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8 February 2010

Blue Öyster Cult (Columbia)

I love staring into the three point perspective of this album cover. The way everything tapers into the fake occult symbol, recalling question mark, crucifix and swastika - the three most essential symbols of humanity right? And the strangely repetitive geometric architecture, mirrored on the back by a set of railroad tracks. If I were Greil Marcus or some other great pontificator I could probably draw allusions to 'Mystery Train' or the underground railroad or something, but really I just see this as motion. This is a band with an idea, with direction, and yet there's something vaguely sinister about it all. Opening up your debut album with a song about Altamont certainly makes it clear which of rock's spiritual forces you intend to draw on; what I also think BOC's whole shtick suggests (at least early on) is some sort of fascistic undertone to rock and roll. After all, something can light 'Cities on Flame' and you can burn down the Reichstag too. Or maybe that's just what I think when I see umlauts. If you actually pronounce the Ö, well, it sounds fucking stupid so that was obviously mean to look cool, but not sound cool. The music, well, it's awesome riffage from start to finish, with a few weird stylistic bumps that shows these guys haven't found their footing yet. 'Redeemed' has an edge of Vegas crooner to it, and 'She's as Beautiful as a Foot', while great, feels more akin to Christian cult-rock, the type that's been the reissue rage lately. Thank Richard Meltzer for that. This is a somewhat manufactured band though, and the vaguely fascistic imagery I think also suggests a less individualist approach to rock music than the classic big names of the Stones, the Who, etc. None of these guys ever becamse a household name, right? Even after they landed a few hit songs years down the road, knowing the name of Joe Bouchard is more likely to win you a pub quiz than a spot in typical 'rock' conversation. Eric Bloom sings on almost every song with this weird raspy echo behind his voice, and the guitars all have a pretty similar crunch at least until side 2. Keyboards are there, ocasionally in a Doorsy way ('Before the Kiss, a Redcap') but usually felt not heard. And the album in general feels like an album. This is AOR, after all, a term that probably didn't exist yet by this point but here's a record to lead you to it. I remembered 'Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll' being a much better song than it actually is, but I totally forgot about the greatness of 'Workshop of the Telescopes'. True story - when I was really young, like 12, there was something that made me uncomfortable about the idea of this band and I hoped I would never actually hear them. Years later I found the first three albums all at once and I've never regretted that purchase, not even once. Rock music plus theatrics can walk a thin line but these guys are all hints and suggestions, and they deliver the goods as a band too. It's weird how they are sorta manufactured -- what's the 00s equivalent, the Strokes?

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