Monday, June 4, 2012

CD Odyssey Disc 405: Budgie

Well, it is Monday and I’ve survived my birthday weekend.  Many thanks to all those folks who took the time to survive it with me.

I’m now off for a week of holidays (yay!) and plan to get a good chunk of writing done on my next novel.  For now, however, I’ll stick with the next album review in the CD Odyssey.

Disc 405 is…Squawk
Artist: Budgie

Year of Release: 1972

What’s Up With The Cover?:  Budgie has the best album covers because they know what the art world needs more of; fantastic drawings featuring giant budgies or creatures with giant budgie heads grafted onto their bodies.  I couldn’t believe how little of this stuff we saw on our recent trip to the Louvre.

“Squawk’s” cover is a jet fighter – with a giant budgie head at the front end.  There are many ways to make awesome art, and the decision to put a budgie head on the front of a jet is definitely one of them.

How I Came To Know It: As I’ve noted in prior Budgie reviews, I got to know this band through my buddy Spence, who has an incredible depth of knowledge when it comes to seventies hard rock (and many other things besides – musical and otherwise).

How It Stacks Up:  I have five Budgie albums.  I like all of them, but I’m going to put Squawk 4th out of the 5 in a tough field.

Rating: 3 stars, but close to 4.

“Squawk” is a poor name for this album, which is probably the least ‘squawky’ and most ‘rocky’ album of the five Budgie albums I’ve heard.

To quickly recap for those few people who have not religiously read my previous two Budgie reviews, these guys are a hard rocking trio from England that make heavy hard rock.  They sound like a cross between Rush, Black Sabbath and very early Judas Priest.  Or in other words, they sound great.

“Squawk” has all the usual things you expect on a Budgie album.  First and foremost, are the riff-heavy compositions.  These guys write great rock guitar riffs, and this is on full display from the very first track, “Whiskey River.”  “Whiskey River” sounds like an amped up blues classic, but I couldn’t find any indication that it is anything other than a Budgie original.  Sounding like a timeless classic, by definition, makes a song a timeless classic, and “Whiskey River” is a great song that at only 3:22 leaves you wanting more.

Other rock classics on the album include “Rocking Man” which strongly reminded me of Rush’ debut album.  Partly because it is such great rock and roll, and partly because it is mildly goofy in places, and not afraid to wink and nod at you that the boys in the band had a good time composing it.

Lyrically, “Rocking Man” annoyed me however, with some of the stupidest lyrics I’ve ever heard.  The worst example is probably the overwrought “Just like a hammer, well I hammer a song.”  Hammers don’t hammer songs, Budgie .  “To hammer out a song” would be the metaphor – by adding a second simile into the sentence, you left me with the impression that you literally took a hammer to a song, which makes no frickin’ sense, unless you’ve taken one too many hammers to your head.

These rock songs still hold their own against other albums of theirs that I prefer, but in other areas “Squawk” is just a tiny bit weaker.

For example, their albums also always feature soft, sixties inspired hippie rock.  Budgie is quite proud of the fact that their records have a lot of range, and I like that as well.  In this way they are like a better version of more recent acts like Black Mountain (another band I like, and even Canadian!)

However, the softer side of Budgie on Squawk isn’t the same level as some of the songs on their other albums.  “Make Me Happy” is a little too Rod Stewart for my tastes, and while the more ambitious “Young Is a World” is much better, it is also a bit rambling near the end where it needs to wrap up.  I prefer the meandering “Parents” from 1973’s “Never Turn Your Back on A Friend” when I want to meander.

Every Budgie album has two more staple offerings:  the epic, overlong rock song and at least one bizarrely titled proto-progressive song.

For the epic, “Squawk” offers up “Stranded” which is a little short (for Budgie’s standards) at 6:21.  “Stranded” has a collection of fine riffs, and some really heavy grooves that reminded me of Black Sabbath’s debut album.  It is an excellent track, although I’d have to put it slightly behind truly great Budgie epic songs including “Homicidal Suicidal,” “Breadfan” and “Zoom Club” all of which appear on other albums.

 The bizarrely titled song is “Hot as a Docker’s Armpit” which I think edges out “In The Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand,” “Crash Course In Brain Surgery” and “Nude Disintigrating Parachutist Woman” as best Budgie song title ever.  It was a tight race, but including the word ‘armpit’ in a song title put it over the top.

That said, “Hot as a Docker’s Armpit” falls apart a little in the chorus, after a very promising beginning.  The chorus is a staccato chant of the song title repeated two or three times in a way that seems hurried and artificially squeezed too tightly to fit into the space the tune allows.  Here, Budgie could learn from Rush, who always manage to put Neil Peart’s sometimes difficult lyrics into a song in a way that makes them feel natural – even if they have to change the time signature three times while doing it.  Instead, I get the impression that Budgie just fell in love with a catchy expression, and then tried to contort the rest of the song to fit it in.

Overall, “Squawk” is the most bluesy of all Budgie’s records, and among fans is regarded as one of their better albums.  I really love it as well, and it came close to scoring four stars with me.  It’s only sin is that I prefer a few other Budgie albums more, but that doesn’t stop me from often picking it off the shelf and giving it a listen.

Best tracks: Whiskey River, Rocking Man, Stranded.

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Wow. Never heard of these guys. May have to check some out!