Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 269: Prism

I've known this album for so many years, I thought I'd done everything while hearing it, but last night I was surprised.

That's because last night I lost my job. Or in my business it would be more precise to say, someone took my job (occupational hazard). Anyway, hardly the experience I wanted to add to the listening list. Since it can't be changed now, and I have a review to write, the following is my best effort to make lemonade from life's lemons.

Disc 269 is...Armageddon Artist: Prism

Year of Release: 1979

What’s Up With The Cover?: An unsuspecting city lies in the background, in a time-lapsed blur. Unbeknownst to its inhabitants a giant PRISM has fallen from the skies - bringing with it the eldritch power of synth-rock. Or it is a cursed item, bringing the same thing. Either way, it is fixing to be a traffic hazard, and someone should probably mark it off with flares.

How I Came To Know It: I have known this album since it came out in 1979 and my brother bought it and brought it home. It has been a pleasure ever since - although in more recent years the guilty version.

How It Stacks Up: I only have this one Prism album, although I have a best of on tape called "60 Minutes With...Prism". I am familiar with another album of their's "Young and Restless" but I prefer "Armageddon.

Rating: 3 stars.

As I noted above, this album has been around with me most of my life. Prism is a Canadian band that had a modicum of success and a few hits in the Great White North back in the late seventies and early eighties. They are a blend of synth-pop and hard rock. It shouldn't work - and many would argue that it doesn't - but I say it does, and I'm steering this ship.

Of course, "Armageddon" is primarily known for its title track - an epic of rock/synth bombast approaching eight minutes in length that dominates the first half of the original record's B side. It opens with a bunch of jet fighter pilots talking jargon, then a synthesizer version of "God Save the Queen" before fully launching into a song about the Third World War, complete with horn section, harmony and synth runs. It features lines like

"U Boats off of New England
Enemy submarines (oh no!)
From Boston to Miami
On a red alert you better scramble all the F-15s"

The 'oh no' is delivered by some women back up singers sounding like they are more excited than aghast at the suggestion the world is about to end. This is followed by a guitar solo and more harmony singing of "Armageddon - carry me home..." over and over again.

It is the most ridiculous, over-the-top, excessive, over-reaching song ever written, and despite all of that, it is still totally awesome. It is so bad, it is good.

The rest of Side B is taken up with "Night To Remember" and "Mirror Man".

"Night to Remember" is a song for gettin' with your girl, seventies style. Very schmaltzy. Of course, when I heard it first I was nine, and had no notion of getting with a girl. I thought it was a song about two people on the Titanic. This, because at the time there was a book on the Titanic sinking called "Night To Remember." I tried to read it but it didn't grab me and I probably moved on to something like "Lord of the Rings."

"Mirror Man" is most notable for that strange device that allows someone to make their guitars sing words through some synth effect. I can't remember what that's called. The Framptometer? Anyway, at age nine I thought this was the height of cool, but my zeal has lessened considerably over the years.

Memo to bands of the late seventies/early eighties - if you are going to have your synthesizer speak words through your guitar, you better be singing about Elric of Melnibone and you better be Blue Oyster Cult.

OK, now that we have covered Side B's strangeness, I can reassure you that Side A is actually much more straightforward rock, and mostly pretty good. Prism can lay down a memorable riff when they want to, and the early-eighties production tries, but fails to ruin songs like "Coming Home", and "You Walked Away Again", neither of which were hits.

So yes, Prism is a guilty pleasure, but you'll note I restrained myself and gave it only 3 stars, despite the 5 star silliness that is "Armageddon". Also, if there are two songs to have in your head as you drive home from having lost your job, you could do worse than "Armageddon" and a song that reminds you of the Titanic.

Best tracks: Coming Home, You Walked Away Again, Armageddon


Sheila said...

That is NOT "God Save the Queen" at the beginning of "Armageddon" - it's some other bombast, but definitely NOT GSTQ.

I have listened to that song many, many times. Love it!

Blargor the Foresaken said...

And possibly one of the saddest deaths of any rock star ever.

As quoted from Wikipedia:
"Several former members of Prism were in the preliminary discussion stages of a Prism reunion in late 1984. Al Harlow and Ron Tabak had made plans to spend Christmas, 1984 together at Harlow's place. Tabak decided to cycle to Harlow's home on Christmas Eve as a way to get some exercise. This turned out to be poor judgment, as the roads were snow covered and he rode at night without a headlight and helmet. It is believed that on the way, Tabak was struck by a passing vehicle, fell and hit his head on the pavement. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where doctors did not detect anything wrong with him. Upon being released, Tabak abruptly became abusive, prompting two police officers at the hospital to arrest him on the belief he was drunk. He was later discovered unconscious in his jail cell and was rushed back to the hospital. A second examination discovered a blood clot had developed on the right side of his brain. Tabak died on Christmas Day 1984, before a pending neurosurgical operation could be performed.[5] Previously discussed plans for a Prism reunion were canceled, out of respect for Tabak's passing."