A little while ago the number of visits to this blog passed 50,000. Thank you all for reading this and giving me motivation to continue to post these articles from long ago in a tribute to both artists and writers alike.
This blog is still a blog for the few, and what better way to celebrate than with an article that honours the cult that reads this blog with a band famous for attracting a cult of fans and even having the word “Cult” in their name?
Here`s to the next 50,000 visits!
Oysters swamped by unchained superlatives
The Blue Oyster Cult:
Agents Of Fortune
By Max Bell
I guess I`ll have to lay my cards down and say I always felt the Cult would produce a no-holds-barred stone masterwork befitting a band of individuals so obviously attuned to the spirit of the genre. “Agents Of Fortune” is the album in question.
After last summer`s European jaunt which resulted in previous advocates withdrawing their favours somewhat, much talk of lame stage act, failed evil aura – you remember – I waited apprehensively for the rebuttal from the East Coast`s only begotten sons of dizbuster acid rock into the here and now.
They are vindicated without apologies.
Perhaps the criticisms levelled at Pearlman`s troops was justified. I thought much of the sniping was at least constructive; so did they to the extent that at the second Hammersmith Odeon riot they`d removed the drum solo, cut the extraneous crowd-pleasing crap and concentrated on arching the hall with their battery of musical-cum lyrical genius.
It comes to mind that there are only a handful of bands merging the relevant influences of the last decade with the potential that increased sophistication in terms of instrumentation, volume, production mono makes feasible; on my turntable The Cult are more adept at keeping one clawed boot in the `60s while the other paw scrapes away at the dark core of today than any comparable outfit.
Their first monster set the scene and outlined the persona that “Tyranny And Mutation” turned into BOC`s thumbprint. The glove was down but there was no competition. “Secret Treaties” followed as `74`s sole legit H.M. classic (when another so called contender for the wreath dreams up a song as irresistibly mind boggling as “Dominance And Submission” come back and tell me).
The live album, which in retrospect is patchy, contained evidence at its best of the Cult`s manic soft white underbelly and their fearsome reputation as purveyors of the meanest, literally frightening dosage available in vinyl format.
With “Agents Of Fortune”, unbelievably, they transcend its predecessors. A solid blow to all those with wool in their ears sprouting off on the death knoll of rock `n` roll, either too unenlightened or culpably refusing to listen to the surfeit of superb music nestling under their noses in 1976.
The matter at hand. Without wishing to destroy your sense of discovery too much I`ll fill you in on the cover art work, something they always take care of with unequalled panache.
Out front a gent in evening dress card sharps four artefacts from the tarot pack that all bear on the inner material (recorded). Behind Lynn Curlee`s painting the spheres revolve, controlled by this ambiguous agent. I`ll leave the rest to your eager purchase and vivid imagination.
The harvest is immediately reaped on “This Ain`t The Summer Of Love”, which is the Cult recovering all angles in their changing moods of panic, cynicism and ultimate rock truth Eric Bloom handles the vocal with his customary nastiness: “Feeling easy on the outside, not so funny on the inside. Hear the sound pray for rain, `cos this is the night we ride. This ain`t the Garden of Eden, there ain`t no angels above, and things ain`t what they`re supposed to be, and this ain`t the summer of love.”
The song is distinctly moody – as in unpleasant. Donald (Buck Dharma) Roeser stalks off on a mesmerising guitar volley the equal of any of his own previous creations. At just 2.20 minutes this would make one hell of a single – incongruous maybe, but heavy in the unadulterated sense of the word.
Finally Allan Lanier makes his singing debut with a solo composition I first heard at the four-track stage in a London hotel room late last autumn. To mark the occasion Columbia have spelt his name right on the cover.
The number, “True Confessions”, is presumably about strained relationships a la the boy and girl school, particularly with both Lanier and Patti Smith being on the road almost permanently. Can`t think why they`ve kept Lanier`s writing and singing talents under wraps for so long because this is a further addition to the Cult`s stream of self-contained vignettes – without actually bearing too much on the overall direction of the album.
The Brecker Brothers` searing saxes tear off the piano motif while the incomparable Bouchard rhythm section drips alongside.
Just why these boys are so patiently manufacturing to a standard far removed from normal excellence is amply indicated on “(Don`t Fear) The Reaper”, a Roeser classic that will stand against previous examples of inspiration such as “Astronomy” and “The Last Days Of May.” It`s the longest cut on the album of unusually short songs but although the melody is beautifully to the point of hummable the number is pure muscle; no fatty tissue.
Of all the acceptable heavy exponents the Cult seems more likely to uncover a chord structure of this magnificence, and only Dharma could sing it with the appropriate delicacy.
Under the hypnotic guitar line Albert Bouchard and Bloom weave a subtle percussive off beat that tantalises until the vocal creeps insiduously in. The second chorus begins: “Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity,” the harmony accompanying is pure magic, just like Michael and The Messengers in fact.
Thereafter the Cult do not look back.
“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” is outrageous. The Sandy Pearlman and Roeser team have here written chaos many times before and this kick in the face joins the ranks at the top. Synthesised voice guitar that destroys anything Joe Walsh or Jeff Beck have ever mangled out of said gadget, then the Rock King of the Finger Lakes spitting out the “Agents Of Fortune”, Balthazar, epic grande.
Lyrically it`s prime obscure Cult. Must be one of the Desdanova cycle that they`ve traced throughout their existance. Buck`s front line attack surpasses “Hot Rails” and the rhythm support is not to be tampered with.
Two points here. Firstly, I think “E.T.I.” may be one of BOC`S projected inclusions of the “Fire Of Unknown Origin/Mirror Of Illusion” project which Bouchard and Pearlman have been formulating as their coup de theatre. From what I heard last summer this will be an achievement on the level of Brian Wilson`s lost “Smile” tapes. Hope it doesn`t go the same way.
Secondly, this is the only song on the album composed by Pearlman. Whether this is politics or just the way it happened I don`t know. I do know that Pearlman and Cult are synonymous and that`s how they must keep it for maximum effect.
Conjecture aside, the lead break is severely demonic, a cities aflame blaze.
Both sides are arranged in total symnetry, two shortish songs build into the middle which in each case is the weightiest number lengthwise, then two more balanced finales arranged as penultimate movement and crescendo.
The block-buster on side one is Patti Smith`s and Albert Bouchard`s “The Revenge Of Vera Gemini.” Now Patti at the Roundhouse was a revelation, but I`ve always felt that “Career Of Evil” and “Baby Ice Dog” were the best things she ever wrote. And this joins them.
It`s a male/female dance duet and absolutely in the footsteps of James Douglas Morrison: “You are boned like a snake with the consciousness of a snake.”
If I could describe the effect this will have on you (which I can`t) then suffice to say it comes over like Shocking Blue locked in the next dimension. Ms. Smith even sings in tune, and for fans of her debut record there`s a clue as to her future: “No more horses, horses, we`re gonna swim like a fish”. Dharma peels off kerosene-doused licks and the ending resolves into deathly hush.
Side two opens with a couple of Bouchard and H. Robbins compositions, “Sinful Love” and “Tattoo Vampire” which are both archetypal fantasy domain Cult, totally bizarre, straightforward streamrolling lunacy. Keep a close friend near at all times, especially for “Tattoo Vampire” `cos it kicks off like a pack of skinned bats.
Quiet man of the band, Jo “The Bass” Bouchard, sings the medial cut, “Morning Final”, a murder on the subway with full grisly sound effects. Lanier`s organ and piano work is remiscent of early Ray Manzarek, a double-edged knife consistency so dense it`ll turn your emotions onto full tap.
This finishes with a hell bound train grinding to a screech upon which the doors open to reveal “Tenderloin”.
Now I expect The Cult to be different at all times but “Tenderloin” is a real departure. It`s another Allen Lanier ouvre. Bloom`s phrasing and the jazz blue note treatment is new ground: “I come to you in a blue, blue robe” and “I`m feeling hungry have another line” highlight Eric`s chilling delivery, the style I thought had reached fruition on “Secret Treaties” taken to a completely alternative conclusion. The keyboard on the third verse is masterful. On the other hand the closer, “Debbie Denise,” a Patti Smith poem from the “Witt” collection, is inexplicable. Bouchard produces a melodic melange so basically alien to the BOC image I`m not sure how they get away with it, but they do.
Getting down to the grits I`d call it a combination of Four Seasons counter part harmony rooted in the warm outerworld of vigilante tomboy Lesbian ballad with neo-Beach Boys bad vibration synthesisers to ice off the whole mixture. (Max!!!-Ed)
Bearing in mind that the lyrics are an adaption of a woman-to-woman situation, when you hear Albert sing “I’d come here with my hair hanging down and she’d pin it up and softly smile. And I was rolling with my man” it becomes apparent that it takes these guys to carry off the near-maudlin and make it tasteful. The number is branded classic.
Listen, it`s no hyper-critical bullshit to say that “Agents Of Fortune” will elevate this band to the ranks reserved for the pioneers. BOC don`t plagiarise for their ideas but they have the mystique and menace peculiar to vintage American rockers. When all is said and done this is the Cult at their best. Buy it, turn it on loud and work it out. I haven`t come down yet.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Steely Dan, Helen Mirren, Rod Stewart, Sam Jones, Supercharge, Stevie Winwood and Stomu Yamashta, Average White Band, Dr. Hook.
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