BUDGIE: BUDGIE (1971)
1) Guts; 2) Everything In My Heart; 3) The Author; 4) Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman; 5) Rape Of The Locks; 6) All Night Patrol; 7) You And I; 8) Homicidal Suicidal.
Apparently, the distance between Birmingham, England, and Cardiff, Wales is smaller than 120 miles — no wonder, then, that the stylistic difference between early Budgie and early Black Sabbath is so tiny, your first and fully legitimate reaction should be: «Rip-off! Inferior rip-off!» Of course, this is actually better explainable by the fact that all these early albums shared the same producer, Rodger Bain; having just completed work on Sabbath's Master Of Reality, he clearly had little strength or desire left to search for a different sound when faced with the task of producing another hard rock-oriented bass/drums/guitar combo.
Indeed, when that low, rumbling, carnivorous seven-note riff of ʽGutsʼ breaks through the audio channels, then gets augmented by the rhythm section several bars later, then finally gets completed with another, more high-pitched but even more mean and hungry second guitar overdub, differentiating this sound from classic Sabbath is downright impossible without prior knowledge. This is, in fact, precisely the same type of sonic buildup that Bain had just engineered on ʽSweet Leafʼ and a few other Sabbath songs. And since that sound was clearly in high demand at the time, we can hardly blame the band for embracing it. The question is: does it hold up? After all these years, is there a safe place for Budgie on your shelf next to Paranoid?
My own answer would be a definitive yes, because behind all the superficial similarities, Budgie are actually quite a different band from the Sabs. Although not exactly a «thinking man's heavy metal group», their heaviness was not so much due to their fascination with B-movies and the occult, but was rather inherited from the psychedelic excesses of Vanilla Fudge and Blue Cheer, to which they added a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a sense of irony that presaged and predicted Blue Öyster Cult. Oh, and let us not forget the thin, nerdy, bespectacled countenance of bass player and helium-voiced lead singer Burke Shelley — the earliest prototype for Mr. Geddy Lee, with whose four-letter band these guys also share occasional similarities (particularly if you think of Rush's first couple of albums, before they went all-out Ayn-randian on us).
None of that would matter, though — we could just keep treating these guys as second-rate imitators or pale predecessors of their betters — if their songs weren't so well-written. The key to enjoying Budgie is the same as the key to enjoying the Sabs: if the riffs are good, the songs are swell, but if the riffs are boring, the songs are shite. And in Tony Bourge, the band had the great luck to own a riffmeister who, while not quite on the same level with the other Tony (Iommi), still had a God-given knack for simple, meaningful, powerful note sequences delivered in deliciously fuzzy «earthquake tones». Like the one in ʽGutsʼ, yes — a giant mutant mole burrowing through your back yard regardless of any obstacles. Just run for your lives.
Like Sabbath, Budgie prefer drawn-out, multi-part compositions, where slow parts alternate with bits of boogie (and, for what it's worth, they're actually better at boogieing than their occultist Birmingham brethren); in between we may find a few short acoustic «links», but they are really not necessary here — minute-long snippets of Burke Shelley romancing the band's potential girl fans before turning his full attention to the band's potential boy fans: "yes, you are everything in my heart", even repeated four times, is not nearly as convincing as the protagonist's psychosleazy visions of a ʽNude Disintegrating Parachutist Womanʼ, descending upon him on the clouds of yet another classic early stoner rock riff. That song, by the way, with its nearly nine-minute running length, is the clear central point of the album, and a fabulous ride it is — first in its hazy slow part, then in the lengthy speedy boogie escapade, probably influenced by the Amboy Dukes' ʽBaby Please Don't Goʼ (which they would later cover directly) and Deep Purple's ʽWring That Neckʼ in equal degree. Bourge gets a good solo on that part, but really Budgie sound their best when the guitar and the bass player are galloping along in complete unison — for one thing, Budgie could be really incredibly tight, far tighter than the Iommi/Butler/Ward combo ever got to be.
My only gripe is that at this early point, the Budgie formula is not quite ripe yet; they'd polish it to near-perfection on the next two albums, but here, they are sometimes too obsessed with the lyrical message over the musical substance (ʽRape Of The Locksʼ, a stereotypical rant in defense of long hair as part of one's ego — heavy on accusations, low on A-level riffs), and have not yet learned to seamlessly integrate soft acoustic and heavy electric parts (ʽThe Authorʼ seems like a mere warm-up to similar numbers on Squawk). But in the face of classics like ʽGutsʼ, ʽParachutist Womanʼ, and ʽHomicidal Suicidalʼ, this is but a minor gripe.
Derivative as hell, Budgie is still instantly likeable — which is far more than I could say about similar «derivative» albums by modern day acts like Black Mountain, to whom you still have to warm up for quite some time. Just goes to show that you can't kill the vibe — back in 1971, there was this special something in the air that allowed you to put out a really solid album in somebody else's style (styles), even if you had no truly groundbreaking ideas of your own. Well, other than naming your grizzly Welsh band after a pet parakeet, of course. That alone could be worth a thumbs up, but fortunately, there's also a bunch of kick-ass songs here as a bonus.