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Class ?

Main Category: Arena Rock
Also applicable: Roots Rock, Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Divided Eighties


Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Humble Pie fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Humble Pie fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating = 7

Well, as safe as yesterday is, maybe they should have looked forward to tomorrow - originality these guys have not. Hell, they don't even have melodies.

Best song: NATURAL BORN BOOGIE (bonus)

Track listing: 1) Desperation; 2) Stick Shift; 3) Buttermilk Boy; 4) Growing Closer; 5) As Safe As Yesterday; 6) Bang!; 7) Alabama '69; 8) I'll Go Alone; 9) A Nifty Little Number Like You; 10) What You Will; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Natural Born Boogie; 12) Wrist Job.

Humble Pie was formed by Steve Marriott after the breakup of his original band - the Small Faces (a band whose albums I'm still painfully trying to find for a decent price). Having recruited former Herd guitarist Peter Frampton and a rhythm section consisting of Greg Ridley on bass and Jerry Shirley on drums, he went on to transform his new group into a solid arena-rock outfit that could, well, with certain limitations be called the third best Seventies' bluesy outfit after the Stones and the Faces. Special note to all those who are allergic to the name 'Frampton': the guy only lasted in Humble Pie two or three years and was actually quite good and cozy while staying there. It's his solo career that can be vomit-inducing for some; leave the Humble Pie period alone.

Although, judging by this record you could hardly say that this band had a lot of things in store for it. Jesus Lord Sweet Mary, I swear I have never actually heard anything like this before. When I first read Wilson & Alroy's review of the album, I thought they must have been exaggerating when they said that there ain't a single memorable song on here; but unbelievably, that is indeed so. It's just that it is way beyond my limited comprehension to try and understand how come a relatively unpretentious, rootsy rock'n'roll record can not have even a single hook - okay, I don't necessarily require innovation or peculiarity, and I'm not the plaintive type: I could easily get away with a couple simplistic blues numbers. Nadah. No way. Ten lengthy tracks that go well over forty-five minutes, and it all has the feel of a slippery, hostile piece of dough which just cannot be shaped into a pie (much less a humble pie), no matter how you try - it just keeps slipping through your fingers and overflowing in all directions.

It's all the more amazing considering that Steve is responsible for five of the tunes on the record (a sixth one - the title track - is co-written with Frampton), and in his Small Faces days he was certainly no slouch when it came to songwriting. What was he - doing deep drugs at the time? We the nasty reviewers are used to pinning everything on drugs, but really, I can't find any other suitable explanation. And it's even more amazing considering the band's chops: in fact, this is the only thing that saves the record from full damnation - it rocks. There are no melodies at all, but it still rocks; if you ever needed proof that it is possible to sincerely rock out 'on an empty spot', As Safe As Yesterday Is is the sole argument you'll ever need. The rhythm section has more energy than Steppenwolf, especially Jerry Shirley, who pounds out a thunderstorm on the rockers and fills all the possible empty spaces with his percussion on the 'softer' tunes. The guitars roar and tear - but not in a Big Brother mode, where musicians rely on loudness and distortion rather than anything else; no, Steve and Pete really bend these strings carefully and thoughtfully, and rock out with enough sincerity and passion. The organs and pianos, handled by three of four members of the band, are quite professional and powerful; the harmonicas are well-controlled, and from time to time they even insert something 'weird', like a sitar, to suit the times. In all, this record can easily work as solid background listening - loud for parties, quiet for your personal pleasure, whatever.

And yet, background or no background, it's impossible to get away from the fact that these guys just did not bother to write melodies. There are rhythms, there are solos, there are lyrics; but I think that picking out the chord progressions wouldn't even be a complicated matter - it would be a ridiculous one. For starters, where are the riffs? 'Butter Milk Boy' starts out deceptively, as a fast riff-driven rocker, but as soon as Steve enters with his vocals, the tune falls apart and, as far as I understand, only the bass really carries forward the 'melody'. And a mighty, overdriven riff suddenly appears out of nowhere on the last minute of the title track - as an unexpected surprise for those who had enough patience to sit through the entire first side to get to it.

Second, where are the hooks? This all sounds like an interminable jam session with a bunch of emphatic, ardent players who have nevertheless completely run out of creative ideas and just sit furiously bashing out the chords, trying to find a groove and always failing. 'Alabama '69' stands out in the context of the record with its country-esque arrangement and mock-redneckish vocals, and the sitar in the instrumental introduction to 'I'll Go Alone' is quite welcome, too; the tune is given an obligatory Eastern feel which, however, disappears as soon as the vocals step in. That's about it. Every other single track is structured according to the formula 'play whatever gets in your head, as long as it's energetic and corresponds to a certain time signature'. And they reduce everything to this formula: starting from the never ending, dreary cover of Steppenwolf's 'Desperation' and ending with Marriott's stupid screamfest 'Bang!' and Frampton's throwaway rocker 'Stick Shift'.

Sometimes it seems to me that several of these songs could have worked better if they weren't so terribly overproduced. The principle is 'wall-of-sound', but there's no Phil Spector in the studio, and the band literally falls on their faces: instead of ideally complementing each other, the instruments seem to drown out each other, not to mention the actual singing. Shirley's drums, with heavy emphasis on the cymbals, are at the center of the sound all the time, and the guitars are often mixed way too low so that they mingle with the overpowering keyboards and can't help but result in an unlistenable mess. So I couldn't really say for sure that all of these songs are musically incompetent; but believe me, I just don't have the desire to sit through this stuff more than the appropriate three times to try and find out.

The CD issue adds two bonus tracks to this mess, both credited to Steve - 'Wrist Job' is just as cacophonous as everything else, but 'Natural Born Boogie' is quite a hoot, and currently it is my best bet for the record. Of course, Steve's credit for that one is kinda feeble: I can't even call it a rip-off of Chuck Berry's 'Little Queenie', because the ripping-off is so obvious and evident, so I'd better call it Steve's 'Variations on 'Little Queenie'. It's hardly guitar-heavy at all, with mostly electric organs propelling the song and just a few moderate guitar solos around, but it significantly deviates from the general formula in that the instrumentation is distinctive, and at least it's just a plain old-fashioned boogie, not an original 'composition' - which means that a melody is guaranteed. How easy is it to butcher a song like 'Little Queenie'? Not that easy, I tell you.

In the end, I think, a seven might be too high for this album, but what the heck, I'll add it one more point just because it's so unique. When something is so uniquely bad, you know it might turn out to be great one day. Dialectics rules.



Year Of Release: 1971
Overall rating = 11

What a great set of rootsy bloozy grooves. Highly recommended for fans of tasteful early Seventies hard-rock.

Best song: 79TH AND SUNSET

Track listing: 1) Shine On; 2) Sour Grain; 3) 79th And Sunset; 4) Stone Cold Fever; 5) Rollin' Stone; 6) A Song For Jenny; 7) The Light; 8) Big George; 9) Strange Days; 10) Red Neck Jump.

Criminy! Is this the same band that recorded As Crappy As Yesterday Was, Today Is Even Crappier a couple years ago? Apparently it is, and they didn't even have no member changes. But this is so, so much better that I really come to the conclusion that the band's debut album was either hashed out in a couple hours or in a drug craze.

Everybody agrees that Rock On is one of the Pie's better moments, if not the best one. On this album the band really proves why in the early Seventies it was considered one of Britain's greatest R'n'B outfits. They are becoming thoroughly Americanized by this time, much more so than their principal concurrents, the Faces: country, blues and bluegrass influences are all over this album, but Steve Marriott adds to everything his impeccable vocal stylizations, really bothering to sing and, okay, maybe 'articulate' instead of just barking and shouting his way through all the songs. And the band shows itself a tight and compact unit; not as tight as the Stones, but I don't blame them for that. I mean, none of the songs ever really fall apart or degenerate into noisy bummers; Shirley's drumming is tight enough to prevent them from doing that, but loose enough to give the band some opportunities for improvised jamming. Meanwhile, Marriott tosses out crunchy, awesome riffs, Frampton blasts the house to pieces with magnificent leads, and occasional guests, like Bobby Keyes on sax, provide great embellishments as well.

The heavy tracks should be played really loud in order to feel their power, especially the monstruous jam 'Stone Cold Fever' - a track after listening to which I hardly understand the need for Aerosmith's existence on the planet. Marriott howls out the 'paleolithic' lyrics like a prime caveman while beating the shit out of his guitar, Frampton gives out an impressive impersonation of Santana, and the track ends with a little guitar heaven as both play that generic, but unbeatable riff in unison. There's also a terrific cover of Howlin' Wolf's 'Rollin' Stone', heavily recommended for all heavy lovers of heavy blues; Steve's singing on that one is magnificent, a prime example of 'putting the soul and spirit into the blues', and Frampton really intrigues me with his playing on that one. The solo part is awesome once you listen to it in headphones; Wilson & Alroy were right in comparing Frampton with Page on that one - he plays the same barrages of echoey, flashing licks that distinguish Page's work on Led Zep's best album (the first one), and that's a fantastic listening experience.

However, the album is diverse enough, and it's not just the heaviest numbers that make the grade. Many subgenres of roots-rock are tackled in many interesting ways, some of which are quite unique. Okay, maybe 'A Song For Jenny' isn't too unique, but you can't get away from the fact that the main acoustic melody of it is just as memorable as it is gorgeous, which is only proved for the fact that McCartney later nicked that same acoustic riff for his pretty ballad 'Mama's Little Girl' - be it intentionally or subconsciously, it really doesn't matter.

But what about '79th And Sunset'? I love that song, and, shame on me, I even like the misogynistic lyrics. They rank among the most interesting misogynistic lyrics I've ever witnessed, by the way. How about this: 'Well this yellow haired snake sits snug as a bug/Got more angle than a toby jug/Star lock hair pins, honey has faults/Shows her legs when opportunity knocks/Underneath her red sweater/She's a big-deal go-getter/There'll be some dramas inside your pajamas tonight'. And I could go on, too, but I won't, because I'm not here to give away the lyrics. Instead, I'll just say that the saloon piano is tremendously tasty, Marriott's tongue-in cheek intonations are hilarious, and the doo-woppy backing vocals and Frampton's simplistic, but enthralling licks are absolutely endearing.

Frampton's main highlight on the record, a Bo Diddley stylization entitled 'The Light', is quite catchy as well; bassist Greg Ridley breaks in with an overtly stupid country rocker ('Big George'), highlighted by its own stupidity and Bobby Keyes' beautiful sax solo. And the magnum opus of the record is a really strange number appropriately called 'Strange Days' which begins its life as a piano-guitar fast jam before turning into an eerie chant about an FBI employee - three years before Mick Jagger took the theme and perfected it on 'Fingerprint File'. Again, Steve is the main hero, turning this into a real theatrical performance: his singing ranges from a shaky, trembly murmur to all-out screaming, and the song can get really scary at times.

I'm sure the record will keep on growing on me yet, like most prime R'n'B recordings do. There's probably nothing particularly great about it if one just disassembles it to individual pieces, but when all the elements of the band's 1971 style are taken together, this makes up for some truly great R'n'B and a style you certainly couldn't find anywhere else. Like I said, this is the vibe that Aerosmith were probably feeding on in the beginning of their career - they just made everything a wee bit heavier and faster and swapped the funny and interesting lyrics for idiotic ones. If you're a big Stones or Faces fan, try it, you'll like it.


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