Wednesday, July 18, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1159: Blue Oyster Cult

I’m back a bit late from a delightful night playing board games, but determined to get in another music review before I hit the hay. Here it is!

Disc 1159 is… The Revolution by Night
Artist: Blue Oyster Cult

Year of Release: 1983

What’s up with the Cover? A lonely stretch of highway is lit by futuristic lampposts…and by frickin’ lightning bolts! As ever the game with a Blue Oyster Cult album cover is to find their symbol hidden somewhere in the art.

How I Came To Know It: I knew this album since my brother bought it back in 1983.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 11 of Blue Oyster Cult’s studio albums. In a very strong field, “The Revolution by Night” comes in at #10.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

The year before “The Revolution by Night” came out Blue Oyster Cult’s lead guitarist Buck Dharma had taken a short hiatus and recorded a solo project. That record (reviewed back at Disc 1123) had a lot of eighties influences and Buck took those back to the band upon his return.

While “The Revolution by Night” still showcases some solid songwriting, this eighties production takes some of the punch out of the songs. Heavy synth sound and fuzz drown down Dharma’s guitar solos and everything feels a little distant. Distant is not what you want in progressive hard rock but even turning the volume up 20% higher I still found  it hard to draw much thump out of these songs.

Fortunately, there are songs so glorious that no amount of fuzz can hold them back, including the opening track. “Take Me Away” features a killer guitar riff, and a chugging powerful rhythm. Also, it features a plea to be abducted by aliens so, you know, standard Blue Oyster Cult fare.

Shadow of California” has a majestic dread, including some solid drumming from newcomer Rick Downey (the song was co-written by ex-Alice Cooper drummer Neal Smith so drumming is it is no surprise drumming is a big part of the song). Downey plays well but the record is definitely missing a bit of magic without Albert Bouchard on the kit. BOC’s original lineup had a special alchemy, and any missing member affects the whole.

Still, with its hell-choir backing vocals and haunted-abbey organ playing, “Shadow of California” is the personification of foreboding.  You just know something frightening is coming. It isn’t clear what – just some buried evil at the cloverleaf junction. I suspect vampires. With a BOC song, vampires are always a good bet. But I digress…

Feel the Thunder” is another haunted motorcycle song akin to “Golden Age of Leather” (off 1977’s “Spectres”) but it isn’t as good and again, the production cuts into the heaviness of the song.

Every now and then the eighties production is put to good use. “Shooting Shark” has an eighties drum sound, mixed well with organ and Buck Dharma’s high and airy vocals. It is all a bit light, but it works up there in the wispy cirrus. This song is co-written by Dharma and Patti Smith, and their talents mesh well. Dharma is the hopeless romantic, and Smith lends an element of carnival excess, but both believe in magic and it shows. Amid its seven-plus minutes of excess and atmosphere even the saxophone solo is passable, although I think I would have preferred Dharma’s guitar at that moment.

This record also sees BOC following on their (relative) commercial success of “Fire of Unknown Origin.” All that stadium rock may have gone a little to their heads on “Let Go”. As a kid, I thought “Let Go” was the most awesome anthem ever, as I pumped my fist to:

You can be whatever you wanna be
You got the power, we got the key
Yeah, B…O…C”

OK, it’s silly but back in the day those lyrics seemed infused with sorcerous power, like I could summon the band into the living room just by singing along. Now the whole thing seems rather silly. I won’t say it is a good song, but it is a good memory and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that under all that silliness a kernel of that old magic remains every time I hear it. For 3:25 I felt like I was part of the band.

The album ends with a Joe Bouchard vocal on “Light Years of Love.” Bouchard is the weakest singer, but he does a good job here. In fact, until I looked it up I just assumed it was Buck Dharma. The song has some crazy flamenco guitar playing inexplicably mixed in with Bowie-like space opera effects and lyrics full of astronomical imagery. It is wild and wacky and more than a little cheesy, but it’s done well if you give it a chance.

Even though “The Revolution By Night” is the beginning of BOC’s fracturing as a band, it is fascinating to hear their sound still evolving. The production notes are mostly off, but the songs are still vibrant and ambitious. There were plenty of ghosts, vampires and space aliens to keep the 13-year old me happy when I first heard it, and years later I still find magic in this record.

Best tracks: Take Me Away, Shooting Shark, Shadow of California, Light Years of Love

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Shadow of California is hands down my favorite BOC track.