Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blue Cheer - 'InsideOutside'

Rating - 6/C+

What a peculiar album. It's a strange mix of hippy-ish psychedelia, crude but catchy bashing-rock glory and all wrapped up with some smatterings of poor taste and delivered with questionable musicianship. For all that, it's mostly okay to listen to - everything's done with a sort of joyous excess that is never nearly as menacing as the metal it supposedly inspired but is cvertainly riotous. If it weren't for the simple-minded inability to stretch beyond three-chord rock jams and what was beginning to be called heaviness, this would just be another album by a late-60s blues-rock based power trio ensemble, distinguished largely by an inability to match the prowess or invention of more notable examples of such assemblages.

Indeed, it isn't all that much more than that, but the fact of chronology does place it as an important early rumble towards the hard rock and heavy metal sounds you, me and your step-aunt enjoy with such mad abandon. What saves this album in my opinion is basically that same simple-mindedness - the only really egregious over-reaching here is in attempts to match the fretboard fury of early Hendrix. If you can excuse that for the nonce you have a very fun album, and it's the fun aspect that makes it potentially endearing.

As to the individual songs, the best one here has to be Come And Get It. This song sounds exactly the way you'd expect Blue Cheer, influential and ragged early forefathers of metal to sound like - basically 60s rock n' roll overdriven and played at ridiculous speed and volume. 'Let me hear, let me hear the way you feel'! Yeah! The vocals are kinda thin and whiny, but full of energy and enthusiasm, the guitars are primitive but loud and fast, the rhythm section isn't monumental but it is suitably thunderous. That's great then, that Blue Cheer heavy good-time rock n' roll there. Devil horns!

Oh, right. There's 8 more songs on the album. Alright, let me elucidate thereof. The next best song here is Just A Little Bit, which is just as endearingly frantic as Come And Get It, but a little more chaotic and confused. Babylon starts with a rather nifty riff, and can be safely cited in your paper on metal influences. However, it wanders into a generic mid-tempo bluesy rock a bit too soon and has an especially atrocious solo followed by a clumsily introduced and rather perfunctory climatic-ending manouver. Feathers From Your Tree, Sun Cycle and Gypsy Ball are full of the heavy guitar tone, but are more mid-tempo although there are some neat riffs here, as on Gypsy Ball. There's a more psychedelic vibe running through these songs - this was the psychedelic era, after all, and acid was the best new nutritional supplement since Calcium Sandoz. Someone even seems to have played a little piano on one or the other of these songs, but don't let that bother you. The riffs are really huge. The little instrumental Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger is riffy and groovy, even if the title suggests a bluegrass excursion on a jam-band bootleg.

All this is fine - a little lacking in technical finesse, but very catchy, energetic and raw in the right way. Some really memorable songs and the okay songs aren't awful. So naturally the good lads of Blue Cheer had to throw in a couple of covers that definitely make me downgrade my impression of their collective IQ (not especially high to begin with) and my rating of this album.

They may have listened to a lot of blues, but these guys couldn't play it for nuts. Their take on Booker T Jones' The Hunter is total cornball, a passably enthusiastic and stomping cover version that would sound okay from a high school band, not a pro (I use the term strictly in its literal sense) trio on their second studio outing. For extra insight, contrast and compare with the 'call me the hunter' sections on How Many More Times off Led Zep's debut, released the same year. Page and Co. may have been too vain to credit their cover, but damnit, they reinvented it with a verve and skill that weathers better than this sloppy fanboyism. Even worse, because genuinely offensive instead of just embarrasingly hammy, is their attempt to Blue Cheerize the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction. You'd think they really hated it! Like any college band band trying to be hard and original they speed up the riff so much it sounds like a ridiculous parody of itself, they try a variety of guitar tones, each of which is uglier than the previous ones, and the singer reminds you that, energetic and well-meaning as he is, he's no Jagger. It's not a good idea covering material that's so vastly better than your own, really.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: And look at that! I've spent more words beating Blue Cheer up than praising them! Still, remember that this platter of midway-between-r&b and hard rock music, with its psychedelic touches, isn't a crap album - it would have to be downright unlistenable for that. Approach as simple, honest fun rendered influential by history alone and you'll be fine. It'll look good in your record collection too, up there with Black Sabbath and Budgie like the slightly retarded elder brother everyone loves and cleans up after.

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