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The Guess Who

RCA 0636
Released: January 1975
Chart Peak: #48
Weeks Charted: 9

Look, I'd be jealous too. Burton Cummings, longtime lead singer of the Guess Who, has to live with the embarrassing reality that his ex-cohort and lead guitarist Randy Bachman is burning up the American charts with Bachman-Turner Overdrive while he, cowriter with Bachman of several hits ("These Eyes," "No Time," "American Woman"), languishes in the lower echelons of the Top 40 with the current edition of the Guess Who. To add injury to insult, the Guess Who actually made a pretty good album last year, Road Food, only to eke out two close-call singles from it, one quite good ("Star Baby"), the other a modest success ("Clap for the Wolfman").

But the old nemesis of BTO haunted Burton. So, wham-bang, howzabout an image change? Sure enough, the cover of Flavours features the fellows dressed mod and promising to scintillate with all the flash of a tarnished pan. Cummings also decided to beef up the band's attack by adding Dom Troiano, formerly guitarist for the James Gang and, by reputation at least, a "musician's musician."

Sadly, somebody missed a turn somewhere down the line. The sweetness of Cummings's vocal fails to mesh with the misplaced complexity of Troiano's playing, and the new lineup seems eager to forego the pleasures of pithy pop -- which, after all, is what the Guess Who have always excelled at. Instead we get sheer embarrassments like Cummings trying to sing C&W ("Seems like I Can't Live with You, but I Can't Live without You" -- dedicated to the memory of Gram Parsons) and Troiano trying to "stretch out" (on "Long Gone," which also features such pungent lines as "I guess you've always been a power-hungry specimen").

RCA's advance flak on "Long Gone" waxed eloquent: "Troiano really gets loose with an eat-your-heart-out Mahavishnu John McLaughlin guitar lick." Eat your heart out? Make mine BTO, please.

- Jim Miller, Rolling Stone, 3/27/75.

Bonus Reviews!

Burton Cummings' singing, one of the quality items from the Big Rock Thing, just keeps getting better. He's maturing in the matter of nuance, but keeping something of his cocky rock attitude, which I find preferable to the cabaret singer's throat-babying, O-this-is-so-serious stance. The Guess Who nowadays are a classier outfit, almost a sophisticated one, and they are slowly, painfully building a repertoire that takes advantage of their particular attractions, starting with Cummings' voice. The lyrics are consistently shallow, even now as less pressure seems to be applied to lyrics by the audience, but there is real textural and melodic variety in the album. "Diggin' Yourself" has a jazz inflection; "Seems I Can't Live with You" has one of those dopey, delightful World War II melodies of the "Now Is the Hour" sort; "Dirty" is a tidier-than-average piece of junk-rock; "Eye" is that French-cuff, clinking-glass kind of near-jazz; and "Loves Me Like a Brother" is a strutting put-on a jug band could have fun with. "Long Gone" is an aberration, not because it's directed, apparently, at some critic (considering the Guess Who's track record in reviews, it could be any one of a huge number of us), but because it's a hot-collar diatribe that becomes stuffed-shirt funny in spite of itself, as such temperamental flare-ups often do. Otherwise, though, this is a neat job.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 6/75.

This group continues to amaze everyone with change after musical change. Still, the focal point of the music falls on the shoulders of the talented pianist/vocalist Burton Cummings. On this effort, the band has slimmed down to four and added one of the finer rock guitarists in many years, Dom Troiano. This album should get a lot of airplay and it will help to secure the group's hold on longevity. Best cuts: "Dancin' Fool," "Nobody Knows His Name," "Digging Yourself," "Eye," "Loves Me Like A Brother."

- Billboard, 1975.

The Burton Cummings part of this group always wanted it to be the Doors, Santana, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap all rolled into one. This rather monstrous goal has finally been realized. Personally, I always preferred the part that wanted to be Bachman-Turner Overdrive. C

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

 Reader's Comments

Orange Mango

Great album, diverse and intense. loved it growing up and still do.

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