BUDGIE: SQUAWK (1972)
1) Whiskey River; 2) Rockin' Man; 3) Rolling Home Again; 4) Make Me Happy; 5) Hot As A Docker's Armpit; 6) Drugstore Woman; 7) Bottled; 8) Young Is A World; 9) Stranded.
This was originally my introduction to the Budgie sound, and so I am somewhat partial to their second album, even though, when you put it in the proper context, it loses to the self-titled debut in terms of freshness and to their third album in terms of polish and ambition. Still, it seems clear enough that Squawk is not just a mechanical retread of Budgie: in the year 1972, broadening of the horizons was still considered more noble than locking oneself into a tight, never-changing formula, and next to Budgie, Squawk has a bit more of everything — more acoustic numbers, a stronger folk and even Delta blues influence, and a small, but solemn progressive streak that suggests Moody Blues and King Crimson as humble, but insistent competitors to Black Sabbath as the band's primary musical mentor.
Two tracks in particular stand out, each one illustrating a different facet of the band. On the in-yer-face blood-and-guts hard rock front, the neorealistically titled ʽHot As A Docker's Armpitʼ is an early classic, with a super-catchy pop-metal riff whose notes are precisely echoed by Shelley's vocals (even if it requires introducing a rather silly stutter) and a speedy mid-section with one of Bourge's speediest solos ever played (possibly influenced by ʽChild In Timeʼ), while the final section, with its bolero structure, plays out like a Jeff Beck tribute. Derivative as heck, yes, but its swagger cannot be beat — and while it is possible to be distracted or irritated by Shelley's «goat» vocals, I think they work very well in the context of this ironic, irreverent music that never asks you to take itself too seriously. There's some sort of early proto-hipster snootiness about all this that could be despised in a different context, but comes across as delightfully hilarious when you remember all the «serious» hard rock bands playing around in 1972 — yes, even Deep Purple.
The second track is ʽYoung Is A Worldʼ, showcasing Budgie's romantic / sentimental / artsy-folksy side — their initiation, in fact, into this tricky world, and a fairly successful one. The acoustic introduction, the Mellotron touch, Shelley's oddly seductive declarations of "I can be big" and "I can be small", Bourge's massive infusions of thick riffs and droning solos that come and go while the main romantic theme keeps returning — all of this is not exactly King Crimson quality, but a reasonable facsimile; at the very least, this helps them break out of Sabbath's shadow, since Sabbath themselves would not begin their own «artsy» phase until a year later. Even outside of any context, though, ʽYoung Is A Worldʼ is just a nicely pulled off epic track, and Shelley in particular plays the part of a naïve wild child very convincingly — he should have actually sung more often in this high-and-deep register.
The rest of the material, though not as immediately hooky or epic, is still quite consistent. ʽWhiskey Riverʼ cleverly introduces a funky vibe into an otherwise generic blues-rocker (Ray Phillips' drumming is particularly recommendable here); ʽStrandedʼ begins like it wants to rip off Jimi's ʽIf 6 Was 9ʼ, but then moves into Zeppelin territory instead and becomes their answer to ʽWhole Lotta Loveʼ; ʽBottledʼ is a short and cool slide guitar instrumental (hence the title); and on ʽRolling Home Againʼ, Budgie become the Monkees and play a friendly little country-pop ditty, which sounds totally out of outer space in this context, but feels like a very welcome companion. I am definitely not a fan of such relatively by-the-book blues-rockers as ʽRockin' Manʼ and ʽDrugstore Womanʼ (the titles kind of speak for themselves), but I don't have anything against them, either — there's enough sectional changes and plenty of energy to keep them afloat without raising too much interest.
Nevertheless, I do have to admit that if Squawk happened to be the last record by this band, any memory of it would have washed out fairly quickly. Its thumbs up are perfectly well guaranteed, but it is not here, no, that Budgie would briefly turn into an unstoppable monster on the brink of dominating the hard rockin' scene. To do that, they'd need to tighten and sharpen their act some more — and one element of that was shedding their Sabbath skin completely, by getting rid of Rodger Bain in the producer's chair.