Saturday, December 6, 2014

CD Odyssey Disc 685: Blue Oyster Cult

I was out a bit later than I intended last night, and while I had a fun time hanging out with my buddy Andrew talking music, I got home late and promptly fell asleep, missing out on an evening with my wife, which sucked.

However, Saturday is here, and while it is a bit rainy, I’m off work, and I just got home from walking around town with my girl, so all is right with the world. We were doing Christmas shopping so I am filled with all kinds of holiday cheer. Yeehaw! I can’t wait to finish her shopping, by which point I’ll be so cheerful I’ll be insufferable (I do insufferably cheerful really well).

Disc 685 is…. Mirrors
Artist: Blue Oyster Cult

Year of Release: 1979

What’s up with the Cover?  This is fairly self-explanatory – a mirror. Inside the mirror we get to see the album title reflected backwards. In 1979 this was what was known as “special effects”. Also, the ubiquitous BOC symbol appears at bottom centre.

Observant viewers will also see some chopped text in the bottom left. That’s because my version of this CD is a “collector’s choice” reissue, which means it has a thick tan border around the original album art with two hideously ugly “Collector’s Choice” logos in the top two corners. I opted for the more traditional look.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known (and loved) this album since it first came out, when my brother bought it. I was nine.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 11 studio albums of Blue Oyster Cult, which is every album from their 1972 debut through to 1989’s “Imaginos.” “Mirrors” is really good, and in many ways in a statistical tie with “Agents of Fortune” and “Cultosaurus Erectus.” However, since I’ve already given those albums spots 5 and 6, so I’ll put “Mirrors” in at 7th best overall.

Rating: 4 stars

There are some Blue Oyster Cult fans that dismiss “Mirrors” as a mistake; an aberration that somehow dropped itself between classics like “Spectres” and “Cultosaurus Erectus.” Even the Blue Oyster Cult homepage refers to “Mirrors” as a ‘debacle’. I’m here to tell you that all those people are wrong.

The album starts out like you would expect from a Blue Oyster Cult album, with a crunchy guitar groove on “Dr. Music” a song about rocking out, and little else. It would be at home on their earlier efforts if it weren’t for the odd decision to put a chorus girls singing in the background. One of those decisions that likely offended BOC purists, but I’m a BOC purist and I liked it. “Dr. Music” is the only song on the record the band plays in concert anymore, which is disappointing.

The next track gets the band going back to the prog roots, with “The Great Sun Jester,” a sci fi song about a Michael Moorcock novel called “The Fire Clown.” Like the novel, the song is a lot of tragic, with a healthy sprinkling of bat-shit crazy. As I kid I absolutely loved this song and thirty-five years later I love it every bit as much as the first time I heard it.

The Great Sun Jester” is one-half mournful ballad, with Buck Dharma gently plucking a tune that is almost folk-like in its construction, and one half rock anthem about a space traveler grounded at last, and left ‘cold and sane’ after a period of wondrous insanity in the vast dark between worlds.

The album has other very progressive tracks as well, notably “Moon Crazy” (with a rare lead vocal from bassist Joe Bouchard) and “The Vigil” which has some of Dharma’s sweetest, most underappreciated rock guitar, shifting between blues-rock, proto-metal crunch and alien space opera, as the song shifts artfully around without ever getting lost. “The Vigil” also features the important prog element of lyrics that make you wonder what the hell the band is going on about, to wit:

“Well I’m no poet
But I can’t be fooled
The lies don’t count
The whispers do
I hear the whispers on the wind
They say the earth has fallen due”

This is what BOC traditionalists would have been looking for, but “Mirrors” also has a lot of songs that are more light and jangly. These songs are strongly rooted in early rock and roll and doo wop. It isn’t all that surprising, when you consider the band’s age. These guys were all born in the mid to late 1940s, and would have grown up with that music.

“Mirrors” shares vocal duties out a lot more evenly than other albums, with main lead singer Eric Bloom only singing on three tracks, guitarist Buck Dharma getting four, Joe Bouchard getting the one I noted earlier and his brother, drummer Albert even getting in on the act with the very fifties love ballad “You’re Not The One (I Was Looking For)”.

Buck Dharma is particularly drawn to these styles, and sings the absolutely beautiful ‘I’m missing you’ song, “In Thee.” When you hear “In Thee” you get the sense the band was looking for a mainstream crossover hit. To me that’s no crime. The real crime is that “In Thee” peaked at a tepid #74. It is a beautiful little song, with thoughtful lyrics, a great mix of sharp strumming and guitar flourishes, and Dharma’s high and airy voice carrying the day as he muses about bad timing and missed lovers:

“Maybe I’ll see you again, baby
And maybe I won’t
Maybe you bought your ticket gone back to Detroit
Aeroplanes make strangers of us all
Give us distance
Much too easily”

The album’s title track is another should-have-been classic that has stood the test of time, despite an unfortunate bell (not cowbell) in the middle of the production.

The mix of doo wop and prog rock (Prog Wop?) shouldn’t work, but if you open your mind to it, it really holds up. The album is very tight, with only nine songs clocking in at 36 minutes and when it is over it leaves you wanting more (hence me giving it so many repeat listens.

“Mirrors” is missing some of the crunch of other BOC albums, but it has a beauty all its own. I’d love to hear it re-mastered, but sadly the band stopped releasomg re-masters with “Spectres” and has never got to their later records. If they feel a bit embarrassed by the pop flavour on “Mirrors” they shouldn’t be. This is a deeply underrated album.

Best tracks: The Great Sun Jester, In Thee, Mirrors, The Vigil, I Am the Storm, You’re Not the One (I Was Looking For)

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