is just a wee bit embarrassing when you realize that one of the most memorable tunes on the album, so humbly titled ʽUnknown Numberʼ, is only memorable because it is built on a joint piano/guitar riff that completely nicks (nick-lowes?) the melodic line from Buddy Holly's ʽWords Of Loveʼ — and adds nothing of serious value on top of it, so I guess the only reason Buddy's estate did not sue is that either nobody knew who Nick Lowe was, or they knew they wouldn't get much out of these guys anyway. In any case, this is just not a good sign.
The album's centerpiece is ʽEgyptʼ, a long, slow, meditative ballad whose point is made perfectly clear in the first thirty seconds or so — still it drags on for more than five minutes, with Bob Andrews' solemn wintery organ lines and Lowe's tender vocals sustaining the atmosphere. Some will find this deep and romantic, but it annoys me how manneristic the whole thing is — they're handling the procedure with such exaggeratedly exquisite finesse, you'd think they were afraid that just a little more strain and the entire studio would crumble around them. It's so goddamn quiet that, in fact, that at the beginning of the third minute you can actually hear a dog barking somewhere near the studio — I have no details, but I'm 99% sure it was just an accident that they decided to leave in, and good thing they did, because it's probably the best bit in the song.
The new songwriter apparently still takes his cues from Nick, because his contributions are largely just the same relaxed, generic country-rock — pleasant, but mellow and with little in the way of individualistically-rememberable melody. A typical example is the last track — the instrumental ʽRockin' Chairʼ, which would fit nicely in any average country-western soundtrack, but when I really need my share of such music, as in, for a spiritual uplift or something, I can always have the Allman Brothers' ʽJessicaʼ instead. That's Ian Gomm for you. And Nick Lowe? I actually like ʽMerry Go Roundʼ a decade later when its verse melody was remade as ʽManic Mondayʼ and its chorus melody was made completely anew.
You get the point by now — Silver Pistol sounds very nice, and it may even be the best country-rock (soft-rock? whatever) album produced by a UK band in 1972, but in that range, they did not have that much competition, did they? Well, some; pop music historians will most likely be able to find far more blatantly rotten examples. The sad truth, I believe, is that the band was still way too much dominated by its rootsy American influences to develop their own style — and if they did not want to take a lesson from the dirty ugly Rolling Stones, well, by 1972 you had the Kinks and Muswell Hillbillies to show you just the right way of merging American and British traditions. As it is, contrastive perception forces another thumbs down.