Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Catalogue Number: Mountain TOPS112
Review Format: LP
Release Year: 1976
Let's pull something from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band out of the Vinyl Vault. "Stories", perhaps? Now this one has what any great mid seventies big budget rock album should have - a Gered Mankowitz cover photo. It's the kind of thing that sets the scene for an album as it stretches itself out over the whole gatefold sleeve. Your compact and bijou CD cover just does not have the same impact.
If this were your first venture into the SAHB catalogue then this is perhaps not the best choice. Not that it is a bad album. Far from it. It is, however, quite a restrained - well, superficially restrained but more of that later - and focused affair lacking the flamboyance that legend associates with Alex Harvey. Perhaps that is reflected in the cover with the band merged into the crowd in a bar. Not so much stars as participants in the freak show of a Saturday night.
Musically, this is an album that takes a while to get into. You can't argue with the musicianship or the song writing with the grandiose "Dance to Your Daddy" almost turning into a rock opera. I suppose that would have been a danger of the times. Big stage shows with concepts were everywhere. Much like today really, though only pop goddesses like Kylie can now afford them. If you wanted a souvenir of the event then all you would have is an album like this and maybe a t-shirt. No camera phones to fuzzily capture a band's every move. None of the thousands of Internet sites to download the concert again by the time you get home. Most people had jobs then so the idea of paying for your music was not as alien as it is today. An album was something of an event in itself.
There is a nice easy feel to these songs. "Jungle Rub Out" grooves melodically with some entertainingly bizarre lyrics. Like so many classic rock albums, an accompaniment of strong drink seems to get you better tuned into its wavelength. "Boston Tea Party" easily provokes a bout of air guitar. Likewise "Sultan's Choice". Honestly - try it for yourself. It is actually quite good fun. As for the sleazy "$25 for a Massage", it is deranged. You wonder what kind of madness existed inside their heads. Choppy guitars. A quasi disco beat. A big chunk of decadence. They just don't make them like that any more.
Funnily enough, one of the most memorable parts of the album to me was not actually the music. On the inside of that lovely gatefold sleeve, the phrase "A guitar is more important than a machine gun" is written. If only it were so.
June 7, 2008
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