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Blue Oyster Cult

Columbia JC 35019
Released: October 1977
Chart Peak: #43
Weeks Charted: 14
Certified Gold: 1/19/78

The Blue Oyster Cult has always been plagued by image problems of its own creation. By taking heaving metal to its literary extreme, the Cult made itself an in-joke to intellectual rockers and the consummate heavy-guitar band to the teenage underbelly. If anything gave the Cult a cogent image, it was the group's recorded sound -- dense and spacey with sledgehammer rhythms that sounded as if they were being beamed in from an orbiting satellite. But by the time it recorded its live album, the Cult was in a bind: its popularity had plateaued and its audience was almost exclusively composed of guitar-hungry, get-down kids. Which is cool -- the Cult is nothing if not guitar-heavy, get-down kids -- but ultimately limiting.

It's not surprising then that the two riff rockers on Spectres, the crucial followup to last year's breakthrough, Agents of Fortune, direct themselves toward that heavy-metal paradox. "Godzilla" encapsulates the Cult's stylistic attitude: the conceit of the tune must inevitably be larger than its execution. On its first album, the Cult sang about "Cities on Flame with Rock & Roll," and the theme is the same here: Godzilla rips apart Tokyo with the same monstrous bravado of the riffing guitars that destroyed the kids. In this case, though, the idea is more attractive than the song.

Blue Oyster Cult - Spectres
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
"R.U. Ready 2 Rock" finds the Cult confronting its audience. "I ain't gonna catch those get-down blues," they sing over a thudding beat that dissolves into a bridge and finds them boasting, "I only live to be born again." This give-and-take with the audience forms the initial framework of Spectres, but the meat of the album is something else altogether. Spectres is the Blue Oyster Cult's love album, both literally romantic and allegorical, and the band's view of such liaisons is as dynamic as its relationship with its audience.

At the conclusion of "R.U. Ready 2 Rock," the band pulls out the stops on a boogie beat after singer Eric Bloom finds his mythical lover. This ambiguous "you" (is it his audience or a lover?) is carried over into "Goin' through the Motions," a sturdy rocker cowritten by Ian Hunter and Bloom. Depicting the love games played on one-night stands with appropriate sarcasm, the tune deftly culls a line from the Cult's first album standard, "Stairway to the Stars": "I'll even sign it, 'love to you.' again," and the attitude of an arrogant rock star becomes the same as that of a snobbish lover.

Beyond the forenamed riffers that open each side, the Cult's music is more subtly crafted than ever before, continuing in the sleek, textured vein that provided the highlights of Agents of Fortune. "I Love the Night," which bends the tale of Dracula into a perverse love story, features the dense guitar orchestration of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." "Nosferatu" boasts the same heady complexion, with vocal harmonies and Allen Lanier's rolling piano providing a properly celestial backdrop for the romantic epic. The words are hard to catch -- I'm told it's about another bloodsucker -- but "only a woman can break his spell" sticks out like an Adam's apple.

Lanier's "Searching for Celine," his only composition on the album, is the Cult's best new song. Combining riffing verses with a jet-stream chorus, it also contains the album's ultimate romantic image: "Love is like a gun/And in the hands of someone like you, it kills/But oh, what a thrill!" Its sister song, "Celestial the Queen," one of two songs cowritten by New York rocker Helen Wheels, is another standout, with a seamless rock sound that recalls the Who's Quadrophenia. It is this smooth integration of styles that has allowed the Cult to transform the boogie beast into a more progressive but no less combustible animal.

"Fireworks" boasts all the qualities of the Cult's new approach, combining multiple layers of guitars with harmonic vocal sweetening. The Cult has always prided itself on being a New York band, but it has been the addition of folk-rock vocal harmonies to its already riveting heavy-metal attack that has enabled the group to produce an album as stunningly consistent as Spectres. The band still remains anonymous behind the slick sheen of the recording studio, and the voices, too, eschew personality for the sake of fitting into the cerebral context. But the Cult's creative combination of styles has pioneered a new genre of MOR heavy metal. Hard as nails but as sweet as cream, Spectres shows the Blue Oyster Cult to be the Fleetwood Mac of heavy metal.

- John Milward, Rolling Stone, 12/29/77.

Bonus Reviews!

As the Blue Oyster Cult matures, each LP becomes more complex, incorporating various melodic and harmonic interludes as counterpoint to the band's heavy metal basics. The band plays rock as hard as anybody, but moments when an unexpected bit of harmony or a piano interlude breaks in, they shine as brightly as the band's visual laser effects. The band makes an effort at poetic, or at least "heavy," lyrics, though you have to send away 50 cents for a copy of the lyrics sheet. Best cuts: "Nosferatu," "R.U. Ready 2 Rock," "Golden Age Of Leather," "Fireworks."

- Billboard, 1977.

Although Sandy Pearlman used to say the Cult's audience couldn't tolerate any suggestion that the band's laser-and-leathers fooforaw was funny, their parodic side has become progressively more overt. What do today's Cultists think of "Godzilla" ("Oh no there goes Tokyo") or a beerhall intro to "Golden Age of Leather"? I bet some of 'em like laughing at laser-and-leathers, and good. I also bet some of 'em are so zonked they wouldn't get it if John Belushi emceed, and to, er, hell with them. B

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

On the all-important followup to its commercial breakthrough with Agents of Fortune, Blue Oyster Cult introduced some enjoyable additions to its repertoire in "Godzilla" and "R.U. Ready 2 Rock," but did not come up with a song as memorable as "(Don't Fear) the Reaper," despite trying the same formula with "Fireworks" and "Nosferatu." Instead of consolidating its success, the group seemed to be, as one of the better songs had it, "Goin' Through the Motions," seemingly unable to follow through on the pop aspirations of the previous album and unwilling to retreat to the metal pretensions of its early records. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place -- just when Blue Oyster Cult should have been conquering, they seemed ready to retreat. * * *

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

Spectres is just as good as Agents of Fortune but funnier, with "Godzilla" and "Golden Age of Leather" a riotous one-two punch and "R.U. Ready to Rock" an anthem. * * * *

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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