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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Canned Heat: The New Age

CANNED HEAT: THE NEW AGE (1973)

1) Keep It Clean; 2) Harley Davidson Blues; 3) Don't Deceive Me; 4) You Can Run, But You Sure Can't Hide; 5) Lookin' For My Rainbow; 6) Rock & Roll Music; 7) Framed; 8) Election Blues; 9) So Long Wrong.

The only reason why this album remained in history was that, apparently, this was the album that finally got Lester Bangs fired from Rolling Stone after he had allegedly written a review of it that was «disrespectful» to the musicians, in Jann Wenner's opinion. Well then — here's another re­view of the same album that will strive to be as disrespectful as possible, even if there's hardly any hope that it will dare match the original, and I also share the advantage of not working for Rolling Stone, either. Plus, at least Lester Bangs wrote his review when the record had just come out, and now that it's more than forty years old, who really gives a damn about the fact that it fuckin' sucks? Not even Jann Wenner, that's who.

Anyway, by 1973 guitarist Joe Scott Hill of ʽHill's Stompʼ fame was out, and in his place we had James Shane on guitar and Ed Beyer on piano. Nobody knows them, and nobody should; there's absolutely nothing special about the playing of either, yet, for some mysterious reason, they are credited for five out of nine songs on the album — the other three credits going to Hite and one more to Leiber/Stoller (but we do know that «Hite songwriting» usually consists of setting stolen melodies to different lyrics — ʽRock And Roll Musicʼ, for instance, is... no, not an appropriated Chuck Berry cover: rather, it is an appropriated cover of ʽLawdy Miss Clawdyʼ with new lyrics about the niceties of rock and roll music).

The direction in which Shane and Beyer are pushing the struggling band is clear enough: it is roots-rock with a strongly pronounced country-rock and «The-Band-rock» flavor. Instead of John Lee Hooker, Canned Heat now go after Robbie Robertson — a real disaster, considering that none of the group members are even remotely as talented as the average member of The Band, and where The Band, at their best, win the listener over with clever melodic moves and subtle per­forming nuances, Canned Heat just sound like bland, humorless hillbillies.

Seriously now, I have no need whatsoever for something like the generic country waltz ʽYou Can Run, But You Sure Can't Hideʼ, with ugly, directionless guitar soloing and silly spoken voice­overs from The Bear; or the barroom shuffle ʽHarley Davidson Bluesʼ that has not a single moment that would make it worth your while. The cover of Leiber & Stoller's ʽFramedʼ, expan­ded with some new verses that add a «moral» part to the original tragicomical tale, would be mildly entertaining if not for the fact that just a year before, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band had their version out which literally wipes the floor with Canned Heat's rendition — heavier, glammier, funnier, and with the musicians giving it their all. Beyer's ʽElection Bluesʼ is a very boring six-minute exercise in slow acoustic blues, largely just a pretext to throw in some political lyrics; and Shane's ʽSo Long Wrongʼ is a somewhat heavy blues-rocker, the likes of which had been produced hundreds of times before.

Unfortunately, of the two main remaining band members, neither is at his best here — The Bear seems to have been having health issues, as he almost never sounds imposing and massive on anything he sings; and Henry Vestine seems to have been succumbing to drugs or something, because there is not a single example of a really stunning guitar solo anywhere in sight (okay, maybe ʽFramedʼ could be an exception: with a thick, crunchy guitar tone, Vestine tries his best to kick ass on the solo break, but it still comes out fairly generic, and not free of some mistakes and "not-really-sure-where-to-go-from-here" moments). Essentially, this leaves Shane and Beyer in command, and with that move, the band just plain ceases to be Canned Heat — they seem to have forgotten about everything that was at least remotely good about this band in the first place, and are going somewhere where I flat out refuse to follow. Thumbs down, in loving memory of Mr. Lester Bangs.

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