Thursday, 13 December 2018

Gladys Knight & The Pips - Silk 'N' Soul (1968)

  

Released in 1968

This is an excellent album of covers of other artists' soul/Motown songs from the rapidly developing, but still contemporarily underrated voice of Gladys Knight. Recorded in excellent Motown stereo sound (for 1968), it is an eminently listenable album. Gladys makes every song her own, to an extent. They are not just note-for-note covers, far from it.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Wish It Would Rain
2. The Look Of Love
3. Goin' Out Of My Head
4. Yesterday
5. Groovin'
6. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
7. Theme From "Valley Of The Dolls"
8. Baby I Need Your Loving
9. Together
10. The Tracks Of My Tears
11. You're My Everything
12. Every Little Bit Hurts

The Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain" is marvellously soulful, and features a big, rumbling bass underpinning the whole thing. Gladys's Aretha/churchy soulful vocal is sublime. "The Look Of Love" is sumptuous, of course, and has become one of her best known songs. "Goin' Out Of My Head" is upbeat, horn-driven and slightly funky, while The Beatles' "Yesterday" is given a soul makeover. "Groovin'" also becomes quite funky, while "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" has a bit of a Latin feel in its intro, and Gladys's vocal is awesome, as it is too on Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks Of My Tears". The Temptations' "You're My Everything" and The Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Loving" are both excellent too.

As  said, this is a really enjoyable album, with great sound and Gladys's voice is just superb throughout. She got a bit of a rough deal from Motown. At this time, she was firmly in Diana Ross's shadow. For me, she was by far the better singer.

B-

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Mott The Hoople - Mental Train (The Island Years 1969-1971)


  

In December 1974, for my 16th birthday, my mother bought me “Mott The Hoople Live’ (I had been into them since the “All The Young Dudes” album in 1972). In Dcember 2018, for my 60th birthday, my wife bought me this excellent box set. Of course, I had all the albums anyway, but the additional material is of interest to me, and the new remasterings.

This is Mott The Hoople, Guy Stevens-produced, pre-Bowie influence, at their most shambolic, half brilliant half chaotic best, with Ian Hunter’s Dylanesque obsession merging with Mick Ralphs’ heavy rock stylings and Verden Allen’s prog-rock organ backing. There is some great stuff on here amidst the somewhat half-baked nature of some of it.

The sound is fantastic for a start-off. The previous masterings were good, but these are truly great, big, full and bassy, just as I like it. The “demo” studio material, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be that great, is phenomenally impressive, sonically. The extra material is extremely interesting, but I have to admit that it is not absolutely essential listening, particularly not the extended versions of things like “You Really Got Me”, a bit like the twelve minute version of “Helter Skelter“ that is on the latest “White Album” box set. They are interesting the once, but, for me, they are not something that I will revisit too often.

Anyway, here is what you get:-

CD 1 “Mott The Hoople”
  1. You Really Got Me
  2. At The Crossroads
  3. Laugh At Me
  4. Backsliding Fearlessly
  5. Rock And Roll Queen
  6. Rabbit Foot And Toby Time
  7. Half Moon Bay
  8. Wrath And Wroll
  9. If Your Heart Lay With The Rebel
  10. Rock And Roll (Single Edit)
  11. Road To Birmingham (Single Version)
  12. Road To Birmingham (Guy Stevens Mix)
  13. You Really Got Me (Full Take)
  14. You Really Got Me (Guy Stevens Vocal Mix)
  15. Rock And Roll Queen (Guy Stevens Mono Mix)
  16. Rock And Roll Queen (Kitchen Sink Instrumental)
  17. Little Christine
Nicely remastered, it kicks off with a storming semi-instrumental cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, that almost sounds like a studio jam, then the Dylanesque “At The Crossroads” (one of Ian Hunter’s perennial influences). A cover of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me” is not bad at all, neither is the most obvious single, the upbeat, riffy “Rock n Roll Queen”. “Half Moon Bay” is a bit introspective and the quality dips a little on the old “side two”. "Backsliding Fearlessly" from the old "side one" is a good one though, but you can't help but get the impression that this album saw the band go into the studio, play, and say "ok that'll do" in a "just happy to be there", rough and ready sort of fashion. I don't think they really thought this album through. It has the feeling of a studio jam pervading the whole thing.

Included here is another Dylan-inspired number, “Road To Birmingham”. It should have been on the original album, to be honest, as should “Little Christine”. I just feel there was more that could have been put on here, and it was something of a missed opportunity. Three more albums over the next three years would do a little to dispel that notion, but all the albums were ever so slightly flawed. Therein lay their appeal, however.


CD2 “Mad Shadows”
  1. Thunderbuck Ram
  2. No Wheels To Ride
  3. You Are One Of Us
  4. Walkin’ With A Mountain
  5. I Can Feel
  6. Threads of Iron
  7. When My Mind’s Gone
  8. Thunderbuck Ram (BBC Session)
  9. Thunderbuck Ram (Organ Solo Version)
  10. No Wheels To Ride (Demo)
  11. Moonbus (Baby’s Got A Down On Me)
  12. The Hunchback Fish (Vocal Rehearsal)
  13. You Are one of Us (Take 9)
  14. Going Home
  15. Keep A-Knockin’ (Take 2)
The second Mott The Hoople album, coming the year after their "good in parts" debut from the previous year. It is similar to that album in that it rocks in parts and there are some hints as to the future in some of Ian Hunters slower numbers, but, as with all the first four Mott The Hoople albums, it carries the impression of being somewhat half-baked. While Thin Lizzy and Nazareth had two "finding their feet" albums, Mott had four of them.

The album kicks off with Mick Ralphs' heavyish rocker, "Thunderbuck Ram" which has some industrial, chunky guitar and organ parts but is let down by Mick's reedy voice. Oh for his later band-mate in Bad Company, Paul Rogers on vocals. Ian Hunter takes the lead (he didn't always do so on these early albums) for the simply wonderful "No Wheels To Ride", which sees Mott and Hunter at their "ballad with quiet Dylanesque verses turns into melodramatic dollop of rock majesty" absolute best. This is the first true Hunter/Mott classic. There is point about two minutes in when the first "chorus" part kicks in that shivers go down my spine and I realise why I have loved Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter since 1972. Just magnificent. It rides above the muffled production. With a clearer sound it could have been absolutely outstanding. The quality continues on the short but rousing "You Are One Of Us", which finishes all too soon. Hunter is showing what a great vocalist he was to become. Shame the track ends to soon. "Walkin' With A Mountain" has the rock keeping on rocking with Hunter again in fine form and a "Jumpin' Jack Flash" fade out. This is early Mott at their best, why they developed a cult following, and why, no doubt, David Bowie always had a soft spot for them. Some critics have not enjoyed this album, preferring the next one, the limp and feeble "Wildlife". God knows why. This knocks it into next week.

"I Can Feel" is a slower pace, lengthy piano-led Hunter rock ballad of the sort he would go on to specialise in over the years. A great guitar solo on it from Ralphs too. Again, so typical of the best of early Mott.

This album is far more of a Hunter album than a Ralphs one, in comparison to "Wildlife", which had four somewhat insipid Ralphs tracks and three lesser-standard Hunter ones. Of the album's seven tracks, four are from Hunter, three from Ralphs, but it just seems to have Hunter's stamp all over it.
Ralphs' "Threads Of Iron" has its country-ish moments, particularly the "you are what you are" vocal part, but there is still a heavy rock backing to it and Hunter is on vocals and piano and drives the track, making it his own, to be honest. Some great bass from Pete "Overend" Watts too. Some reviewers have described this three-track "side two" of the original album as being a "dense fog". I disagree, it contains some of Mott's hardest, purest rocking. If they were all off their heads on Jack Daniels and at the mercy of madcap producer Guy Stevens, who cares? The result is a frantic, furious kick in the head of beautiful, thumping early seventies heavy rock. Turn it up loud and enjoy the madness! It has the feel of a live recording and is all the better for it.

Hunter brings the proceedings to a reflective end with the sombre, thoughtful and moving "When My Mind's Gone", which is somewhat appropriate for this wild ride. His voice, which is so poor on "Wild Life" is at its best here. Loud, clear, throaty but with a sadness. This is a nearly always forgotten Hunter classic. He has probably even forgotten it himself.  When he sings, against just his own piano backing "When I take my secrets, I will take them with me to my grave..." it is just one of those great Hunter moments, then Verden Allen's organ joins in, then Watts' bass for the fade out - early Mott heaven.

For some reason, the country-ish rock of “It Would Be A Pleasure”, included as a bonus track with the previous release of “Mad Shadows” is not included here.

CD 3 “Wildlife”
  1. Whiskey Women
  2. Angel Of Eighth Avenue
  3. Wrong Side Of The River
  4. Waterlow
  5. Lay Down
  6. It Must Be Love
  7. Original Mixed Up Kid
  8. Home Is Where I Want To Be
  9. Keep A-Knockin’ (Live At Fairfield Hall, Croydon)
  10. Midnight Lady (Instrumental Backing Track)*
  11. The Debt
  12. Downtown
  13. Brain Haulage
  14. Growing Man Blues (Take 10)
  15. Long Red (Demo)
  16. The Ballad Of Billy Joe
  17. Lay Down (Take 9)
*not the “Single Version” with vocals as advertised.

As pointed out in a review of Nazareth’s 1972 album,  “Exercises”, many bands felt the need to “folky” and “country rock” in style around 1970-72. The somewhat directionless Mott The Hoople, circa 1972, did exactly the same with thus comparatively low key effort. Even the cover saw the band posing, slightly unconvincingly, in the middle of a wood.

The opener, “Whiskey Women” is a mainly acoustic led piece of mid-pace rock, with some pleasant upbeat parts and a hook but it is all a bit undercooked. Mick Ralphs is on vocal and his voice was never that great, to be fair. However, at the time it was the equal, if not superior to that of Ian Hunter.  Hunter’s Dylan admiration rears its head once more in the somewhat subdued, organ and bass driven “Angel Of Eighth Avenue”. As with Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and Slade’s Noddy Holder, Ian Hunter’s voice was nowhere near what it became only a year later. All four of them seemed to transform not only their voices but their confidence and personae. The sound on here is superb, it has to be said, just sumptuous.

“Wrong Side Of The River” is so Neil Young it may as well be Neil Young. Mick Ralphs is on vocals again here, he even sings in Young’s Canadian whine - “riverrrr”. “Waterlow” is a mournful dirge of a ballad, (although many love it) with Hunter’s voice again not convincing. He raises it up a bit for the upbeat, gospelly “Lay Down”, but this is another track that just seems not really complete or credible. It is very, very easily forgotten.

“It Must Be Love” is a steel guitar Mick Ralphs song with him on vocals again and going all “Nashville Skyline meets CSNY somewhere in the Colorado countryside” on us. No need, Mick. Start rocking! Hunter’s “Original Mixed Up Kid” has potential, lyrically. Musically it uses a Dylan-1965-66 style organ and some more whining steel guitar. Hunter’s voice is at its strongest on the album here and it is not a bad track. Probably the album’s best. The “woh-woh” vocal fade out would be repeated by Hunter again on 1974’s “Trudi’s Song”.

Mick Ralph’s The Band-like country-ish rocker, “Home Is Want To Be” is probably his strongest track on the album too, all very melodic and not unpleasant at all, with some nice bass bits, but this is Mott The Hoople. For me, this sort of thing saw the band going a dead end street at a pace. They could, and would, do so much better with later releases and Hunter with his solo material, Ralphs with Bad Company.

The final track on the album is incongruous, given what has come before - it is a rocking live version of “Keep A-Knockin'” which reminds us that, yes, Mott The Hoople could rock. Time to start proving it! As Ian Hunter says in half way through the track - "this is the best kind of music that ever was". Thanks for reminding us, Ian, now keep on rocking yourself in future.

Another bonus track from the previous release, “It’ll Be Me”, is not included.

CD 4 “Brain Capers”
  1. The Wheel Of The Quivering Meat Conception
  2. Death May Be Your Santa Claus
  3. Your Own Backyard
  4. Darkness, Darkness
  5. The Journey
  6. Sweet Angeline
  7. Second Love
  8. The Moon Upstairs
  9. Mental Train (The Moon Upstairs)
  10. How Long (Death May Be Your Santa Claus)
  11. Darkness, Darness (Edit)
  12. Your Own Backyard (Complete Take)
  13. Where Do They All Come From (Backing Track)
  14. One Of The Boys (Take 2)
  15. Movin’ On
  16. Black Scorpio (Momma’s Little Jewel) (Remix)
The last of the four “pre-Bowie” Mott The Hoople albums and it is probably the best of the four.

“Death May Be Your Santa Claus” is a re-write of a track from 1970s “Mad Shadows” with an almost funky guitar intro but some seriously pounding, bassy heavy rock kicks in, some madcap, swirling organ and a red hot Ian Hunter vocal. A great start after the insipid nature of the previous album, the half-baked “Wildlife”. This is one of the best rockers from the early albums. “Your Own Back Yard” is a fetching, tuneful, Dylanesque rock ballad from Hunter. It is a cover version of a Dion song, but sounds like a Hunter song.  Shades of “Alice” from 1974’s “The Hoople” album in places. His voice seems to have rediscovered its mojo since “Wildlife”, where it was uncharacteristically weak. Verden Allen’s organ was also integral to Mott’s sound in this period , no more so than on this underrated track. The band’s sound was a sort of cranked up, heavy rock version of Bob Dylan’s 65-66 “wild mercury sound” at times. “Darkness Darkness”, another cover version,  highlighted Mick Ralph’s weaker voice, but it is still a refreshingly hard rocker in the chorus, which was good to hear after his lightweight, country-ish contributions to “Wildlife”. He seemed now to blend his love of a lighter, more melodic song with some harder rocking, which was good to hear. It made here for an impressive number. A bit Free-like in places.

The big, dramatic, “slow build up to rock majesty” Hunter number to close the old “side one” was the mighty nine minutes of “The Journey”. Nobody really does this sort of moving rock ballad better than Ian Hunter. Nobody. It is a monster of a song. Nice one Ian. Just wonderful from beginning to end. Hunter was back now, make no mistake. In places, this was also Mott at their heaviest.

“Side two” started with another great upbeat rocker in the Status Quo meets The Velvet Underground of “Sweet Angeline” (although I prefer the live version on 1974’s live album). Hunter was starting to burn with the fire that would make Mott, briefly, one of the best rock bands around over the next two years. This is one of their best early rockers.

“Second Love” is a piano and organ led mid-pace Hunter rock slow number with another powerful chorus part and some brass used too, unusually. Something of an underrated track. Listening to this album again, it is definitely the best of the first four. Great full, punchy remastered sound on the latest edition too. “The Moon Upstairs” is a bluesy, upbeat heavyish rocker with hints of “Restless Youth” from Ian Hunter’s 1976 “All American Alien Boy” album. A frenetic, loud, thumping “Mad Shadows”-style ending too.

“The Wheel Of The Quivering Meat Conception” continues the fade-out from “The Journey” and is a waste, to be honest. Bizarrely, on this box set, it begins the album.

CD 5 “The Ballads Of Mott The Hoople”
  1. Like A Rolling Stone
  2. No Wheels To Ride (First House Take)
  3. Angel Of Eight Avenue
  4. The Journey
  5. Blue Broken Tears
  6. Black Hills
  7. Can You Sing The Song That I Sing?
  8. Until I’m Gone
  9. The Original Mixed-Up Kid (BBC session)
  10. Ill Wind Blowing
  11. I’m  A River
  12. Ride on The Sun (Sea Diver)
These are alternate versions of some of Mott’s ballads. The extended Hunter workouts, “Can You Sing The Song That I Sing?” and “I’m A River” are somewhat indulgent and not quite the slices of Hunter magnificence one may have hoped them to be.

CD 6 - “Mott Live”
  1. Rock And Roll Queen (Live In Croydon)
  2. Ohio (Live In Croydon)
  3. No Wheels To Ride (Live In Croydon)
  4. Thunderbuch Ram (Live In Croydon)
  5. Keep A-Knockin’ (Live In Croydon)
  6. You Really Got Me (Live In Croydon)
  7. The Moon Upsairs (BBC Radio 1 In Concert)
  8. Whiskey Women (BBC Radio 1 In Concert)
  9. Your Own Backyard (BBC Radio 1 In Concert)
  10. Darness, Darkness (BBC Radio 1 In Concert)
  11. The Journey (BBC Radio 1 In Concert)
  12. Death May Be Your Santa Claus (BBC Radio 1 In Concert)
Excellent sound quality for live recordings frm the early seventies. A fine end to a fine box set from a glorious band that will never be forgotten, rough edges and all.

B+

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Buzzcocks



Another Music in A Different Kitchen (1978)
Love Bites (1978)
A Different Kind Of Tension (1979)
Entertaining Friends (Live) (1979)

The Buzzcocks - Love Bites (1978)


  

Released September 1978

Although they produced decidedly punky, breakneck singles, The Buzzcocks' albums were quite "post punk" in many ways. Certainly 1978's debut, "Another Music In A Different Kitchen" influenced many an introspective post punker. The Buzzcocks had a joie de vivre amidst their wry, observational three minute anthems though. Their music was both joyous and downcast at the same time.

TRACK LISTING

1. Real World
2. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have?)
3. Operators Manual
4. Nostalgia
5. Just Lust
6. Sixteen Again
7. Walking Distance
8. Love Is Lies
9. Nothing Left
10. E.S.P.
11. Late For The Train

"Real World" kicks things off with a typical post punk drum beat and edgy guitar riff and some earnest lyrics, while everyone knows "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have?)" and it was a true punk anthem without the anger. The late Pete Shelley's high-pitched slightly lisping voice was not really picked up on at the time, neither was his bi-sexuality. It was simply considered a great punk record, ideal for fist-pumping and pogoing, which it is. "Operators Manual" is a half punk, half industrial clunker of a track, full of stark riffs and dense, rolling drums, backed by a wailing, toneless vocal. "Nostalgia" is pretty standard punk fare, fast riffs and bleating vocals that sounded angry even if they weren't. Despite the audible energy of the group's material, there was always a gloominess to them. "Just Lust" had a frantic punk beat and now typical Buzzcocks refreshing honest lyrics about youthful sex and the lust of the title. It builds on the tradition created by "Orgasm Addict" in the previous year.

"Sixteen Again" has a Magazine-style riff and more trademark Shelley lyrics, getting nostalgic for just a few years previously. "Walking Distance" is an infectious new wave instrumental, full of excellent guitar, bass and drums. "Love Is Lies" is another cynical Buzzcocks love song. This is what The Buzzcocks were all about - they didn't sing about social issues, corrupt Tory MPs or violence. They sang, on the whole, about love and its attendant problems. Personally, I had other punk groups I preferred more - The Clash, The Jam, The Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, but I understood where The Buzzcocks were coming from, I think.

"Nothing Left" is one of their most obvious punk meets post punk numbers, with one of those edgy, drawn-out intros and that sonorous, thumping, insistent drum backbeat. It inspired many a post punk band. It even has a slightly dubby bit in it. "E.S.P." has a killer, searing riff to it. It has a long, minute-long fade out, though, for some reason. "Late For The Train" is another nascent post-punker, clocking in at five and a half minutes (not common among punk groups). It has another long, sonorous, guitar-driven intro and you wonder when the vocals are going to come in. They never do. An album with two instrumentals on showed that The Buzzcocks were stretching the two/three minute angry punk song thing considerably, pushing the boundaries already, leaving their singles as singles and their albums as more serious creations.

B-

Eric Clapton - Backless (1978)


  

Released November 1978

After the incredibly successful "Slowhand" from 1977, Eric Clapton attempted to repeat the laid-back, slightly folky, slightly bluesy rock vibe on this album. Although it was more of the same, it hasn't had its predecessor's long-lasting appeal, and has become a somewhat forgotten piece of work. It is actually a lot bluesier and rockier than "Slowhand". It is not a bad album, to be honest. Personally, I much prefer it to "Slowhand", and indeed to "461 Ocean Boulevard", "There's One In Every Crowd and "No Reason To Cry".

TRACK LISTING

1. Walk Out in The Rain
2. Watch Out For Lucy
3. I'll Make Love To You Anytime
4. Roll It
5. Tell Me That You Love Me
6. If I Don't Be there By Morning
7. Early In The Morning
8. Promises
9. Golden Ring
10. Tulsa Time

After working with Bob Dylan on 1976's "No Reason To Cry", Clapton joined up with him once more for a couple of tracks. The opener, "Walk Out In The Rain" is one of them, although this time it is not a duet, with Clapton handling the vocals. "Watch Out For Lucy" is a jaunty, upbeat piece of bluesy country rock. It would all go down very well these days, but one tends to forget that this was 1978, and punk was all around. Stuff like this would not have been well received by anyone other than Clapton's sixties fans who were now getting into dinosaur age. It is a pleasant enough song now, with a Band-like Americana feel to it. Back then, when I was listening to The Clash, The Jam and The Ramones, I would not have listened to this in a million years, despite having been into Clapton a few years earlier. In November 1978, when this came out , "All Mod Cons" and "Give 'Em Enough Rope" were released. The cover picture of a bearded Clapton playing guitar in a cosy room was hardly de rigeur for the times, either. Personally, I dd not need this sort of thing in 1978. I enjoy it far more now, listened to out of chronological context. In 1978 it was culturally irrelevant. It was, unsurprisingly, far more successful in the less cutting edge US than in the UK.

"I'll Make Love To You Anytime" is a seductive slice of swamp, laid-back blues with a feel of Dire Straits' yet to come material about it. It features some excellent, infectious guitar. "Roll It" has a loose  ambience to it, with some seriously impressive slide guitar with Marcy Levy on lead vocals again, although there are not many of them, just some improvisations. "Tell Me That You Love Me" is an appealing number similar to some of the "Slowhand" material. "If I Don't Be There By Morning", the other Dylan song, is one of the rockiest things Clapton had done for a good while, full of chunky riffs and roadhouse rock piano.

"Early In The Morning" is a superb, eight minute piece of Clapton blues. Killer guitar and harmonica and questionable lyrics about girls coming of age. Great stuff. "Promises" was a minor hit single and is very much in the laid-back, acoustic "Slowhand" mode. "Golden Ring" ploughs a similar furrow. "Tulsa Time" is back to blues rock with a lively closer. As I said, it was an album that was out of time, but is not at all bad, taken in isolation.

B-

Eric Clapton - No Reason To Cry (1976)

  

Released August 1976

TRACK LISTING

1. Beautiful Thing
2. Carnival
3. Sign Language
4. County Jail Blues
5. All Our Past Times
6. Hello Old Friend
7. Double Trouble
8. Innocent Times
9. Hungry
10. Black Summer Rain
11. Last Night

This is slightly different to Eric Clapton's other mid-seventies offerings in that although it is till made up of laid-back, bluesy folky rock, it is performed at The Band's studio with various members of The Band contributing throughout, thus making it sound very much like a Band album with Clapton guesting. You hear Robbie Robertson's guitar as much as Clapton's on "Sign Language" and that trademark Band organ is around a lot.

"Beautiful Thing" is slow tempo and melodious in a Band sort of way. "Carnival" is a slightly incongruous mock-Caribbean upbeat rock number. It is lively enough, despite Clapton's naturally sleepy voice. The afore-mentioned "Sign Language" is a duet with Bob Dylan and sounds very much like it ought to be on "Desire". It has a real vibe of that album about it. Dylan's vocal makes it very much a Dylan song. "County Jail Blues" is a muscular blues more typical of Clapton, but still very Band-esque in places, particularly the organ break. "All Our Past Times" is an Eagles-ish slow country ballad.

The second half of the album is far more typical Clapton. "Hello Old Friend" is the most well-known of the songs on the album. It has a shuffling, melodic beat to it and another quiet, laconic vocal. This is the most easily identifiable song in the pop/rock style Clapton made his own in the mid-seventies. "Double Trouble" is a pretty convincing blues, with some  quality guitar from Clapton.  The gospelly "Innocent Times" is actually sung by Marcy Levy, who co-wrote the song with Clapton. Her vocals also dominate the next track, the bluesy, shuffling "Hungry".

"Black Summer Rain" is a very "461 Ocean Boulevard"-style number. Sleepy blues rock. "Last Night" is a solid blues to finish off what is a listenable album, but one that, for some reason, I do not return to very often.

C+

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Temptations - Masterpiece (1973)


  

Released February 1973

This was the final of The Temptations/Norman Whitfield's seven "psychedelic soul" albums, dating back to 1969, and so good they had all been too. On this one, Whitfield let us creative juices run wild. There are only six tracks on the album, including the magnificent title track, running at fourteen minutes of heavily orchestrated, hugely atmospheric, immaculately played funky, conscious soul. It is a magnificent piece of work.

TRACK LISTING

1. Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)
2. Masterpiece
3. Ma
4. The Law Of The Land
5. Plastic Man
6. Hurry Tomorrow

"Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)" opens the album with a sweet piece of melodic soul, before we get the majesty of "Masterpiece". It is crammed full of brooding funk, cynical, socially aware lyrics and huge, sweeping orchestral runs. The whole thing, indeed the album, comes over as a sort of Whitfield solo, instrumental album, with The Temptations enhancing it with occasional vocals. The bass and percussion are sumptuous on this track, as they are throughout the album, it has to be said. Instrumentally, it certainly is a masterpiece. There wasn't really anywhere else the group could go after this, other than "back to basics". This was a high point in soul creativity, up there with any of the great rock or prog rock creations from the same period.

The second side of the original album began with "Ma", a track that started with some foreboding Native American style drums and a menacing atmosphere and vocal telling of "Ma'" and her backwoods Mississippi life. The riff is decidedly similar to that of Argent's "Hold Your Head Up". It is a great song, though, packed with feeling and soulful evocative parts. "The Law Of The Land" is the last truly great Temptations classic. It is a superb, uplifting, upbeat, pounding slab of soul magnificence. I love it and never tire of its infectious, pulsating rhythms. From its first few seconds, it kicks posterior. When the drums kick in - wow. One of my favourite tracks of all time, from anyone. Just perfect.

"Plastic Man" takes issue with hypocrisy and falseness. Once more, the musicianship and pounding, muscular funk are irresistible. Check out those horns too. "Hurry Tomorrow" is a final "message song" about the ills of the contemporary world. It is an eight-minute "mini classic", again very atmospheric, slow burning, and immaculately sung.

This, for me, along with "Cloud Nine", "Puzzle People" and "Psychedelic Shack" was among the best of The Temptations' psychedelic soul albums. Well worth a listen.

B+