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Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland CD (album) cover

ELECTRIC LADYLAND

Jimi Hendrix

 

Proto-Prog

3.92 | 244 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Jimi Hendrix will forever be one of music's most tragic characters. Whenever I listen to this album I get a strong sense that there's more frustration than creativity emanating from Jimi. At this point in his here-today-gone-tomorrow career he'd become the poster boy of the adage "beware of what you wish for, you just might get it." During the early 60s when he was bouncing around the country, picking up spare gigs with the likes of Little Richard, The Isley Brothers and Sam Cooke, it's easy to imagine the young Mr. Hendrix staring out of filthy tour buses and dreaming of someday being a big star. Of being adored by the masses. Of being worshipped as a God of the guitar. Alas, he got his wish. But after releasing two unbelievably successful albums back to back with The Experience, Jimi had become all too aware of the high price of fame. The record company pestered him for hit singles, not brave exploratory forays into the unknown. The rabid fans that filled arenas demanded he play his guitar with his teeth behind his head while ablaze. The throngs of backstage hangers-on were hell-bent to be able to brag that they partied with Hendrix and generously supplied all the dope he could ingest. Success had not brought him the fulfillment he expected. It had brought bondage. He was now a prisoner of perception.

Jimi once said "My goal is to be one with music. I just dedicate my whole life to this art." To which the label fat cats replied "Yeah, yeah, that's marvelous, Picasso, just try to crank out another "Foxy Lady," will ya?" So it should come as no surprise that "Electric Ladyland" is one schizophrenic collection of songs. On one hand you have an artist who's trying to appease the money men who helped make him a 20th Century icon and on the other a footloose rebel who only wants to submerge his consciousness in sex, drugs and rock & roll and have a good time making music with his talented buddies. Unfortunately too much of the latter invariably ends in tragedy. Just ask Jim Morrison. Or Janis Joplin. Or Syd Barrett. (Hmm. I guess we can't. Case closed.)

Booming drums not unlike those at the beginning of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" greet your ears as the album starts. (The irony being Hendrix was anything but common.) ".And the Gods Made Love" is a short piece of psychedelia consisting of studio tricks involving strange voices roaming through swirls of white noise. (It was the tye-dyed sixties, kiddos.) "Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)" follows and the sloppiness of the basic track is well nigh unbelievable. It sounds like the first rough run-through in rehearsal. And the tune itself can only be likened to some kind of bizarre Motown R&B composed on sedatives. Each time I hear this one it baffles my mind as to why a man of his stature would select it as the opener, much less let it even appear on the album at all. Thank heavens for the loud face-slapper that is "Crosstown Traffic" to remind us that this is, indeed, a Jimi Hendrix product. While it's little more than an energetic radio rocker with a buzzy hybrid guitar/kazoo appendage it efficiently does the job it was paid to do, then goes straight home to be with the wife and kids.

The awesome "Voodoo Chile" is all the reason you need to own this recording. It creates the impression that you're walking down the hallway of a darkened smoke-filled studio at 3am, hearing ghostly amplified guitar notes echoing out from the main room. You get an unshakable premonition that you're about to witness something extraordinary. Jimi's thrown-together combo of Steve Winwood on Hammond organ, Jack Cassidy on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums delivers precisely the kind of spontaneous combustion that exemplifies the freedom of expression that Hendrix so craved. To say they create a hypnotic atmosphere doesn't do it justice. Winwood's growling organ and Jimi's fierce guitar circle each other like sinewy predators, constantly feeding off each other's intensity. Mitchell can be easily overlooked but he's unquestionably the maestro here, his drums skillfully keeping this powder keg of kinetic energy from detonating prematurely. His jazzy solo tactfully allows the band to digress into chaos at exactly the right spot before righting the ship just in time for the final verse/chorus and the exhilarating climax. As an added bonus they allow the tape to continue to run, capturing the honest reactions and elation of the musicians as they bask in the afterglow of being part of pure magic.

Want a buzz kill? How about "Little Miss Strange." Perhaps the Redding family enjoyed this anemic possum but not I. It's too awful to talk about. Having said that, "Long Hot Summer Night" really isn't much of an improvement. Flat, lifeless tones plague this weak offering that has no discernable soul and comes off very much as an act of desperation on Hendrix's part to make the suits happy. The trio's hot cover of Earl King's "Come on (Part 1)" slides in right from the chitlin circuit that Jimi paid his dues on and at least provides a tight track and a spitfire guitar lead to relish. It's not even a distant cousin of prog but it's the kind of number that could be stretched out indefinitely in concert. "Gypsy Eyes" steers things back onto a more progressive path but it's a woefully disjointed, jerky affair that constantly loses momentum and flow. "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" is a delight, though. Its irresistible, springy intro with the unique blend of guitar and harpsichord provides a much needed change of pace at this juncture and Hendrix's wah-wah work is subtle and supremely understated throughout. The airy, ascending background vocals are excellent and the clever chord pattern makes this one of this best creations.

Once again Jimi breaks out of the bonds of conformity and presents impromptu music from yet another collage of musicians on "Rainy Day, Dream Away." It's a cool mix of blues and jazz where Hendrix's guitar engages in an animated conversation with Mike Finnigan's organ and Freddie Smith's saxophone that eventually evolves into an interesting verse and a tag-along instrumental segment. Then it abruptly changes gears and fades away. "1983.(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" ensues and it has a dreamy, drifting aura built around a catchy theme and augmented by cosmic vocal effects. It's one of the proggier cuts on the album and quite a bit of thought was given to the arrangement. "Moon, Turn the Tides" offers a hearty slice of free-form improvisation with the flute of Traffic's Chris Wood flittering about. Mitch turns in a drum solo that's as smooth as still water, then they slyly return to the Merman theme ere to disintegrating gracefully into the ether. "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" picks up from wherever "Rainy Day" faded to earlier (kudos for the chutzpah to do that) but it's nothing more than a half-decent jam with some spirited wah-wah guitar.

"House Burning Down" is a stab at commercial accessibility and this odd jumble of song ideas very nearly works before collapsing under its own weight. The classic rendition of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is next and it's one of those queer songs (like the Beatles' "Drive My Car") that has an intro that I've never been able to grasp. It's some kind of freak of my nature, I reckon. But the tune is one for the ages for good reason. It's terrific and even the composer was blown away by its originality. Jimi's voice and his amazing guitarisms were custom made for this enigmatic song. Which brings us to the titanic closer, "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," a no-holds-barred frontal assault that finds Hendrix totally immersed in his crank-it-up-and-floor-it rock element. He plays with such passion, such ferocity, such sublime ANGER that it's a wonder that the song wasn't deemed a fire hazard. As if to tell the planet's populace where they could shove his too-many-strings-attached notoriety he prophetically croons "If I don't meet you no more in this world/then I'll see you in the next one/don't be late." I think he knew that long-term existence in a fishbowl just wasn't going to work for him.

"My personal philosophy is my music. Nothing but music - life - that's all" he was quoted as saying. If he had somehow survived his romance with narcotics I suspect that Jimi Hendrix would've at one point dropped out of the rat race (much like Clapton did) to join up with a group of faceless musical vagabonds who just wanted to travel around and have fun making a joyful noise. He thought he wanted stardom (as we all do) but the Devil's blood-soaked contract had hidden clauses that robbed Jimi of his most prized possession - freedom. The music on "Electric Ladyland" is an uneven assortment of angst and ecstasy borne out of the predicament Hendrix found himself in. He was the ultimate shooting star. Gone but never forgotten. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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