BUDGIE: NIGHTFLIGHT (1981)
1) I Turned To Stone; 2) Keeping A Rendezvous; 3) Reapers Of The Glory; 4) She Used Me Up; 5) Don't Lay Down And Die; 6) Apparatus; 7) Superstar; 8) Change Your Ways; 9) Untitled Lullaby.
I cannot really make up my mind whether I should feel more empathy towards Power Supply-era Budgie or Nightflight-era Budgie. What's the difference, you might ask? Well, there is some — basically, their second album with Thomas is a step back from the «hardcore» new-wave-metallism of the 1980 offering, as they try to sweeten and mollify Power Supply's dry brutality with some poppy and even «retro-progressive» (is that even a word?) elements. Probably, this means that Nightflight will have a little more appeal for fans of classic Budgie — yet on the other hand, it is also clear that the classic days will never come back, and it does not make a whole lot of sense trying to force them back.
I am talking about ʻI Turned To Stoneʼ, of course, the six-minute «folk-metal» anthem that opens the record on a very different note from ʻForearm Smashʼ. We get those melancholic minor chord acoustic melodies, powerful build-ups and slide-downs, and the metal-soulfulness which these guys could master well earlier on (ʻParentsʼ, etc.). Ultimately, however, the guitar tones are too much «early hair metal», the main riff of the chorus sounds like «under-chugged» Sabbath-lite, and although John Thomas unleashes some nice furious soloing in the sped-up gallop coda, it is hardly enough to redeem the song on the whole. Nice try, though.
Curiously, the tone of the record gets much lighter after that, and some of the tunes could, in fact, qualify as «lightly metallized» power-pop — ʻKeeping A Rendezvousʼ, ʻShe Used Me Upʼ, ʻChange Your Waysʼ are toe-tappy sing-along pop-rockers with a fairly light mood. However, they wobble on the edge of MOR blandness, and sometimes go right over that edge: ʻApparatusʼ is a faceless power ballad that could be Foreigner, Foghat, Styx, or whatever you wanted it to be in the late Seventies.
Arguably the most memorable — in a rather stupid way — tune here is ʻSuperstarʼ, a song that must have very clearly been influenced by AC/DC's ʻGirl's Got Rhythmʼ, which would have been perfectly fine if Shelley were able to demonstrate a better sense of humor; instead, for some reason, he intends to transform this funny, harmless little pop chugger into a serious social statement on superstar hypocrisy, for which he has neither the charisma nor the power of conviction. The variation on the ʻGirl's Got Rhythmʼ riff is a nifty one, though, I'll admit that much.
Overall, I guess it's just different from Power Supply — not for better or worse. At this time, «better» and «worse» aren't even valid options for Budgie: Shelley seems lost in space, unable to bring back the aesthetics of old and not quite getting the new realities, either. Not that this was a good time for power trios: heavy metal was all about creative guitar duos, of the Judas Priest type or the Iron Maiden type, or, if you only had one guitarist, you had to make sure it was a Van Halen type. John Thomas is a nice guy, but he doesn't experiment much, and he hasn't quite got the flashy technique of even one of the Iron Maiden guitarists, not to mention a Van Halen. So they try to get by, and I've heard much worse albums than this, but I do not think there'll come a time in anybody's life when ʻI Turned To Stoneʼ is exactly the kind of soul-crushing epic one is in dire need of at any particular moment. Unless you're so much a child of the Eighties that your ears only perk up at the sound of those thick, overproduced heavy guitar tones.