Tuesday, April 25, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1638: Jimi Hendrix

Upon arriving at home today there was a CD in the mail! While my favourite way to buy albums is from my local record store (support local business!) there is also something fun about ordering things that arrive at random times days or weeks later. A little delayed gratification of the musical variety.

Today’s arrival was the new album from the Brother Brothers. Last week two Rick James and a Pat Benatar arrived (I was feeling old school). Some of these old albums can be hard to get on CD, and often the way they become available is through Japanese re-issues. For whatever reason Japan continues to embrace the CD. Yay, Japan!

Disc 1638 is…Axis: Bold as Love

Artist: Jimi Hendrix

Year of Release: 1967

What’s up with the Cover?  My edition of “Axis” Bold as Love” had two covers. One was a Giant Head cover, with Jimi looking all mysterious and artful. The other side of the booklet was the original art, which features a bunch of Indian religious iconography. According to Wikipedia (which as we know is never wrong) Jimi was disappointed in the Indian-inspired art, and so out of respect for his memory, I’ve opted for the Giant Head version.

If you want to see the original (warning – as noted above, this version takes liberties with Hindu religious iconography, so only look with that understanding), you can see it here

How I Came To Know It: Sheila doesn’t buy many albums, but many years ago she did a deep dive into Jimi Hendrix, buying all three of his classic albums. I’m glad she did!

How It Stacks Up: As just noted, we have all three of Jimi Hendrix’s studio albums. My friend Randall insists that “Axis: Bold as Love” is the best of these. With apologies to Randall, I rank it…third. Hopefully the fact that I still liked it a lot will salve any resulting offence.

Rating: 4 stars

There were many times listening to “Axis: Bold as Love” where I felt singularly unqualified to write about it. There is just too much going on here that I don’t fully understand. My musical vocabulary falls short. In summary this record is a panoply of musical styles and influences that leaves no stone unturned.

In lesser hands this “do whatever” attitude would have created a hot mess, but Jimi’s brilliance steers all the craziness safely home. His ecstatic love of music manages to fuse high art with the power of rock, then liberally sprinkling the resulting concoction with groove-juice. The result is a tossed salad of musical inspiration, heavily dressed.

It would be easy to focus on Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar. “Spanish Castle Magic” has reverb crunch and a perfect riff (and later an exquisite solo) and “Wait Until Tomorrow” has a light funky groove that shows Jimi can take any style and make it to his own.

Later Jimi will work a sixties hippy vibe on tunes like “You Got Me Floatin’” where he channels early Kinks and the Who and then brushes his guitar mastery all over the tune. Hendrix’s compositions are like an Impressionist painting of what rock and roll sounds like. It isn’t any single distinct image, or even collection of images, but the whole pastiche leaves you with something greater than the sum of its parts.

The record also features one of my favourite Hendrix tunes, “Castles Made of Sand”. If there is a better song about how the random universe can sometimes suck, I can’t think of it. This tune is a bummer about how things don’t always work out and where everything emphatically does not happen for a reason. That’s OK though. The song may make you confront an uncaring universe, but never was that meaninglessness groovier.

The album is not perfect, mostly because as brilliant as Jimi is, sometimes he’s too clever for his own good. The opening skit “EXP” is a goofy exploration of “alien appears on a radio station”. Ten years later the Carpenters would make this idea work (kind-of) on their cover of “Calling Occupants” but Hendrix’s “EXP” is before its time in a not-good way.

Also, some of the songs descend into a noodle so overcooked that even Jimi can’t get it to stick to the wall. Case in point is the overrated “If 6 was 9”. The first half of this song is all kinds of awesome, and vintage Jimi. The second half is a Doors-worthy journey into self wankery, culminating in some sort of flute/whistle that sounds like someone throttling a songbird. Proof that even the great Jimi Hendrix can overdo it.

However, that is a very small moment in what is overall a very great record by someone who helped change rock and roll for the better. Thanks for all the awesome stuff, Jimi. This record is bold as love, and I’d have it no other way.

Best tracks: Spanish Castle Magic, Wait Until Tomorrow, Castles Made of Sand, One Rainy Wish, Little Miss Lover

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