Sunday, 29 May 2016

Spectres - Blue Oyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult looking like legends on the front of the Spectres album
Provenance: I'd heard '(Don't Fear) The Reaper' on a rock compilation my dad bought and instantly declared it to be the best song ever written. So when I came across this in a secondhand shop for a fiver I had to buy it.

Review: Between the ages of about 15 to somewhere in my mid-twenties, Blue Oyster Cult were my life. I've seen them more than any other act. I have all their albums. I even interviewed bassist Joe Bouchard for my school newspaper. Between BOC, Championship Manager and active membership of an eFed, that I even so much as kissed a member of the opposite sex during this period is incredible.

The catalyst of '...Reaper' aside, this is where it all began for me. I am a callow youth with ten whole pounds to spend when I spy this in the racks. By this point it is already established that these hombres are responsible for the greatest song of all time. The album cover confirms my initial suspicion that BOC are the baddest band on the planet. There they are, hanging out in some weird badly-lit occult library, dressed to the nines and looking nonchalant because they're always holding cool seances and pissing off the cat with manifestations of ectoplasm and the like. The sleeve artwork alone should've guaranteed platinum status.

Now, some critics think Spectres is where BOC started the nosedive into generic pop-rock pabulum, one that would only be arrested momentarily by Fire of Unknown Origin. Some locate the tipping point as side two of Agents of Fortune. As a fan I completely understand, and objectively I might consider the first four studio discs to be the band's best output. But Spectres was special - like a first beer, or the first time you win promotion to Division One with AFC Bournemouth on Championship Manager 2. How do you go about explaining that magic?

Fortunately, the album kicks off with a true Cult classic - 'Godzilla', a song so potent that I was once assaulted on stage for playing the solo like a complete badass. If you're looking for the skittery, twisted mysticism of earlier BOC then look elsewhere - this had a big, dumb riff, lyrics about the scaly rogue terrorising downtown Tokyo and a Japanese spoken word section that I always had to do because nobody else in my band could remember how it went. Racer X do a splendid cover. It's difficult to resist a chorus hook that goes 'Oh no! There goes Tokyo!'

Other highlights, in order(ish): BOC were never much of a 'ballad' kind of band (and often not great when they gave them a shot) but 'Death Valley Nights' is up there as one of my favourite tracks they ever did. 'Golden Age of Leather' features buzzsaw guitars and a male voice choir to kick off proceedings. Meanwhile, the lilting arpeggios of 'Fireworks' propel the song towards one of Buck Dharma's best solos; I believe Jason Newsted said Dharma's playing was "like hot needles in your ears", which is brilliant but doesn't quite capture the agility and fluency that made his playing so distinctive.

Side two contains 'Celestial The Queen', which sounds like a Blue Oyster Cult / Electric Light Orchestra mash-up, and yet another decent ballad(!!) in 'I Love The Night', a stately attempt at ethereality which mostly comes off. My favourite moment comes in the form of the schlocky vampire yarn 'Nosferatu'; I find it hard to dislike any song that begins with the line 'Deep in the heart of Germany, Lucy clutched her breast in fear'. Canny stuff.

If I allow myself some critical distance, this is the album where the filler creeps in. The cod funk of 'Searchin' For Celine' never gripped me despite its clever lyrical allusions whilst 'Goin' Through The Motions' is a good example of nominative determinism. I've heard other fans slating the Capek-inspired 'R U Ready 2 Rock' as a bit one-note and generic but it's really grown on me over the years. Plus the title is indisputable proof that Prince, like all good people, was a huge fan of 'the Cult'.

Compared to other analyses, I'm only landing glancing blows. There are fans out there who truly count Spectres as a disappointment, or even a betrayal to BOC's roots. I could never be so hard on an album I've listened to countless times, one that set me off on a journey to fandom (and beyond) and most importantly, one that unfailingly evokes the most pleasurable of memories.

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