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Class ?

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Meta-Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years



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Year Of Release: 1972
Overall rating = 12

Man, the Seventies were blessed - when else could you do hilarious stuff like this with the most basic blues-rock forms?

Best song: FRAMED

Track listing: 1) Framed; 2) Hammer Song; 3) Midnight Moses; 4) Isabel Goudie; 5) Buff's Bar Blues; 6) I Just Want To Make Love To You; 7) Hole In Her Stocking; 8) There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother They're Burning Big Louie Tonight; 9) St Anthony.

To think that Alex Harvey was friggin' thirty-seven years old when he released the album that, for most people, still remains his debut. Of course, he'd had his Big Soul Band for over a decade now, and even released a couple LPs here and there, but these are now dang nigh impossible to locate and nobody pays attention to them anyway - much like nobody really pays any attention to David Bowie's career before at least Space Oddity. No, the true career of Alex Harvey starts here at the tail end of 1972: he was old by rock'n'roll standards, but he had assembled a kickass band, and better than that, he knew exactly what kind of niche he wanted he establish for himself with that band.

Framed is basically blues-rock. On one track ('Isabel Goudie') Harvey goes for a mock-"epic" sort of presentation, probably with prog-rockers of the time as the object of his ridicule, and a couple of tunes venture alternatively into folk-rock and/or heavy metal territory, but the core of this album is blues-rock. Four four beats, twelve bar structure, you know the drill. But it's blues-rock done like never before - or after. Positioning themselves in the middle of the glam epoch, Harvey and the band transform blues-rock into glam theater. They go for a BIG sound, and if I didn't hate to break up the perfect alignment of the review, I'd have made that BIG several sizes larger - it's B-I-G, B-I-G, as in really really big. Enormously loud everything - guitar, drums, pianos, shouted vocals, going at Zeppelinish volume and more than that. The attitude, however, is not Zeppelinish. It's a head-spinning cross between macho posturing and cabaret brawling, yet done extremely tongue in cheek: there's no mistaking Harvey's mock-barroom attitude for the real thing.

Which, of course, firmly places him in the glam camp: everything loud, tacky, and glossy, yet everything self-consciously ironic at the same time, widely grinning at its own destructive decadence. Music that is perfect for satisfying your lowliest urges and ridiculing them at the same time - music you can't do without!

The main attractions of Framed are, of course, (a) the excellent skill of guitarist Zal Cleminson, who rarely uses his instrument to show off but always uses it to make the music powerful and attractive, and (b) Harvey's own vocal stylizations, replete with exaggerated Cockney-isms and/or bluesmaster howling where it is necessary. It doesn't always work, but it works more often than not, and anyway the very fact that it works at least sometimes already speaks volumes - this is, after all, an extremely unimaginative kind of music-making, and it takes real inspiration to make it outstanding.

And it's outstanding on the very first track - the title one, a cover of the old Leiber/Stoller original, slightly lyrically shifted to suit Harvey's own lyrical needs. The very intro is classic: the sound of a cell door slammed shut opens it, and then you have that slow, unnerving cymbal chuckling, at times interrupted by the five-note guitar riff - slow, slow, slow, as if it were taking full time to enjoy itself and give the listener a pre-taste of the POWER that will follow. The combination of this goofy slowness (and it is goofy!), Harvey's Cockney accent ('they asked if my name was Alexander 'n ah sed wwwwwhhhyyy sssshaaaaaaaauuuww'), Cleminson's short but effective guitar solo and the ecstatic chorus simply makes 'Framed' one of the best "comic" blues-rockers of the Seventies.

Then the insults begin coming. I take 'Hammer Song' to be a venomous parody on the "folk rock" thing - a nonsensic 'epic ballad' ('don't let the sun go down, said the man with the fire firing the furnace... I've been buried in the snow, and I keep on firing, keep on firing, keep on firing... firing the furnace!' is a typical lyrical quote from the song) that sends me rolling every time I hear it; and, like I already said, 'Isabel Goudie' with its three parts, one of them called 'Coitus Interruptus', by the way (I presume you know what that means, right?), most certainly mocks the progressive strain of the time. It's not very memorable, but it's extremely funny at the least - which is less than I can say for a lot of prog, of course.

These tracks don't kick ass, though. What does kick ass is the terrific rocker 'Midnight Moses', with an unforgettable riff the kinds of which were only being written back when Black Sabbath, Budgie, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple ruled the heavy premises - a spoof on 'Midnight Rambler' or what? Whatever the answer is, it's just one of those classic glam-rockers which totally shake your behind off and at the same time revel in the realization of their own idiocy. A true marvel. I'm also a sucker for 'Buff's Bar Blues', which is just what it bills itself as, but how can you resist a bar blues with lyrics like "Drinking Aspumanti, reading John McLain/His sister in the grubber and his brother was the same, he's got the Buff's Bar Blues"? It's one of the goddarn funniest bar blues I've heard in my life, and no, I'm not inclydyng Skynyrd yn thys catygory.

The cover of 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You' seems somewhat overlong to me (although the slow mastodontic arrangement is immaculate by itself); but it's fully redeemed by the fast-paced 'Hole In Her Stocking', the eerie half-hard rock, half-carnival number 'There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree, Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight' (which tells the story of exactly that subject, if you're curious), and the blasphemous 'St Anthony' (which, if I'm not mistaken, uses the metaphor of St Anthony's temptations as an excuse to tell a particularly seedy S&M story), which is as red-hot funky as anything in the epoch and finishes the album with a whole shotgun blast (I mean, METAPHORIC shotgun!).

And throughout, Alex is being sly, funny, intelligent, and powerful. There's really not a bad track included, although, like I hinted, some might be overlong; I'd personally like to have him lambast some other musical sub-genre to shreds than to waste such an awful lot of time on 'Isabel Goudie'. It's kinda funny, though, that once Harvey adopted the tongue-in-cheek glammy attitude instead of the more sincere approach to music-making that he used to have, that he actually started to find some real popularity. Kinda speaks volumes of the epoch, doesn't it?


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