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Jeff Beck shares the fortune of being both notorious and obscure. Ask any rock critic about Jeff Beck and be prepared for a storm of appraisal: you'll be told all about his guitar god status, his innovative techniques, his super-professional backing bands, his pioneering of fusion and several other lesser genres, and dozens of other things: it's quite a rare event when somebody dares to put some dirt on the man. On the other hand, check out the 'latest lists' of the best guitar players on our planet and chances are that you may not even see Jeff Beck mentioned there. And if you will, his name will certainly not be written in huge red letters. He holds an intermediate position somewhere in between old gods like Clapton and Hendrix and younger heavy metal gods like Angus Young, Steve Vai and Gary Moore, but he just isn't that flashing, if you know what I mean.That's easy to explain, of course. Whereas Hendrix and Clapton epitomized their whole generations, and younger guitar gods rely heavily on spectacle and personality to back 'em up, Jeff was always just content, in the immortal words of Frank Vincent Zappa, to 'shut up 'n' play yer guitar'. He never even tried to sing - he had no voice and didn't try to find one, unlike Hendrix or Clapton. He rarely wrote his own compositions: in fact, most of his songs are co-credited to other persons, and seems that, while he always assumed responsibility for constructing guitar solos, he was simply unable to independetly create a solid musical skeleton for any tune. He was a recluse - never trying to build up his image, again, unlike his luckier pals. Moreover, he's known to be a snub and a hot-tempered snub at that: people often complain about Beck's inability to co-operate with a certain person for any significant amount of time; this in particular explains his constant changing of bands, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to horrible. Finally, he's esoteric - apart from his first two albums, I don't really see how his music could appeal to vast audiences. If you're the kind of freak that feeds on lengthy instrumental fusion jams several times a day, he's alright by you; otherwise, you'd better stick to Clapton or, hell, to Gary Moore if you wish to. Beck's obvious limitations do not allow me to give him anything more than a rating of two - and even that would seem a wee bit high, but you shouldn't deny that the man's first seven or eight years of solo work played an extremely important role in rock music. After all, during his collaboration with Rod Stewart it was him, and not Jimmy Page, that pioneered the beginnings of heavy metal. Keep in mind that without the Jeff Beck Band there would sure as hell be no Led Zeppelin. And his instrumental jazz-funk-fusion albums in the mid-Seventies are still deemed by many as the pinnacle and one of the few truly listenable efforts of the genre - I have mixed feelings towards them, but I can't deny the fire, energy and talent that's present there. Afterwards, things went worse, with lots of ups and downs, but at least Jeff has preserved his reputation. He's still eager to experiment with his guitar, as is proved by his last album, and he certainly hasn't sold out or mellowed out, like Eric Clapton. If anything, he is the perfect example of a 'guitar hero' - I still far prefer Clapton's style, but I admit that Beck is much more consistent and true to his image than Eric. Even so, Beck was just a guitarist, and the image and stylistics of his records were often determined by his colleagues and working bands. Essentially, there are two main Jeff Becks that are well worth looking up: the late-Sixties bluesy Jeff Beck, coordinated by vocalist Rod Stewart (remember that one?) and the mid-Seventies fusion Jeff Beck, coordinated by keyboardist Jan Hammer. Then, of course, there are the later efforts, all of which should be investigated with much care: Jeff is always eager to look up the 'modern' stylistics, which occasionally brings him to lapses of taste - severe, like on Flash, or forgivable, like on Who Else!, but always sharp and inevitably dating his records to their specific time periods. Currently I have almost all of Beck's solo records; the only exception is 1972's Jeff Beck Group, which I'll be looking up. The rest I have dealt with already, with our Lord God's gracious aid - so welcome everybody!
Listenability: 2/5. Too
much routine funk, too much guest playing on Jeff albums sometimes - for
my money, he's never made a more consistent album than his debut one.
Resonance: 1/5. Nope. Jeff is way too self-indulgent and 'experimental' - I love his guitar tones, technique and general style, but I hardly feel like crying even when he's balladeering.
Originality: 3/5. His originality is sometimes overrated - for instance, he was never the great fusion pioneer that he's described as - but his role in the development of hard rock in the early days can't be understated.
Adequacy: 3/5. Sometimes, Jeff can sound too 'self-consciously epic', but he's more often adequate than not.
Diversity: 3/5. He's good at that - hard rock, jazz, acoustic, experimental, but it's mainly just guitar trickery, after all.
Overall: 2.4 = D on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
A little smoother and less shockin' than Led Zeppelin, this is still a must-have for every hard rock lover.Best song: BLUES DE LUXE
Track listing: 1) Shapes Of Things; 2) Let Me Love You; 3) Morning Dew; 4) You Shook Me; 5) Ol' Man River; 6) Greensleeves; 7) Rock My Plimsoul; 8) Beck's Bolero; 9) Blues De Luxe; 10) I Ain't Superstitious.
Truly and verily, if Jimmy Page hadn't bothered to put together his first (and last) really serious band in the fall of 1968, his place in rock history might be forever occupied by Jeff Beck. Because in that glorious year, Mr Guitarist-That-Always-Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addled-Skeleton released his first, and arguably, best solo album, the record that now sounds like a one hundred percent blueprint for Led Zeppelin's debut. (Dang it, both bands do 'You Shook Me' - this can't be a coincidence!) Having just dropped out (or should we say 'crashed out'?) of the Yardbirds, Jeff recruited a superior backing band: the only guy you might not be familiar with (neither am I) is drummer Mick Waller, but you're sure to know Ron Wood on bass (later of the Faces and, of course, the Rolling Stones) and Rod Stewart on vocals. Yeah, at that time Rod wasn't the disco schlock cantator he's now usually known as: he was a young, ambitious, energy-filled rockin' stud who was only too happy to assure himself the position of lead (hell, only) vocalist in the Jeff Beck group, and his voice was as good as ever.So, what they basically do on this record is present a fine, deserving alternative to the Allman Brothers Band (okay, the Allman Brothers Band didn't yet exist at that moment, or if it did, nobody knew of its existence, but I guess you got my point in any case): building up a solid, heavy blues sound and pushing the hard rock limits a little further than Cream and the actual Yardbirds, courtesy of Jeff and Rod. The former, as our main hero, exploits all kinds of contemporary guitar techniques, and while he's always trying to demonstrate that he doesn't stray too far from the roots (check out the very pretty and very short instrumental acoustic piece 'Greensleeves'), he's certainly fiddling with a totally new, menacing and dreary sound on tracks like 'Morning Dew' or, especially, Howlin' Wolf's 'I Ain't Superstitious' where he adds something to the wah-wah effect and makes it sound almost trash-like. Stewart, on the other hand, whose voice, while far from pretty, is ten times more suited for blueswailing than that of Jack Bruce, finds the perfect counterpart to Beck's guitar - just like Plant was originally a perfect counterpart to Page's guitar. However, I must say that I far prefer Stewart if we come to comparisons: he never whines, and his interpretation of the 'human factor' in singing is much more suitable for my tastes (no lengthy wailings, no 'oh oh-s' and 'ah ah-s', just a silly little laugh or cough now and then). The bad thing is the kind of bad thing that marred and still mars all of Beck's albums: the lack of good songwriting. Beck couldn't write a note, of course - he was just a guitar player, after all, so the few elements of originality here are mostly credited to Stewart and Wood, and they don't contribute that much, preferring to exploit well-used blues standards. They do contribute what I consider to be the most driving number on the record - the uncompromised, blood-dripping, raunchy 'Blues De Luxe' with Rod at his very, very best (probably recorded live since there are smatters of applause now and then, if they weren't overdubbed, of course), and 'Let Me Love You' is fairly good, too, but it just refers to singing and playing. 'Beck's Bolero' is a fine mix of Ravel and proto-heavy metal, but it's little more than a novelty piece, even if it is entertaining. In desperation, they put on a remake of the Yardbirds' hit 'Shapes Of Things' - certainly the weakest spot on the album and a fairly stinky way to open the album. I never liked the song in the first place, but here it is transformed in such a rambling, almost atonal mess, that you'd hardly call it a 'song' in the proper sense of the word. So they redeem themselves on blues covers. Their, almost strangely short, version of 'You Shook Me' can't hope to beat Led Zeppelin's just because it ain't pushed to the limits completely: yet, for the devoted the dialogue between Rod's voice and Beck's guitar can prove to be even more entertaining than Page/Plant's. Not to mention that they don't mess up the lyrics like the latter bastards did (it is still a point of wondering for me why Plant sang that line about the bird that whistles when it never belonged to the song in the first place). And, like I said, 'I Ain't Superstitious' is pure delight. And 'Rock My Plimsoul'? Whoa, that's one butt-kickin' rocker on here! Sure beats the stuffing of any Allman Brothers Band material any old day. (Not that I have anything against the Allmans, mind you, but, unfortunately, they have that boredom factor which Jeff Beck has to a lesser degree). What's so odd about it is the strange stuttering time signature - can you feel Mick Waller is actually 'losing tempo' on every verse? Astute guy - you can't really tell if he's misfiring or he's doing it intentionally. Whatever. From a historical point of view, this is a super-important album - kind of a 'missing link' between Wheels Of Fire and Led Zeppelin. From any other points of view, it might be dismissable - if you want really crunchy heavy blues, early Led Zep's your better bet. But if you just can't get enough of crunchy heavy blues, get it before the world forgets about it, which it really shouldn't. And don't you forget that Jeff Beck is as good a guitar player as Jimmy, anyway, so if Truth loses it a little in the unabashed heaviness respect, it easily gains in the technical proficiency respect. And for my money, I'll take, yeah I'll take, oh gimme gimme Rod Stewart over Robbie Plant any day of the week.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
More of the same, but a little too much distraction and Nicky Hopkins for me.Best song: ALL SHOOK UP
Track listing: 1) All Shook Up; 2) Spanish Boots; 3) Girl From Mill Valley; 4) Jailhouse Rock; 5) Plynth (Water Down The Drain); 6) The Hangman's Knee; 7) Rice Pudding.
By 1969 things have changed, and the Jeff Beck Band, though still intact, already wasn't the grooviest thing on earth. Moreover, Led Zeppelin had already declared their presence on the music scene, and the baton, want it or not, was involuntarily passed on. So the band was at a dead end: were they to go in favour of a further 'hardening' of the sound, they would have been accused of mimicking their betters, and were they to make a clone of Truth, they'd be dismissed as 'conservative stuff'. So this album sounds a little miffed and erratic - besides being a bit too short (which, however, enabled it to be packed together with Truth on a single CD making it a terrific buy if you can find it), it clearly shows a disintegrating band that doesn't know where to go at all. No wonder, then, that it fell apart soon after this release - apparently, Stewart and Wood felt that Beck's enthusiasm was spent, not to mention the clash of personalities (from what I know, Beck is one person who's very hard to get along with). Moreover, Mick Waller already quit at this point, replaced by Tony Newman.Nevertheless, there is still a small bunch of classics on the album. It's curious, though, that it is far less blues-based than its predecessor: there is not a single generic blues on here, apparently Stewart and Beck were just tired of blues heroics and wanted to plain rock on. So they do two Elvis covers - 'Jailhouse Rock' smokes as perfectly as it could in the hands of two masters (I do miss the fast tempo of the original, though), and 'All Shook Up' is Stewart's masterpiece on here - the quiet, soft pop chef-d'oeuvre is transformed into a hurly-burly swing of raving screams, improvised vocals and guitar battles, so that hardly anything is left from the original. Jeff doesn't want to concede the laurel wreath to Roderick, either, and delivers some unusually scorching solos, interspersed with pools of dirty distortion, and the whole number rolls on with almost as much energy as a prime Who live jam. Stewart also contributes his best self-penned number that far, the rhythmic, memorable rocker 'Spanish Boots', replete with jaw-dropping guitar symphonies (Beck was eagerly mastering the tricky guitar overdubbing techniques, making him the missing link in between Clapton and Brian May), and shines on the booming, bass-heavy 'Plynth' and the folkie 'The Hangman's Knee' ('folkie' only lyricswise, of course - the melody certainly comes from a meeting of mastodonts, just like almost anything on this album). It does actually seem that Wood is getting a bit more self-assured on this album, because his basslines are far more fluent and thick than easier, thus raising the amount of heaviness and helping the band to get along with Led Zep. Ironically, this was his last 'bass album' - right after cutting it, he joined the Faces as second guitarist. So far, so good, but through all these songs lies a feeling of deja vu: basically, there is no progression at all, and the change of genre doesn't really change the atmosphere. Worse, there's absolutely no signs of diversity: just one monstruous bash-a-thon after another, kinda reminding me of Blue Cheer, and it just gets a little upsetting after a while. I, for one, am not really content with albums that do nothing but 'kick ass' - this one surely kicks tons of it, but after the first three rockers it already hurts so much (the ass, that is) that you cry out for a ballad - and get none, not counting the stupid Hopkins interlude to which I'll get later on. The whole record is just one big cry - 'Look at us, we can be heavier than most!' Even Led Zeppelin didn't allow themselves such uniformity, not even on Led Zep II. The worst, lowest point is reached on the lengthy instrumental 'Rice Pudding' that has its glorious guitar moments (I love the way the song bashes its way into your speakers right at the very start), but is really disassembled and erratic, and you only wish that it ended a couple of minutes before it does, making the album even shorter than its thirty minutes. Essentially, it's just a heavy jam that adds nothing to the first six songs and is plain tedious in that respect: why should one be forced to listen to something if that 'something' had already been served several times before in the form of a real song with real (great) vocals? Beats me. The weirdest thing on here, however, is Nicky Hopkins' piano solo number 'Girl From Mill Valley'. It has some pretty classical-influenced phrases to it, but it just does not belong among all the proto-metallic stuff here. Apparently, this was their main hope to 'diversify' the record, but a fine diversifying this is. It gets boring about thirty seconds in, and its presence on this record is certainly unrequired - I mean, it's like a pigeon among black crows! (I have to admit, though, that Nicky's contributions on the other tracks are always perfect, after all, wasn't he the best session keyboardist ever?) The Final Judgement is that the record is certainly worth a listen, but don't you plan on getting it independently. Instead, search for that double album on one CD in the dustbins. Then you can program it to the best cuts and enjoy a perfect evening of some of the hardest (and most tasteful) music to come out of the late Sixties.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7
Geez, this is boring. Heavy soul & funk with not an ounce of creativity.Best song: GOT THE FEELING
Track listing: 1) Got The Feeling; 2) Situation; 3) Short Business; 4) Max's Tune; 5) I've Been Used; 6) New Ways Train Train; 7) Jody.
Maybe the worst move in Beck's career was his decision to get rid of his backing band. Well, it's really said that Stewart and Wood left all by themselves, but it's obvious they just didn't get along with Beck (few people do, in fact; that's the primary reason he'd never been able to assemble a really stable band). In any case, the loss of Rod and Ronnie was the loss of his only chance to establish himself as a strong and respectable force in rock music alongside Led Zeppelin and other heavy bands of the early Seventies. If you happen to be a young promising musician, you gotta remember this, mate: never get pissed off at those who are more talented than thou art. Who's gonna write your songs if you play like a demon but can't squeeze out a good original melody even if you're promised a seven-week trip to Disneyland in return? Never turn down a good songwriter (well, I know Stewart isn't a hell of a tunesmith, but at least he's better than Ian Hammer, that's for sure). In this respect, the new 'Jeff Beck Group Vol. 2' that he put together in a year is a huge letdown. Apparently, Jeff went for a professional approach here - the rhythm section, tight, crisp and punchy (drum legend Cozy Powell on, well, drums, Clive Chaman on bass), is light years ahead of the half-drunk groove of Wood and Waller; Bob Tench's mighty vocals are certainly more expressive and flexible than Stewart's hoarse mumbling, even if they sorely lack Rod's kilowatt-drenched power; and the addition of Max Middleton on piano greatly contributes to the sound's richness and diversity. Yet this is just the problem - Stewart and Wood had a great groove going, and the loose, fun-directed, head-banging atmosphere of Truth and Beck-Ola is far, far preferable to the cold, emotionless exercises in 'technicianship' on Rough And Ready.The main problem is the songwriting, of course - this is the only record in Beck's catalogue where he wrote nearly all of the songs himself, and it shows. Abandoning R'n'B and blues covers, he's suddenly discovered a new, previously only hinted at interest in soul, funk and jazz: most of the tracks are arranged as hard-hitting funk grooves, with raunchy wah-wah guitars, 'excited' vocals, in brief, all the stuff that goes with your average funk tune. Problem is, I never really liked funk as a genre, and even so, this gotta range among the weakest examples of funk ever. The melodies are dang near non-existent, what the hell! 'Got The Feeling' is okay, I guess, just because that rhythm hits you so hard, and the bass pounds so mighty, and the wah wah wails so ferociously, and the strangely preachy line 'life's a never ending groove...' suits the song's general mood very well, but 'Situation', 'Short Business' and 'I've Been Used' are all expendable. Diehard funk lovers might enjoy these numbers - I don't. Personally, I need something more than immaculate professionalism to make me get used to a song. And hey, what professionalism we're really speaking of? Beck's guitar is very low-key throughout the album - he lets rip only once or twice with weak, insecure solos, and his riffing is always down in the mix - you can hear the bass better than the guitar! It almost seems as if he was experiencing a "guitar-hero" crisis similar to the one experienced by Clapton at the same time, and was hiding behind the backs of his backing musicians in order to get rid of the "fame". Problem is, he never had as much fame as Clapton, and he always had not more than a cult following. Not to mention the 'outstanding' position of keyboardist Max Middleton on the album. Here's one guy I can hardly stand at all. His keyboard parts are utterly generic, just your standard jazz guy at the next bar, and to top it all, he gets in the lengthiest and ugliest composition on record - the nine-minute instrumental 'Max's Tune', all built on his uninspiring piano work and featuring next to no guitar. Yeah, one might remember that Nicky Hopkins also had a totally out-of-place solo spot on Beck-Ola, but it was (a) at least vaguely pretty and (b) short, while this one is (a) guaranteed to cure insomnia and (b) lengthier than your worst enemy would wish it to be. What did Jeff really see in this guy, maybe the dullest piano player he's ever had by his side? Man, some people make the weird decisions... Some people seem to actually like 'Jody', the never ending soul ballad that closes the album, but to me it's just more nagging noodling from Trench with nothing to really lift the song off the ground. In all, this looks suspiciously close to Stevie Wonder's work (it's no surprise Jeff had a close relation with Stevie, trading tunes from each other), but without the latter's magnificent hooks and inventive melodies. Soul without a soul, eh? Funk without funk, is it? Skip this record. I'm not much of an expert in all these genres, but this ranks among some of the worst excesses. I'll admit that yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, the record is technically immaculate, wonderfully produced and all, but holy Jesus, you can get these things from thousands of performers, and if I want to put on a good funk record, I'll go and grab some Sly and the Family Stone! If I'm listening to Jeff Beck, I want to hear the damn son of a bitch beat the shit out of his guitar! Here, he beats the shit out of himself, and that's what makes the difference.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Some energetic and fierce guitar playing on this one - but brace yourself.Best song: CAUSE WE'VE ENDED AS LOVERS
Track listing: 1) You Know What I Mean; 2) She's A Woman; 3) Constipated Duck; 4) Air Blower; 5) Scatterbrain; 6) Cause We've Ended As Lovers; 7) Thelonius; 8) Freeway Jam; 9) Diamond Dust.
Man, this is a tough call. Indeed. After the Jeff Beck group vol. 2 came to a complete stop and disbanded (at last), Jeff finally assumed total control in the studio and decided he don't need no stinkin' vocalists at all. Instead, he created this fully instrumental album, drawing on a completely new studio band: Max Middleton was retained on keyboards, but the rhythm section was replaced, and George Martin was called on to produce the record. The old trusty dude does whatever he can: the sound is uniformly excellent, and the instrumentation is spare enough so as not to let the tunes be bogged down by useless layers of instruments drowning out the melodies. In addition, Martin just couldn't resist the temptation to pepper some of the numbers with orchestrated passages - but eventually they work so fine that you just don't notice them at all: the guitars are always high in the mix.The album is usually dubbed as one of the first and best examples of 'fusion' - as far as I understand, this is not the same as 'jazz-rock', but the differences somewhat escape me. The best guess would be that jazz-rock extensively uses brass, while for fusion brass is not necessary: it's built on imitating jazz techniques with rock instruments, so it's somewhat of a more close junction between the two genres. Aw, what the hell, anyway - the album doesn't sound jazzy at all. Some tunes are jazzy, to be sure, but there's just as much disco, blues, reggae and other stuff here as well, making it a rather bizarre melting pot. (Which eventually suggests that "fusion" simply stands for "throw anything in the mix and it'll probably work"). The album opens with an almost disco tune - 'You Know What I Mean' with its repetitive, jumpy licks reminds one of the Stones' 'Hot Stuff': sure it didn't come out until a year later, but at least now we know where it is ripped from. But the album's big surprise is a reggaeified, strangely performed version of the Beatles' 'She's A Woman', together with somebody singing the refrain and several other lines through a talking box (that's the only vocals you're gonna find on the album). It's extremely hard to recognize the original melody - this one's slower and more complex, but once you did, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Further proof that even a not-outstanding Beatles tune can always be worked into something that's immediately attention-drawing; not that the original was bad, of course, and it's not that Beck's version is actually better than the Beatles' one, but it's just one of the innumerable cases when an ordinary Beatles' song transforms into somebody else's extraordinary song. Other highlights include 'Constipated Duck', a clumsy dance number with guitar parties that, indeed, sound like a 'constipated duck'; you just gotta love that main echoey riff that keeps fading out in the distance. There's also the bluesier 'Freeway Jam', with some especially ferocious soloing. Stevie Wonder contributed two tunes to the band, which is not surprising, considering Jeff's obstination with soul and related genres (and considering Jeff's own guitar contributions to Stevie's Talking Book). Both are extremely good: 'Thelonius' is a funky jam with several wah-wahs and synth-treated guitars playing off each other, plus the synth-treated guitar is recorded as if it were yet another vocal party masked by some gadget. And the 'ballad' (how do we know, since it has no lyrics? might as well be a heavy blues tune!) 'Cause We've Ended As Lovers' certainly has some of the best, raw, and emotional playing on the album. It's such a pity that the song is instrumental - were Jeff to record it six years earlier, accompanied by a soulful Rod Stewart vocal, it would probably be the masterpiece to end all masterpieces. But even so, that guitar party is unique, and every wannabe lead guitarist got to study it by heart. Of course, the album also has its fair share of rather hookless jams that don't seem to go anywhere at all ('AIR Blower', 'Scatterbrain'), though the guitar playing is flawless as usual. And the closing tune, the eight-minute 'Diamond Dust' where Martin goes nuts with his orchestration techniques, is much too slow to be truly energetic. But overall the album produces a good impression. Maybe it's primarily due to the fact that this is the first album where Beck's guitar is not obscured by any other instruments: the keyboards are placed solidly in the background, and the drumming is steady but not gimmicky, doing just what it is supposed to do: providing a good beat and not fuckin' up. Therefore, this is the first place to go if you really want to appreciate Jeff's incredible technique. Not to mention that every song includes at least two or three overdubbed rhythm tracks in different channels, and quite often, all of them are different! Sure, I know I'm getting a little bit hypocritic here: I'm not sure myself whether I like the album or not. Simply because this kind of record can't (and doesn't pretend to, in fact) be truly emotional and, apart from a couple of tunes like 'Lovers', the album seems almost pointless. Nevertheless, it's solidly compensated by professionalism, energy and the highest in production values, so everybody should hear this at least once. And man, you just gotta appreciate these riffs - some of them are so cool! After all, would they necessarily be better with lyrics? That's debatable.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
More energetic and fierce guitar on this one, but second time around it gets somewhat more dull.Best song: SOPHIE
Track listing: 1) Led Boots; 2) Come Dancing; 3) Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; 4) Head For Backstage Pass; 5) Blue Wind; 6) Sophie; 7) Play With Me; 8) Love Is Green.
Evidently, Blow By Blow left Jeff's ambitions at least partially unsatisfied, because Wired is at the same time more of the same and a 'step forward'. Yup, I put that last expression in quotes because I don't really feel the necessity of these new additions, and, frankly speaking, I can hardly imagine how anything could be a serious improvement over Blow By Blow if its main genre specification was still left intact.Some people actually prefer this one, but it all boils down to one important question: whether you can stand forty minutes of exclusively well performed, but primarily dance-oriented funk. While the playing might be a bit more tight and compact, the overall mood of the record is much too monotonous and strained in order for you to patiently sit through it in one sitting. After all, Blow By Blow was an interesting hodgepodge, with everything from basic rock'n'roll to funk to disco to reggae to soul thrown together in a melting pot. On here, the band mostly sticks to a cleverly thought out, but very uniform funky groove, recreating just about three or four melodies throughout the whole record with nothing to hold on to them: for one thing, there's nary a single interesting riff to be found; 'Blue Wind' is the one notable exception, but otherwise the tunes don't really have a lot going for them in the memorability department. Beck's soloing is as sparkling and technically brilliant as always, but isn't a good solo just a fine bit of icing on the cake? Whilst the cake presented to us here is definitely not an exquisite one. This might have something to do with different factors. First of all, not even a single tune on the whole record is credited to Jeff himself - a shame, since, for instance, the only song on BBB that he penned totally by himself, was 'Constipated Duck', and it had arguably the best and most exciting riff on the whole album. On Wired, he places all the songwriting in the hands of his half-inspired band members: thus, four of eight tunes are written by his drummer Michael Walden, one by his bassist Wilbur Bascomb, and one each by two of his keyboardists. (The eighth number is a sleepy, undistinguishable and undistinguished cover of Charlie Mingus' 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' - some of Beck's solos on that one do come close to 'romantic', but I usually shut it off because of the dreary, lethargic introduction). Second, a significant factor in song arrangements has taken place: instead of George Martin's orchestral arrangements, we now have new band member Jan Hammer move the group further into the direction of hi-fi technologies and robotic synthesizers. The keyboards are very prominent on the album: sometimes the synths are just used to distort Beck's guitar, but most often they play an independent part, with Hammer reveling in his 'techniques' and turning the songs into an unlistenable mess ('Led Boots', 'Come Dancing', etc., all suffer from this hi-tech treatment). Of course, they are in no way cheesy: the album's mood is set to 'funk', and the keyboards are funky - what else should they be? But I'm just not that big a fan of funk - I can put up with a bouncy bassline or a generic wah-wah solo now and then, but forty minutes of 'synthesized funk' simply bore the daylights out of me. Especially when even the better numbers are constantly diluted with wanky filler like 'Head For Backstage Pass', with pro forma guitar solos that could have been marvelous on records by lesser acts, but sound indulgent and uninteresting by Jeff's own standards. I don't even know how to describe these songs, they sound so much alike, except for perhaps the closing number, the semi-acoustic 'Love Is Green', which can be rated as an emotional masterpiece or as a deadly dull minimalistic piece, depending on your degree of Beck fanaticism. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the album is that it's excellent to dance to - Walden's 'Come Dancing', after all, invites you to do exactly that, and the drive and level of energy are so high that it'll get you up (and down, and up, and down again). However, when they try to go for something more 'serious', they fail miserably. Only on 'Sophie' and 'Blue Wind' (the first by Walden, the second by Hammer) they manage to strike some interesting chords. Namely, 'Blue Wind' is probably the most well-structured number on the record, with Beck's guitar taking a highly prominent role and delivering some crunchy riffs and excellently constructed, memorable solos; and 'Sophie' has that weird, intriguing guitar line in the beginning and the end (i.e., in the slow intro and coda sections) that really shows Beck's main talent - coming up with a brilliant melodic snippet once in a long while. That said, professionalism and skill are still oozing out of every square inch of this record, and I figure it would be kinda rude to put down a record so flawlessly performed and recorded. And, come to think of it, there is a certain advantage to this kind of arrangements: Wired really sounds like the work of a band, not just a showcase of Beck's guitar talents. Okay, a duet - apart from Beck and Hammer, the other players are understated - but a duet is still better than a solo, from a certain point of view, at least. Not to mention that this is real great party music, especially for those who would like to go beyond Kiss and AC/DC for their parties. In other words, the album has enough small merits of its own to guarantee it a decent rating, despite the fact that it has nothing even closely remote to a 'soul' of its own. Oh, well, at least it ain't modern classical.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8
Ample proof that Jeff Beck is really able to play all these mind-numbing solos live. Geez, what an asshole!!! (Sorry).Best song: BLUE WIND
Track listing: 1) Freeway Jam; 2) Earth (Still Our Only Home); 3) She's A Woman; 4) Full Moon Boogie; 5) Darkness/Earth In Search Of A Sun; 6) Scatterbrain; 7) Blue Wind.
I don't understand the purpose of this album, really and truly. It was released in 1977, just one year after the release of Wired, and makes absolutely no difference. What you get is a live album where Jeff teams up with Jan Hammer again, this time accompanied by the complete Hammer backing band, and proceeds to repeat note-by-note some of his better numbers from Blow By Blow and Wired. They also add three new tracks, contributed by Hammer and mostly filled with Hammer's synth games. That's about it. I guess I should end this review right here and go away, but since I'm such a nasty slug I'll rave a bit more about why I hate it so much. Actually, I don't hate it - I just have no need to experience this here stuff over and over again.Yes, the numbers they cover here are good: 'Freeway Jam' rocks, 'She's A Woman' is just as weird and reggaeish as it was before (and turned into a, ahem, 'crowd pleasing number' by Hammer adding synth-encoded 'do you feel alright?' grunts), 'Scatterbrain' drags in a half pleasant way, and the guitar melody of 'Blue Wind' is as precise and hard-hitting as ever. But the only thing that distinguishes these songs from the originals is that there are two, er, 'geniuses' on record: Jeff mercifully lets Hammer share the playing and the leads, and almost every number includes a warped, twisted, guitar imitating synth solo. Some of them are interesting, and it's nice to see someone imitate a guitar on the synth, but after a while it starts really hitting you on that itchy little nerve that's the most ready to go, 'stop this shit!' And what do I have to do? Can I stop this shit? No, I can't, because in that case, how could I review it? Which reminds me - all you nasty flamers, don't you ever take pity on the poor little reviewer (aka Me) and actually imagine the thousands of tons of crap he has to sift through in order to fish out the two or three gems that constitute the bulk of good rock music? Well, okay, there are more than two or three. But how much more? That's a good question! Pardon my digressing, though. So I don't stop the shit and sit here patiently, waiting for the band to plough through the three Hammer compositions. Gee, ain't this some sort of a conceptual suite? 'Earth (Still Our Only Home)', then 'Full Moon Boogie' and finally 'Darkness/Earth In Search Of A Sun'. Out of these three, though, none even dare to approach the quality of Beck's older material. First of all, none of the band can sing worth a crap, particularly Hammer, who has some disgusting parts in 'Earth (Still Our Only Home)' and whose voice only sounds good when passed through a Vocoder or whatever it is they were using there on 'She's A Woman' and stuff. Oh, by the way, the vocal encodings are horribly overabused on that one - whoever sings that 'do you feel alright?' line through these murky gadgets, Beck, Hammer or anybody else, gets my personal whack, mind this. Now then, 'Full Moon Boogie' sounds exactly like its title and gets dull in about twenty seconds; it tries very much to be 'funky' but the sound is so thin and darn unimpressive that the band falls flat on its face. However, it's 'Darkness' that is certainly the worst offender, a lengthy, meaningless mid-tempo jam with an atrocious 'space-rock' introduction full of synths and devoid of guitars. I have to guess that Mr Hammer was a big aficionado of Krautrock, because the synth 'sonic landscapes' he tries to paint are very similar to whatever Can and Amon Düül II used to do earlier (and what Brian Eno would soon be doing in a far, far more convincing way). But what the heck, this is a live album. If you're gonna paint a massive futuristic 'sonic landscape' on a live album, you gotta make it sound huge and overwhelming. Just putting out all these spacey synth tones is far from enough. All I can say, when the number finally creeps away after seven and a half minutes of torture, you'll be able to sigh with relief when 'Scatterbrain' comes on. Even if it's definitely not my favourite on Blow By Blow, but hey, who cares? At least, it was not written by Jan Hammer! My personal favourite on here should probably be 'Blue Wind' that closes the record (that guitar riff just can't be beat, after all), but it's also the one tune that's one hundred percent similar to the original and therefore aimless. That said, I really, seriously doubt if even Beck aficionados need this record. All the good stuff can already be found earlier, and do you people really want to purchase a record for a bunch of cheesy synth solos and spooky distorted vocals? And don't even try to bug me with all this 'live feeling' crap. I know when a live record got a 'live feeling' and when it hasn't got one. This one has none - if you have it as an LP, I suggest you put this on at a random location and try to guess whether this is live or studio. Beh. And it also shows that Beck was washed up, by the way - this was his last record for more than three years, and not a studio one at that. He plays just as well as always, but he probably did need a couple years to recapture the 'pot of ideas' that escaped him after Wired.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9
Beck entering his Eighties phase. This is music for immediate consumption, but, if taken as such, it might give you a kick or two.Best song: EL BECKO
Track listing: 1) Star Cycle; 2) Too Much To Lose; 3) You Never Know; 4) The Pump; 5) El Becko; 6) The Golden Road; 7) Space Boogie; 8) The Final Peace.
Blow By Blow/Wired Vol. 3. Only this time it took Jeff almost four years to come up with this. One might also ask the inevitable question 'Why?' Eight tracks on here, all eight of them just more of the same fusion stuff that we'd already been fed with quite a lot. It's also the weakest of the three (though only slightly weaker than Wired, so I give it only a slightly weaker rating) - inevitably, because there's no new ground broken on here. Musically, it's closer to Wired, because Jan Hammer is still here, with Jeff: his compositions dominate the first side of the record, while on the second he's been replaced with new-found alumnus Tony Hymas. So the two sides differ from each other seriously: while on the first side there's enough guitar to disclaim the statement that this is a pure synth-pop album, there's still no doubt that it's much more prominent on the second side. The first side is still driven by Jan Hammer and his hi-tech, robotic noise-making which is even more in the way of good taste than it was before - no wonder, considering that we are ready to enter the Eighties. 'Star Cycle' opens the album with a synth riff that's since become a norm for techno, and I usually shudder at the very first notes of this crap (perhaps it's no small coincidence that the same riff opens Jethro Tull's Crest Of A Knave and the beginning of the band's total and absolute demise). Luckily, though, Jeff Beck's guitar is anything but generic heavy metal: he does permit himself a little more distortion than usually, but it's still essentially just a hard, bluesy tone with quite an independent feel. In fact, while the synth work on 'Star Cycle' is horrendous beyond words, the guitar parts there are absolutely stunning, some of the most blazing, angry work Jeff's fingers ever managed to show us. Get it on, Mr Beck! You know you can't fail your fans' expectations!Later on, though, he calms down, and brings to the forward bass player Mo Foster, who's only happy to make the record as danceable as possible. So they steal the famous Bill Wyman disco bassline off 'Miss You' to incorporate in their throwaway-ish 'Too Much To Lose', and proceed to marry disco with funk in 'You Never Know'. I'll be honest with you, though: nothing 'nobilizes' the bland, banal dance rhythms as much as some inspired, fresh and technically masterful guitar playing from some master of the genre. Whatever I may hold against the album, there's just no doubt that Beck was in perfect form during the recordings: not a note sounds of place, play it loud and prepare for a couple of moments of musical ecstasy. There are even multi-tracked guitars here! On the other hand, Beck is bound to let down as often as he is bound to lift up. For one, he rarely manages to perform a good 'slow' composition: proof irrefutable is 'The Pump', a five-minute droning bore that goes nowhere (and it goes, and it goes, and it goes - there's a steady, boom-boom-boom-boom-bassline, but the effort is ultimately wasted). Nothing particularly energizing about that kind of stuff. Now the second side is definitely not disco. This is where Beck tries to diversify his style a little: there's a Hard Rock number, a Psychedelic number, a Boogie Woogie number, and a, er, well, Grand Finale number. To summarize it all in a few words, the odds rock and the evens suck. 'El Becko' has loads of great, pulsating energy, an incredibly strong bass riff, and some really driving chops, making this if not the most memorable, at least the most mindlessly enjoyable number on the whole record. And 'Space Boogie' is just the thing that its title suggests - a slight Fifties' throwback, but clad in modern production values, with 'astral' synths all around it, indeed, kinda like Bill Haley among the Comets, if you get my pun. Very weird - I bet you never heard anybody playing strict rockabilly in that style. On the other hand, the other two numbers are just not distinguishable: 'The Golden Road' has no melody at all, and in 'The Final Peace' Beck and the boys make a brave stab at a grandiose album closer, but fail - even 'Diamond Dust' was a better effort than this three-minute whiny guitar showcase. Overall, though, the album is not all that bad. I'd say the worst about it is that Jeff is too closely giving in to Eighties' dance music, a thing that led him to the disaster of Flash five years later. His experimentalism, of course, places him a little above that old 'washed-up bag', Eric Clapton, but it also makes his music less accessible and much less digestible: Clapton, at least, never really flirted with all these dubious synths and stuff until he made the unforgettable mistake of teaming with Phil Collins. And, whatever you say, three instrumental albums in a row is a bit too much for a musician that's said to be 'rock'. Oh, well. I guess that's what 'real art' is all about, isn't it? You just have to assimilate these kinds of things. I'll give you an advice, though. If you have a spare 45 minutes on tape and spare time to lose, you might borrow all these three albums from your local library and tape the best songs - two or three from each album. You're guaranteed to come out with a winner. Later on, borrow some studio time, write up some lyrics, overdub them, and you'll end up with a true lost Seventies' classic! And don't forget to mention me on your CD cover as 'original idea by...'!!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6
Beck's dance-pop album - mighty guitar solos sown in among generic Eighties garbage.Best song: PEOPLE GET READY (I hate to admit it)
Track listing: 1) Ambitious; 2) Gets Us All In The End; 3) Escape; 4) People Get Ready; 5) Stop Look And Listen; 6) Get Workin'; 7) Ecstasy; 8) Night After Night; 9) You Know We Know; 10) Nighthawks; 11) Back On The Streets.
Apparently, Jeff's work with Rod Stewart the previous year on his Camouflage album didn't go completely un-resulted. All of a sudden, after five years of relative inactivity, Beck had decided that he wanted to be really, really cool - like his old pal Roderick, for instance, or like his new pal Mick Jagger with his solo career, or like David Bowie (you get my drift, anyway). To do this, however, it was necessary to sacrifice his reputation - which he did without even blinking an eye. Eh, well, just look at the album cover - Jeff as a hip Eighties star! There are eleven songs on this dull, intolerable record, and all of them are just your typical Eighties dance pop, chock full of drum machines, hi-tech synthey 'riffs', and all that 'cool' electronic stuff that goes with such things, so that at times it all ends up sounding like Modern Talking. Even the two most obvious exceptions on this album are still drenched in the Eighties. The most notable of these, and presumably the album's 'big hit', is the cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready', where Beck gets in some really deep, moving soloing in a Clapton vein (if you heard Clapton's 'Holy Mother', you'll know what I mean). Unfortunately, he made a big mistake by inviting Rod Stewart to perform it - possibly as a 'return of favour' after Beck's work on Camouflage. I mean, Rod pulls it off well, but with his reputation all washed-up and gone, it naturally ends up completely insincere and sleazy, a brain-washing commercial number. And even so, it's the only breath of fresh air on the whole record. The other 'exception' is a brave stab at Eighties metal, on the closing 'Back On The Streets' - here it is the only song penned by Beck himself. With all my love for Eighties metal, though, you know how much I love this tune.Elsewhere, Jeff relies completely on 'corporate' songwriters - most of the 'songs' are written by his producer Nile Rodgers, with a few unremarkable exceptions, and sung by a certain Jimmy Hall who does have some kind of voice but has no personality at all, and that's the only thing I can say about him. Yeah, Jeff is all over the place this time - unlike his past efforts, here he handles most of the soloing work himself, and I'll be the first to admit that some of his soloing is downright brilliant, lead guitar work of such a quality that most Eighties bands could only hope for. But, as someone clver has remarked, what good is a solo if it doesn't belong to a song? Worthless, shitty tracks like the robotic 'Get Workin'' (did it inspire Mick Jagger for 'Let's Work', I wonder?), or the overblown, anthemic 'Gets Us All In The End' cannot be considered songs by any means. The lyrics, for the most part, are as banal as possible, with the lead-off track ('Ambitious') setting the pattern for the whole record with its 'He's not a bad man, just ambitious'. Well, Beck ain't a bad man, by all means. Ambitious, though. Very ambitious. By the way, that one song is even kinda catchy and funky, but the banal lyrics and the horrendous production suck all the life out of it. On a couple of tracks Beck goes completely instrumental, and that's really better, because it saves you at least some of the problems. This means that sometimes you can just concentrate on the guitarwork, like on the pretty decent 'Escape' (even if it has a terribly overlong introduction), which, as I said, is impressive nevertheless. Plus, Beck gets visited by old friends like Jan Hammer or Carmine Appice from time to time. But who cares? It's obvious that the album's main point lies in songs like 'Stop, Look And Listen' (more like 'Stop Looking And Listening') and 'Nighthawks' (more like 'Where Are The Hunters?'). A complete and unabashed sell-out, and one of the worst spots on Beck's reputation. No, I'm not a huge Beck fan by any means, but this is different from a simple dislike of an artist: it is a case when the artist got too much sucked in by the commercial machine. This, at least, was never a problem with Beck in the past. It's all the more sad when we actually consider the amount of effort and skill he put into his guitar solos on this record. Even on the most horrible numbers like 'Gets Us All In The End' he makes his guitar do unbelievable tricks - it actually seems to me that Beck's instrumental technique has only improved over the years. I suppose that if you are able to close your ears to the backing track and just concentrate on the soloing, you might as well raise the rating here a couple of points. Unfortunately, I can't, and Jimmy Hall gets on my nerves, too. Not to mention Rod. Stay away.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
A nod towards the past; a bit boring as usual, but this time around, much more diverse. Exploring genres, if you get me.Best song: SLING SHOT
Track listing: 1) Guitarshop; 2) Savoy; 3) Behind The Veil; 4) Big Block; 5) Where Were You; 6) Stand On It; 7) A Day In The House; 8) Two Rivers; 9) Sling Shot.
After bombing with synth-pop, Jeff just faded away - for four long years. Maybe he was doing drugs. Maybe he was just watching the world sink into decay and the old morals crumble. Maybe he didn't give a damn anyway, and in 1989 he returned to the studio to record an album that was as far away from the disaster of Flash as possible. Namely, he'd preferred to stick to the old and true - instrumental fusion tunes, this time with a frinedly support in the face of synth wizard Tony Hymas and famous drummer Terry Bozzio (check out my Zappa reviews, willya?) Apparently, he thought their help so significant that they're even listed on the front cover - and by gum, 'tis gotta be one of the funniest covers in the world. See that? That's a guitar that Beck is repairing! And the board says: 'Proprietors: Jeff Beck, Terry Bozzio, Tony Hymas'. Great! And as if that wasn't enough, the title track has a silly voice overdub that depicts all the good sides of a guitar - a veritable guitar commercial. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Fender or Gibson had bought the rights to the song...On the other hand, the credits in big letters needn't make you worry. Unlike Wired, the album isn't keyboard-oriented at all. In fact, while Tony Hymas is indeed present on all the tracks (and has written or co-written every one of them, too), his presence is somewhat more subtle than Hammer's: he doesn't solo much, and he prefers short, economic rhythms to Hammer's long-winded, complex phrasing. And Terry Bozzio is somewhat of a blessing - his drumming is awesome throughout, starting from the very first seconds of the title track. However, the record's main good point lies in its surprising diversity. I don't know, really, but it seems to me that on no other album Beck had ever tried out such a great mishmash of all styles possible - jazz, blues, funk, pop, balladeering, even reggae, even punk ('Sling Shot' certainly sounds punkish to me!). And this, combined with the fact that his guitar playing only keeps improving with the years, results in an album every bit as good as his 1975-76 fusion efforts and in some ways maybe better. 'Guitar Shop' starts in and blows you away with that raving soloing and Bozzio's mad, paranoid drumming (some people find the 'commercial' vocal overdubs annoying, but I think they're just funny). Then you'll be forced to tap your foot along to the funky, punchy rhythm of 'Savoy', a number that tells you that this album is indeed a worthy successor to Blow By Blow. And check out how fine Hymas contributes to the ecstasy with his well-chosen delicious piano rolls, as Beck plays out his heart. Next, you have your silly reggae groove on 'Behind The Veil', a song slightly less impressive than the others but overly nice and quietly pleasant, before getting it all really 'smoked out' on 'Big Block', the record's 'blues masterpiece'. And do not forget that Beck always was primarily a bluesman - not a jazz player, not a heavy metallist, not a popmeister, no, blues is what he always did best, and he's true to his credo, delivering the goods as rarely before. Plus, Tony has all these 'majestic' gloomy synths rolling on as if it were more Black Sabbath than Beck, and it gets so spooooky! 'Where Were You' is a bit of a letdown, because it has no rhythm: more mood than substance. Sorry, but Tony Hymas is no Brian Eno, after all: Beck does play nice guitar, once again, but I'm just not thrilled, and Jeff, please never try such things again! Your duty is to boogie! Like on 'Stand On It', for instance, a fine fine fine hard rocker with some more mad mad mad drum work by Terry and a crunchy crunchy crunchy guitar riff by Jeff. Overall, though, the second side of the album starts to get a bit repetitive - 'A Day In The House' and 'Two Rivers' still do not manage to inspire me. The funk groove is slightly overdone on the former, with its really annoying ecological message ('Mother nature has suffered too long... Nothing is being done', somebody keeps repeating all the time), and the synths, for once, sounding really cheesy and frustrating. And 'Two Rivers' is again much too slow and moody to be of any particular interest to anybody but soundtrack loving people. And yet - the album is being saved from a seven by the closing 'Sling Shot', a pulsating, over-energetic rocker with Jeff at his fastest and the whole band finally locking up tight in the greatest groove on the album. What a great way to finish the album! Why hasn't this idea occurred to Jeff until 1989, damn, after he'd been hanging around for more than twenty years? This stuff really kicks butt! It might be still a bit 'fusion-flavoured', but essentially, it's just rock of the highest quality. And it's short, like every trusty punk rocker should be. In all, I really like this album - maybe the last truly great Jeff Beck record in all. No Jeff fan should be content without having it; and who knows, it might even convert a non-Jeff fan. Nowhere near as groundbreaking as Blow By Blow, of course - but if it's quality we're talking about, this album has got quality in spades. And after all, whoever said we need vocals in rock? We don't!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8
Beck starring as Cliff Gallup. It was probably fun first time around, but... I mean you really want to hear Beck starring as Cliff Gallup? No kidding?Best song: what the hell? They don't even do 'Be-Bop-A-Lula'!
Track listing: 1) Race With The Devil; 2) Cruisin'; 3) Crazy Legs; 4) Double Talkin' Baby; 5) Woman Love; 6) Lotta Lovin'; 7) Catman; 8) Pink Thunderbird; 9) Baby Blue; 10) You Better Believe; 11) Who Slapped John?; 12) Say Mama; 13) Red Blue Jeans And A Pony Tail; 14) Five Feet Of Lovin'; 15) B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Go; 16) Blues Stay Away From Me; 17) Pretty Pretty Baby; 18) Hold Me Hug Me Rock Me.
Flash was Beck's only album in eight years and was a pop disaster; Crazy Legs is Beck's only album in ten years and is a... historical curio. Either he was really desperate, or he was really drunk, or both. Anyway, what happened is that he took over a Fifties' tribute band called 'The Big Town Playboys' and proceeded to record an album full to the brim of tunes originally recorded by Gene Vincent and his backing band in their heyday. Now you know I don't mind covers, and in general, I don't even mind tribute albums: quite often covers turn out to be better than originals, and while tribute albums in general are a waste of time and money, that's a rule which knows its exceptions. But the problem is that there is no Beck on this record. I mean, he is right there, but what he does is merely imitate the guitar playing style of Gene's legendary guitarist Cliff Gallup. Likewise, the backing band proceeds to recreate the original arrangements note-for-note: even the production is retroish, and I don't even know how long it took them to master the tremolo effect on the vocals!To be honest, they really do a fine job on here. Listening to the album can really mystify you, and if you're not told otherwise, there's no way you could identify the album as recorded in 1993 and not 1956. Perhaps Mike Sanchez' vocals are not as expressive or masterful (or youthful, in fact) as those of Gene, but the rest of the band do their job with verve. And Beck's solos are exciting, too: Cliff Gallup was one of the most prominent and original guitar players of the Fifties, and it really takes a lot of talent and mastership to imitate him as flawlessly. Kudos. Plus, how can one really hold a grudge against the songs themselves? Me, for instance, the poor me who's writing these reviews, I simply can't get a hold on the Vincent originals - much as I'd like to, I just don't see a cheap enough copy of some greatest hits lying around - so this might just as well be a fine substitute. They boogie and they rock and roll and it makes for some great background music. The strange thing is that they don't do 'Be-Bop-A-Lula', as far as I know, Gene's main trademark; but perhaps they were trying to pass themselves for professional connoisseurs who don't need no stinkin' 'big hits' around. Most of the other songs I simply do not know: there are some common standards, like 'Race With The Devil', 'Double Talkin' Baby', along with more obscure material like 'You Better Believe', the title track (which apparently inspired the sexy album cover), and lots and lots of other stuff - eighteen tracks in all. They're all rather short, so the album doesn't exceed fifty minutes, and if you're not planning on paying much attention, they'll never bore you. For a dancing choice, this is a damn fine one. But how on earth could I really review these songs? I'd be reviewing Gene Vincent, not Jeff Beck! Frankly, I just don't see the reason for this album's existence. As a set of live shows, this would sure be mighty excitin', as the real Gene wouldn't be ready to descend on Earth to kick Mike Sanchez' butt; but if you already have some of Gene's original recordings, this is simply excessive. To see this kind of thing done properly, please, be sure to check Eric Clapton's From The Cradle, released the following year. On that one, Eric truly reinvents the old blues classics, paying tribute and inserting his own identity at the same time. Here, Beck simply proves that he can play guitar exactly like Cliff Gallup. Okay. And I can play guitar exactly like John Fitzgerald Kennedy (which is, no-how). So why make such a fuss of it? Can somebody please explain to me?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8
Too much Nineties' sound on this album, and too little of Jeff's identity for me. Still, some solid numbers, if only you tolerate that electronica crap.Best song: BLAST FROM THE EAST
Track listing: 1) What Mama Said; 2) Psycho Sam; 3) Brush With The Blues; 4) Blast From The East; 5) Space For The Papa; 6) Angel (Footsteps); 7) THX138; 8) Hip-Notica; 9) Even Odds; 10) Declan; 11) Another Place.
Who else? Well, for my money, practically anybody. This is Beck's first serious artistic statement in exactly a decade (I refuse to view Crazy Legs as anything more than a gimmick), and the result is definitely less than completely satisfactory. As far as I can figure out, the usual critical assessment of this record goes something like 'yup, it's the good old Jeff, but fans will probably be disappointed by the production'. You bet your life they will. While Beck still teams up with old pals like Jan Hammer and Tony Hymas, the production values for about half of the tracks are totally hi-tech, and on some of the tunes - hold your horses! - Jeff goes as far as to employ techno and trip-hop beats. Actually, it was quite possible to suspect him of being possible to catch the disease: Jeff had always been sniffing out the fashions, and his albums never sounded 'outdated'; but for some unclear reason I still hoped the techno virus wouldn't catch him. It did - and dit it exactly at a stage where, as it is my firm belief, techno is already fading and on the way out; at the least, employing techno beats at the present time does harm your reputation where it probably didn't five years ago or so. Late as usual, but never you mind. I actually sat through tunes like 'What Mama Said', 'Psycho Sam' and 'THX138' three times - but I will never do that any more, nossiree, I'll just program my CD, thank you very much.But anyway, I would forgive Beck for going techno if only he didn't forget to deliver the usual goods. After all, the numbers on Guitar Shop weren't that groovy either, melodywise, but everything was compensated by those warp-speed solos and the incredible playing technique which really lifts the listener out of his chair and splats him against the wall. And after all, one can even get used to the electronica stuff. Yes, time works wonders - once I would have just shoved this piece o' plastic under the bed without further thinking, now I'm... yeah, I'm actually listening to this! Holy crap, I'm even LIKING PARTS of this! Shouldn't probably be watching the generic techno numbers on MTV last night. Nevertheless, I was talking about Jeff's guitar playing on this particular album. And this is where I have my rub against the critics - because I really couldn't tell this was a Jeff Beck album if not told so previously. The guitarwork on most of the songs (by the way, I think I forgot to say that the album follows the 'instrumental' tradition: no vocals whatsoever) is terribly subdued, especially on the more modernistic ones. Hey, did you actually hear the guitar at all on 'What Mama Said'? On 'Psycho Sam', Beck sounds like he's not really playing his instrument but plugging it through a computer; 'Space For The Papa' is a deadly long (eight minutes), boring, monotonous electronic jam with the guitar often sticking to the background, and the main emphasis on a catchy, but rather banal synth riff. I must say that when Beck does really step in on that instrument in certain places, he does it with vehemency - but eight minutes? Pretty damn grim. Although, if you don't have any problems with Nineties' electronic fluff at all, 'Space For The Papa' will probably sound a masterpiece when compared to... to Prodigy. Even more disspiriting are the numbers where El Becko actually picks up the instrument and gives it some punch. I was never much impressed, and still ain't, with the only blues track on here, 'Brush With The Blues'; anybody could have played that slow, uncomplicated, unspirited solo - really, you don't need to be Jeff Beck to play like that. It's not bad, really - it's pretty tasteful background music, but you can get thousands of instrumentals like that! Where's the distinction, dammit? And the same goes for all the other tracks - it sounds as if Beck really wasn't that hot in the studio at recording time. In fact, the back cover of the album, where Jeff ain't sitting and playing, but is instead relaxing in a chair after a presumably solid lunch, is much more telling. 'Angel (Footsteps)' is okay, and the folkish ballad 'Declan' near the end of the album is even moving in its own specific way, but even these two songs are average, nowhere near his best work. What the hell? Okay, defense time. Apart from the two or three annoying electronica anthems, none of the instrumentals are bad. Very few are particularly memorable, either, but I did have a good time while listening to such punchy ones as 'Even Odds' or, especially, 'Blast From The East', whose melody I really loved - now there's a fine dance number with quite a bit of originality. The stupidest thing about it is how it begins with a masterful acoustic riff, and then whammo whammo, in pop all the electronic drums and the robotic guitars. Yet the robotic guitars do a fine job in presenting us with one of Jeff's all-time greatest riffs, well worthy of just about anything on his infamous fusion landmark records. And in any case, Jeff can still play. I don't know if the desire to tone down his technique was intentional or he's just getting tired and old of the whole business, but the solos on the slow ballads are okay - you never get swept away by them, but while they're on, they're really moody and caressing and all that. I guess it all depends on your mood, anyway: last time I listened I almost wanted to give the album a good rating, but then it ended and I found out all my good memories were gone and only the bad remained, so I just had to re-think my idea. Then again, I just caught myself whistling that 'ta-tum-ta-tam-ta-taaaaaauuuutam' chord sequence from 'Blast From The East'... Ah, what the heck. I'll give it an overall rating of eight and let's just pretend nobody noticed. Seriously, this can only be recommended to diehard fans of Beck - and even then, only about a half of this, not more (I can hardly imagine a diehard Beck fan grooving to Hammer's synths and computer drums on 'What Mama Said' or 'Space For The Papa'). Let us just get together and pray and hope that by the year 2009 Beck comes to his senses and releases something that could actually be called fresh. All right?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Still getting comfortable with the techno beat. Even more comfortable.Best song: ROLLIN' AND TUMBLIN'
Track listing: 1) Earthquake; 2) Roy's Toy; 3) Dirty Mind; 4) Rollin' And Tumblin'; 5) Nadia; 6) Loose Cannon; 7) Rosebud; 8) Left Hook; 9) Blackbird; 10) Suspension.
I know I ended my last review with a question, but after listening to this album, I'm in no mood to answer it. Three guesses why. Now on to the review.What a strange cultural event. Well, I mean, we knew we had it coming, but we never knew it would come out so quick. Who Else! was Beck's last proper studio album in as much as ten years (the ridiculous stunt of Crazy Legs certainly doesn't count), and now Jeff goes ahead and releases his next offering with less than a two-year interval. The last time he had such a small interval, of course, was with the sequence of Blow By Blow and Wired, and it's no surprise: just like those two albums were basically a continuation of each other, expanding on the same vibe of jazz-fusion, Beck's two latest albums also expand on the same topic - Jeff's obsession with Nineties' technologies, trip-hop and techno rhythms, which he uses as the basis for some pretty innovative guitarwork. You can't help feeling that You Had It Coming is still a rushed album, though. For one thing, it is almost astoundingly short - ten numbers that end in thirty-six minutes, something more suitable for an EP format today. Moreover, in comparison with the last album, this one is blatantly underarranged. Basically, the only thing that is audible here is Jeff's guitar (sometimes with overdubs, more often not) and the loud crashing drum machines (the beat is always processed - there's not even a single drummer in the credits). There are a few synths scattered around, but not on a single track do they appear to be prominent; the only prominent synths are those through which Beck plugs in his devilish instrument. No vocals, as usual, save for a weird cover of 'Rollin' And Tumblin' and a few moans and groans on other tracks, provided by a certain Imogen Heap. Amazingly, it all works, and it works far, far better than on the preceding album. The main thing is: Jeff isn't overshadowed by any friggin' keyboard players. No Jan Hammer, no Tony Hymas, nobody. Just Jeff and his guitar. And he does deliver the goods - for the most part, he eschews the usual finger-flashing soloing (which still steps through in a couple of places, though) in favour of blazing, screeching, rip-roaring, metallic riffage and occasional "jazz-hop" flourishes... er, I don't even have the proper word to describe what the heck the man is doing here. The result is - a set of energetic, furious instrumental tracks that are mostly memorable and certainly prompt you to action, plus a wild, unparalleled sound that few people have dared to explore. That dreary picture on the cover, with scorched hands and all, is very appropriate - the sound is so dry and scorching it makes me wanna haul out that bottle of Coke from the fridge. No wonder the lead-in track is called 'Earthquake'. The riff that introduces the number really threatens to bury you in almost a Tony Iommi-esque way, only it is even more punchy and aggressive than your average Tony Iommi riff. I do sometimes get offended at the generic drum beats, but it's perfectly easy to just abstract oneself from the genericity and concentrate on Beck's playing. The wah-wah stylizations on 'Roy's Toy' will blow you away; but perhaps the creepiest of all are the broken dirty chords that announce 'Dirty Mind'. Simply put, Jeff has never played like that before... both the introductory dirty chords and the main wah-wah riff of the track are so black, paranoid, soul-tearing that you can't but admire them. Too bad they have to be accompanied by unimaginative trip-hop beats. Hey, is it possible to acquire a copy of You Had It Coming without the drumbeats? The worst fear of my life now is that one day I'll find that 'Dirty Mind' is blasting from a speaker in a supermarket or used in a Jaguar commercial. Whoever pays attention to the amazing guitarwork? All they need is a good trip-hop drive. Which is why 'Rollin' And Tumblin' will hardly be featured in a Jaguar commercial. The only vocal spot on the album (and that chick does a pretty good work on it, too), it's mind-blowing. It's not even techno or anything - the drumming is more in a 'martial' style than anything, and Beck's electronic interpretation of the classic riff of Muddy Waters is unimitable. That dry, uncompromised guitar tone, combined with elements of blues, hair metal, grunge, whatever... it's wonderful. Describing most of the other tracks would be useless: most of the album is pretty monotonous in style, the difference is just in the particular riff (although it should be mentioned that 'Left Hook' has a few ear-shattering solos as well). True to his style, Beck also inserts a few 'lighter' numbers, like the pretty balladesque 'Nadia', the short atmospheric drumless interlude 'Blackbird' (which has nothing to do with the Beatles song), and ends the record with the minimalistic, thought-provoking 'Suspension' which is a good tune to relax to after the thunderstorm. All in all, this isn't a great album, because, face it, it could have been better. A little longer; a little more diverse; and the drumwork could have been tons more satisfying if Jeff'd bother hiring a real drummer. Yeah, I understand that's the whole point: to prove that today's mainstream music can be transformed into high quality art with a bit of experimentation and a bit of real talent. Alas, this is unprovable - eggs are eggs, and techno drumbeat is techno drumbeat. Techno drumbeat is by now so tightly associated with teen-pop and mindless hip-hop that I see no use in this move. On the other hand, the guitarwork is breathtaking - and it amply demonstrates that more than thirty-five years into his career, Mr Beck still got it and isn't going to give it up. Not just the flame, but also the will to experiment. All praise the Master, and I still hope that this album isn't the last we're gonna hear of him. Good as it is, it's still essentially just a throwaway. Now where's that real Jeff Beck masterpiece we're waiting for?
READER COMMENTS SECTION