Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Night Songs - Cinderella

Provenance: When I was eighteen I went to see Blue Oyster Cult at The Brook in Southampton. I distinctly recall seeing a rather statuesque young lady alone in the crowd, and being both a) a bit cocky and b) entirely oblivious to the notion that she might not want to speak to me, I went over and introduced myself. She was a first-year student at the local university and, as it turned out, welcomed a chat as none of her peers had answered the call to see 'the Cult' live. We talked music, and it turned out she was especially enthused on a band called Cinderella, particularly a chap called Eric Brittingham.

I didn't get anywhere beyond talking about our mutual enjoyment of rock music as I suspect that sharing the same number of syllables in our names was about the only thing I and Mr Brittingham had in common.

Wind the tape forwards a few years and you'll find me sat in my tent checking the schedule at Sweden Rock Festival. Ahoy hoy, what's this? Cinderella playing a late afternoon 'cold beer' slot? Was I going to check them out? Too bloomin' right! And yeah, Cinderella were cool even though Tom Keifer had a goddamn baby voice.

Review: From looks alone one would reflexively lump Cinderella in with the spandex 'n' Aquanet glam metal mob. And indeed, there are certainly a few signifiers of that era present on Night Songs - noise-gated drums, trebly guitars, wailin' vocals. Yet that only tells half the story - because on this album, you can hear the serious intent of solid blues-rock musicians trapped within the glittery carapace of butt-rock dandies.

Unfortunately, this is the album's fatal flaw. Although Night Songs contains some great songs and sterling performances, it is hamstrung by a gauzy production job courtesy of Andy Johns. It's not as if Johns is a bad producer - he helmed the desk on Television's Marquee Moon after all - but I can only conclude that here he was making a misguided attempt to keep up with the zeitgeist. A strange decade, the 1980s; you had albums that sound immaculate - better than anything being produced in the present day (Sade's Diamond Life, Donald Fagen's The Nightfly, hell let's thrown ABC's Lexicon of Love into the mix too) - but for every bejewelled wonder you also had about three albums that sound like a clutch of synthesizers rattling around the bottom of a shipping container.

The good news is that the rather enervated production can't hide the quality of tracks like the rambunctious 'Shake Me' ("aaaAAAalll night!") and the monumental 'Nobody's Fool'. It's interesting to note that instead of a shack-shaker to kick off the collection, whoever sequenced Night Songs opted for the moody prowler 'Night Songs', a track very much in the mould of AC/DC's 'Hell's Bells'. A freaking bell even chimes during the intro, and it doesn't escape notice that Keifer is singing in the same range of a certain Brian Johnson of, er, AC/DC; shurely shome coincidensh?

It sags a little in the middle with 'Once Around the Ride' and 'Hell On Wheels', two generic rockers that would've sounded more than passable if they had some balls. Was glam metal one big emasculation fever dream? Lots of castrati-high vocalising and gender-bending raiment all in the service of men aggressively asserting their masculinity via some of the most sexist lyrics ever yelped into a microphone? I don't know where I'm going with this.

If you aren't disposed to like either heavy rock or freeze-dried production jobs you're not going to find Night Songs particularly palatable, but you might be able to look past its obvious faults and glimpse the promise of something quite wonderful. Also, when I mentioned 'blues-rock' in the fourth paragraph, I am of course talking about blues rock in its whitest iteration; there's nary a whiff of the Mississippi Delta about Night Songs. But an album that burns down the home stretch with pulsing dandruff-looseners like 'Somebody Save Me', 'In From the Outside' and the mighty 'Push Push' deserves respect. Good stuff all in all, but Eric Brittingham can do one.

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