Friday, March 28, 2008

Slade – Beginnings/Play It Loud

After picking up the terrific comp, In For A Penny, I was really looking forward to getting this release of early Slade. Songs like “Sweet Box” and their version of “Shapes of Things to Come” made me want to hear more of their pre-glam-success recordings. Unfortunately, this release overall is not as great as those songs would have indicated.

The first album shows the band floundering for an identity, whether this was due to their own uncertainty or because of record company mechanizations, I have no idea, but it is a shame. There are moments when their future greatness peaks out, but there are also many weak points here.

Beginnings starts with “Genesis” (pretty funny in a biblical kinda way!), which is actually an instrumental version of “Know Who You Are” with someone going crazy with the phasing. The song appears with lyrics on “Play It Loud” and it is definitely more effective in the latter version.
This record is heavy with covers, some more effective than others. Being a huge Steppenwolf fan, I dig their versions of “Everybody’s Next One” and “Born to be Wild”, both done more than credibly, though not really changing or adding to the fantastic originals. I’m not sure who wrote “Knockin’ Nails Into My House”, but it is an interesting semi-mersey, semi-mod number that isn’t bad. “Roach Daddy” is an original but is a fairly ordinary blues-based tune. Then they pull out a truly outrageous cover – the Mothers of Invention’s “Ain’t Got No Heart” from Freak Out! This is actually pretty damn cool, though, again, not vastly different from the original. It sounds a lot less sarcastic coming from Noddy though and it highlights the guys’ playing skills.

“Pity the Mother” is a nice piece of English freak-beat styled music – somewhat psychedelic and still far removed from their later works! They do another instrumental with “Mad Dog Cole” with some hip guitar/vocal duets, previewing those two lead instruments’ heavy influence in their future!

They even cover the Moody Blues – believe it or not - in “Fly Me High”, an unexceptional 60’s pop tune, and then Marvin Gaye in “If This World Were Mine” a soul tune that is close but still misses the mark, though I dig Noddy’s singing on it. Even the Beatles are mined for – of all things – “Martha My Dear”! (Though they did have some “dance hall song” leanings in their 70’s ballads.)

By far the wildest raver on the record is the afore-mentioned “Born to be Wild”, which is taken to an even more over-the-top extreme on their live album! They close with the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Centre (sic) of Your Mind” (funny how they changed it to the English spelling!). This is also pretty good, though Dave Hill is not quite the guitar madman that Nugent is.

By their second album, Play it Loud, the band was growing more confident in their songwriting and thus created a more interesting record. They are still flirting with a skinhead image (much to their chagrin – this misguided idea wasn’t theirs and they thankfully moved off into the successful and fun glam image) but the songs are starting to take shape.

You can see some of their future ideas forming in “Raven”. If the guitars were a little tougher this could be pretty damn cool. “See Us Here” does have a little more “oomph” to the instruments and Holder is showing us what he is capable of vocally. I dig this early example of their “rock’n’rave” style! A semi-ballad in the style of songs like “My Friend Stan”, “Dapple Rose” works in that aspect. I don’t know who wrote “Could I”, but it is a little confused, psychedelic tune that is followed by “One Way Hotel”, another original. Again, this gives some indication of their future strengths and is another good one.

The first single from this record was their take on “Shapes of Things to Come”, which is truly great! They make this their own, with Noddy’s excellent singing and Dave’s powerful guitar riffing (including a neat “morse-code” section in the last verse) throughout. If the whole album sounded like this, it would be a true gem! “Know Who You Are” is another monster – not quite as perfect as the live version, but still an incessant, simmering song that boils over on the choruses.

“I Remember” and “Pouk Hill” are a bit of a bring-down after those two pieces of greatness, but again, not bad, just not memorable. I do like “Angelina”, though again I’m not sure who did it originally. It sounds like one of their 50’s-styled rockers, which is always good fun! “Dirty Joker” seems to be a kinda weird take on the Everly Brothers “Bird Dog” turned inside out. But the album closer, “Sweet Box”, is a filthy Slade classic – good melody, incredibly dirty lyrics, a good beat and more rockin’ playing!

Bonus tracks on this CD include the semi-forgettable “Wild Winds are Blowing” and the truly amazing “Get Down and Get With It”, which is probably their first perfect take! Yes, live it was even crazier, but this is true “rock’n’rave” material and shows the band at their best.

Overall, an uneven collection, but for fans it is an intriguing look into the early history of this phenomenal band! The booklet included has some great early pix too, which show the reason why Hill grew his hair so long and wore such high platform heels!