Tuesday, March 1, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 838: Blue Oyster Cult

As Kris Kristofferson once wrote, I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. I thought it was a hangover on Sunday and through the day Monday, but by Monday night I realized the hangover was gone but my head still hurt. Now I’m just sick, which I suppose is an improvement.

Disc 838 is….Imaginos
Artist: Blue Oyster Cult

Year of Release: 1988

What’s up with the Cover? Behold the Gothic horror of 19th century New England! I love everything about this cover. Lightning storms, old mansions on the edges of cliffs and (while you can’t see it) a tall ship parked off a reef at night on the inside of the jacket.

How I Came To Know It: Blue Oyster Cult has always been one of my favourite bands and has become the default house band for me in adulthood. I bought this album soon after leaving home and realizing I could no longer easily borrow my brother’s copy. Like most BOC, I have it on both vinyl and CD.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 11 of Blue Oyster Cult’s studio albums. “Imaginos” is an awesome record, but this is an awesome band and it could only manage ninth place overall.

Ratings: 4 stars

Not unlike the story it tells, “Imaginos” is an album out of step with its time.

For a band that was always masterful at recounting strange tales, Blue Oyster Cult released their heavy concept album “Imaginos,” - full of progressive arrangements and otherworldly fancy - at a time ruled by vacuous hair metal and eighties synth pop. Not surprisingly the world wasn’t ready for it, and it tanked commercially. Well the world can go to hell; I’ve loved this album since the first time I heard it and I still love it.

The album comes on the heels of one of BOC’s worst efforts, the synth driven “Club Ninja” but is unlike that album in almost every way. Where “Club Ninja” is airy and artificial, “Imaginos” has its feet grounded in hard progressive rock that we Blue Oyster Cultists had been longing for.

So what changed? Principally it was the return of drummer and songwriter Albert Bouchard. BOC is one of those bands where all the band members get involved on the songwriting and the resulting creative range is one of the things that makes the band great. They are more than the sum of their parts. Albert Bouchard brings the creepy and weird to the music, and “Imaginos” is his baby, which he began giving birth to in the mid-seventies.

In fact one of the tracks, “Astronomy,” was first released on 1974’s “Secret Treaties” but don’t make the mistake of thinking that makes this record a rehash of old material. If anything, “Astronomy” fits as well here as it does on that classic early album.

The rest of the record is all new material (or at least newly released) worked on while Bouchard was out of Blue Oyster Cult for most of the eighties, and then adding the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired lyrics of producer Sandy Pearlman. The subject always reminds me of the Lovecraft story “Shadow Over Innsmouth” about a small town in league with an evil aquatic race. However, the liner notes for “Imaginos” indicates its own crazy mythology spanning hundreds of years of arcane experiences, creatures from other worlds, time portals and mythical artifacts.

Is Pearlman’s poetry beautiful? Sometimes, such as these lines from “Magna of Illusion”:

“Cornwall and the harbor
Where witches went mad more than once and
Until this day
In dreams at least
The lighthouse at Lost Christabel
Squat and hugely tilts
Upon the strand where Grandad’s house was built”

And other times it is just bizarre like these from “Blue Oyster Cult”:

“Recall the dream of Luxor
How fluids will arrive
As if by call or schedule
Resume through the morning tide
Where entry is by seaweed gate
And plan the plan of dreams
To lose oneself in reverb
In all that is and all that seems”

Yes the song is called the same thing as the band and yes dreaming of Luxor and entering by the seaweed gate is all a bit weird. Nevertheless, when combined with Bouchard’s musical accompaniment and the band’s masterful playing it all makes sense. You will lose yourself in reverb just like the lyrics suggest.

And musically, this album rocks hard. Sure it has song after song that is six to eight minutes long and saddled with titles like “The Seige and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Weisseria” but those songs undeniably rock. “The Seige and (etc.)” even has lead guitar licks from Joe Satriani, although personally I’ll take Buck Dharma’s guitar over Satriani any day.

The sheer crunch on this record on tracks like “I Am The One You Warned Me Of” are worth the price of admission. Couple that with the weird glory of  “Les Invisibles,” “Magna of Illusion” (complete with breathless radio play-like dialogue) and the rock anthem of “Astronomy” that refused to get old, and you’ve got a record that may be crazy, but is also crazy-good.

The title track, “Imaginos” is the only one that truly lets me down, feeling a bit like a show tune or the kind of song that plays over the credits of the movie instead of feeling like it was part of the tale.

Still, you can tell simply from the overflow of guest musicians on this record that BOC was well remembered in 1988, and “Imaginos” shows that they had one more truly great album in them before they embarked on the Tour Without End (where they remain to this day). And no, that is not a euphemism for death (except in the case of Lanier, bless his soul). They are just seriously still on tour. And I’ll go every damn time I can and every time I will live in hope they’ll pull out a track or two from “Imaginos.” It is not their best album but it is one of their bravest and most thoughtful.

Best tracks:  I Am The One You Warned Me Of, Les Invisibles, The Seige and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Weisseria, Astronomy, Magna of Illusion, Blue Oyster Cult

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