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Blue Oyster Cult
Columbia 31063
Released: May 1972
Chart Peak: #172
Weeks Charted: 8

Through a combination of circumstances, New York has never been a spawning ground for very many good, enduring white rock 'n' roll bands. The Velvet Underground spring readily to mind, and the Rascals, and there have been several fine oneshots that never got the attention they deserved, like the Good Rats and Autosalvage. But the Big Apple, as us farmboys call it, hasn't really come through with solid rockout organizations too often. Now, with the Blue Oyster Cult, New York has produced its first authentic boogie beast, and with any like this one should be around for awhile.

Blue Oyster Cult - Blue Oyster Cult
Original album advertising art.
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Sandy Pearlman, one of the Cult's managers, modestly described this album as "better than Killer, but not quite as good as Master of Reality." While I can't honestly say that they have yet attained the degree of maniacal control held by either Alice or Black Sabbath, they do have the formula down better than most bands in recent memory, and not only that, but at times they sound a lot like the Music Machine, of "Talk Talk" and one-black-glove-on-each-member's-pick-hand fame, not to mention the whole 1965-6-7 acid-fuzztone-feedback-freakout genre. Which means in front that they have achieved a highly delicate synthesis, uniting the noise which some of us old farts of 23 grew up on and loved with the Zeppelin-Sabbath-Grand Funk juggernaut-rock which many of us have had so much trouble with and which "the kids," of course, thrive on. And that means that the potential audience for a band of this type is very large indeed.

Their first album is an almost too-perfect melange of highly proximate style that, due to production with a definite lack of laser flash and technicolor presence, tends to sound rather mundane, almost monotonous at first. But once you get into it -- and by the second playing you can't help but begin to hear all the great ideas and deft touches -- it'll grab you and move inevitably to the font of your play-pile.

Contrasts abound: "Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll" is the group's big Black Sabbath move, complete with deep gutty guitar slices and triumphantly sociopathic lyrics ("My heart is black/And my lips are cold/Cities on flame/With rock and roll/3000 guitars/They seem to cry/My ears will melt/And then my eye"). "Workshop of the Telescopes" is prototype sci-fi rock, but Merlin-fantasy as opposed to Pink Floyd's and Kantner/Slick's Star Trek fixations, while "She's As Beautiful As A Foot" is as misterioso as any Doors song, although the vocal sounds more like Sky Saxon of the Seeds: "Didn't believe it when he bit into her face/It tasted just like a fallen arch." You would have to hear it to realize just how haunted they can make those words sound; camp it ain't.

"Screams" is the ultimate psychedelic paranoia fantasy, beating Grand Funk's "Paranoid" for sure though maybe not Black Sabbath's classic of the same name and sounding somewhat like Neil Young's "Out of My Mind" plasticised and distended by the Shadows of Knight into a quiet schizo raveup. The identification with the deranged social rebel originally called for in Norman Mailer's The White Negro continues in "Transmaniacon M.C.," a song about Altamont told, if from a rather fanciful distance (bikers never say, "So clear the road m' bully boys"), from the Angels' point of view, which I find a refreshing tack to say the least. And it sounds the most like the Music Machine of anything here.

But there are two songs that rise above the rest to become methodical, compressed statements in two different styles that really define what rock 'n' roll is all about. "Stairway To The Stars" is a modified boogie with MC5 overtones -- modified in the sense that you take an old Ford and turn it into a rod -- about superstar arrogance and loving every minute of it: "You can drive my motorcar/It's insured to 30 thou." Cool. Words, as on "She's As Beautiful As A Foot," by one R. Meltzer. Kid writes dame fine lyrics, even if he is a rock critic.

"Then Came the Last Days of May," and everybody got somebody else's kicks. Probably the first song on the record to leap out and make you realize that something's happening in here, it's a poignant rock 'n' roll ballad utilizing expert guitar work to create the paradoxical exhilaration that comes form the artful sketching of a mightily depressing situation. The lyrics tell the whole tale: "Three good buddies were laughin' and smokin' in the back of a rented Ford/They couldn't know they weren't goin' far... The sky is bright, the traffic light/Now and then a truck/And they hadn't seen a cop around all day (Brief choral interjection: "What luuuck!")/They brought everything they needed/Bags and scales to weight the stuff/The driver said the border's just over the bluff..." Followed by a quietly ominous guitar solo and the ghastly denouncement; it's a teen tragedy of our time. Of such stuff are great songs made.

I don't think you should miss this album. It sounds a wee bit too calculated, and there is the lack of all-out do-or-die mania, the kind of mania epitomized by the Stooges and Black Pearl at its core, as I find missing in Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin. But that probably doesn't matter too much. Everybody loves being manipulated by Cooper and Zep, and despite the higher degree of consciousness which belies adolescent urgency in its purest form, the rushes are just about as gratifying. And the Blue Oyster Cult does possess and understand The Sound as we've known and loved it -- it's as beautiful as a foot.

- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 3/30/72.

Bonus Reviews!

Warning: critics' band, managed by Sandy Pearlman with occasional lyrics by R. Meltzer. Reassurance: the most musical hard rock album since Who's Next. (Well, that's less than six months, and this is not a great time for hard rock albums.) The style is technocratic psychedelic, a distanced, decisively post-Altamont reworking of the hallucinogenic guitar patterns of yore, with lots of heavy trappings. Not that they don't have a lyrical side. In "Then Came the Last Days of May," for instance, four young men ride out to seek their fortune in the dope biz and one makes his by wasting the other three. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Blue Oyster Cult's debut album provided the missing link between the heavy, blues-based rock of the late '60s and the bombastic heavy metal of the '70s and beyond. You could hear major influences like Steppenwolf, with its melodic/aggressive rock, the Rolling Stones (post-'65), and even boogie bands like Canned Heat in their sound. But BOC streamlined the approach, picked up the tempo, overlaid the guitars, brought the rhythm section up in the mix, and de-emphasized the blues, giving the music a machinelike propulsion. Manager/co-producer Sandy Pearlman (who co-wrote five songs) and lyricist Richard Meltzer (who co-wrote two) may have seen the group as a vehicle for their "clever" (in fact, pretentious) lyrics, but in fact lead vocalist Eric Bloom was the weakest element in the band, and you couldn't make out much of what he had to say over guitarist Donald "Buck" Dharma Roeser's furious power chording. What you could seemed to express some sort of mythology -- or demonology; future metal bands would fill their songs with just such half-baked philosophies. Blue Oyster Cult was not quite full-fledged heavy metal: the production was too compressed, the playing too light and energetic. But it was the sound of something new and different in the world of hard rock. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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