BUDGIE: IF I WERE BRITTANIA I'D WAIVE THE RULES (1976)
1) Anne Neggen; 2) If I Were Brittania I'd Waive The Rules; 3) You're Opening Doors; 4) Quacktor And Bureaucrats; 5) Sky High Percentage; 6) Heaven Knows Our Name; 7) Black Velvet Stallion.
Budgie's first serious misstep on the road to oblivion — and what makes matters sadder is realizing that this was not even an intentional commercial sellout, but rather a confused, uncertain attempt to branch out and experiment without any clear understanding of where they were going and why they were going there. Alas, some people are born to make their mark in many places, but some should rather stick to set formulae. Imagine AC/DC trying to play James Brown-style funk or Canterbury-style progressive rock — this is not exactly what happened to Budgie on this album, but it comes close.
The title track here, for instance, is a real mess. Opening up with a decent enough metal riff, it quickly dispenses with it in favor of a light, wimpy funk groove alternating with boring folkish arpeggios, then eventually slips into disco territory, with Shelley in full-fledged Studio 54 mode and Bourge previewing the Nile Rodgers style; all that's missing is some of those disco strings to complete the picture. Not that there's anything wrong by default with Budgie playing disco, but this particular section seems to exist only for the sake of contrast with the opening heavy metal bits — and it's a rather meaningless contrast, frankly. All the song does is waste a potentially good pun on a stupid musical synthesis where the individual parts exist only for the sake of a collective effect, and the collective effect is best described as "what the..."?
Worse, they are beginning to lose it even when staying in more familiar territory. ʽAnne Neggenʼ, opening the album, is an honest rocker, but they probably had so much fun shaping a mondegreen from the refrain ("and again, and again, and again...") that they not only forgot to throw in a good riff, but did not even bother to bring the track up to their esteemed standards of heaviness — Bourge plays almost the entire song as quietly and cautiously as if he were afraid to wake up the neighbours. In the past, all of their albums started out with impressive heavy openers (ʽGutsʼ, ʽBreadfanʼ, ʽIn For The Killʼ, etc.) that immediately set a sympathetic tone for the entire album; ʽAnne Neggenʼ immediately sets the wrong tone, as if we are being introduced to a forced change of musical diet for health reasons.
As we go further and further, corrections to these mistakes are not being made. The ballad ʽYou're Opening Doorsʼ sounds like another preview — to bad Foreigner. ʽQuacktor And Bureaucratsʼ at least starts out with a thick, distorted tone for the rhythm guitar, but hopes for something crunchy and snappy are quickly dissipated as the song proves to be a fairly (sub-)standard baroom rocker with totally predictable chords and no musical development whatsoever. ʽSky High Percentageʼ is a generally okay, but unmemorable piece of boogie, and the second ballad just completely passes me by.
In the end, there is exactly one song worth salvaging off the album: ʽBlack Velvet Stallionʼ somehow succeeds as an epic piece despite the melody hanging upon a four note syncopated bass/rhythm guitar riff throughout, the kind of phrase that tends generally to be used for transitions from one section of the song to another. However, Shelley manages to inject a good dose of the old «Budgie sorrow», and Bourge finally gets a chance to unleash some inventive soloing, going from minimalist, almost ambient mode into a series of scorching bluesy licks and then building up to an awesomely climactic coda. What exactly prevented them from featuring the same level of intensity on all those other songs, I have no idea.
Usually, when trying to explain such failures, people pronounce the word «drugs» (which is a great universal key to everything — as we know, both the greatest music ever and the shittiest music ever always owe their success/failure to drugs), but I don't even know if drugs were involved in the first place. More likely, they just said to themselves at one point, "Hey! We're doing great, but it's all because we have awesome riffs and guitar solos. Why don't we show them how great we can do if we toss away the awesome riffs and guitar solos? If we were Brittania, we'd waive the rules, you know!" I almost hate to be giving this a thumbs down, because deep down inside, I respect failed experiments, but these failed experiments aren't even particularly fun to listen to for the sake of understanding where and how they failed. And one good song out of seven, coming on as a comforting bonus for your patience, does not count for much.