Illustration titled "And an Eighth" from the British pamphlet "Heads and Tails in the Civil Service", 1884
So I looked back over the list of recent acquisitions I posted on Friday, and I realized that most of those artists (ABBA, George Harrison, Tom Petty) are ones I've liked for a long time. I asked myself, "Am I less adventurous when it comes to digging into previous eras than I am with new stuff?" Maybe, but I have been known to give a chance to a "classic" artist I've overlooked, as I've done recently with '70s proto-metal-poppers Blue Oyster Cult. I'd always intended to have Secret Treaties be my entry point into the BOC oeuvre, but I bought Agents of Fortune on a whim last week (partly fueled by a compulsion to hear "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" ASAP) and I've listened to it practically non-stop since then.
Agents of Fortune is an interesting album, and it's one that I am still trying to figure out. Large chunks of the album are still pretty puzzling to me, in part because the album defied my expectations in that "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" is a real oddity on the album and not a good indicator of BOC's sound at the time. But the thing that I really didn't expect is that the band's "sound" is so all-over-the-place - somehow, I'd never heard that BOC had four distinct songwriters (plus some famous outside collaborators). The fact that lead vocalist Eric Bloom only sings lead on about half of the songs on Agents of Fortune makes the album even harder to pin down - the four other guys in the band each do at least one lead vocal, and Buck Dharma (whose voice I've always loved on "(Don't Fear) the Reaper") only sings lead on that one song.
The fact that there's a lot going on just makes the album more compelling to me, though, and it makes me want to explore other BOC albums as well. Agents of Fortune's low point, for me, is Albert Bouchard's two collaborations with NY scenester Helen Wheels ("Sinful Love" and "Tattoo Vampire") - they're just sound a little too sleazy, and they make the album sag a little in the middle. Other than that, though, I found a lot to enjoy, from Buck Dharma's "other" contribution, the soaring arena-rocker "E.T.I.", to keyboardist Allen Lanier's power-poppy "True Confessions" and the better-than-its-title "Tenderloin". Joe Bouchard's proggy "Morning Final" is also cool and different, adding to the album's scatter-shot feel.
The closing song, "Debbie Denise", sung by Albert Bouchard, is another one I'm enjoying a lot. I guess it started out as one of Patti Smith's early poems, but it's much better than the either of the Helen Wheels songs. It's sappy in a fun way, with Bouchard ending each line of the verse in a goofy falsetto - it's more "soft rock" than "(Don't Fear) the Reaper". It's kind of surprising that a "metal" band could get away with a song this corny, but it's got a nice melody and acoustic guitar sound. Dig the "lalalalala" on the final chorus! Blue Oyster Cult may not be a cool band to be into these days, but I think I may be entering a "BOC phase" here - Secret Treaties is the next one I'm looking for.
"Debbie Denise" by Blue Oyster Cult