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Be Bop Deluxe - Axe Victim CD (album) cover

AXE VICTIM

Be Bop Deluxe

 

Crossover Prog

2.86 | 37 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
2 stars In my ongoing effort to familiarize myself with a wider assortment of prog and prog-related entities, especially the ones I missed along my plodding way through the decades, I have come (via no particular method) to Be-Bop Deluxe. All I've ever known about them was surface deep due to seeing their album covers in the record store but I never went the next step by purchasing their wares and putting needle to vinyl groove. Recently I gave their debut disc, "Axe Victim," a few spins and I can't say that I expected what I heard or that I had any preconceived notion about what I expected to hear from them in the first place. What I certainly didn't anticipate was how dated the material would be and how thin the production would turn out.

They begin with the album's namesake song and right off the bat the influence David Bowie exerted on them is quite evident but they do stop short of outright plagiarism. Glam rock was all the rage at the time so I can't say I was shocked by it. Band mastermind Bill Nelson's heavy, blues-oriented guitar playing is dominant but he does add a progressive slant to most of his tunes' structures as evidenced on this particular number by his incorporating frequent tempo changes. "Love is Swift Arrows" is a perky little ditty but the drums are very dry and flat, giving the track a minimalist texture that I don't find attractive. In a way it's kind of a throwback to the freewheeling let's-run-through-the-song-a-few-times-and-then-turn-on-the-tape-machine-to-see-what-happens Hippie music that abounded on the west coast in the late 60s. It abruptly segues into "Jet Silver and the Dolls," a Ziggy Stardust knockoff that sports an uncomfortably loose motif. There's a distinct "art rock" vibe emanating from their attitude in that they don't seem to be all that concerned with finesse or tightness. Next is "Third Floor Heaven" and by now I sense that they're cultivating a palpable 70s "underground chic" countenance in delivering their product. I don't mind that per se but one big drawback is a lack of variety in the instruments they utilize and, for that matter, the overall repetitious tone of the proceedings. "Night Creatures" follows and, as if they heard my gripe, this one has a modicum of depth that broadens the song's scope appreciably. It's not what I'd call a great number but it's the best of the bunch so far. Bassist Robert Bryan not only contributes the sole non-Nelson composition with "Rocket Cathedrals" but sings it, as well. For this one they toss in an odd opening sequence but it leads to yet another Bowie-ish rocker that's predictably predictable. I guess you could say they know what they like and they like what they know.

"Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" is a slower paced semi-ballad and I can't tell if Bill is just being British or trendily androgynous in his vocalization but his style is assuredly "affected" for better or for worse. Unfortunately he sticks with the same guitar rig settings cut after cut and it begins to grow tiresome. "Jets at Dawn" features some obligatory birds chirping and dogs barking with a plane taking off overhead and then they slip into more of the same post-psychedelic mishmash that characterizes their craft and is making them come off like a one-trick pony. The guitar-heavy jam that commands the middle-to-finish portion may have been designed to be non-conformist but it lacks true focus. "No Trains to Heaven" is next and it seems they're committed to staying in their comfort zone even if the tunes are starting to be indistinguishable from one to another. It's as if they had aspirations to be the English incarnation of Grand Funk Railroad. "Darkness (L'Immoraliste)" follows and I was very glad to hear a piano and a string section in the mix for a change. It projects an overly dramatic mien but at least it gives the impression that they were willing to stretch their horizons ever so slightly. The last three tracks are live recordings from 1977 when the band toured with a revamped lineup. On "Piece of Mine" Andrew Clark's electric piano helps to fill out their ambient presence greatly. Listening to this tune I get the feeling they would've been right at home performing on a flatbed truck in a San Francisco park during the summer of love. That they have an instantly identifiable aura is not in question but too often on songs like "Mill Street Junction" the composition and arrangement is nothing more than a vehicle for Nelson to play a guitar lead. However, their in-concert rendition of "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" is excellent. Clark's piano lays down a jazzy foundation and the onstage atmosphere they establish is much more enjoyable compared to what their studio work emitted. This is the finest cut on the record because Bill's guitar solo is passionate and highly moving while Andrew's electric piano ride is cool and classy.

Due to its amateurish nature I was all ready to give this album a high one-star rating but the three bonus tracks that were included on this reissued CD made me think that they were on their way to creating something much better. "Axe Victim" came out in '74 and afterwards Nelson completely overhauled the personnel before the next go-round in the studio so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and up my rating accordingly for showing potential. While I don't consider this disc anything special whatsoever I'll grade them on the curve and hope I'm pleasantly surprised by what came after. 2 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |

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