Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 206: Blue Oyster Cult

Ladies and gentlemen - on your feet, or on your knees. Here they are, the amazing Blue! Oyster Cult!

Disc 206 is...Cultosaurus Erectus
Artist: Blue Oyster Cult

Year of Release: 1980

What’s Up With The Cover?: Let me just start by saying that all Blue Oyster Cult album covers are awesome. This one features the crazy spacy creature, 'Cultosaurus Erectus' which is some form of garganguan dinosaur - if you look down near the creature's neck you'll see a space ship, just to show you the awesome scale of the creature.

I have this on vinyl as well, and the back of the sleeve there is a bunch of faked archaeological pictures, with goofy captions like, "unfertilized egg from female Cultosaurus Erectus found in the Stalk-Forrest near Oyster Bay, Long Island". FYI, "Stalk Forrest Group" is the former name of the band. There is also an 'artist's rendition' of the creature, showing a huge long neck, and tadpole-shaped body. Here's a photo:
When I was a kid I'd sit and imagine just how such a creature could live. I mean, if you look at it's teeth carefully, you'll see they are actually fused together - it couldn't even bite something. I imagine it dines on some form of cosmic krill, that float in the outer atmosphere. I like to imagine stuff like that, which is why Blue Oyster Cult is a perfect band for me.

How I Came To Know It: My brother was a huge fan of Blue Oyster Cult, and so have I been since I can remember walking. I've known this album, and known it well since it came out when I was 10. I even recently purchased it on record.

How It Stacks Up: I have fourteen BOC albums - 11 studio and 1 live. I think they should be compared separately, and "Cultosaurus Erectus" is a studio album. Of the eleven, it is pretty strong, but BOC has a lot of good records. I'll say it is solidly in the middle - 5th or 6th best, depending on my mood.

Rating: 4 stars.

Long have I suffered through the Odyssey, wondering what cruel trick of randomness would deny even a single one of my fourteen BOC albums to me over 205 reviews. I wouldn't say they are the greatest band of all time (although they are close) - just that they are my favourite band. Finally, I caught a break and here they are. I even kept it in the car an extra day to celebrate.

"Cultosaurus Erectus" came out right before the album that would return BOC to prominence, 1981's "Fire of Unknown Origin". It isn't even close to as successful as that record commercially, but among BOC fans, it is held in equally high regard. Musically, it is easily one of the three most interesting records they've made, and lead singer Eric Bloom is at his best here.

The record is a perfect microcosm of all the strange elements that go together to collectively make BOC both brilliant and bizarre.

The progressive elements of their rock are as evident here as on any record. There are crazy time signature changes happening mid-song, and every instruments gets its chance to shine - including bass solos, piano solos and even saxophone solos. The lyrics are dominated by all manner of wacky and wonderful topics.

All three items come together in "Monsters" a song that alternates between a kick-ass riff laid down by guitar hero "Buck" Dharma, and a weird jazz solo on the saxophone played by guest musician Mark Rivera.

I usually can't stand sax solos, but on "Monsters" it is so jarringly perfect, I can't resist it. I can't imagine trying harder to ruin a song with goofy arrangements, and only managing to make it better.

The topic of the song appears to be a group of people who steal a spaceship to explore the universe:

"Got our hands on a ship
And stole away into the night
The four of us and Pasha dear
She to steer and we to fight

Fed up with rules and regulations
No more laughter left on Earth
Outer Space our one salvation
May God help us in our search."

Another standout is "Black Blade", a song about 60s fantasy novel star Elric of Melnibone, co-written by the author of the books, Michael Moorcock. Moorcock also helped Hawkwind write a couple entire albums about Elric, so the guy got around.

I also like "Unknown Tongue" a song I've listened to thousands of times and I'm still not sure whether it's about masturbation, speaking in tongues, self-mutilation or what. I think maybe a bit of all those things.

Even the lesser songs surprise me. As I was writing this review, I was listening to the album on headphones, and "Hungry Boys" caught my attention. A song dominated by a repeating guitar riff, but in the background (and in one ear only) a second guitar plays a strange rythym section of individual notes, each cut off at the end by a beat of silence, making it almost behave like a second (and rogue) drummer. Why? We don't know - but it is good.

Or in "Fallen Angel", which starts out with a weird, almost techno-synth sound that would come to dominate later efforts like 1983's "The Revolution By Night". Instead of overstaying its welcome, this sound instead effortlessly morphs into a straight ahead rock and roll song, occasionally resurfacing just enough to keep you interested. The song both lyrically and musically was written for driving fast and free with the wind in your hair. Hearing it reminded me why BOC is still popular at motorcycle events; their music is made for it:

"From the dust I rose on high
Thunder cloud in a two-lane sky
From the world I did rebel
A fallen angel

Highway lust was in my blood
No girl could ever take my love
Cold and cruel and then I fell
A fallen angel."

"Cultosaurus Erectus" is everything a good Blue Oyster Cult album should be. When you first hear it, you mistake it for straightforward high quality hard rock, but the more you listen to it, the more you'll realize just how much they expirement, and how many risks they take - all the while making it work.

Or to borrow a little motorcycle imagery - they throw themselves a lot of curves in the road, but they don't slow down for any of them - they just lean over and power through.

Best tracks: Black Blade, Monsters, Fallen Angel, Lips In the Hills, Unknown Tongue

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