Monday, June 02, 2008

Blue Oyster Cult – Agents of Fortune

BOC became superstars with their massive hit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” from this, their forth album. They had been building their fan base with their first three heavy metal outings and here they cleaned up a bit and went for the gold (actually, platinum in album sales)!

The album opens with a song that was originally written and performed by an LA underground band, the Imperial Dogs. Sure, BOC changed it up a bit and personalized it, but “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” was a Dogs’ tune. This is a pretty prophetic number, coming just before punk rock broke around the world. It’s also a great rock’n’roller and quite fitting for BOC.

One of the few early BOC songs that I don’t care for is “True Confessions”. Sung by keyboardist Allen Lanier, is just doesn’t click with me. Not particularly rockin’ or interesting.

But, Buck Dharma’s “Reaper” is a true classic. Starting with a nice finger-picking guitar line, Buck sings lead on this one, with intertwining vocals parts flowing around the melody and, of course, fine, melodic guitar lines. There’s a somewhat odd bridge section that seemingly has nothing to do with the rest of the song, but it does give it a bit of a burst of energy, before returning to the main theme. Overall, a pretty flawless song of love living on beyond the grave.

“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” has another cool guitar riff (of course!) not unlike the famous “Cities on Flame with Rock’n’Roll” lick. This isn’t quite as manic as that song and is more melodic, but is still a rocker, even if a bit polished. Dharma plays some soaring guitar on this, as well.

Patti Smith makes her first vocal appearance on a BOC album (though she had previously contributed lyrics) on “The Revenge of Vera Gemini”. I love this and think it is one of the highlights of the album. Eric and Patti trade off lines throughout as Patti’s then-boyfriend Allen adds moody organ. This is an odd mix of ethereal and rock, with fine use of dynamics.

“Daredevil, she-devil, princess devil, demon, I love you like sin but I won’t be your pigeon” is the catch phrase from “Sinful Love”. Again, more subdued than in the past, but a good, mid-tempo rocker – fine stuff, but without the raw edge of the earlier records.

“Tattoo Vampire” starts with the rhythmic scratching on guitar strings and bursts into one of the more energetic numbers on the record. This sounds like something that could have appeared on Secret Treaties. Then they return to the mellower edge with “Morning Final”, that has an almost “Last Days of May” feel – maybe not quite as ballady, but a melodic, keyboard dominated song. “Tenderloin” has a similar feel – not quite ballad, but far from their previous raucousness. Again, the songs are good, just not what had been expected from the “thinking man’s heavy metal band”.

The album closed with their version of Kiss’ “Beth” – a song about the girl waiting for the rocker to come home to her. “Debbie Denise” is a faux-string-ridden ballad and not one of their better songs.

This bonus tracks on this include the original version of “Fire of Unknown Origin”, a demo of the mediocre “Dance the Night Away” and the cool demo of “Reaper” that shows that Buck pretty much had the entire song arranged, but does show the evolution of the tune. There is also a demo of a song that I’m not familiar with titled simply “Sally” that has sections similar to “Tattoo Vampire”.

Not their best release, but pretty essential for “Summer of Love”, “Vera Gemini” and “Reaper”, which is a helluva lot more than a lot of bands can say!