Saturday, October 23, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1513: Budgie

A combination of long workdays and a busy social calendar meant that I spent a lot more time getting to know this next record than it probably warranted. Here’s what I discovered.

Disc 1513 is….  If I Were Britannia I’d Waive the Rules

Artist: Budgie

Year of Release: 1976

What’s up with the Cover? As usual, Budgie gives us a bird-themed cover. Here we have some budgie-people locked in a space battle. They’re armed with rockets, which is pretty cool but they’re going to find their maneuverability limited given wings don’t work in the vacuum of space.

Also of note, the budgie in the middle has clearly been working out. Check out the bubble butt on that bird. I mean…squawk!

How I Came To Know It: My buddy Spence initially introduced me to Budgie, but these later records are me just digging through their catalogue.

How It Stacks Up: I have seven Budgie albums. One of them has to be my least favourite, and this one is it.

Ratings: 2 stars but almost 3

It’s rare for a band’s sixth album have the same magic as their previous five. There are exceptions to the rule, yes, but “If I Were Britannia I’d Waive the Rules” (hereafter referred to as “Britannia”) is not one of them.

All the usual ingredients for a good Budgie record are present. There are innovative guitar riffs counterbalanced with creative drumbeats and shifting prog-rock melodic structures. Like Rush, Budgie songs often feel like the band gets bored halfway through and decides to graft on a whole new song. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

On “Britannia” it works a lot less than I’d like. A good example is the title track, which has a passably groovy guitar riff at the front, an even cooler (but different) guitar riff at the end and a whole lot of atmospheric filler in between them. Did it try my patience? Yes, reader, yes it did.

The album also has a bit more of a hippy dippy feel to some of the songs, as Budgie feels the influence of mellow mid-seventies radio rock going on around them. “You’re Opening Doors” even has a bit of jazz flute which was entirely unwelcome.

The band loves long and weird song titles, often inserting dad jokes and puns for good measure. “Britannia” has plenty of this, starting with the clever word swap in the title track. The worst offender is “Anne Neggen” which I think is them having a laugh at how the chorus of “and again! And again!” could be interpreted as a woman’s name. It is the kind of joke that is funny at 2 a.m. when you are still at the studio, a few joints in and feeling loopy. It is not the kind of joke that translates to the audience. Is it as bad as the risible “Napoleon Bona Parts 1 & 2” from “Bandolier”? Not quite, but close.

The best of the “weird title” songs is “Quacktors and Bureaucrats” which has a chugging bass line, and while it has about four different movements, they all fit together nicely, aided at critical junctures by the best friend of seventies rock, the cowbell.

While “Quacktors and Bureaucrats” is carefully planned and arranged, other songs like “Sky High Percentage” feel like a rock and blues band jamming at the bar. Their jamming at a high level, but that kind of experience isn’t my…er…jam. See that, Budgie? You’re not the only one who can force a little word play.

After a terribly schmaltzy “Heaven Knows Our Name” where Budgie tries (and fails) to get romantic, the album ends with “Black Velvet Stallion”. This song is glorious. It is a third dreamy and diffuse, a third crunching guitar, and a third “let the rhythm section hit ‘em” and it rolls through these iterations in a wheel of awesome for its full eight plus minutes.

My best guess is this song is about Budgie ruminating on one of those seventies black velvet paintings of a horse. A rather hilarious and of-its-time notion, made more awesome by deep thoughts like this:

“Black velvet stallion you're my child
Flower of tenderness growing wild
Look through my wilderness
No one would ever guess you're me
What I am seeing is me”

Don’t worry, boys; the drugs will wear off in a few hours and it’ll just be a painting of a horse again.

As over the top as it is, “Black Velvet Stallion” ends the record on a high note. Or at least it should. My version is once again one of those mid-oughts remastered copies, that features 2006 versions of both “You’re Opening Doors” and “Black Velvet Stallion”. These later recordings of the originals add nothing to the record, other than infuriating me. When I listen to “Britannia” outside of the “full listen, monkey” requirements, these are mercifully excluded from the experience. Even here after the one obligatory run through, I decided to…ahem…waive the rules.

The real question is, am I going to keep this album or let it go? I waffled considerably on this, and I expect if I’d had a couple fewer listens I’d probably have let it go. Instead, despite its faults it grew on me, which I’m taking as a good sign for the future.

Best tracks: about half of “If I Were Britannia I’d Waive the Rules”, Quacktors and Bureaucrats, Black Velvet Stallion

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