Friday, February 26, 2010

Steppenwolf 7

I have no idea what the significance is of this album’s title, considering that it was the band’s 5th outing and I haven't found any hints online - apparently, this is something that fans tend to debate. Again, it is not their best, but it is a solid rocker with some of their better, though lesser-known, numbers and some fine playing. It has an amazing, psychedelic cover, as well!

Starting off with Larry Byrom’s funky wah-wahed lead guitar on “Ball Crusher”, the band creates a great, mid-tempo groove that pulls you in and gets ya moving. They perform an old blues number for “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and do it justice, including a nice harmonica solo by Kay.

Byrom is again highlighted on “Fat Jack”, with some killer lead licks and propelling it with some biting chords. Again, I wish that the CD credits were more specific because Kay is definitely not singing lead here, so I’m guessing it might be Larry, but I will need to research some more. As he sounds like the same second vocalist off of the Live record, I think that it is must be him. This is a strong rock’n’roller, though.

Kay tells the story of his escaping communist controlled East Prussia in “Renegade”, a harrowing and hard-rockin’ song that manages to convey the fear and franticness of his journey as seen through the eyes of a 4 year old. Really, this still brings chills to my spine when I hear this – one of John’s most personal and memorable songs.

“Foggy Mental Breakdown” is another almost-funky tune with a good groove and intertwining vocals between Kay and either Byrom or new bassist George Blondo. Kay even gets to throw in some harmonica again, though sounding more folky than bluesy in this instrumental break.

Hoyt Axton returns as a Steppenwolf songwriter (he is also responsible for their smash “The Pusher”) on “Snowblind Friend”, another anti-drug song, this time obviously about cocaine. This is rendered in a more folk/country style than their other Axton cover, so it doesn’t jump as much, but it fits in with Kay’s singer/songwriter stylings and it is a good song.

They return to their ballsy hard rock with the fantastic “Who Needs Ya”, a high energy blast of r’n’r with more vocal trade-offs, a catchy chorus and fine band interaction. One of the best song titles ever is “Earschplittenloudenboomer” but unfortunately this instrumental does not live up to its title in sonic power – it’s a good, chuggin’ number, but with the horns and such, it is a little safe and almost MOR-ish.

The final number here is “Hippo Stomp”, a cool little groover, again propelled by some sharp rhythm guitar chords and a good John Kay melody. Not a wild one, but another solid tune.

I guess there are only a few truly consistent Steppenwolf albums due to their diverse influences and continuing personnel changes, but this is pretty darn good all the way through.