For Earth Below
Released: February 1975
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 17
Certified Gold: 10/29/76
For Earth Below is essentially lacking in the immediate impact that graced its predecessors. Contrary to popular opinion, the long suit of Twice Removed From Yesterday and Bridge of Sighs was not Trower's guitar work but his songwriting. In a word, the man's tunes were "intense," generally evoking the gamut of the emotional spectrum -- from the sheer terror of "Bridge of Sighs" and "Hannah" to the nearly mystical otherworldliness of "Twice Removed from Yesterday." That Trower played guitar in a manner that made the instrument scream its death wail was but icing on the proverbial cake -- the proof of his greatness was that he was able to successfully incorporate his screeching banshee blitzes into gripping song structures, a task clearly beyond the talents of 99% of his contemporaries.
Trower's guitar lines complemented, accentuated and otherwise blended nicely with the other sonic goings-on, thereby tying the ribbon around two packages that are still best described as "compelling."
Except for a couple of tunes at the head of side two, "compelling" this one ain't -- in fact it's the first time I've found myself able to deal critically with a Trower LP from the outset. On first listening to For Earth Below I found myself struck, not with the "aw shucks, he's so good that I'm gonna burn my guitars" awe of the past, but with the realization that all the songs sounded pretty much the same. Rather than being well-defined song forms constantly progressing through a beginning and middle to a stomach-churning climax, the tunes here generally slosh through a vaguely rhythm & bluesish quicksand that never quite bogs them down totally but nonetheless slows proceedings to a maddening crawl. Even comparatively upbeat numbers like "Gonna Be More Suspicious" and "Shame the Devil" fall prey to this condition -- they lack the cutting edge that made earlier Trower songs seem so immediately urgent.
Another big problem with the album is the way it sounds -- for an album whose title implies heavy otherworldliness, For Earth Below has a disappointingly discernible "Made in L.A." ring about it that stands in stark contrast to the "up Uranus" atmosphere that ran rampant on the earlier LPs. Matthew Fisher's production work this time out is definitely not up to snuff -- he's got the band sounding much too clean, which in conjunction with other aforementioned conditions considerably lessens their sheer sonic impact. In fact only on "Alethea" is the Trower band able to overcome his cleanliness by means of a truly snazzy hook line and an incendiary solo from Trower.
Trower's playing, in fact, is so technically flawless (in terms best left for explanation in the likes of Guitar Player) that "A Tale Untold" succeeds solely through his masterful fretwork -- a truly dynamic solo built atop a honey of an arpeggio rhythm line. "It's Only Money" also picks up markedly once Trower gets into full swing about midway through, with a solo that gradually builds in intensity until it dominates the entire song.
In the end, though, the reasons I'm not as enraptured with For Earth Below as I was with its forebears is best encapsulated in a three-part explanation of where the world's most musical guitarist seems most likely to make a wrong turn. Most obviously Trower is going to have to better vary his efforts stylistically -- one can't help but get a pronounced feeling of déjà vu listening to this LP; and when one is already widely accused of copping Hendrix licks left and right that's not a good situation to have going.
Trower is also going to have to avoid what seems to be a creeping absence of anger in his playing. As with Hendrix, this is probably the only legitimate complaint one can make about his solos -- the fact that most of Trower's leads on this record definitely fall into the "mellow" class seems to have a definite correlation with the lack of a cutting edge throughout the LP. True indeed is the assertion that musicians play best when song structures collapse around them -- and the reason's probably because they're angry as hell.
Finally Trower will obviously have to get a much better production job than the torpedo shot that beached this effort. That the man is capable of tremendous things has already been evidenced -- surely a guitar master on a par with Trower deserves production which better accentuates his overwhelming talents.
- Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 5/8/75.
Robin Trower is a synthetic, thoroughly competent rock band that probably was born a victim of rock's built-in obsolescence. A few years ago it might have been different, but now this kind of blues-based hard stuff from a basic three-piece electric band reminds us not so much of Cream as of the non-diary substitute. Riffing, even when tight and clean, doesn't do me much good any more, and neither do the vocals imbedded in the instrumental. And I've given up on the notion that standard chord progression plus inflection is close enough to melody. There's workmanship here, and Matthew Fisher's production is good, but I admire all that in the most detached way you can imagine. To paraphrase the ESP people, the Present doesn't care whether you believe in it or not.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 6/75.
The man who saw a void following the death of Jimi Hendrix and filled it in his own way with some fine guitar work and the excellent vocals of James Dewar is back. Usual mix of rock/blues from the ex-Procol Harum man, and for the huge legion of fans Trower has built with his trio, this is exactly what they expect and want. Star of course is Trower's excellent guitar work, fine blues rifts predominating. Cuts that allow him long solos are best. Not a replica of Hendrix, but certainly the best in this genre and the one who has showed the most originality. Expect immediate FM action here. Best cuts: "Gonna Be More Suspicious," "For Earth Below," "Shame The Devil," "Confessin' Midnight."
- Billboard, 1975.
Is he experienced? He's a retread, and the best thing I can say for him is that he makes me remember the verve, humor, and fluidity of the original. C-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
His third album is less consistent than the previous two but still contains much excellent material. * * *
- Michael P. Dawson, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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