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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Budgie: Never Turn Your Back On A Friend

BUDGIE: NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON A FRIEND (1973)

1) Breadfan; 2) Baby Please Don't Go; 3) You Know I'll Always Love You; 4) You Are The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk; 5) In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter's Hand; 6) Riding My Nightmare; 7) Parents.

Smart move — replacing Rodger Bain with Roger Dean. After all, when it comes to production Budgie could very well be their own producers, but when it comes to painting your album sleeve, none of the band's members could draw worth a damn, so why not hire the hippest of the hip? The style is immediately recognizable; the only question is, will that style be superimposed on music that will be closer in sound to Yes — or to Uriah Heep?

The answer is neither. The album cover may be colorful and enigmatic (what the hell is that guy doing with that mutant eagle?), but Budgie stubbornly remain a heavy rock band above every­thing else — only one track on here displays extra «progressive» ambitions, and, to be honest, they are not even the kind of ambition that Black Sabbath displayed that very year, when they got Rick Wakeman to play for them a bit. To compensate for this, though, they tighten up their for­mula to the max: there is really no other Budgie album where they would kick ass on such a consistent, inventive, and, might I add, intelligent basis. (Yes, kicking ass can actually require inventive­ness and intelligence).

Of course, I suppose that the true reason why this record is usually brought up as Budgie's finest hour is ʽBreadfanʼ — not only would that be the only Budgie song to be revived and popularized in the future (by Metallica), but it is clearly also the Budgie song, period; the one that, in Mick Jagger's own words, "makes a dead man come". Bourge's opening riff is so good that the band repeats it over and over for almost a minute before Shelley starts singing — a classic combination of speed, precision, and fury that predicts the stylistics of thrash metal a good decade before thrash metal. There's other goodies scattered around, too — like the hilarious (anti-capitalist?) lyrics with nursery rhyme elements, or the slightly creepy dark-folk acoustic bridge; but essen­tially it's all about the riff, and if you think the song is too abusive and repetitive, well, it's meant to be that way. It must actually be quite a chore, I suppose, to be able to play that tricky riff so many times in a row so quickly without making any mistakes — of course, with the advent of Slayer and Megadeth this all became standard practice, but I honestly don't know a single other track from 1973 that would have a riff like ʽBreadfanʼ's.

Still, the album is much more than just ʽBreadfanʼ. Their cover of ʽBaby Please Don't Goʼ, which they borrowed from Them (and the Amboy Dukes) rather than Muddy Waters (and which would later be re-borrowed by AC/DC), has the crunchiest rhythm sound of all these covers and an ex­cellent slide guitar solo that puts Ted Nugent to shame (and I am quite a fan of Ted Nugent's guitar playing) — AC/DC would have more fun with the track, but this one's my bet if you want a stone cold dead face to go along with it. ʽYou Are The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milkʼ could certainly live a healthier life without the silly «phased» drum solo that eats up almost two minutes, but other than that, it is still a major riff-fest, even if it is arguably the most Sabbath-de­rived tune here (particularly when the second, boogie-oriented, part comes along).

On Side B, you have the magnificent ʽIn The Grip Of A Tyrefitter's Handʼ, where Tony has a brilliant idea — chop the minimalistic four-chord riff in two parts and place both of them in dif­ferent channels, so you get the effect of two guitars chatting with each other in point / counter­point mode; beyond that, the instrumental breaks totally dispense with solos in favor of an extra bunch of riffs, including an oddly tuned «pseudo-Eastern» one. And then there is ʽParentsʼ, a 10-minute epic about the perils and insecurity that await you upon graduating from Dad's and Mom's care — not a particularly innovative or insightful topic, but somehow they manage to get the tragic vibe just right. I still don't know why they thought it useful to mimic a seagull squad on top of these solos, but apparently «seagulls shrieking» = «thunderstorm coming», and that's, like, a metaphor for the perils of grown life once you're ripped out of your safety net. Anyway, it's a major improvement on ʽYoung Is A Worldʼ and arguably Budgie's best attempt at a sentimental, heart-on-sleeve, and simultaneously heavy/thunderous epic.

In the end, my only gripe with the album are the acoustic links — ʽYou Know I'll Always Love Youʼ and ʽRiding My Nightmareʼ definitely overdo the soft-and-tender thing, and Shelley's fal­setto actually grates on my nerves far worse than his normal «bleating» on the harder tracks: there is something very unnatural about his trying to pass for Art Garfunkel. Fortunately, that's just two short tracks that can be skipped if you find this style an irritant, too.

No unreasonable expectations, please — ʽBreadfanʼ may indeed contribute their most significant contribution to the world of heavy music, but other than that, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend is just a solid piece of work in an already well-functioning and properly explored area. But it is a solid piece of work: I mean, if a band can be complex-and-catchy (ʽBreadfanʼ) and simplistic-and-catchy (ʽIn The Grip...ʼ) on the same album, it's gotta count for something. Deri­vative or not, Tony had the golden touch at the time, and even made a few tentative moves to wiggle himself out from under the other Tony's shadow (even ʽIn The Grip...ʼ sounds like nothing Sabbath ever did up to that point, let alone ʽBreadfanʼ). Clearly a thumbs up here — this record is a must-hear for any hard rock fan, even those who have a natural aversion towards Roger Dean covers, because you can sometimes find a Jon Anderson hiding underneath.

13 comments:

  1. Yay! Breadfan! The one that, after Guts and before Zoom Club, lifts Bourge to the status of First Class Riffmeister. It also shows that Budgie could be original. The only riff that comes close is the one from Heart of the Sunrise, which is an entirely different song. The Breadfan riff is actually more complicated. That's why Metallica's cover doesn't really nail it. And that band not nailing a riff (one could argue for instance that their live version of Overkill is superior) is saying a lot. The Breadfan very well might be my favourite riff of the 70's. Check the YouTube video (live in a studio) and be amazed.
    The quiet midsection is also excellent. Give me this, then you can keep all the acoustic noodling.
    And there is Tyrefitter! Like you wrote on the old site it shows that Bourge, in total contrast with Breadfan, can excel at minimalism as well. Still I think it a bit repetitive (only a tiny bit, mind you), so it's just excellent and not an all time favourite.
    For the reasons you provide this cover of Baby Please don't Go is my favourite. Only Them can compete. Play the versions back to back - Budgie provides the fasted and most energetic one, while still sounding completely relaxed. Only Deep Purple could do that in the early 70's, but DP's version of Lucille (Live at Copenhagen) has a totally different interpretation.
    Powdered Milk is excellent as well - but there you are. Again only four songs that are at least excellent. Always Love You and Nightmare leave me cold (they don't irritate me, just bore me) and I simply can't stand the cheesy mellotron of Parents. I rather have Young is the World.

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    1. Just noting that there is no mellotron on Parents! It's quite orchestral, but the sounds all come from Tony's Gibson 345 guitar.

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    2. My sincere kudos to Bourge, but I still don't like them ....

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  2. Great review as always George -- a pretty short one too, but then again Budgie's one of those bands where the appreciation for and enjoyment of them far outstrips the ability to describe those feelings. "Breadfan" is one of my favorite riffs of all time, and their version of "Baby, Please Don't Go" is a gem -- AC/DC made it more of a party, but I love how trippy Budgie gets with it in the middle (and that simple but solid bassline really shines in Shelley's hands).

    The short folk songs are dull but passable -- a step back from "Rolling Home Again". My one gripe with your old review was that you seemed to think they were of the same calibre as Led Zeppelin's acoustic stuff on "LZIII" (preposterous!) -- looks like you're finally seeing sense :)

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  3. Actually, Roger Dean also did the cover art for Squawk... still a great review, though!

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  4. Why did Tony 'play' seagulls on Parents? Here's his explanation, from the book 'In Pecking Order; Budgie 1974-79':

    Tony’s playing of the seagull sounds on Parents – is that something he had come up with earlier and decided would fit nicely on Parents, or did he or someone else suggest something along those lines and he then experimented and came up with it? It’s interesting that Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe did something similar – but not as well – a year or two later on Sister Seagull.
    “Seagulls, sea, waves and rocky beaches when the tide is rushing in, are the sound of music to my ears. Sometimes when you play, you go to those places that you love. It’s all blues to me on my guitar. I think George Harrison said it best when he played While My Guitar Gently Weeps. But then I heard Bill Haley, Elvis and all the others that followed and become a cave man – a slave to rock.

    “With Parents, I heard the seagulls laughing and crying when Burke sang the lyric, and the sound of the orchestra by the sea came back to me while I was playing. When I was a little boy, my sisters and I would catch a train to Barry Island [a seaside resort near Cardiff] and take sandwiches and pop and our parents always told us to be good. Sometimes you can write music, but sometimes the music finds you when you are not looking.”

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    1. When it comes to "found sounds," Tony B's seagulls thrash Tony I's scraping (Embryo), howling (COTG), and plunking (FX).

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  5. "ʽParentsʼ, a 10-minute epic about the perils and insecurity that await you upon graduating from Dad's and Mom's care — not a particularly innovative or insightful topic, but somehow they manage to get the tragic vibe just right." I'll have to listen to it again, but I found kind of touching that at the end Burke seems thankful for his mum and dad's guidance--quite sentimental for a metal band. There's also a cautionary tale vibe to the songs (Powdered Milk reads as a cokehead's testimony; Breadfan could summarize Badfinger's tragic history) not unlike Master, except no Christianity.

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    1. Burke Shelley became a born again Christian after Nightflight

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    2. Really? I will have to check that out. They're not Satanists or anything (Sabbath wasn't either--the Meehans, on the other hand, were Satan's minions), but they don't make religious ideas so obvious. Heck, their "spirit animal" was a parrot, for Goodness Sake!

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  6. Not much left to be said really. Once you return the 70s gods back to the Olympus of your record shelf, there's still your little buddy there in a cage who who was listening as well. He may say a lot you've heard before but in a manner more personable.

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  7. ...ʽBreadfanʼ — not only would that be the only Budgie song to be revived and popularized in the future (by Metallica)

    Metallica also covered Crash Course In Brain Surgery, although it may not have been as popular

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