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"I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do"
|Main Category:||Rhythm & Blues|
|Also applicable:||Hard Rock, Roots Rock|
|Starting Period:||The Psychedelic Years|
|Also active in:||The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years, The Divided Eighties|
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Ten Years After are similar to Jethro Tull, if only in the sense that it's yet another unjustly forgotten great rock group. They have a serious difference, though: they don't exist as a group any more (unless you count the occasional reunions, but that's something really rare and really peculiar). So if the Tullers are still able to remind the world of their presence on the Planet, they usually do it by releasing one more mediocre or horrible album (sorry Tull fans). To dig Ten Years After, though, one can only rummage through their back catalog.Which is actually splendid! The only hit that people usually recall is Alvin's finger-flashing on "Goin' Home", and that's only because it's in the Woodstock movie. So they like to think of the band as 'oh yeah, the one with the fast-finger guitar guy, what was his name again?..' So his name is Alvin Lee, yes, and he is fast-fingered, which made him a semi-god in the late sixties. But fast-fingeredness isn't everything, in the end; I wouldn't really appraise the band were its reputation based exclusively on Alvinguitar heroics. There are plenty guitar heroes in the world, and many have demonstrated a far more perfect finger-flashing technique than Alvin (take Ritchie Blackmore or Yngwie Malmsteem, for instance). Nay, there's more to the band than that. It's not exactly songwriting, though: I couldn't really say Alvin was a great songwriter. In the earliest days, most of his output simply consisted of stolen blues melodies with new lyrics to them; only somewhere around 1969 did he finally upgrade his skills to writing something creative. (If it's Alvin's creativity you're looking for, start with 1972's A Space In Time, one of the most unfairly dismissed rock classics of all time.) On the positive side, one shouldn't make the mistake of overlooking his talents in that direction completely. From time to time, he managed to churn out an effective killer riff, equalling both those of his predecessors (Richards, Townshend) and of his contemporaries (Page), or produce a gorgeous, heartfelt ballad. The problem is that none of these efforts are at all innovative or interesting from a 'scientific' point of view: apart from TYA's pioneering use of synthesizers in the early Seventies, together with the Who and Stevie Wonder, they can't really lay claim to any serious achievements in the arsenal of the musical world. What really sets the band's music apart from a lot of their contemporaries is the sheer level of energy, passion, authenticity and youthful drive that fills the best of their studio records and both of their outstanding live records. Like I said, Alvin wasn't the most superb, technically gifted musician in the world. But he never stood on stage with a cold grin on his face, churning out his lightning-speed guitar fills out of pure self-indulgency and a burning desire to fill the top spot in any of the innumerable 'best guitar players' chart. What he did was completely giving himself into the music - and the result is that, while his guitar might sound a bit sloppy and raw at times, it also sounds completely enthralling, almost magically so, and intoxicating. Just a young, unexperienced, blueswailing kid from some murky British suburb putting on a guitar and ripping it up with a nearly punkish energy, but not to a devastating effect - he always had a con-, rather than de-structive edge, to everything he played. A good comparison would be the music of the Faces: another sloppy (much more so than TYA, actually), boozy band with few new ideas to proclaim, but tons of reckless, mind-blowing energy and fury to display both on stage and on record. The big difference is that Ten Years After never contended themselves with the 'formula': throughout their best years, they always displayed a wish to find something new, even if they rarely found it. A Space In Time is as close to 'progressive' as they ever got, and even that one is not as close as could be. They definitely lose to the Faces in terms of vocal power, as Alvin was never that great a vocalist, and, furthermore, few vocalists could ever compete with Rod Stewart in his prime; but they definitely win in terms of musical power and tightness - Ten Years After's sloppiness is the kind of intentional sloppiness that only really skilled and talented players can allow themselves, simply letting their hair down a little to allow the music be somewhat more downhome and hard-hittin', while the Faces usually played sloppy because they had one too many Martini before the show. And, of course, they win in terms of songwriting: the Faces never had a song even approaching the direct power of Alvin's immaculate riffage on 'You Give Me Loving' or 'Love Like A Man'. Of course, fate had it that the Faces are still more popular - simply because skilled vocalists tend to get more respect than skilled guitarists, much as Alvin was, guitar-wise, the complete equivalent of Rod Stewart vocals-wise. So their music never had a lot of impact. So they didn't have any serious chart-toppers - some of the albums sold well, some not, but nothing special. And of course Lee wasn't the best guitarist on Earth, and his colleagues weren't above 'satisfying' with their instruments. So what? Taken together, they were still a prime band - not the best one around, but very decent, at times approaching brilliant. And even if Lee isn't the best guitarist, he certainly has a unique style - you can't mistake a great Alvin Lee guitar solo for anything in the world. OK, so the lineup is: Alvin Lee - guitar, vocals (as far as I know, he was the only vocalist; did most of the song-writing, too); Chick Churchill - keyboards (great organ, especially!); Leo Lyons - bass guitar; Ric Lee (not a relative of Alvin) - drums. All the three were quite professional, but nothing especially outstanding. It's particularly annoying when they take their turn to solo, as Alvin's guitar is so overshadowing the rest of the band that any organ or bass or drum solos simply seem completely out of place.
Listenability: 3/5. Lots
of filler, as far as both jams and songs go, but there's enough hooks in
their material to warrant their existence.
Resonance: 2/5. Uhh... they rock.
Originality: 1/5. Real fast guitar, dude.
Adequacy: 3/5. Not ALL the songs need to be so long, people.
Diversity: 2/5. Rootsy-tootsy. Didn't live long enough to go disco.
Overall: 2.2 = D on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Not bad for a first effort. A decent blues album with lots of drive and energy.Best song: LOSING THE DOGS
Track listing: 1) I Want To Know; 2) I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes; 3) Adventures Of A Young Organ; 4) Spoonful; 5) Losing The Dogs; 6) Feel It For Me; 7) Love Until I Die; 8) Don't Want You Woman; 9) Help Me.
Ten Years After actually started out as more of a fast jazz band: Leo Lyons was certainly a jazz bass player, and Alvin's fast'n'furious playing really fitted the jazz pattern much more than standard R'n'B. The track that opens their first album, McLeod's 'I Want To Know', really says it all: magnificent, entertaining, swift, funny guitar lines, a jazz rhythm and Alvin's nasal vocals quickly set the scene for an absolutely self-assured, tight and very raw bunch of covers and 'originals'. And I do mean these quotes: Alvin's contributions to this album are just standard blues melodies set to a different set of, often misogynistic, lyrics. In fact, the only problem the record suffers from is an obvious lack of songwriting skills. Besides that, the production is somewhat lame: the engineers, including future Elton John starmaker Gus Dudgeon, were probably told not to bother very much with this 'experimental' band. So it ends up sounding like a lot of this stuff was recorded with just a hand-held tape recorder, and the production is just as muddy and dizzy as the album cover. All the better: this really gives the effect of a raw, young, happy, energetic and powerful band letting go - unlike the later, much more polished records.Some of the numbers are just extended bluesfests, and not very exciting at that. 'Spoonful', for instance, was done far more convincingly by Cream, and this particular version suffers horrendously because of muddy, 'undermixed' vocals and because they really overdid the instrumental bit - after all, Alvin Lee is no Eric Clapton when it comes to constructing a slow, calculated blues solo on record. Moreover, the main riff to the song, its usual main attraction, is for some strange reason donated to Mr Churchill who plays it on an organ and thus misses all the heavy bombast that was such a great fun on Cream's version. And the famous cover of Willie Dixon's 'Help Me', the band's most essential stage favourite from the album, does pick up steam near the end, but in the middle it's just a lengthy marathon of rather average soloing. I mean, Alvin does the 'tension build-up' bit rather well, steadily going from modest, self-contained licks to an all-out guitar hell, but ten minutes of tension build-up are a bit too much even for good-natured Blues Tolerators like me. Most of the other songs, however, easily compensate for the lengthy wankfests - short, compact and snappy. My all-time favourite here is 'Losing The Dogs', co-written by Alvin with Gus Dudgeon: its intoxicating guitar rhythm interspersed with some piano boogie chops really lifts you off the ground, and (specially for all you haters of bleeding guitars) there's not even a tiny bit of soloing to be found - just those awesome guitars going in and out, in and out, in and out! Wow! And how can you beat such a great whistle section as is presented here in the beginning? Teenage boozy-bloozy fun with protest elements in the lyrics at its very, very best. Another cool number is the classic ballad 'I Can't Keep From Crying (Sometimes)' (credited to 'Kooper' in the liner notes; presumably the jazz-rock genius Al Kooper, I guess) - another jazzy number with fascinating organ in the background and a good jazzy solo that puts Jethro Tull's Mick Abrahams to shame. In concert they would stretch out the number, transforming it into a mini-rock symphony with lots of alternating fast and slow parts; here, though, they don't stray much too far from the source, giving you all the opportunities for simply sitting back and relaxing to that tasty guitar groove of Alvin's solo. All the other tracks are minor efforts, but most are quite delectable. Churchill's solo spot - one more jazzy shuffle, this time the instrumental 'Adventures Of A Young Organ' - is quite hilarious, with some of his best, funniest organ passages; and the three Alvin Lee 'originals' on the second side are passable, acceptable blues numbers, especially the acoustic 'Don't Want You Woman' that borrows its melody from the traditional acoustic blues 'Hey Hey' (find it on Clapton's Unplugged, for istance, with Eric churning out exactly the same chords). The contrast between the cheerful, nonchalant atmosphere of this one and the immediately following gloomy, grizzly 'Help Me' is particularly stunning. Indeed, even if this does not pretend to be anything more than a hardcore jazz/blues album, it is still different from any other hardcore jazz/blues albums. Now don't you bug me with useless questions - try as I may, I really couldn't guess what exactly makes this difference. I'll just content myself with the vague phrase that it definitely has that 'Ten-Years-Afterish' feel to it, which means it's much more raunchy, funny, uncompromised, memorable and just generally good than ninety-nine percent of such albums. Maybe it's Alvin's raucous vocals that do the trick. Maybe it's the rudimentary elements of studio gimmickry - like the mighty bass/drums line on 'Help Me'. Maybe it's the crystal clear (ah what the hell, forget all these things I've said about the bad production) electric and acoustic guitars obeying the hand of a real master. I dunno. But I highly recommend this debut album for everybody - even for those who don't have no freakin' penchant for blues music. Maybe this'll help you love it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
A fun, driving, sweaty live club album. But you have to get used to it, too.Best song: AT THE WOODCHOPPERS BALL
Track listing: 1) I May Be Wrong But I Won't Be Wrong Always; 2) At The Woodchoppers' Ball; 3) Spider In My Web; 4) Summertime; 5) I'm Going Home.
I originally gave it a lower rating because I was so completely under the spell of their second live album (I still think it's superior, but not as highly superior as before), but I've changed my mind. This live album's great and groovy! Its only flaw is that there are too few songs, plus 'Summertime' (which really has little to do with Gershwin's original) features a completely unnecessary drum solo (Ric Lee is a good drummer, but not a best choice for a soloist). On the other hand, perhaps extending such records would result in them losing a lot of their 'primal' charm. Recorded in a small club (Marquee?), it really captures the great, compact, groovy atmosphere of the evening, and you won't have no screaming little girlies; hey, you can actually listen to the music all the way through. Ain't it great? I've just finished reviewing the Kinks' Live At Kelvin Hall which came out the same year and it's so different in that respect...If anything, this record shows the band as mostly cool jazz players, playing with due respect to their 'elders' but in their own self-taught and prejudice-free way; there's not really too much 'rock' on here, and Alvin demonstrates a clear tendency towards playing everything in a funny bebop style. Besides the already mentioned 'Summertime', there are two more hardcore jazz tracks which totally constitute Side A: the 'original' 'I May Be Wrong, But I Won't Be Wrong Always' and Bishop/Herman's 'At The Woodchoppers' Ball'. The first one is a nine-minute generic jazz tune, the second one - a seven-minute extravaganza. Alvin is the hero everywhere: he sometimes shows enough generosity to let Chick and Leo have a couple of organ or bass solos, but they're nothing but ordinary professional jazz solos. Good, but definitely unspectacular. The guitar rules, however - especially on 'Woodchoppers' Ball' where he dazzles you with thunderflashing waves of snappy licks coming at lightning speed. Play this at full volume and you'll find yourself gasping for breath in no time. Gimmickry? P'raps. But I've never seen any single guitarist reproduce these attacks. At least, no rock guitarist. These are great solos! They're exciting, driving and technically perfect: one of the rare cases where finger-flashing isn't just meant for the listener to be taking his hat off and bowing down in silent respect, but is also meant for the listener to be grooving to and finding full delight in. It's dance music, after all, not Yngwie Malmsteem. The final two or three minutes of 'Woodchoppers' Ball' are especially climactic, when Alvin just sticks to a simple chord and keeps on blowing it through at an incredible speed for what is actually just about thirty seconds but seems like an eternity. That's the climax of this sweaty record. Why evidence like this always keeps escaping guitar-raters who always miss Alvin in the best guitarists lists is way beyond me. For once, a really swell guy demonstrated that outstanding guitar technique and 'simple' audience-pleasing can be easily combined, and nobody gives a damn. Beats me. But, so as not to give the not thoroughly true impression of being hardcore jazz musicians, they add a generic blues number ('Spider In My Web') which isn't just as entertaining mainly because it's so slow; slowness is this band's main enemy - when they play a moody slow number, they sound just like every other generic blues band in the business. Even here, though, Alvin actually saves the day by adding a bit more distortion to his guitar and playing a menacing and - gasp - fast solo. So the only place where he doesn't save the day is 'Summertime', completely given to Ric Lee. What a waste of vinyl. But then again, this is also where you'll find an early version of their bestseller - 'I'm Goin' Home'. This early version would be a letdown to all you fans of the Woodstock version, though: it's only six minutes long, slower and not as rip-roaring as the Woodstock one (or the one on Recorded Live). But it still kicks ass, and its unpolished character really comes as a pleasant surprise for me. It's always fascinating to see a good stage number grow, you know; and at least at this period there's still enough improvisation, and the song hasn't yet metamorphosed into a frigid eleven-minute monster with every millionth note well thought out in advance and all the solos and interludes being completely predictable. So I don't exclude that hardcore fans of Alvin might even prefer this early version because the later one can finally get to them - especially if you realise that the way Alvin played these chords in Woodstock in 1969 and in Germany in 1973 (as captured on Recorded Live) had no differences at all. He sure played them differently in 1968. He sure 'grew up' since then, be it in the positive or negative sense. And oh how they grew. This sounds totally unlike their later concert sound captured on Recorded Live. That one would be hard-rockin', technically excellent and politically conscious. This one is just four guys having fun with their instruments and trying to lighten up the audience. Plain fun. Nothin' more. Put this on whenever you're in a bad mood - it can show you there's always a good side to life.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7
A first failed attempt at making something original; many stupid ideas and too few memorable ones.Best song: WOMAN TROUBLE
Track listing: 1) Going To Try; 2) I Can't Live Without Lydia; 3) Woman Trouble; 4) Skoobly-Oobly-Doobob; 5) Hear Me Calling; 6) A Sad Song; 7) Three Blind Mice; 8) No Title; 9) Faro; 10) Speed Kills.
This was the first of the group's chart successes, but it really didn't deserve it. Alvin's first serious try at writing some original songs and creating some fresh melodies, well, actually, making sonething new, fails miserably - I don't blame him too harshly for that, because he'd pick it up later, but for me it's a clear step of 'treacherous first step'. Taking this step, Alvin and Co. neatly divide this record between (a) lame grooves, (b) quiet and unaspiring blues numbers and (c) rather routine rockers that stand out only occasionally. The three sections are interspersed, of course, and in a very unprofessional manner, with the lame stuff overshadowing the good one rather than vice versa.The 'lame grooves' are actually nothing but short little solo snippets played by all of the band members. So, Chick Churchill gets in an organ solo number richly entitled 'I Can't Live Without Lydia' (more like 'I Can't Live Without Getting Some Of My Insipid Keyboard Improvs On A Ten Years After Record'), and Leo Lyons gets an equally insipid and ridiculous bass solo on 'Faro'. Ric Lee has a brilliant idea of arranging 'Three Blind Mice' as a drum solo, but you'll never recognize the tune until you consult the track listing. The 'shoo' at the end is the second best thing about the number, the first being a fifty-five seconds' length. Alvin's solo bit ('Skoobly-Oobly-Doobob') is at least so hilarious and silly I can't bring myself to put it near to the trash bin, because he at least is not afraid to make a complete ass of himself while the others probably pretend they do 'art' or sumpthin', er, excuse me, I nearly forgot what we were talking about. But actually, these are but minor problems, because all of these solo spots are short. What pains me more is that the bluesy numbers on this record also seem to go nowhere. 'Hear Me Calling', for instance, sounds like a homemade reproduction of some classic black man's blues number by a young half-musician who's only heard it once, with a very pedestrian structure and next to no energy at all. Alvin gets in some pretty interesting Chuck Berry-style solos that liven things up a bit, but no solo is going to make a song unless it's just an instrumental. 'A Sad Song' is an even bigger disappointment; essentially, Alvin just rewrites the 'creepy' part of 'Help Me' and adds new self-penned lyrics that don't compensate for lack of real guitar playing or original melody. But when he recreates the same atmosphere on the eight-minute long 'No Title', which drags for an eternity through its ultra-slow section and for several more eternities through the generic jam section, I'm already starting to go boo. Was that Alvin's idea of how an 'experimental' album should sound like? Slow, quiet, repetitive, energyless, hookless, and bland? Even when the band does come around to its senses and decides to rock out, it delivers rather routine rockers like the closing 'Speed Kills'. Even if it's mighty fast, I can't even really notice that when the album draws to a close, because its overall slow mood has sucked all the power and perception out of me. It was a mighty funny move to end the song on a sudden note with a 'train crash' imitation, but that's also when I finally come out of my coma... 'Oh? What? Where? Did somebody have an accident outside my window?' That kind of reaction, you know. The production of this album also leaves me with the burning question: WHY? On one hand, this sounds nowhere near as raw and energetic as it did on the previous albums - the guitars are blurred, the pianos are smothered, and the jams are messy; on the other hand, nor is this a rich and polished sound as on the later ones. It's just... shitty. Yup. So why a 5 and not a 2? Well, there are certain elements that are indeed enjoyable and make the album a must for a (very) diehard fanatic. Thus, when Alvin does play the guitar, his guitar is as flawless as ever, and sometimes it shines through even in otherwise unsupportable songs. And the other reason is that, well, maybe just a couple of these songs are still nice. My favourite is 'Woman Trouble', a sly little jazzy semi-ballad with Alvin adopting a very interesting vocal intonation (although, to be fair, it might just be poorly produced), and the opening soft rocker 'Going To Try' actually manages to sound better than 'Hear Me Calling' while managing to sound the same (heck, I get it that I've written something ridiculous, but you won't be able to understand it until you've heard the record). Plus, bits and pieces, bits and pieces as usual - I would gladly cut out some of those from 'No Title', and maybe some from a few other places. But on the general scheme, nothing really saves this album. Pity, it could have been good, if only they'd bother to include some really ass-kicking songs or anything which would really make this record stand out a little. But no, it gets bogged down in its murky production, mixed-down quiet guitars, and the ridiculous 'democratic' atmosphere. C'mon, boys, the idea for every member of the band to get a one- or two-minute solo spot must have been one of the most miserable you've ever had! Sheez... Where would we be if Pete Townshend turned his band into a 'democracy'? You know where - right where CCR turned out to be after doing the same. Right there!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
Finally, everything works. A terrific blues/psychedelic rock album.Best song: GOOD MORNING LITTLE SCHOOLGIRL
Track listing: 1) Bad Scene; 2) Two Time Mama; 3) Stoned Woman; 4) Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; 5) If You Should Love Me; 6) I Don't Know My Name; 7) The Stomp; 8) I Woke Up This Morning.
And at last, this time around there was no doubt these guys were gonna be a major act. Good lads, they seem to have realized all of the mistakes they made on Stonedhenge, and this time you're in for a listen of your lifetime! No more stupid grooves or Leo Lyons solo spots. No more trippy quiet guitar sounds and no more muddy, ear-destructive production. What you are presented with is a gruff, rip-roaring, tearing-at-the-walls progressive blues album which boasts brilliant production - AT LAST!I may be a little biased towards this album, but really, you must realise it was a grandiose effort for the boys. Ten Years After was a homemade album of four guys getting together to play a couple of covers; Undead was a live album made by the same boys; Stonedhenge was a first try, but a failure; and this, this is absolutely fantastic. Well, not absolutely. Ten Years After never made an album that was 'absolutely' fantastic. Forget about 'absolutely'. But this is definitely fantastic in the fantastic Ten Years After way. Where was I? Ah yes, Ssssh. The only real trouble with that album is an ungly cover and the fact that you never can remember how many 's' you have to write between the capital one and the 'h'. Apart from that, there are some great blues numbers, some great ballads and some great heavy rockers the likes of which were not to be found previously. The very album opener ('Bad Scene') is not just heavy - it's practically hardcore punk: a breathtaking speed and a gruff guitar tone that predicts the Ramones but also kinda outdates them. But there are also tricky changes in signature, a special jazzy middle-eight, Alvin's trademark solos, strange electronically encoded vocals and... well, you get my drift. There's everything that Stonedhenge sorely lacked. The blues covers are all done wisely - generic, mayhaps (which blues cover ain't?), but catchy, and every one has something special to boast about. 'Two Time Mama' has a wonderfully sweet slide guitar tone resulting from several masterful overdubs so that ultimately you seem to be surrounded by a sea of slippery guitar waves gently falling onto one another; and there's also Alvin singing in unison with the main guitar melody, which is always a pleasure. The harder antidote 'Stoned Woman' is built around a mean mean highly distorted bass riff and features complicated time signature changes again. And the closing 'I Woke Up This Morning', with the most blatantly obvious title in the world, features an especially ferocious rapid-fire solo by Alvin. Put it next to anything on Ten Years After and you'll see how high the mighty hath risen: he's now able to play so fluently, without a single break for more than a minute, that the 1967 style by now seems naive and outdated. Notes just keep falling out of nowhere, with such diabolic precision and craftsmanship that I don't have much choice but to tip my hat. For some reason, speedy and technically proficient as other guitarists might be, I have never even once heard anybody play like that. The album's highest point, however, is the cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' with lyrics revised and melody re-written: the lyrics suck in any case, but the riff is now breathtaking, one of the two or three mightiest that the band had ever in its credit. And you really don't know how fond I am of these little riffs that repeat themselves over and over; it's mean and strong, just like Alvin's accompanying singing. Yeah, I know all they're trying to do is imitating ol' bluesmen, but they're a great bunch of Brit guys imitating ol' bluesmen! Kinda like a British analog of CCR! Youpee! I don't quite dig 'The Stomp' because that one's a bit too repetitive for me; with its creepy, quiet atmosphere it sounds like a Stonedhenge outtake, too, and that's never quite good news. But that's my one and only complaint about the track listing, and at least you can perfectly 'do the stomp' while listening to that one. Oh, and if you're anti-blues or something, then I can offer you the somewhat naive but charming ballad 'If You Should Love Me' which some might dismiss as flower power hip crap, but I DIG generic flower power hip crap, so I don't give a damn. I love this ballad, as Alvin once again makes a complete clown out of himself, overemoting on this pseudo-Motown number and thereby transforming it into a ridiculous love declaration by a young naive charming idiot who keeps repeating the same cliches over and over because he really doesn't know any other words to say but he really feels something with his poor little heart and does his best to go ahead and articulate it. Okay, this is just how I feel about the song, and this is also how I feel about much of the flower power movement. Now where have I put that Country Joe And The Fish record?.. Nah, just pulling your leg once again. I don't have no Country Joe records. I DO have a lot of Ten Years After records, though. And what you are doing now is reading my reviews of them, particularly the review of what I consider to be one of their two best albums. So don't let me bore you with my second-rate crappy digressions. Let's just reiterate: this record is a must for anybody with even a passable interest in Sixties' blues-rock and should forever remain one of the crucial landmarks in that genre. That's how obstinate I am, and now let's move on to the next album.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
Depends on how many similar guitar solos you can tolerate, but a great show nevertheless.Best song: I WOKE UP THIS MORNING
Track listing: CD I: 1) Love Like A Man; 2) Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; 3) Working On The Road; 4) The Hobbit; 5) 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain; 6) I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes;CD II: 1) Help Me; 2) I'm Going Home; 3) Sweet Little Sixteen; 4) Roll Over Beethoven; 5) I Woke Up This Morning; 6) Spoonful.
None too soon - although I guess the Fillmore was too busy capitalizing on shows by better respected "biggies" of the era like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane for the entire duration of the Nineties to pay attention to "lesser" acts. Honestly, though, in 1970 Ten Years After were anything but a lesser act: put into stardom through the Woodstock performance, they were one of the hottest things in town.This 2-CD release is, right now, the best live Ten Years After that money can buy, although it does have its problems as well. Unlike the regular Recorded Live (reviewed below), it doesn't fit on one CD, and is therefore overpriced; worse, it wastes space on stuff like 'The Hobbit' - the obligatory contemporary bane of a ten minute drum solo, and Ric Lee isn't even a Ginger Baker, although he is competent ('Hobbit' also made part of the original Recorded Live, but they had the good taste to cut it out when transferring the album onto CD). Yet on the other hand, it is a faithful document, capturing an entire Ten Years After show (the tracks are from three of their sets in February 1970, but they're put together seamlessly and never overlap), and boasting awesome sound quality - much better than Recorded Live. In addition, the band was in magnificent form, giddy from their sudden success but not yet fed up with their superstardom, with Alvin pulling out every single trick of his for all to see. And then, heck, it's the Fillmore East! Billy Graham introducing! You don't wanna miss it! By 1970, the band had dropped all of its jazzy material of the club epoch and was concentrating on pure rock'n'roll onstage, with extended flashy workouts from Mr Lee. This particular setlist includes all the regular chestnuts: 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl', the lengthy mammoth-suite-treatment of 'I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes', the soulful blues workout on 'Help Me', and, of course, 'I'm Going Home' (this particular version is easily the best I've heard, maybe even beating out the immortal Woodstock one - and nicely features a tiny Chick Churchill organ solo, too). All of these will be mentioned and probably discussed below in the Recorded Live review. Since this was 1970, they also do a few tracks from the upcoming Cricklewood Green (starting the show with the hit single 'Love Like A Man'), and a particular highlight in the encore is 'I Woke Up This Morning', with an unbelievable guitar solo that manages to beat out the already unbelievable studio version. I guess the number of notes played in that solo alone more or less equals the number of notes that, say, J. J. Cale played in his life. Not that it's good per se, but I've always said Alvin Lee is one of those few guitarists that can make a perfect balance between technical flashiness and true passion. This stuff actually rocks, it's not destined to make you just scratch your head and say, 'wow, how cute'. And when Alvin launches into a mini-Chuck Berry set ('Sweet Little Sixteen' paired with 'Roll Over Beethoven'), he doesn't do it in an "artsy" way - he goes for the guts, with a thunderstorm of trademark Berry-licks that he obviously wasn't above. If you think that in 1970 only the underground proto-punk scene could really remember what rock'n'roll was all about, think again. Besides, Alvin's just such a swell guy. He doesn't treat this stuff reverentially - he trashes it, raising some genuine hell. If there's a big spiritual distance between him and all those sleazy, dirty barroom bands, I'd like to hear it. He just plays longer (and better) solos, 'sall. If anything, the major blemish of this performance is that, when you have all these lengthy tracks and one tremendous guitar workout after another and so on for about two hours, sooner or later you're bound to notice how all the solos are similar. That's Alvin's big flaw: his speed and technicality are unquestionable, but sometimes you find yourself saying 'oh, well, I hope on this song he won't do that high-pitched fifteen-billion-notes jazzy arpeggio' and then he goes ahead and does it anyway. And considering that few of his solos are actually improvised, that makes the entire thing even more predictable. On the positive side, even knowing all that, I can't help but enjoy hearing what I hear, and I totally love the way Alvin "develops" his solos - slowly building up the climax, going from slower, more standard soloing to heights that nobody in 1970 could scale. To be fair, one mustn't necessarily forget about the others: in the liner notes, Ric Lee makes some subtle remarks about the rhythm section's playing, obviously trying to attract the listener's attention, and in the unlikely case when you actually get fed up with Alvin's flashing, try and hear what these guys are doing - I mean, Ric Lee does have all this nifty "drum-adjusting" around the guitar solos, just as the superior (but still only a drummer) Ginger Baker did with Eric Clapton. Hey, why not spare a couple of moments for the underdog?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Progressive blues! That says it all.Best song: LOVE LIKE A MAN
Track listing: 1) Sugar The Road; 2) Working On The Road; 3) 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain; 4) Year 3,000 Blues; 5) Me And My Baby; 6) Love Like A Man; 7) Circles; 8) As The Sun Still Burns Away.
Only a year had passed since Ssssh and they're already miles away. They're not being particularly amazing with their new style, but this is still miles away. This is not the raw rip-roaring tone they had on that one. But neither is it a bunch of weak grooves as was Stonedhenge. Instead, this is the first record where they have discovered synthesizers - and synthesizers were to play a vital role for the band during the next few years. Indeed, along with the Who, Ten Years After might be defined as pioneers of the 'synth-genre'. On most of these songs synths play a modest, but distinctive role (unlike the completely unabashed synthfest on Watt), and this gives the record an obvious prog feel. Plus, production is better than ever - modern techniques, no doubt? This is often regarded as their best album, and indeed it was their best-hitting album in the UK. But me no. Oh no me. These songs are all good, ass-kicking and quite mightee, but they just don't hook me as much as the ones on Ssssh.If I might suggest a comparison, this album is to TYA as Who's Next is to the Who. It marks the arrival of a completely new group that's only to happy to break up with its past. I mean, Alvin and his guitar are still there, and they still form the centerpiece of the band, but the sound has changed radically. Early Ten Years After were all groovy, hip and funny; late Ten Years After are all sad, melancholy and dark. I mean, you can still encounter a groovy ditty now and then, but mostly it's just creepy, gloomy tunes, with a deep, rumbling, echoey production, an abundance of the minor key, bitter pissed-off lyrics and a toroughly angry and smokin' lead guitar. A lot of 'cosmic' overtones, too - in the studio at least, Ten Years After are moving even further away from the listener, distancing themselves and beginning to speak as if from a completely different planet. In all, Cricklewood Green is as deceiving a title as could be - it should bring something folkish to mind, you know, like Songs From The Wood or something like that. Instead, it's a dark dreary 'cosmic rock' album. Bah. Post-Woodstock disillusionment has a lot to do with it, I think: Ten Years After just had to change their music for the post-hippie epoch, much like the Who and other bands changed it as well. But it also has a lot to do with touring excesses: the band was galloping through all the continents, spurred on by the managers without mercy, and in this personal context it's only natural that Alvin was kinda, er, not quite himself at the time. Of course, one has also to take into account the band's own evolution - upon discovering synthesizers, they might have thought they fit depressing songs better than jolly ones. Whatever. Alvin's lyrics are slightly better, though; while at the early stage one could really care less, some of the lyrics on Cricklewood Green are slightly better, with slinky social commentary and charming introspective meditations. (No, I don't mean 'Love Like A Man'). 'Love Like A Man', by the way, is the best-known song from here, and well-deserved, too: the main riff is impeccable, belonging to that class people call 'killer', and the solos are classic Alvin Lee. The problem with the solos is that by Ten Years After's fourth studio album, they all begin to sound seriously the same - Alvin's style is no longer really evolving, and you get more or less the same that you had on Ssssh, only with less freshness. But if you're a diehard like me (and Alvin's lead guitar playing is indeed one of my favourite guitar styles), you're bound to be satisfied. The opening two tracks, 'Sugar The Road' and 'Working On The Road', also thrill me each time I hear them, even though I can never reproduce them in my memory - for some mystical reason, no doubt about it. Both are solid, if unspectacular, riff-based blues-rockers with a few synth effects and that deep echoey sound hitting you for the first time. Ambitions hit hard on the phenomenal prog-blues number '50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain' - it's not exactly multi-part, but the mounting of tension, as the song grows from a slow soft shuffle to an all-out roaring thunderstorm, might as well make it one. It's not the longest song ever recorded by the band, but it certainly presented them in a different light - ballsy, pretentious arena-rockers that wanted to be artsy. At long last. Other highlights include a beautiful Simon and Garfunkel-tingled ballad ('Circles') and the closing moody rocker 'As The Sun Still Burns Away' which is even darker and more depressing than anything else on here - dammit, these guys really had their hackles up at the time. With all this grimness, even the 'lightweight' numbers sound strange, if not out of place - can anybody tell me what's that 'Me And My Baby' doing here? It's a hardcore jazz number that could have easily made it onto Undead but here? Damn aplenty. Aplenty. It sounds like a mockery. Same goes for 'Year 3,000 Blues' - pretty fine acoustic playing on that one, but the song is supposed to be a groove with a bit of black humour, and I'm not all that inclined to laugh, seeing as it comes after the first three 'serious' rockers. This is just the beginning of Ten Years After' last creative phase, though, and all the obvious flaws - song length, lack of diversity, inability to come up with classic melodies - are, well, obvious. But the All-Music Guide digs it, though. And who am I to argue with the All-Music Guide? Just a silly reviewer who doesn't know crap about any music in general and any music in particular. Aww, skip it. Move on.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9
A bit of a stylistic letdown - way too rushed songwriting and too few songs.Best song: THINK ABOUT THE TIMES
Track listing: 1) I'm Coming On; 2) My Baby Left Me; 3) Think About The Times; 4) I Say Yeah; 5) The Band With No Name; 6) Gonna Run; 7) She Lies In The Morning; 8) Sweet Little Sixteen.
Not exactly 'burnout', but a really disappointing album. Blame it on the heavy touring, though - creatively the guys are still there. But they just didn't have enough time or forces, and Watt is an obvious lightweight toss-off to satisfy the record company and the fans. Musically, there are no advances over Cricklewood Green here, and the atmosphere is quite similar: same sharp riffing, grim atmosphere and angry pissed-off vocals, although in general the mood is a little lighter, simnply because the songs are clearly underdeveloped in every respect and they just didn't have the opportunity to tighten up the production. Or the lyrics - does their catalog of texts contain a line more stupid than 'baby don't you cry don't you cry you shouldn't do that'?Obviously, they suffer from lack of material; whatever the hell for else should they have put 'Sweet Little Sixteen' from their 1970 Isle Of Wight gig at the end? I mean, it comes off pretty well - fast, furious and driving - but this ain't a live album, so why bother? It doesn't work at all in the context of the album, and it ain't all that interesting musically, just a bunch of power chords and generic Berry-licks. If they were really so deeply bothered, they should have put out the entire Wight gig instead: if you consult the Message To Love video, you'll see Alvin doing a pretty nifty live version of 'I Can't Keep From Crying' on there, with speedy solos, sonic gimmicks and everything that's his trademark style. 'Sweet Little Sixteen' is just unrepresentative. And if we don't count the short acoustic-driven instrumental link 'The Band With No Name' which sounds like it's been taken directly from an average movie soundtrack (sounds very close to whatever Danny Kirwan was penning for Fleetwood Mac at the time - pleasant, but unsubstantial folk-pop), there's only six songs on here, most of them extended well beyond the expected and necessary running time. That's my main complaint, in fact, because the main melodies themselves are more or less good and show that Alvin's songwriting talents were slightly on the rise (and would reach the apex on the next album); he'd also begun experimenting with complex song structure, not being too successful here but at least laying the ground for more effective things to come. Highlights include some fascinating new riffs, particularly on the opening track, 'I'm Coming On'. Unfortunately, it's exactly the tune I was referring to when I mentioned the crappy lyrics, but the melody rules, even if essentially it's just a slight stylistic re-write of 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl'. 'My Baby Left Me' (which has nothing to do with the Presley classic) is also interesting, a funny mixing of soul with country-rock, but doesn't come across as particularly memorable. Instrumentation-wise, the weirdest and most innovative number on the record is 'I Say Yeah', a rather generic rocker that is nevertheless distinguished by a frightening synth solo, if only I'm not actually confounding it with a guitar plugged through some infernal device. Whatever it is, it sounds great and must have been completely awesome for people at the time: in 1971, not too many people were doing such brave things with synthesizers. ELP, for the most part; and it's not a coincidence that the instrumental section on 'I Say Yeah' reminds me a lot of Emerson's synth jam on 'Aquatarkus'. Come to think of it, it does sound like a guitar playing rather than a keyboard instrument, so it must have been something similar to the super-weird wah-wah effect that Pete Townshend used the same year on 'Going Mobile'. In other words, keep your heads down low, folks, and prepare for the electronic onslaught.... There's also an interesting 'progressive-emulating' epic here ('She Lies In The Morning'), and it shares the same flaw: parts are good (main melody this time), parts are unbearable (the chaotic jam in the middle that's a little reminiscent of the Stones' psychedelic debauchery on Satanic, but doesn't contain any cool spacey sound effects and becomes boring from the very first second). But generally, all of these new riffs and melodies wear thin on repeated listenings, and almost none of them manage to imprint themselves in my memory, mostly because it's all been done better before. You know you're in trouble when one of the most memorable efforts on a Ten Years After record actually turns out to be an 'ugly' synth-style-guitar solo. Still, I rate this record a point higher than I should be rating it, mainly for the fact that it includes 'Think About The Times' - one of Alvin's most beautiful ballads ever, slightly reminiscent of 'Circles' but even better. It may be naive, and the lyrics childish, but the way he sings the lines 'You are living/You are in the world' is simply charming. Not that he seems to be a very emotional guy - he's really built for speed (ahem, both literally and figuratively). But this is one of a couple of times when he somehow gets to really demonstrate his emotions. Good work, Mr Lee! The ground is thus prepared for their best studio album ever, which would come out the same year. Hey, how can it be possible to combine a two-albums-per-year schedule with heavy touring? Why, by making the first one of the two a duffer and the second one a winner, of course.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
The best progressive blues album of my life. Alvin rips it up and gets serious at the same time.Best song: I'D LOVE TO CHANGE THE WORLD
Track listing: 1) One Of These Days; 2) Here They Come; 3) I'd Love To Change The World; 4) Over The Hill; 5) Baby Won't You Let Me Rock'n'Roll You; 6) Once There Was A Time; 7) Let The Sky Fall; 8) Hard Monkeys; 9) I've Been There Too; 10) Uncle Jam.
Despite all the hype, Ten Years After could never have earned the title of a "prog-rock" band: sometimes they are mistakenly lumped in with the movement, but Alvin and Co.'s ambitions never really amounted that high - for the most part, they were just hardcore blues rockers with a slight experimental edge, to distinguish them from colleagues like early Fleetwood Mac or Free. Still, if there ever was a period in which they were real close to embodying some "progressive" tendencies, it was this fall of 1971, with this extremely strange, un-Ten Years After-like album, and this really great bunch of songs, with hardly a major stinker in among all the melodies. Unarguably the band's strongest and most consistent effort since the Ssssh days, A Space In Time continues the line of Watt in its heavy use of synthesizers and special effects, but this time the members probably took out some time to make these thingamajigs actually work. Alvin's guitar is not idle either; and his songwriting reached a peak at this time - never to be surpassed again.One thing strikes you immediately as you let all the tracks flow through your mind, one by one - where's the fingerflashing? This sounds nothing like what we've grown to expect from the band because the main trademark element of the sound, Alvin's blazing speedy chops, are completely missing. An intentional move, of course; whereas I wouldn't want to accuse Alvin of sharing the famous "guitar hero complex" that managed to overtake such six-string greats as Clapton and Jeff Beck in the early Seventies, it's at least clear that on A Space In Time the man was keen on cutting out the crap and fully concentrating on the melodies and real musical substance. He wanted to be able to finally make a record that would feature him as a real solid composer, that would not just keep repeating the same lightning-speed licks over and over again. And while it's rather hard to believe without having heard the record, he did succeed. On here, you'll find the best batch of melodies ever created by the band - many of them acoustic, showing Alvin's developing passion for the unplugged atmosphere, but some electric as well. Alvin's lyrics rarely match the melodies in skillfulness or deepness, but as usual, he manages to walk the thin line between cliches/banality and pretentiousness just fine. And while his take on the 'we gotta get out of this place' schtick on 'I'd Love To Change The World' is nothing particularly special, it comes along as sincere and never too overblown. Just a guy lamenting over post-Woodstock disillusionment. The opening track, 'One Of These Days' (not to be confounded with the famous Pink Floyd instrumental, or, for that matter, with the ninety thousand other songs by other composers with the same name), kicks in with such a staggering might that it makes you go wow. It's essentially just a slow blues rocker, but produced like they never tried before - with a deep and elaborate sound, echoey guitars, moody swirling organs, and tremendously atmospheric. My guess is that it probably inspired the Stones for "Ventilator Blues" (which is a weaker song). It does end in a slightly overlong speedy jam that tends to get a wee bit tedious due to Alvin's self-restriction on the guitar, but never mind - it is all compensated further on. On no other Ten Years After album will you find, for instance, two tracks as moody and "place-taking" as 'Here They Come' and 'Let The Sky Fall'. Sure, Alvin and the boys did try their hand at 'mystical acoustic shuffles' earlier, particularly on Stonedhenge, but there was basically no melody-creating back then. 'Here They Come', on the other hand, is based on a slow, entrancing acoustic riff with a slight medieval influence; it's dark and a little bit creepy. 'Let The Sky Fall', on the other hand, features a reworking of the 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' riff, but with an entirely different purpose: the song is supposed not to let you rock your ass, but to contemplate some vivid psychedelic associations, what with all the backwards guitars and special synth effects... I love that mood. More acoustic shuffles follow, with pretty folkish melodies that are charming in their naivety and amazing in their professional delivery. Isn't 'Over The Hill' gorgeous? The way the steady acoustic riff and the moderate strings section interact with each other certainly is, and on top of that Alvin delivers a pretty catchy vocal melody. 'Hard Monkeys' is equally good, with a nice alternation of soft/hard parts and some of Alvin's most delightful singing ever - the way he chants 'got no monkey on my back' almost manages to bring me to tears, so don't you dare laugh at the song. All of this stuff is pretty serious, of course, for the boys, and it's only natural that sometimes they break loose and swap the grim, introspective mood of the songs for a few 'have-at-it' fun novelty numbers: 'Baby Won't You Let Me Rock'n'Roll You' is a groovy Fifties sendup that doesn't sound one second too strained as the band rips it up for two minutes, ' Uncle Jam' is an unnecessary, but short jazz jam, and 'Once There Was A Time' is a sharp-edged country-rock number with the traditional 'da-guitah-z-me-life-boy' message delivered with vivid imagery: 'Once there was a time/I robbed my mama/For a good meal and a smoke/Once there was a time/I'd sell my brother/For a dollar when I was broke/But I'd never sell my guitar, etc...'. And over all of this rules supreme 'I'd Love To Change The World' - Alvin's epoch-defining tune which is still the band's best known self-penned composition. It's so well-balanced, in fact, and so immaculately written and performed, that I wouldn't know where to start to complain. Astute acoustic riff, masterfully created paranoid style on the fast parts, moody echoey vocals in the chorus, adrenaline-raising electric guitar, terrific hard-rocking climax: if you ask me, this song does in three minutes everything that 'Stairway To Heaven' was doing in seven and maybe more. Of course, lyrics like 'I'd love to change the world/But I don't know what to do/So I'll leave it up to you' and most of Alvin's social commentaries are pretty straightforward, but I'd still take them over Zeppelin's cheap mysticism any time of day, particularly since there are not any less old-time cliches in the 'Stairway' lyrics than there are in 'I'd Love To Change The World'. This is just to show you how much of an underrated band Ten Years After are, so there. It's absolutely incredible that a band as ambitionless and tour-busy as Ten Years After found the time and will to record such an album; but it's also a shame that the band never preferred to follow this chosen route further, as their last two studio albums show them descending into mediocrity once again, leaving A Space In Time as the band's undisputed songwriting masterpiece and a true, if minor, rock'n'roll classic that's been overshadowed by time but will hopefully rise out of the depths of oblivion some day. Maybe with your help, oh ye gentle reader?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8
Outtakes and singles - enjoyable, if not particularly outstanding. 'Nuff said.Best song: THE SOUNDS
Track listing: 1) The Sounds; 2) Rock Your Mama; 3) Hold Me Tight; 4) Standing At The Crossroads; 5) Portable People; 6) Boogie On; 7) Spider In My Web (single version); 8) Hear Me Calling (single version); 9) I'm Going Home (single version).
I once gave this album a three, but now I don't really understand what came over me at that period. Yeah, this is a cash-in which was, like pretty much every cash-in in existence, put forth by the band's record company at the peak of the band's chart and live popularity; and like every cash-in, it's seriously flawed. Starting with the fact that it's short - just about thirty minutes of music, although the CD edition had been beefed up by three tracks from singles, none of which are any good because they just represent edited versions of 'Spider In My Web' and 'I'm Going Home' from Undead and the stupid 'Hear Me Calling' from Stonedhenge. The short 'I'm Going Home' is a particular disgrace - a major part of the number's charm lies exactly within its being tremendously extended, and editing the performance down is nothing short of a crime and a direct butchering.That said, let's get back to the album itself, shall we? It features six tracks, all singles and outtakes mostly taken from the early Seventies (although 'Portable People' dates back to as far as 1968). And the last track out of these six, the mini-jam session 'Boogie On', takes as much running time as the other five. So basically it all boils down to whether you are able to enjoy that performance or no. Frankly speaking, I still regard this number as absolute filler, added in to 'pad' the second side because they'd squeezed out everything before. Clearly, it was just a warm-up jam in the studio that had to set the boys' energy running for the real songs, and releasing it on a record that didn't sport the 'warning!' sticker on the front cover is akin to releasing an orchestra's rehearsal/tuning up section instead of, or appended to, the real concert. It's just fourteen minutes of a simple dumb riff (well, I suppose it might not be so dumb in a better world, but any riff will get dumb after being repeated for hours on end) played over and over and from time to time being interrupted by organ, drum, bass and guitar solos. So if you think that Chick Churchill, Ric Lee and Leo Lyons were absolute virtuosos, feel free to jump in. Me, I only get my ears perked up at the ninth minute when Alvin steps in and delivers a red-hot solo, featuring all of his usual aural gimmicks. But having to wait nine minutes for that solo is not a pretty thing. However, the five songs on the first side are a totally different matter. Where were my ears when I had my last listen to the album? They're not exactly in the Space In Time style, and in fact, it's understandable that none of these outtakes ever got around to board that record's track listing, because they're way too simplistic and standard for Ten Years After. Plain old boogie-woogie, represented by 'Rock Your Mama' and 'Hold Me Tight'; plain old blues in 'Standing At The Crossroads'; plain old bluegrass shuffle in 'Portable People'; and only 'The Sounds' is somewhat of an 'experimental' piece, with the obligatory synth effects and a grim, desperate mood so characteristic for ASIT. It is, in fact, the best song on the album, with gloomy, almost goth backing vocals, an angry delivery from Alvin and lots of highly distorted, paranoid guitar. Still, it doesn't have a solid hook for the listener to grapple on, and so predictably didn't make its appearance on ASIT. As for the plain old simple numbers, they ultimately display the band at what they're doing best - just rocking it off. 'Rock Your Mama', in fact, can be taken as a little teenage brother to 'I'm Going Home', with a very similar tension-mounting/calming down going on all the time, even if it's nowhere near as enthralling. 'Hold Me Tight' bops along pretty well... what's wrong with the production, by the way? Or are they just trying to do their Fifties tributes as authentic-looking as possible? This particular one is an unashamed Jerry Lee Lewis rip-off ('Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On' is the obvious prototype), which is still interesting because Alvin didn't often rip off the king - after all, he was never so hot about piano rockers. And the band rip it up for 'Crossroads' - sure enough, their version can't compete with Cream's at all, but it's pretty mighty all by itself, and the funny thing is that it was recorded live, which hints at the band paying an obvious tribute to Cream. Finally, 'Portable People' is in the 'Two Time Mama' vein, which means it's lightweight, funny, charming and pretty. And catchy. The bad thing about these numbers is that they all fit the criteria of 'good', but for every one of them you can say "sure it's good BUT... [it's generic/it's a rip-off/it's inferior to other similar ones/it's underdeveloped]" (underline the necessary answer in the square brackets). Still, my previous review of this album sucked real badly - I made a mistake to decide that, since this stuff was inferior, it was bad. No way. It should still be one of your last Ten Years After albums to be bought, and it's kinda stupid that it's rather widely available whereas the band's normal albums aren't, not often, at least. A far better solution would be to pull it off the racks and reissue either Sssssh (to which these numbers hearken conceptually) or A Space In Time (to which they hearken chronologically) with all the five tracks appended as bonuses, while 'Boogie On' might just go to hell or onto some five hundredth anniversary collection, wherever it gets sooner and quicker.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8
Sure enough, it is rock'n'roll. But I s'pose the world wasn't much impressed.Best song: YOU GIVE ME LOVING
Track listing: 1) You Give Me Loving; 2) Convention Prevention; 3) Turned Off T.V Blues; 4) Standing At The Station; 5) You Can't Win Them All; 6) Religion; 7) Choo Choo Moma; 8) Tomorrow I'll Be Out Of Town; 9) Rock And Roll Music To The World.
Tired, tired and disspirited, that's what this record is about. Kinda like Watt, but less bouncy - where Watt was hopping like mad all over the place, this one seems to drag as if with a thousand-pound ball and chain impeding its progression. In addition, it seems that Alvin's songwriting is really going down the drain, as his 'originals' are becoming more and more generic - and the surprising creativity of Space In Time had all but disappeared, vanished without a trace as if the entire Ten Years After' creative evolution had never happened at all. But it's not that he has come full circle, either: where the band's derivative debut record was funny and happy, Rock & Roll Music is cumbersome, clumsy and obviously unassured. Just as gloomy and maybe even gloomier than the previous two or three records, it creeps along at a snail pace, and even when the sole moment of "obligatory piece of boogie" comes along, it's more like a necessary bit of 'hey, speed up and here we go, we still know how to rock'n'roll" rather than a sincere and heartfelt delivery.Still, there are some good news. Namely, the album kicks off with what I consider to be their last great song ever - the magnificent rocker 'You Give Me Loving' which gives absolutely no quarter. With its pulsating, driving seven-note riff (my personal favourite of all Alvin riffs) and angry, scornful lyrics, it stands up several heads higher than anything else on this record. Even so, he manages to spoil it with a very weak guitar break... it should also be noted here that, while in concert Alvin's guitar playing was still strong (as witnessed by next year's release), in the studio it had completely deteriorated, partially due to his alcohol problems and partially due to the fact that he just didn't give a damn any more. I suppose the latter factor is the most essential. Anyway, regardless of the weak break, 'You Give Me Loving' is still a hell of a tune, and the lack of skill is at least compensated by a magnificent atmospheric buildup (when that quiet little sly riff suddenly appears out of the synthesizer chaos after the solo passage - that's where I get my kicks). But that's about it. What about the rest? You get a generic rocker in 'Choo Choo Moma', which, as I already said, is fairly conventional and just placed on the record like that - pro forma... it should also be noted here that the album production sucks, sucks, sucks, it's horrendous, everything sounds so murky, dirty, gloomy, and where the hell is Alvin's voice? Or maybe he was too drunk to let the degeneration of his persona show through? Who can tell? It's so darn painful to hear him rip through this speedy rocker and sound just like a pale shadow of his former self, anyway. Then there's a couple of generic mid-tempo R'n'B tunes which aren't very much inspiring - they just shuffle along and have no hooks, interesting instrumentation or anything attractive about them. If a song like 'Tomorrow I'll Be Out Of Town' had been recorded three years ago, it would have certainly gotten some tasty slide guitar, some violent whoa-hoas, some finger-flashing solos, or at least some deep echoey rumbles somewhere in the middle as a production gimmick. In 1972, it has nothing but its bare carcass, and it's completely unmemorable. Likewise, 'Convention Prevention' is supposed to sound invigorating, but I don't get the message nohow. The title track is at least somewhat funny (and it's hilarious to hear Alvin grumble 'rock-an'-roll music toooo dah woild...'), but it doesn't amount to that much either. Finally, in a desperate move to embrace his roots, we find Alvin doing generic blues - a thing he really hadn't tried for a long, long time ('Turned Off T.V. Blues'), and which he can't pull off decently either, apart from the moody intro which is moody because it is a complete rip-off of 'Stoned Woman'. Compare this miserable self-parody with something as excellent as 'I Woke Up This Morning' (similar in tone, by the way), and you'll see how low the once mighty now hath fallen. Where's the energy of yore? I'm not a hater of generic R'n'B: these songs don't necessarily suck, but neither do they stand out or sit up or wag the tail or anything. They just sit in the corner and go nowhere in particular, like a million other similar records that've been made over the years and quite justly forgotten. Alvin's guitar sounds tired, churning out the same chord sequences for the millionth time, and it's especially evident on the record's "centerpiece" - the lengthy solofest 'Standing At The Station' which really says it all, and overall this should really have been their last studio record - unfortunately, the band did not yet realize that it was high time to throw in the towel, and followed it with an even worse effort. Don't be fooled by the title: Rock'n'Roll Music To The World is positively dull, although certainly danceable and, well, with a little luck, some of these songs probably can even be brought to life. If somebody would like to bring them back to life, that is. Make them memorable. Brush off the dust. Clean up the dreck. Bite off the cork. Oh, whatever. Oh, and did I mention 'Religion'? It's a really cool track beginning with the lines 'I never really understood religion/Except it made a good excuse to kill'. A little bit of social protest left over from the Space In Time sessions, I suppose.
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Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Sweating, steaming, ripping, roaring and having a lot of fun, this is an exemplary live record.Best song: I'M GOING HOME
Track listing: 1) One Of These Days; 2) You Give Me Loving; 3) Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; 4) Help Me; 5) Classical Thing; 6) Scat Thing; 7) I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes; 8) Silly Thing; 9) Slow Blues In 'C'; 10) I'm Going Home; 11) Choo Choo Mama.
It may not be the best live album in the world, but it's certainly in the race for one, together with a couple dozen other notorious records - although as of now, it's been somewhat overshadowed by the even superior Fillmore East. However, if you can't locate that archive release or are upset with the price of the double CD, I'd strongly recommend any TYA novice to start here (that is, if you're able to tolerate speedy, but lengthy guitar jams; otherwise, you'd be much better off with either Ssssh or Space In Time, although I actually doubt that otherwise you'd be interested in TYA at all), especially because not only does this record stand as a 'great live' record, it also stands for a 'greatest hits live' record. Just look at the track listing!It's interesting, too, to compare this record with Undead. You'll see how 'huge' they have grown - almost in every sense. From a secluded club scene to large arenas in major European capitals; from a homemade lousy equipment to the Rolling Stones mobile; from half-hour gigs to extended concerts; from half-obscure jazz covers to international hits; finally, from the raw, unpolished, even though mighty energetic tones to a well-polished, professional, intoxicating 'wall-of-sound'. Just compare the two versions of 'I'm Going Home' on both records and you'll see the difference. Some may regret the loss of that original 'raw' sound, but I say I don't mind. I like both albums, but Recorded Live is longer, has more songs and doesn't have any embarrassments like the lengthy slow uninteresting blues of 'Spider In My Web' and the stupid drum solo on 'Summertime'. Sure, it was recorded at a rather late period in the band's career, when they were already almost spent creatively and on the brink of dissolution, but it is a well-known fact that live playing and "general creative state" are two absolutely different things. Live playing and its quality depend on quite a few factors, including, simply speaking, the particular mood of the band's members on the day of the gig, which, in turn, may depend on the weather or the expression on that guy in the front row's face. Luckily, most of the performances on this album were drawn from moments when the band seemed to be in relatively high spirits. For the record, the album does feature a lengthy run-through of their most driving and famous numbers. Practically none of them are superior to the studio recordings, but none are inferior, either. On the other side, the live performance does give them a 'spontaneous' edge which might make them more suitable for some listeners. They kick off with 'One Of These Days' (wow! but somebody cut down that ending jam, please!), only to continue with the unforgettable riff of 'You Give Me Loving': what a wise choice from their worst record so far, and I don't even mind that Alvin messes up the lyrics because they were so convoluted in the first place. Later on, the band, as usual, breaks in some of the oldies, like 'Help Me' and 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl'. On the way, Alvin displays some cute little tricks, like showing his prowess at classical guitar ('Classical Thing'), resurrecting the 'Skoobly-oobly-dooboob' ditty ('Scat Thing') and just playing the fool ('Silly Thing'). The two highlights of the show are, of course, a terrific fifteen-minute version of 'I Can't Keep From Crying', which is again transformed into tons of different things on the way, including even a few lines from 'Cat's Squirrel' and even 'Sunshine Of Your Love' - sic!, and 'I'm Going Home'. The former also was the central point for showing Alvin as a 'guitar experimentator' - in particular, he liked to tune his guitar and play it at the same time, which sometimes resulted in a truly awful, ear-destructive sound which I kinda like nevertheless. And the latter ('I'm Goin' Home', that is) is predictably close to the Woodstock version, except that the various sections are interspersed in a different way and the drums are much more prominent. And damn the stupid audience that mars the opening chords with its silly applause! Otherwise, though, it's simply a superb version: with all the 'boo-boo-babys' in place, and the old rockabilly classics medley in the middle. It does seem a bit worn off as compared to the Woodstock version, but you can excuse the guys: after all, the piece was like a stone around their neck, and it's a wonder they were still able to do it with enough authenticity and patience. For me, the only letdown on the album is the seven-minute 'Slow Blues In C'. They should have left things like that to the Allman Brothers. But then again, it's just a minor flaw in an almost flawless seventy-minute record! Be forgiving! This doesn't sound like the Allmans at all! And I don't have anything against the Allmans, I just don't have a lot in favour of them doing similar things. They put me off to sleep. Berk. Ever heard 'Mountain Jam'? How many times do you have to sit through these thirty minutes to dig it? Ah, if only everything these guys played were akin to their version of 'You Don't Love Me'... This record, on the other hand, is instantly amiable and friendly - and it features lots of guitar jams, too. But these kids are so frantic, so full of energy and they love the stuff they're playing so much you'll be sure to be caught in the fun. This is no Yessongs, either - just your basic love for dat electro guitar sound. And no 'supergroup' hype, either - they just play and they don't give a damn. I like it when a record doesn't have balls.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7
The sound's still there, but the vibes aren't. Not they-ee. Not here. Definitely nothing positive about it.Best song: NOWHERE TO RUN, potentially LOOK ME STRAIGHT INTO THE EYES
Track listing: 1) Nowhere To Run; 2) Positive Vibrations; 3) Stone Me; 4) Without You; 5) Going Back To Birmingham; 6) It's Getting Harder; 7) You're Driving Me Crazy; 8) Look Into My Life; 9) Look Me Straight Into The Eyes; 10) I Wanted To Boogie.
By 1974 the world really didn't need Ten Years After any more. It was really obvious they did everything they were supposed to do. This is basically Rock & Roll Music To The World Vol. 2, but even worse, with not a single classic like 'You Give Me Loving' in sight and even less excitement and more boredom than last time around. Sure, Alvin's guitar still stung as hell, but it stung just like it did five years ago; he must have realised that, so he's trying to get away from the "speed god" tag, and he only lets rip with his trademark finger-flashing techniques a couple of times, which would be okay if the "guitar resistance" would be compensated with some awesome melodies, like on A Space In Time - in other words, we could easily disregard the lack of incredible technique if the band were on yet another creative roll - unfortunately, it is not so. Chick Churchill's synths still carried on, but mature prog rock bands like Yes and ELP were showing thousands of new creative ways to use them (and actually, by 1974 even creative rock bands like Yes and ELP were already running out of ideas, so whaddaya want from an unpretentious blues-rock band?) With his drinking and all, Alvin entered a phase of artistic stagnation. He managed to drive his band through the hard rock years and the prog rock years, but as music was beginning to wither all around them, pulled down by the exhaustion of the "ideas pool", deterioration of public tastes and global commercialization of rock'n'roll, they were pulled down by the general crisis as well. And darn it to hell, does it show on this album. It's all the more obvious how little Alvin cared at the time when you look at his own first solo recordings - most notably, In Flight: apparently, all the best material was saved for solo projects, while the band was left with scraps and odds.Yeah, they're still rocking as a young Chuck Berry - superficially, but somehow the melodic hooks are gone. This is the first record in a very long time which refuses to reveal us at least a single memorable riff; don't forget that Lee was first and foremost an excellent riff-supplier, and it was those riffs that constituted a firm basis for all the admirable "wanking". Show me those riffs, I just don't see 'em here. Likewise, there are no gimmicks - neither good nor bad. Just none of them; the production is as flat and un-atmospheric as could ever be. Hell, it isn't even depressing: at least on their previous record, one could tell that the band was in a pretty suicidal mood, for better or worse, but here you just can't tell anything, apart from a couple numbers. Hell, in fact, there's just nothing at all about this album. The ballads ('Without You', title track, etc.) are bland and neither sugary nor salty. The title track is a not too self-assured post-hippie anthem, dated on time of release (was Alvin trying to cure the world from Alice Cooper by imploring 'give yourself some positive vibrations' or what?). They just move on lifelessly, and they don't display the kind of funny bizarre feeling of 'If You Should Love Me', or the beautiful emotional lines of 'Hard Monkeys'. And the rockers? 'Going Back To Birmingham' is destined to sound as a Brit version of 'Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey', and it doesn't work, it's just a rather poor idea. Too many of these songs just take the simplistic boogie of 'Choo Choo Moma' and replay it to death; and since you already know they're doing that out of creative stagnation rather than anything else, the triple derivativeness really gets you down. As for the somewhat more "original" midtempo rockers on the second side, well, they suffer the same fate as the ballads. Even Alvin's guitar sounds tired and ragged, more so than on Rock'n'Roll Music To The World, so Chick steps in to help on some tracks with his organ solos, which only seems to make the matters worse. Bah! This stuff is as comestible as a giant hogweed. Only multiple repeated listenings have made me soften a little bit towards the album's centerpiece, 'Look Me Straight Into The Eyes', a six-minute minor rocker that doesn't really fit all that well on the record - way too surprising and aggressive, with the last "classic guitar thunderstorm" by Alvin on a non-reunion TYA album. Even so, the only truly treasurable thing about it is the one-minute coda, where Alvin's insane soloing brilliantly meshes in with the harmonica and the moody organs to form a brief snippet of ecstasy. Not that you don't have to dig your way through to reach it, though. Nothing on here is truly offensive, of course, which is why I don't rate it as low as I used to (hint, hint), but that shouldn't be considered a justification of the record's existence. To add a couple more positive notes, I'd just mention that the opening 'Nowhere To Run' and closing 'I Wanted To Boogie' might draw your attention because they get a couple more drops of blood flowing, but this really comes on as a bonus. Nothing else. They disbanded almost immediately after this record, and it was probably the second best rational thing they could do (the first best, of course, would be to disband immediately after Recorded Live - but I guess the boys had contractual obligations to fulfil or something. Damn record bosses). Oh, and, of course, the album is now out of print and probably will remain like that forever. Not that you hear me complaining, especially since I already got a copy...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9
The talent is still there, but dammit, you're NOT hip any more! You won't sell as much as Poison no matter what you do!Best song: WAITING FOR THE JUDGEMENT DAY
Track listing: 1) Highway Of Love; 2) Let's Shake It Up; 3) I Get All Shook Up; 4) Victim Of Circumstance; 5) Going To Chicago; 6) Saturday Night; 7) Bad Blood; 8) Working In A Parking Lot; 9) Wild Is The River; 10) Outside My Window; 11) Waiting For The Judgement Day.
A Ten Years After reunion was inevitable, I guess. First and furthermost because there never really was a serious reason for the band to fall apart in the first place - other than being tired and worn out and feeling unhip with the times, that is. But tiredness comes and goes, and hipness is a factor that exists primarily in one's mind rather than directly in the air: hipness has never been an obligatory prerequisite of getting a record contract, at least a small one. Besides, Alvin Lee's solo career never truly took off like, for instance, Eric Clapton's, and I'm not even beginning to mention his three subordinates. So what can a poor boy do 'cept to sing for a rock'n'roll band? And is there, in sleepy London town, a place for a Ten Years After reunion?They first came together, I think, in 1983, gave a few shows, then went their own ways again, then reconvened once more in 1989, gave a few more shows, saw that it was good and decided to try some of the old magic on record - once again. The emphasis was, of course, on good old rock'n'roll, the stuff they always did best. Nothing experimental, none of that New Wave crap or synth-pop dreck, just straightahead, unnerving, rip-roaring RAWK. Once again, Alvin Lee is gonna show this corrupt little planet what it means to be the fastest gun in the West! It's just About Time! As a matter of fact, it wasn't. It could have been worse - most of these songs are quite decent - but it could also have been much better, if they'd only waited a couple years more, waited for that moment when the passion and honesty of Nevermind washed away the dreck of Eighties' excess. About Time was produced by Terry Manning (may his soul burn wherever and whenever possible), who gave it the same production coating you'd probably expect on your average hair metal album of the time. Alvin's parts are the most salvageable, but even he occasionally stoops to using that fat robotic metal tone that ruins Eighties' Yes albums. However, Ric Lee's drums practically sink under all the hollow electronic echoes, and worst of the bunch is Chick Churchill, almost exclusively playing murky, leaden, completely lifeless Roland synthesizers, as if the music were coming directly off contemporary Ad Lib music cards or something. Aaarrgh! Aarrgh indeed, because, like I said, it's a cool rock'n'roll album! Once the first feeling of disgust has washed over you like a giant wave of mutilation, your sorrowful remains will still be able to make a correct assessment of the melodies. There's a few classy rock'n'roll riffs, there's a few decent solos, there's vocal hooks-a-plenty, and the most important thing is - there's actually some active energy. They aren't making this stuff because they owe it to the record company or because their fanbase expects them to. They're just four long lost friends grooving together. Besides, Alvin Lee has got some social comment in his system that he'd like to get out. He's still an angry young lad. Only one song on the entire album really sounds like the TYA of old - the quiet jazzy shuffle 'I Get All Shook Up'. It's not the most flawlessly composed song on the record, and it sort of runs out of ideas by the end of the second minute, but it's still nice to hear a track that sounds like it came right out of 1967 or something: everything else just screams out "beware of the Eighties!". Granted, the Eighties brought some maturation and independence to band members other than Lee: Leo Lyons gets to have two of his own compositions on here, no less. One - 'Bad Blood' - is not very good; seven minutes long and featuring the most obnoxious keyboard parts on the entire album. However, 'Working In A Parking Lot' is quite hilarious, because it doesn't happen every day that somebody rocks your ass and pokes fun at the rich Californian lifestyle at the same time. Another good thing is that, no matter how the production tries to make everything sound the same, the album does boast some diversity. Besides the standard-form rockers you get songs that register in the mind through unexpected signature changes - 'Going To Chicago', for instance, alternates boogie with slow blues-rock. There is at least one song that can only be classified as power-pop, 'Wild Is The River'; it's not very good, in fact, it's a bit annoying, like a piece of Smokie-style bubblegum run through the regular hair metal treadmill, but at least it works as sort of a "mood warp" in among all the angry blues-rock. There's a ballad - 'Outside My Window'; it's nowhere near close the subtlety of the band's best stuff, but Lee's openness and rawness still come through the line rather distinctly. Nevertheless, it's among the rockers that I'd primarily start searching for favourites. Stuff like 'Let's Shake It Up' doesn't have one original idea, but Ten Years After can still take an age-old dusty riff, brush it up, kick off the jams and turn in a mighty fine performance; at the very least, ain't no worse than Motorhead. Cleaner than Motorhead, yes, which is a minus, but also sharper than Motorhead, which is a plus. And when such a rocker gets a necessary shot of anger and protest, as in the eco-/social-rock declaration 'Waiting For The Judgement Day', these are moments in which I am really really glad that I did not pass on this record. That song rocks harder than Neil Young's 'Rockin' In The Free World', and that should say something. In the end, to hell with production, I say. About Time suffers more or less the same problems as the Stones' Steel Wheels, released that same year. For the Stones, it was the beginning of a new dawn - the landmark release where the band started acting its age and concentrating on doing music they actually enjoyed and were adept at rather than simply following whatever trend happened to float by the studio window on the eve of the sessions. At the same time, it still bore the Eighties' syndrome on it: sterile sound, generic guitar tones, you name it. But it was hard not to see that Steel Wheels was the Stones doing rock'n'roll again, and that's always nice by itself. Same thing here. The songs are not A+ quality in terms of melody and the production values are shit; but it's always swell to see rock veterans playing rock'n'roll, because, let's face it, no rock youngster can really play true rock'n'roll with the feel of a qualified rock veteran. (Provided that the rock veteran did play quality rock'n'roll in his younger days, of course - I'm not discussing real complex cases like Status Quo here). So, it is just too bad that after having their own Steel Wheels, these guys never got around to doing a Voodoo Lounge. Well, here's hoping it's never too late, of course.
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