Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed (1972) & Next (1973)

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band is a fascinating find. Stripped down, they are simply a hard rock band, but with a theatricality that is totally unique. And much of that is influenced by Alex Harvey himself, as much a performer as a rock singer. Although if you've seen videos of the band, you'll also notice guitarist Zal Cleminson's clown-like makeup. Right from the start, the SAHB sets itself apart from other bands of the era, in that the band leader, Alex Harvey, was 38 when the band formed. And with his natural skill at performing, he seems to bring an almost gangster vaudeville theme to the act, with songs about soldiers and prostitutes and criminals and prison and so on. But where a lesser band might fold under the potential to be viewed as a comedy act, Alex Harvey plays it straight, and the band backing him demands to be taken seriously. So when Alex sings "there's nothing like a gang bang to blow away the blues", you're willing to believe it.

There are lots of good songs on the SAHB's first two albums, and there's very little in the way of weak links. The title track on Framed is one of my favorites, as is the closing track, St. Anthony, which has a killer riff (plenty of those abound) and a very energetic delivery. Alex Harvey's cover of I Just Want To Make Love To You is unique, but it inevitably pales in comparison to Foghat's spectacular version of the song, released in the same year. I'll admit that I like the heavier songs, such as Hammer Song and Midnight Moses, more than the light-hearted ones, like Hole In Her Stocking or the rather silly (can you tell just by the title?) There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight. But then, that humor is part of the band's charm.

My gut instinct is to say that Framed is a better album than Next, but when I look at the songs on Next, I have to concede that they're both great albums. The standout track is the epic Faith Healer. I hear it made for a good show during the band's celebrated live performances. Vambo Marble Eye sounds great and is probably the heaviest track on both of these albums. From what I've read, Vambo is apparently a comic book style superhero that Alex Harvey invented as something of an alter ego, in almost rock opera fashion. I do believe there are more songs about Vambo on later albums. Next closes with a rather curious song titled The Last of the Teenage Idols, which (I'm not sure if it's obvious from the title or not) is somewhat dark. At least until the final section, which seems to parody teenage pop idol music in a way that miraculously turns out sounding pretty good. And you'd think it was meant to be taken tongue in cheek, but according to the liner notes, Alex Harvey did actually win a teenage idol contest in his homeland of Scotland. And so, once again, you're left thinking to yourself, "this guy's not joking."

No comments:

Post a Comment