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"During the dark doldrums of the mid-70s, when rock'n'roll had hit an all-time low, a man from New Jersey put out some good music." That's what my former colleague Brian Burks once used as a cool starting point for a set of Springsteen reviews. But substitute 'New Jersey' for 'London, England' and pretty much the same can be said about Steve Harley - particularly if you also share that school of thought which insists that complex progressive rock of the early 70s was the death of rock'n'roll.Not that Steve Harley was a true rock'n'roller (then again, neither was Springsteen); he has been often quoted, especially in later years, as being just a generally literate intellectual guy to whom Hemingway has always meant much more than the Rolling Stones. Or something to that effect. But, like it or not, if he is ever going to stay in the pantheon, it will be for that brief four-year period of 1973-76, a period where his presence really meant a lot to "rock'n'roll" in general. Continuing the analogy, I'd even argue that Harley fits into that phrase even better than Bruce does - after all, Springsteen has been a continuous presence in our musical terrarium, still occasionally proving his relevance even in the XXIst century; but Steve Harley emerged upon the scene in 1973, the year of Yessongs and The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, and released his last albums of any significance in 1976 - the year of the Ramones. So for those who view life as a battle between prog and punk, Harley might just be that perfect oxygen mask helping them to get through the suffocating years of "pomposity" and "artificial" "pseudo-rock" music. Not that (I really like starting off paragraphs with 'not that', do I? Not that there's anything wrong with that), anyway, not that Harley himself ain't occasionally 'pompous' and 'artificial'. Okay, this is just the right moment to finally tell you who Steve Harley is. Steve Harley is a native Londoner - and, like every good stereotypical native Londoner, in fact, like every good stereotypical native inhabitant of a large cultural center/capital, a smug, elitist, sarcastic, and raffinated one. Not to mention his lengthy childhood battles with polio (hence the fuck-you attitude - you said it to Death, you can say it to anyone) and early journalistic career (hence the obsession with "lifestyle-bashing" lyrics); the man certainly had one rich biography. How exactly Steve Harley came around creating Cockney Rebel is not quite clear, but fact is, in 1973 the band crashed onto the stage right out of nowhere, chockful of inventive and professional musicians that nobody had ever heard of, and offered the public a style that borrowed a little bit from everything and eventually sounded like nothing else. The two best Cockney Rebel albums are very theatrical in essence, and also make little sense when analyzed straightaway, which is why, especially when you throw in the band's eccentric visual image, they're usually classified as "glam". However, "glam" itself is a very wide definition. If, say, T. Rex and Ziggy-era David Bowie are "glam-rock" and Elton John is "glam-pop", then Cockney Rebel are "glam-variety-show". Harley was never above straightahead pop hooks, but just as often he would throw in a Dylanish anthemic ballad, or a prog-rockish ten-minute epic, or a short punchy rocker, or a sleazy lounge tune, or God knows what else. Vaudeville and music hall influences were naturally present at almost any stage of his career, but they were then peppered with unusual instrumentation - such as combining traditionally-sounding violins and accordeons with thoroughly untraditionally-sounding synthesizers and Harley's always ambiguous, always inaccessible lyrics where you seemed to always be on the verge of 'getting it' but only on the verge. Harley's presence and vision were what actually gelled the music together; despite all the hodge-podge of influences, it's almost impossible to mistake a Cockney Rebel song for something else, mostly due to Harley's, er, well, cockney accent and charismatic delivery. As a musical visionary, Harley has been most often compared to Bowie and Bryan Ferry, with both of whom he shares the theatricality and (occasional) dramatism of his performances, the preoccupation with classical European values, the same enigmatic approach to lyrics-making and the willingness to try anything that works. Oh yes, and a knowledge of how to make an effective compromise between commerciality (putting out hit singles) and lack thereof. However, that's where the similarities - albeit multiple - end. Harley has never postured as an unreachable, God-like glam idol like Bowie, nor as the dark impenetrable "romantic decadent" hero, like Ferry. What with all the ambiguities and obscurities, Harley has always been pretty down to earth even on the most lush of his numbers, and if one could actually pass judgement based on one's vocal style, I guess out of the three, Mr Cockney Rebel would be the one I'd be the most willing to have regular conversation with. (He could be an asshole in real life for all I know, though). Unfortunately, his explicit "Englishness" has also made him a serious disservice - unlike Bowie and Roxy Music, Harley never managed to make it big overseas; his highest chart position in the States was somewhere around number ninety six, and although even that was considered suitable ground for an American tour in support of the Kinks (quite a natural pairing, considering Harley even looks like Ray Davies a bit), he never managed to really capitalize on that. As a result, he's virtually unknown in America, being perhaps the most glaring omission in the average American retro rock fan musical picture of the 70s. Yet another big problem is that since 1979 Harley had practically shortcircuited his musical career. His artistic journey through the 70s was never that easy - a tough relationship with the press; a tough relationship with his own band members, which led to the original band's demise after just their second album and a serious decrease in the music's adventurousness; a series of personality crises and accompanying crap; and a thorough lack of sales when it came to his two solo albums. Whether this was reason enough to virtually shut himself from the music world for most of the next two decades (apart from a single now and then) is still a question, though. But there is no doubt this alienation did lead to oblivion. (Which, of course, begs the eternal question - just for how long will all the other rockers be remembered once they're retired and/or deceased?). Whatever the case and the circumstances, though, there is one fact that remains obvious to me: The Human Menagerie and Psychomodo will always remain among the decade's most extravagant, unique, and thought-provoking records, and that's considering the near-insane amount of musical gems one has to choose from. Demeaning them because of their strong connection with the specific elitist London subculture of the mid-Seventies is absolutely ridiculous and unfit for anybody who can bring himself to overcoming a few insignificant obstacles in order to get his mighty rich reward. Although, heck, what am I on? You really don't need to do anything. Mr Harley will do everything for you himself. Lineup: The original Cockney Rebel: Steve Harley - vocals; Jean-Paul Crocker - guitar; Paul Jeffreys - bass; Milton Reame-James - keyboards; Stuart Elliott - drums. The band collapsed somewhere between '74 and '75; Harley kept Elliott on drums and rechristened the band "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel", adding Jim Cregan on guitar, George Ford on bass and Duncan McKay on keyboards. Lindsay Elliott added on extra percussion; Cregan replaced by Jo Partridge for the band's last tours before Harley dropped the 'Cockney Rebel' tag entirely and started a brief proper solo career (still keeping Stuart Elliott for most of it).
Listenability: 4/5. Harley
is occasionally boring and occasionally shocking, but these are his only
flaws in this department.
Resonance: 2/5. He's sarcastic and extravagant rather than "emotional" - his sincerest stuff usually ain't that good.
Originality: 3/5. Only for the first two years, but these were "the best years of our lives".
Adequacy: 4/5. Oh, no doubt. Maybe he DOES bite off more than he can chew, but I have little idea of how much he can chew.
Diversity: 2/5. Not since 1975 he wasn't, and even before 1975, he's always recognizable.
Overall: 3.0 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Brit-pop, folk, rock cabaret, the decadent spirit and a million other things to decode.Best song: DEATH TRIP
Track listing: 1) Hideaway; 2) What Ruthy Said; 3) Loretta's Tale; 4) Crazy Raver; 5) Sebastian; 6) Mirror Freak; 7) My Only Vice; 8) Muriel The Actor; 9) Chameleon; 10) Death Trip; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Judy Teen; 12) Rock & Roll Paradise.
The only reason for which this album didn't achieve commercial success on its release, as far as I can guess, is that upon first listen it leaves you completely, absolutely, thoroughly stumped. As in, "what the hell is this nonsensic shit?", you know, or any other classic disgusted formula. But as it always happens with great, but subtle records, you don't really want to take it out of the player once the music stops - "now wait a minute, I probably missed something". In the end, The Human Menagerie simply turns out to be the greatest, or one of the two or three greatest, records to have been released in 1974, and certainly the greatest debut album of that epoch (yeah, to hell with Bruce Springsteen one more time!).Let me begin by saying that the music here is undescribable. Steve Harley was a smart and wiseass guy, and he certainly did not intend to fit nicely and smoothly into any of the already existing musical categories. The stuff here is too playful and poppy to be categorified as prog, yet it is too complex to count as pop. It has folk overtones on one track and rock overtones on another and lounge music on a third one and yet it's not exactly the White Album or anything. It has allusions at serious lyricism in one song and then spurts forward absolute nonsense in another. It's an enigma from start to finish, and a fascinating one at that - too bad the public didn't have enough refining and taste to scoop it up. As for the critics, they were so baffled they had to classify Harley and the gang as "glam rock", which can only be justified as long as you limit your relations with the record to the front cover. Of course, if you count Roxy Music as glam (and there's a whole school of thought that does that), I guess Cockney Rebel could qualify as well, since the Roxies are perhaps their closest relatives. But where Roxy Music pioneered typical fin-de-siecle decadence, with perversion, dying love, disillusionment and vague, very mystical futurism the central themes, Harley's decadence is generally much more cheerful and life-asserting. He seems to have been seriously influenced by the Kinks and - naturally - the Small Faces (Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is another obvious comparison that jumps to mind, and not just because of the 'cockney' factor that's common to both records, but because it seems to share the same "amusing nonsense" values), but he seems to go straight for the deepest, least understandable pits of your subconscious, and many of the tunes are almost defiantly goofy. At the same time, musically the record is near perfect. The hooks aren't always - in fact, they're almost never - superficial and take a bunch of listens to set in, but they're there, with Harley's music-hall-influenced, folk-rock-influenced, prog-rock-influenced, etc., etc. vocal melodies always the main point of culmination; one, however, needn't forget the backing band, all superb musicians with Jean-Paul Crocker the best of the bunch, usually skipping his guitar parts and replacing them with awesome violin workouts; the violin is actually the main instrument on the record, and adds even more extravagance. What would you do with a tune as weird as 'Sebastian'? Slow, gothic in stature (but not in tone), depressed and depressing, with a complaintive, humble, slightly electronically encoded vocal part and gorgeous orchestration, and a chorus that simply goes 'Somebody called me Sebastian... somebody called me Sebastian...' Harley seems to complain about his society-corrupted girlfriend in the lyrics, but what has that to do with being called Sebastian? What Sebastian? There's no answer, but there really shouldn't be one. There's just the depression of this decadent, ultimately meaningless world, which is what matters. Guess we should all be called Sebastian at some point. But that's a rare point of total depression - right after it comes 'Mirror Freak', a sharp, clear, jagged tune where Harley expresses his disgust in a far more shrill and aggressive manner. "Exhibition yourself, we’ll hold a show on the shelf/Now we can feel a change is on the way/You’re not a skin or a spiv boy who are you trying to kid you’re jolly handsome, super, wizard, okay?" Crocker is right up there with his piercing, catchy violin lines, and in the end Harley proclaims that 'I don't wanna turn on tonite' - a rare case from a supposedly rock'n'roll singer, isn't it? These are the "heavier" numbers, but there's also plenty of light, playful stuff. 'What Ruthy Said' with its endless references to contemporary fashions and trends that will probably fall on deaf ears even in regard to today's British population boogies along in classic Mod fashion. 'Loretta's Tale' deals with the fate of a prostitute, but you'd never guess it from the soothing, dreamy chimes and otherworldly guitar (or is that a mandolin?) trills that dominate this moderate pop-rocker. 'Crazy Raver' will rock you along like a prime Steve Marriott tune but with the violin taking center stage. 'Muriel The Actor' takes us straight ahead to Harley's wonderful Latin-influenced cabaret, and 'Chameleon' packs the majesty of an intricate prog epic into exactly forty nine seconds of music. And over all this rules supreme the album's epic, the lengthy multi-part suite 'Death Trip', where Harley actually expresses his discontent with the tradition-bursting war cries of teen idols and phoney rockers: "Someone’s trying to fool us/Maybe it’s your daughters/Can you hear the walrus/Offering a sad solution/He’s calling out for teenage revolution/And "can you think of one good reason to remain?"" The powerful 'to remaaaaaaaain' operatic cry is truly one unforgettable moment, but fact is, the whole suite is simply wonderful, with the orchestral mid-part giving the album an epic, maybe even "epochal" feel, kind of like 'A Day In The Life' gives that epic feel to Sgt Pepper (another solid comparison, by the way). Add to this two classy bonus tracks on the CD release - the catchy boppy single 'Judy Teen' and its sarcastic B-side, 'Rock And Roll Parade', in which Harley doesn't stop before using the word "cliche" in reference to contemporary music, and this makes for fifty minutes of excitement and entertainment that you'd wish could last for another fifty. You could, of course, complain that Harley overabuses the 'cockney' factor and that accent just got to go, but hey, remember that in this way he actually reaffirms his connection with the whole Kinks/Small Faces/the whole London-working-class-small-guy-problem concept, which is essential for his image - and one of the main differentiating factors from Roxy Music, whose Bryan Ferry borrowed much more from the French chansonier. Hence the, er, what? Hence the idiosyncrasy.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
This almost looks like an album with a deep spiritual message... but what message?Best song: PSYCHOMODO, or MR SOFT
Track listing: 1) Sweet Dreams; 2) Psychomodo; 3) Mr Soft; 4) Singular Band; 5) Ritz; 6) Cavaliers; 7) Bed In The Corner; 8) Sling It!; 9) Tumbling Down.
The second equally worthy piece in the Steve Harley puzzle - well, almost equally, because the album isn't nearly as proverbially flawless as Human Menagerie. On here, Harley is being at the same time even more commercial, effortlessly penning amazing slabs of ultra-memorable melodies each of which should have been a glam-era single for the ages, and less commercial, spending a large chunk of the album's time on extensive, but somewhat boring epic pieces. Overall, though, it sort of seems that on Human Menagerie the main point was to establish a personality - present himself and the band in the best light possible, with the sound perfectly worked out and the notorious cockney accent fully demonstrated to the public. With Psychomodo, Harley is starting to draw the attention away from that tasty immediate flashiness and to concentrate on conveying his message - or, at least, pretending to convey a message. As the years would go by, eventually the seriousness of the tone and the lyrics would overshadow the music itself (particularly on Steve's "pure" solo albums), but here, the balance is still good.Actually, the lyrics on Psychomodo are even more convoluted and devoid of any immediate interpretation potential than the ones on Human Menagerie. Tons and tons of obscure references to present day hip culture, imagery that is in one second drawn from beatnik poetry and then in the next one from Alexander Pope or whoever else served as an influence, humor and tongue-in-cheek hints in one line and then absolute seriousness in the next one... and above all, there's much more darkness in the record than there ever was in its predecessor, especially in the lengthy epics - and in the album cover. The individual songs are, once again, all good. Well, maybe except for the album opener 'Sweet Dreams', which is kinda chaotic and hookless, but that's no big problem because its real purpose is to merely serve as a short prelude to the record's quintessential track, the title one. 'Psychomodo' is simply a magnificent song, built on a series of crunchy repetitive poppy (yes, 'crunchy' and 'poppy' don't necessarily contradict each other) guitar and violin riffs, with a top-notch descending vocal melody on top - and, of course, it announces the album's theme well enough. 'Psychomodo' is like a haplology of 'psychic Quasimodo', and Steve does compare himself with Quasimodo, obviously using his being 'physically devastated' as a metaphor for his own state of mind. All the same, the song itself sounds pretty cheerful and even carnivalesque - it's only after you spend some time working on the lyrics that the truth becomes apparent. The album's second best track, the music-hall gloomy goofiness of 'Mr Soft', is next, and it's the closest Cockney Rebel ever came to perfectly capturing the tongue-in-cheek we're-so-Britty-Brit atmosphere of one of their major influences, the Kinks. Of course, the lyrics are nowhere near close to Ray Davies ('Mr Soft, go to town and bring the dawn in/In the morning on your way/Mr Soft, put your feet upon the water/And play jesus for the day'), and the Kinks probably could not have thought of beginning the sarcastic organ solo with a quote from the can-can dance, but it's still an admirably Kinks-like effort (not to mention better than anything the Kinks were actually doing at that time). After which it's time for the easiest-to-interpret song of the bunch, the anti-rock-star diatribe 'Singular Band' (which, apparently, Cockney Rebel do not want to become - and in the end, they didn't), which is soft, subtle, jazzy, with a great drum pattern and a totally unpredictable resolution of the vocal melody. And then there are the two loooong epics, which I have mixed feelings about. 'Ritz', whose lyrics are so infested with terms and brand names of everything that was chic and cool in the Seventies they are probably totally unreadable to anyone at the beginning of the 21st century, is dark, saturated in minor chords and evil phasing effect on the vocals, with nothing but an equally uncheerful lead violin to diversify the six-and-a-half minute proceedings. Obviously, this is Steve's take on much of the same that was plaguing Bryan Ferry at the same time - a decadent acknowledgement of all the decadence happening around. However, I do believe that the song would at least have worked better had it been sped up; it's hard for me to make it to the end. And even more so for the equally monotonous seven-minute long 'Cavaliers', which runs out of musical ideas (not of lyrical, though) by the end of the second minute - I know 'Death Trip' was even longer, but at least 'Death Trip' had a well-thought out set of developing musical themes throughout. Fortunately, after testing our patience with these lumpy monsters, the album picks up steam again with the remaining three songs - the mock-sentimental 'Bed In The Corner', with Steve bemoaning that he 'don't seem able to win her with my charms', the amazing, crazy-violin-heavy 'Sling It!' (actually, I believe there's one frantically strummed electric guitar in one channel and one frantically bowed violin in the other, with a unique sonic effect), and the romantic, soothing finale in the 'Tumbling Down' ballad where you won't understand a single line until you get to the plaintive 'oh dear, what have they done to the blues?' coda. If anything, though, the song is so goddamn beautiful it serves as a perfect example of lyrics not being important. At all. More of that gorgeous orchestration that made 'Death Trip' such a wallop. An anthemic singalong which causes you to join in even if you don't know what the hell you're doing. There's so much joy and so much bitter sarcasm here, in Psychomodo and The Human Menagerie as well, you can't help but think of them as quintessential intellectual Seventies' pre-punk epoch records anyway. The time to have mindless fun, to socialize in the most disgusting and demoralizing ways possible, and the time to contemplate the shallowness and futileness of it all. Roxy Music were perhaps the first ones to see that, but Steve Harley arguably did even better to really capture that atmosphere. These two records are the peak of the self-conscious "mock-glam" movement. Own them or die.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Don't know about the Cockney Rebel thing, but Harley's theatricality saves the album anyway.Best song: PANORAMA
Track listing: 1) Introducing "The Best Years"; 2) The Mad Mad Moonlight; 3) Mr Raffles; 4) It Wasn't Me; 5) Panorama; 6) Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me); 7) Back To The Farm; 8) 49th Parallel; 9) The Best Years Of Our Lives.
Now then, starting from here, you don't really need these records unless Mr Steve Harley, regardless of the actual music he and his croonies make, strikes you as an intelligent, astute, sagacious and utterly penetrative bonmot of a person. (You can have your thesaurus back now.) Oh, he actually does strike me as one, which is why in the end I ended up liking this record about as much as Psychomodo even if the sonic differentiation is drastic. But one man's genius is another man's Jerry Springer, so think for yourself cuz I won't be there with you. (Cool fuzz tone, abrupt stop).After Psychomodo, Steve Harley abruptly dumped the original Cockney Rebel, cruelly ending the two-year-long dream of the great democratic musical revolution. Out of the original members, only drummer Stuart Elliott has survived the transition, and out of all the new members, the only name I recognize is new guitarist Jim Cregan (former Family member for a very brief time, and later a pedestrian associate for Rod Stewart in his rote early Eighties period). And this is now "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel" - meaning that music as such takes a step back and Harley's personal decadent/satiric fantasies take a step forward. Well, at least he's honest about it. At first, the difference will seem unbearable. Gone are the ultra-cool violin riffs and the lengthy complex instrumental passages and, in fact, a huge part of the musical audacity and diversity of old. The first few times I heard this, it was all generic four-four beats and lots and lots and lots of boring lyrics to me. Then, fortunately, the feeling passed and I saw the album for what it was: Harley's half-sung, half-spoken, half-meaningful, half-absurdist oh-so-70s confession. An album full of terrific lyrical imagery and theatrical passion - and, actually, not that devoid of melodies. Well, I guess it's about as melodic as your average Springsteen album, actually, your average singer-songwriter album from the mid-Seventies, and in those cases when the singer-songwriter gets by on behalf of his personal charisma, it's about the best you can expect from that period. And you wanted the best, you got it. There actually was one UK hit here, and that's 'Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)', an excellent mid-tempo pop-rocker with a glammy multi-vocal chorus and great use of the stop-and-start structure (as well as Beatlesque ooh-la-la-las all over the place). It's at the same time typical and atypical of the album. Typical, because it features the same type of enigmatic lyrics - on the surface, it's something like a misogynistic putdown, but what do you do with lines like 'How can you ignore my faith in everything/When I know what Faith is and what it's worth'? Atypical, because it's shorter, catchier and more concise than anything else on here, certainly chart-oriented at heart, but smart enough so as not to linger in the charts for too long. My favourite tracks are the two side-closers, though. 'Panorama' is fast and lively, with a funny guitar tone, upbeat brass lines punctuating the melody and a totally kick-ass chorus ('I felt forty-five I was barely alive, I saw a Human Tribe and I was terrified'). Who cares if you can't really decipher the goofy lyrics? That's Steve Harley for you, Bobby Zimmerman's trusted disciple. And it's glam, baby, glam pop in all of its glory, highlighted by his female backuppers and saxophones and a giddy atmosphere of know-nothing-care-for-nothing. And then there's the title track, even more Dylan-like because it's slower and, as far as the overall impression goes, more introspective. For all of its five and a half minutes, you are openly caressed by Harley's cockneyified vocals, vocals which nevertheless seem to mock the very idea of a nostalgic confessional song. 'You think it's tragic when that moment arrives - oh but it's magic, it's the best years of our lives', he sings, and it would all be very well if you could actually understand what particular moment he's singing about. But whatever it is, it must mean a lot to the man. Or pretends to mean a lot. The sense of the proceedings never gets any clearer, it only gets worse. Tracks like 'Back To The Farm' are openly paranoid, and it's a blessing - you don't actually have to wreck your brain over any hidden messages in that one. But indeed, Steve Harley is one of the best "impersonators of paranoia" of the epoch, and his ravings on that track are first rate, not to mention a well-crafted synthesizer solo from Duncan Mackay at the end. 'Mr Raffles' shuffles along lazily, yet with oodles and oodles of stylishness (and I particularly like that creeping little bit of Spanish guitar that enters right after the 'what a time we had down in Barcelona' line, ever noticed that?). '49th Parallel' experiments with funk, not particularly successfully, but ain't no crushing fiasco either. And 'Mad Mad Moonlight' desperately tries to pump in some rock'n'roll energy, but instead only manages to start the album off on a particularly puzzling note. Playing this backto back with Psychomodo would actually help you to understand why they're rated equally - Psychomodo is much more daring and experimental, yet it seems like on this 1975 album Steve is much more firmly standing on his own two feet, so to speak. The songs are long, but never really overlong, and every one of them has a point, even if most of the points are undecipherable. Here is a man who has intentionally toned down his ambitions and started making records that may not be as original in quality, but are far more adequate in content. And, of course, as usual, the lyrics and the moods which accompany them may all be a huge put-on, but I find no problem in accepting them as a conscious put-on. And, after all, it's not the literal interpretation that matters, but the overall message - that of a crazy, crazy, crazy social life, life as a madhouse rife with possibilities and combinations. Actually, just look over the lyrics sheet with one brief glance. It's all about parties, madness, and murder. Well, how can one exist without the other? That's 1975 for you. Heck, that's humanity for you.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Dylanisms I can understand, but deliberate loss of both identity and inventiveness? That's way beyond me.Best song: WHITE WHITE DOVE
Track listing: 1) Red Is A Mean, Mean Colour; 2) White White Dove; 3) Understand; 4) All Men Are Hungry; 5) Black Or White; 6) Everything Changes; 7) Nothing Is Sacred; 8) Don't Go Don't Cry.
Weak! Well, at least, when compared to the preceding three albums. This marks the final rutty transition into the "singer-songwriter" stage out of which Mr Harley would never really emerge again. That said, there is no absolute necessity to pour shit all over the place - the songs are intentionally different from what there was before, and it's clear that by this time Harley just gave up on making any interesting music whatsoever and concentrated on the lyrical message and attitude.Fortunately, I like the attitude, so some of this stuff eventually settled in. The last two songs never did, though. 'Nothing Is Sacred' reeks of mindless Dylan worship so much, it almost sounds like an inferior outtake from Desire, especially with these supposedly colourful Spanish guitar embellishments. The lyrics, whatever they're supposed to mean, come out at you in floods and torrents, leaving no space for choruses or curious instrumental passages of any sort, and by the time the song is over, it's as if it never actually begun and you just lost five minutes of your life. It's always painful to see an individualistic talent wasted on unnecessary "tributes" to other people's styles, and thus, it's arguably the worst song Harley had ever written up till then. Although it does have some competition from 'Don't Go, Don't Cry', which finishes the album on a particularly uninspired note, a rote, mindnumbingly repetitive calypso-influenced ditty which undermines any traces of Harley's relevance even further. If this is Timeless Flight's supposed contribution to the world's musical legacy, this is actually one good reason to go and cry. Oh well, at least the other six songs are still slightly reminiscent of the good old days, and although without the unique musical background the only thing that still closely ties them in with Harley's persona is his unmistakable voice, given time they will still emanate plenty of deep-going charm to keep you warm and fed. And at least Jim Cregan and Duncan Mackay manage to keep the proceedings moderately interesting from a purely musical standpoint by going wild and unpredictable during the instrumental passages (when there are instrumental passages). Cregan's backward guitar solo on the opening number 'Red Is A Mean Mean Colour', for instance, is nice and moody, giving this convoluted character put-down ("He keeps his money under his mattress/And his conscience in his pocket/His heart runs on batteries/He has two eyes to each socket") extra depth. It's also, I think, the only number on the entire record that's got something close to a hooky chorus. Harley's newly-found love for funky rhythms is amply demonstrated on 'White White Dove', Harley's weird ode to Rosicrucians, of all people, with a very nice transition from the harsh funky verses to the pompous brass-filled poppy chorus and, again, an excellent processed guitar solo from Cregan at the end. So I guess it's the only number on the entire record that shows some ambition where melody and complexity are concerned, and, predictably, becomes my favourite song. Harley's sentimental side steps out like never before in the almost annoyingly tender seven-minute hymn 'Understand', so that his crooning ('If I could only put the words together, you'd understand') will either bring you on your knees or bore the shit out of you. And again my favourite part is the keyboard solo - that's one hilarious synth tone they got going up there indeed. But the sentimental Steve Harley doesn't scare me nearly as much as the Messiahnistic Harley of 'All Men Are Hungry' and 'Black Or White', the first song a gloomy, pessimistic mid-tempo shuffle, the second an overbearingly loud, wall-of-sound enhanced anthem. No, no, 'All Men Are Hungry' is absolutely not about the straitened circumstances of third world countries; and 'Black Or White' is absolutely not about the continuous strife between the two races. (Leave that stuff to Michael Jackson, who's somehow managed to embody that strife within himself, in a perfectly literal sense). But whatever they are about, both songs are delivered way too seriously to be in any way reminiscent of the early, cynical version of Steve Harley. I mean, how do you like this: "Until we gather Life and all our Dreams/Until we cool the heat/Until we share our cup of Meat/Until the Trail of Waste is put to stud/Until we drift away/Towards the picture in the frame/Our celebration comes a Game to Play/Just Black or White/And step on it/Black or White". Me, I don't like this at all. Which begs the question - why oh why do so many singer-songwriters feel that it is necessary for them to get 'seriouser' as time goes by? Is it merely a question of 'growing up'? Is it so that life experience and age seem to bring on extra "responsibility", and with extra responsibility comes extra moralizing and extra pretentiousness? Isn't it possible for them to see that, on the downside, life experience and age can not only "seriousify" you, but, just as often, gradually suck the inspiration out of you, so that at the end of the road you're left with a lot of pomp and preachiness but zero talent to burn? And that this is the ugliest combination of factors ever? Fortunately, such is not the case on Timeless Flight - but the problem is more or less the same. About this time Steve Harley rolled off the charts, once and for all, and I definitely do not blame the record buying public for that; serves him right, he's not that good as a musical ideologist. There, I've spilt my venom; now I'm ready to calm down and discuss the new-look Steve Harley on new-look terms, with lowered expectations and, therefore, in a somewhat more agreeable style. Starting right here, I'd just want to conclude that Timeless Flight is actually a nice-sounding, friendly album. Hardly timeless and hardly ever flying, but hey, if you want timeless, go buy Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon. That's one hell of an album if you really want to lose your sense of time.
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Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
An oddball freakout devoted to the power of the single most overwhelming emotion ever.Best song: (I BELIEVE) LOVE'S A PRIMA DONNA
Track listing: 1) Seeking A Love; 2) GI Valentine; 3) Finally A Card Game; 4) Too Much Tenderness; 5) (Love) Compared With You; 6) (I Believe) Love's A Prima Donna; 7) Sidetrack II; 8) Seeking A Love (Part 2); 9) (If This Is Love) Give Me More; 10) Carry Me Again; 11) Here Comes The Sun; 12) Innocence And Guilt; 13) Is It True What They Say?
Back in business, if not for long. This is Steve Harley's most desperately experimental record since Psychomodo and his last experimental record ever. It may not be a matter of coincidence, after all, that Abbey Road was the Beatles' last outburst of creativity and then on this here album Steve pays tribute to none other than George Harrison by covering 'Here Comes The Sun' - it's also Steve's last mighty push before he finally settled into a nice, steady, clever, and not too challenging solo career. It's almost as if he were following the same Beatles-style logic: "Fine, we'll give them one more super-concentrated charge of Cockney Rebellion and then we'll be spared for the rest of our life".I wouldn't say Love's A Prima Donna reaches the heights of 1973-74, though: on one hand, the musicianship is still nowhere near the expected level, on the other, the album isn't nearly as well balanced, with eccentricity going well over the top. Short accappella intros? Toss 'em in. Huge orchestral intermissions? We'll take 'em. Paranoid post-psychedelic rave-ups? You got it. Raw soul? For Heaven's sake, why not! Everything will work as long as it's not too "normal". And this is even more ironic given that lyrically, this is probably the most easily accessible Harley album ever; most of the songs deal with, well, love in all of its numerous manifestations. Well, sometimes it's motherly love, and sometimes it's hardly love at all, if you know what I mean, but it still revolves around similar things. At the very least, for most of the songs on here it's possible to guess what he's actually singing about, quite unlike the old days. And even if the sneering and irony are still there, this time around they look more like a protective shield (against potential accusations of banality and sentimentalism) rather than a sign of glam and "decadence". He's trying to be more sincere, even if he doesn't always succeed. Harley does correct the previous record's major mistake of not having hit single material, and comes up with his last significant verse-chorus anthem, '(I Believe) Love's A Prima Donna' - yet another smooth pop-rocker in the vein of 'Make Me Smile' with a catchy-as-heck chorus and upbeat vocal harmonies showing that as a prime popmeister, this guy was still quite able when he wanted to. However, unlike Best Years, where the hit single fit into the overall picture quite nicely, here this structurally impeccable "anthem-ditty" is just one of the many different pieces of the complex puzzle. After all, just flip the record over to Side B and eventually you will get stuck in the middle of a seven-minute long extravaganza ('Innocence And Guilt') where the first two minutes consist of nothing but a minimalistic, repetitive strings-'n'-chimes "fluffy" introduction with sheep bleating and kazoos blowing in the background, the second two minutes are a spooky Goth-overtoned shuffle with Harley narrating his primal fears and expressing a wish to be repossessed by his mama in an artificially slowed down voice, and the last three minutes are a Zappa-esque evilly distorted jazz/blues free form guitar solo. Supposedly the first two minutes are the 'innocence' part and the last five are the 'guilt' part, but that's just me talking. Pretty weird, but stimulating in a couple mysterious ways, and giving you something to think about rather than just be stumped and petrified, the way it happens with a couple Faust compositions I could name. These are the two extremes, in between which lies a whole shenanigan of stuff both successful and not too. The cover of 'Here Comes The Sun' is fun - maybe a bit too many synthesizers per square mile, but they're just clownish rather than annoying in any case, and the rearrangement is drastic enough so as to really offer something new (I particularly love the idea of having the entire track accompanied by this fast flowing organ track - gives the song extra energy and bounciness) without losing the gist of the original. The public must have felt this, too, and sent the single relatively high up the charts - Harley's last significant success as a popular entertainer. The passionate R'n'B sendup '(If This Is Love) Give Me More' is excellent - I honestly didn't think Steve could pull off blue-eyed soul with so much credibility, working wonders with his normally weak, feeble voice; besides, who could resist lines like 'You give me loving like I'm wanking in a dream'? Now there's an original way to resolve the problem of the Cliched Love Lyric. The pseudo-Jamaican rhythms of 'Too Much Tenderness' look fine next to the song's general memorability and hilarious chorus; as silly as that stuttering 'you give me t-t-too much t-tenderness' refrain looks in theory, I can't help hummin' it everywhere I go. And the falsetto-'n'-Farfisa combination on the closing 'Is It True What They Say' is novel, but at the same time captures the essence of Harley - openly sentimental and openly ironic at the same time; since the song is doo-woppy in style, one can draw another obvious Zappa analogy (remember Cruising With Ruben & The Jets?) On the downside, '(Love) Compared With You' is hardly a great success - apart from the general tender feel of it, there's little to recommend it alongside Steve's really fine ballads; it actually looks like a reject from the too-wordy Timeless Flight. Not even the tenderness-itself of the 'I love you, I'm in love with you' coda helps - such things should be left to real "lovemeisters" like Paul McCartney, I guess. And the short tracks like 'Finally A Card Game' (another tune that owes its existence to Zappa with its unpredictable structure and weird effects on the vocals) and the accappella 'Seeking A Love' just aren't real songs, more like oddball links that are too few to be joined into an Abbey Road-like network, yet too many to let the album flow properly. And finally, the orchestral instrumental 'Sidetrack II' is decent background muzak, but Steve Harley's no Wagner and no Ludwig Van when it comes to raising our spirit through a glorious symphonic anthem. Give me my 'Death Trip' instead. Then again, what does one expect when "experimental" becomes the word of day again? So I don't like everything on here - big deal, you probably won't like everything either, and my everything won't necessarily be your everything, and the important thing is, it's an interesting record, man. Punk and New Wave were around the corner, to be sure, and they were about to dump poor Steve Harley overboard because even this record, daring and adventurous as it is, is steeped in the past rather than in the future, but according to the stale musical standards of 1976, Love's A Prima Donna is practically "on the cutting edge", even if few people noticed that.
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Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
A decent, but definitely overlate, live album.Best song: you choose.
Track listing: 1) Here Comes The Sun; 2) (I Believe) Love's A Prima Donna; 3) Mad Mad Moonlight; 4) Red Is A Mean Mean Colour; 5) Sweet Dreams; 6) Finally A Card Game; 7) Psychomodo; 8) (If This Is Love) Give Me More; 9) The Best Years Of Our Lives; 10) (Love) Compared With You; 11) Mr Soft; 12) Sebastian; 13) Seeking A Love; 14) Tumbling Down; 15) Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me).
Cockney Rebel have been noted for their live performances - Harley's presence onstage was always forceful and eccentric, and the musicianship was inspired and audacious... but wait, actually I'm referring to the first, classic version of Cockney Rebel, not the watered-down late-period ensemble. As it is, Harley unfortunately forgot to prove the dexterity of his band when it was still time (nowadays the only way to witness it legally is to acquire the rarely-available BBC Sessions), and left us all with this late-period compilation of late '76/early '77 performances, back when Cockney Rebel were already breaking up for good and their crucial glories were way behind them.That said, it's not a bad album, certainly undeserving of the vicious whipping it sometimes gets on behalf of the "critical mass" of the population. In fact, its most serious drawback is the tracklisting - there's way too much material from Love's A Prima Donna, both good and bad, and way too few songs to remind us of why Cockney Rebel ever mattered in the first place. This is all reasonable: the tour was meant to promote Harley's latest, not greatest, and the band did have almost nothing to do with the classic incarnation of Cockney Rebel to learn all the past material properly. But reasonable still does not equal forgivable, and there's no good excuse for me having to sit through boring crap like '(Love) Compared With You' when I could be grooving to the cool sounds of 'Loretta's Tale' or 'Judy Teen' instead. Oh well, it's not like it's my first experience of an "untimely" live album. The big question out here is whether Harley himself gives a good performance. Not having heard much live Cockney Rebel material, I have nothing to compare with - but I still like what I hear. There's a lot of paranoia in Steve's shaking, quivering voice, but that's a given, and much too often, he just gives out improvisational variations on his vocal melodies. So 'Mr Soft' gets this extra soulful tinge, with the subtle cockneyified delivery of old mostly replaced by whimpering, plaintive intonations - so it's an interesting take anyway. And besides, it makes it easy for him to effectuate the smooth transition into 'Sebastian', which is whimpering and plaintive par excellence. It's too bad 'Sebastian' is the only number from Human Menagerie; Psychomodo gets more lucky by contributing not only 'Mr Soft', but also the title track, 'Sweet Dreams', and 'Tumbling Down' to the set, although only 'Tumbling Down' seems to really wind up the audience - who not only supports Harley by chanting along, but even bids him farewell with the same massive 'oh dear, what have they done to the blues' choral melody. However, apart from that it's all post-'74 material. Even with that, there are some surprises. 'Mad Mad Moonlight', for instance, suffers a drastic rearrangement, being transformed from the earlier rockin' stomp into a somewhat more complex, although not nearly as energetic, blues/music-hall-hybrid. '(If This Is Love) Give Me More' totally exposes its doo-wop roots, with Harley even adding the obligatory spoken part; his half-assed Elvis imitation hardly works, of course, but he could always save face by claiming it wasn't an Elvis imitation at all (which it was). And for 'The Best Years Of Our Lives', Steve drops the band and just keeps an acoustic guitar, inviting the audience to not only sing along with him, but actually sing instead of him. Actually, if there's one really rotten performance on here, it's that one: he can't seem to hold any note for longer than half a second, and with the most complex bits actually chanted by a tonedeaf crowd instead of the maitre himself, a formerly great song is reduced to a pile of rubbish. Other than that, you get the hits of course - 'Here Comes The Sun', boasting, as it seems to me, even more corny synthesizer embellishments than before, actually opens the show - but these aren't all that interesting, especially considering that the band never had much time to reinvent the Prima Donna numbers in any way. In fact, glancing at the setlist once more, it's easy to see that this was an obviously crowd-pleasing show rather than anything else. Instead of concentrating on the hard material and then just throwing in something easy-going to appease the 'general' fans, Harley goes the other way round, so that little bits of oddity like 'Finally A Card Game' seem really out of place. For some reason, none of the instrumental work really managed to capture my ear; the musicians all did a good job supporting Harley, but not even Duncan McKay, with his otherwise attention-attracting synthesizer solos, does anything particularly outstanding during the show. Maybe Harley didn't like people drawing attention from his own persona onstage? Too bad, because I'd rather listen to some crazyass instrumental passage in the middle of 'Sebastian' rather than endure all the exaggerated wailing. Still, like I said, they do the job well, and manage to kick just enough ass when tearing through the recent pop hits, so theoretically they can't be blamed for anything. All in all, it's not the level of professionalism or the lack of inspiration that brings the album down, but rather a certain lack of unpredictability. The whole shenanigan still works, but that's the problem: it's workmanship rather than creativity. And perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing that Harley dumped the band soon afterwards and completely concentrated on the non-commercial side of his personality, even if this intended alienation only eventually led to his demise as a music-minded individual altogether, because Face To Face brings him dangerously close to relinquishing the image of the smart intellectual and adopting the one of crowd-pleasing stage hero. He doesn't really cross that line - which is why it's still fun to listen to parts of this - but it's still fun to see that front cover as a hidden warning, with the guy putting his hand on Harley's shoulder saying: "STOP! DON'T DO THIS!". And he still does.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Personal and touching with just a tiny ounce of Steve's weirdness.Best song: LIVING IN A RHAPSODY
Track listing: 1) Roll The Dice; 2) America The Brave; 3) Living In A Rhapsody; 4) I Wish It Would Rain; 5) Riding The Waves (For Virginia Woolf); 6) Someone's Coming; 7) Hot Youth; 8) (I Don't Believe) God Is An Anarchist; 9) Faith, Hope And Charity; 10) Spaced Out; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) That's My Life In Your Hands (live).
This and the next record were done by Steve after the collapse of the second version of Cockney Rebel and pretty much signalized his leaving the scene; soon afterwards, he simply abandoned his musical career for good (much like Captain Beefheart a few years later). The critics didn't like the records as well, calling them either faint shadows of the former Steve Harley or self-parodies or whatever.What is often forgotten is that Hobo With A Grin is easily one of Harley's most personal and actually most sincere albums. Cockney Rebel had always been a big rock theatre first and foremost, where you couldn't really tell if a certain song actually meant anything, but it was a real gas to give yourself in to the whole shenanigan anyway, just because it was so colourful and so stylish and so sneering and so catchy and so unique. This record is anything but unique, but it gives you some real insight into Steve Harley The Feeling Musician, if you're interested at all. There's a frail and insecure figure behind all of this, in fact, and on many of these tracks Harley seems to be exorcising his personal demons much like, say, Pete Townshend on The Who By Numbers. The bad news is not all of these tracks are really entertaining, the good news is, many of them are. Thus, the rambling funky jam-mode confession '(I Don't Believe) God Is An Anarchist' really stretches out wayyyy too much, like a tight pantyhose over the Empire State Building, and unlike the latter, in a most perverse way just refuses to break. But on the other hand, you get yourself the bleeding, heartbreaking ballad 'Living In A Rhapsody', which easily equals the better Nick Drake material... the pianos and strings really tug at my heartstrings here, as does the minimalistic guitarwork - a song arranged in excellent taste and definitely to be treasured. Of course, I'm not exactly sure what to do of the man's cover of the Temptations' 'I Wish It Would Rain', delivered in a strange "forced" voice (first time it came on I found myself wondering, "hey, what's Donald Fagen doing on a Steve Harley record?"), but, er, hmm, it doesn't exactly suck, it's just not particularly fun. It shows a true lack of material? Or lack of focus? How do we view 'America The Brave'? Dumb piece of kitsch or a concentrated "modern pop" number? I take both interpretations - I find Harley's take on Columbus' voyage to the New World hilarious and mildly, I'd say intelligently sardonic (assuming, of course, that his misinterpreting historical facts is intentional). Elsewhere, you'll find stuff that doesn't raise your eyebrow up to the skies, but is nowhere near dismissable. 'Roll The Dice' has a decent pop hook, certainly not worse than anything contemporary by the Cars or Blondie. 'Riding The Waves' is even better, a steady power-pop mid-tempo number, one of those songs that are supposed to give you an injection of optimism and stability, all the more surprising to meet something like that on here - what with Harley's own "instability" and all. Just try not to sing 'I've got a feeling of riding the waves' along with him and see what happens. What happens,you ask me? It so happens you've just committed a major psychologic crime against your own nervous system, you twat! It's MEANT as nice optimistic therapy! Dr Harley tells you so! 'Someone's Coming' and 'Hot Youth' aren't nearly as thrilling, though (even if the strings on the former are of prime Cockney Rebel quality), and overall, it's not like I'm saying there's no filler or anything. There is, and like I said, occasionally Steve just rambles so much he forgets about the music (although even this isn't such a terrible crime, seeing as how Harley's lyrics are always intriguing). But it's just one of those albums that is so infused with personality, albeit a shaky, insecure one, you can't really reject it as 'crap' without feeling ashamed. Here's this witty intelligent guy who's obviously trying and often succeeding... and he does try to come up with interesting musical ideas, not something you'd expect from somebody just obsessed with venting out his feelings and that's it (wink wink... Roger Waters circa 1983-84? Ah well, I am already cursed in Pink Floyd circles). Plus, there are a couple obscure, but important, bonus tracks on the CD - although it's not quite understandable what the early Cockney Rebel B-side 'Spaced Out' is doing on this album exactly, replete with fast driving violin riffs and Harley's long-forgotten Cockney accent. But it's great anyway, like most of the stuff on Human Menagerie, and the paranoid folksy acoustic ballad 'That's My Life In Your Hands', although recorded live and apparently much later and apparently it was seriously influenced by Dylan, also cooks. On that track, Harley sounds like he's intent on ripping through the track in a hurry as if he wanted to get it over with in a couple of minutes, but it goes on for nearly four... that's a pretty jerky effect, if you ask me, but once you got that in your system, it works. Know how madness becomes the norm? When you start humming Lumpy Gravy over your cereals. Okay, so that's not exactly related, but then again, some could see Steve Harley as a "mad genius" (which is very far from the truth), so I'll let it stay that way.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Pretty much Harley's "Final Cut", you know. Except it's a little better.Best song: ONE MORE TIME
Track listing: 1) Audience With The Man; 2) Woodchopper; 3) Freedom's Prisoner; 4) Love On The Rocks; 5) Who's Afraid?; 6) One More Time; 7) How Good It Feels; 8) From Here To Eternity; 9) Young Hearts (The Candidate); 10) I Can't Even Touch You; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) Psychomodo (live).
Okay, were Steve Harley's entire career consisting of records like these, I'd probably just yuck and muck around and leave it at that, with a feeble rating and a few nasty epithets. But considering that it's his - presumably; not that I've heard everything - only record of the kind, and the last one before he left music for a long, long time, you could consider it his musical/lyrical testament or sumpthin'. In brief, it's just as sincere and heartfelt, maybe even more, than Hobo With A Grin, but it's far less adventurous musically, with none of the 'weird' stuff like 'Amerika The Brave' carried over.In fact, what it is is mostly roots-rock, basic folk structures crossed with a little of the usual cabaret, but for the most part tremendously reminiscent of your average Dylan/Springsteen/Lou Reed singer-songwriting stuff. The usual pianos, the usual guitars, the usual 4-4 beats, the usual strained emotionally abundant vocal - well, the usual thing, and it has to be taken in the context of the usual thing. That is, you go for the lyrics and the performance rather than the instruments and their peculiar voices and phrasings. And by default, Steve Harley looks like a pretty decent guy to go for his lyrics, which are always witty and rarely cliched, and his performance which is rarely spectacular but never annoying. Oh, I mean, if you hate cockney, it could be annoying early on, but where's the cockney on Candidate? Not even in the bonus tracks, that's where. As usual, though, it's kinda tough to decipher Harley's message when it actually comes to that. Some songs give the impression of pissed-off anti-establishment rants while others can qualify as vague love ballads while still others can hardly qualify as anything at all. You may be sure of one thing - this is not a world-content album, and it's even more disturbing (and disturbed) than Hobo; there's not a single song of the 'Riding The Waves' caliber anyway. It's Harley's Final Cut, or maybe it's Harley's Blood On The Tracks, but maybe it's something in between. It's actually more complex lyrically than both of these, although that's not necessarily a plus - like I said, occasionally it becomes pretty hard to get Steve's message, hiding between the lines like a cockroach between the floorboards. Still, the best songs on Candidate are certainly among the best songs of the get-across-an-artistic-statement genre. 'Audience With The Man' is as good an album opener as any: the light piano and even lighter acoustic guitar (or is that actually a mandolin? oh silly me, it is a mandolin) initially set a friendly, inviting atmosphere, but the lyrics are anything but friendly, a nasty and oh so true rant against the Superior Individuality: 'we've gone from Shakespeare, Dickens 'n' Churchill, we had Nixon, Napoleon, Kennedy too, they all had that old familiar smile that everybody knows, how the west was won is a legend, but how the empire fell is known only to the few, it's like that old rodeo where anything goes'. It's one of the finest numbers Bob Dylan never wrote, but he might as well have. And it goes to show just how much Steve has progressed in outbobbing Bob since the feeble attempts on Timeless Flight. Just as fine a Dylan imitation is 'One More Time', a countryesque waltzing tune where Harley simply imitates Bob's voice circa 1965 (or 1970? whatever), and he gets across a magnificent plea, even if it's no longer politically valid. The guitar lines on the song are wonderfully subtle, too. Come to think of it, I can see the Eagles writing something like this, but I can't see them delivering it with so much... oops, almost said 'sincerity', but I think it's rather 'emotional rawness' that should be appliable here. No question, the Eagles could be pretty honest at times; they just couldn't bring themselves to be slightly more off the cuff. 'How Good It Feels' is also brilliant, a bit Steely Dan-like in nature but once again with swirling Dylanesque organs a la Al Kooper (okay, you know what I mean, so I won't correct that stylistic flaw. It's the Internet, for the Bermudas' sake! It comes and goes!). Of course, quite often the album kinda gets bogged down - and I tell you, you'd be much better off going through it once with the lyrics sheet in your hand rather than sitting through it a dozen times without the lyrics. It's kinda cute to follow the tale of braving the wilderness in 'Young Hearts (The Candidate)' when you really dig in the lyrics, but it'd be a total drag without the message; and the same goes for most of the other tracks. The music is not hopeless, and the moods, tones and tempos vary enough so as not to give the impression of just one big song, but it's a lyrics album first and foremost, which is why the Final Cut comparison looks quite justified to me, especially considering it was Harley's "final cut" in some sense. And yeah, there's a couple bonus tracks too - one is a really clever New Wave-style pop-rocker ('I Can't Even Touch You'), with a good chorus and a good arrangement. The other, though, is a really disconcerted live acoustic rendition of Cockney Rebel's classic 'Psychomodo', which is a bit puzzling, to tell the truth - although the electric violin part in the background is really moody and it's nice to see it contrast with the frenetic acoustic rhythm. So, in all, the record seems worth buying if you ever see it. I mean, yeah, whatever, Steve Harley? The Candidate? Nineteen seventy nine? Dylan imitation? Lyrically heavy? What the frig is that rubbish? Where are the REM reviews, goddammit! Where? Just go here. See for yourself.
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