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Blue Oyster Cult - Cult Classic Award winner

Blue Oyster Cult
Cult Classic
by Kira Schlechter at 28 March 2020, 4:31 AM

BLUE OYSTER CULT is a band that needs no introduction. Since their inception in 1967, they’ve been a hard rock stalwart, an institution. Their latest. “Cult Classic,” is part of a series of remasters of their back catalog that have been released over the last few months. This is a remaster of their 12th album, originally released in 1994, so it’s actually a remaster of a remake. It is necessary? Probably not. Is it worth a listen? It’s BOC. So that’s an “of course.” They are currently working on a new studio album, so these remasters are a tide-over until then.

From the classic opener (and equally classic “Saturday Night Live” skit) “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” this remake has a warm, rich, fully realized sound, everything beautifully balanced, from Buck’s haunting guitar to Eric’s dreamy, trippy vocals, to the infamous cowbell, to Chuck’s evocative, mood-setting drumming, to the liberal, atmospheric organ. This is their signature track for a good reason. The instrumental breakdown is just as you remember it, frantic, frightening, eerie, foreboding, telling a story in and of itself.

“E.T.I.” has a raw, rugged groove and a fantastical storyline. Eric’s voice is more soulful here and he plays with his range to great effect, while Buck’s playing is the polar opposite of “Reaper,” fiery and crunchy and earthy. The World War II tale “M.E. 262” is pure barroom rock ‘n’ roll, full of jiving, rollicking piano and an organ line that mimics an airraid siren. It’s a personification of the actual Messerschmitt (the first jet-powered fighter plane), telling the story from its perspective – the snarling vocals add bite to the arrogant plane’s boasting and preening.

“This Ain’t the Summer of Love” is muscular and snide. Buck’s sinister riff sets the mood in the verses and the chorus is a warning, a come-with-us-if-you-dare. “Burning For You” shimmers and undulates, those drifting vocals and harmonies and Buck’s delicate, precise picking on the familiar riff and solo sections cementing this as the classic it remains. It’s funny when you sit and seriously listen to these songs how you notice things even after years of hearing them – here it’s how Buck punctuates the end of each chorus lead-in slightly differently, a technique that adds interest and builds anticipation.

Even when the band took a straight-ahead rock approach to a song, they still worked in those occultish, creepy lyrics, and “O.D.’d On Life Itself” is another perfect example. The narrator may say he’s “o.d.’d on life itself,” but it sure sounds like some acid trip gone very wrong – he sees “Writings appear on the wall/The curtains part and landscape fall/There, the writing’s done, in blood/Like a mummy's inscription and a bat-wing tongue.”

“Flaming Telepaths” has a loose shambling groove backed by lazy piano, giving it a cabaret vibe. The solo section this time is led by the keyboards, first synths and then piano, before it segues into Buck’s guitar. The ending almost has the alchemist narrator trying to convince himself that everything's fine and “the joke’s on you” even as he’s clearly spiraling into madness.

Despite its unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) hilarious chorus, “Godzilla” is the perfect match of lyric and music, its heavy thudding groove echoing the fictional monster’s deadly tread, Buck’s guitar spitting like anti-aircraft fire in a real showcase of his skill, and Jon providing the truly funky bass counterpart. Its final couplet that is more true today than ever: “History shows again and again/How nature points out the folly of man.” It certainly does.

“Astronomy” is lovely and lush, with its stream-of-consciousness lyrics and orchestral, experimental vibe that borders a bit on jazz. Piano and bass shine, and the solo section is soundly structured and not overwhelmed by guitar. It subtly picks up speed as it heads into a final lengthy instrumental section that almost sounds like a live jam – it’s given its head, but it doesn’t meander.

“Cities on Flame With Rock ‘n’ Roll,” set to another ominous funky groove, might be a little goofy but it’s got some truly inspired plays on words – “Marshall will buoy, but Fender control” and a reference to “Reins of steel” – good stuff. Buck’s guitar struts and swaggers and duels with Chuck’s in-the-pocket drumming and Allen’s elastic organ in the instrumental ending, and together they pummel and twist the rhythm before driving it home at the close.

Our addiction to TV is even more apparent these days, so “Harvester of Eyes” remains relevant societal commentary. It’s witty and pointed and features great guitar harmonies and a neck-snapping main riff. “Buck’s Boogie” is the guitarist’s signature instrumental. While he’s center stage, he couldn’t do his thing without the wickedly adept organ and deadly precise drumming backing him up, which adds seasoning and shows off the equally formidable chops of the rest of the band. As any instrumental worth its salt, it goes through distinct, defined movements that each have melodies and moods of their own, and it frequently returns to the signature established melody that serves as its touchstone. It’s noodling with a greater purpose – the song itself.

And for the truly obsessed BOC fan, there are remastered TV remixes (whew) of “Reaper” and “Godzilla” to close the album.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Don’t Fear the Reaper
2. E.T.I. (Extraterrestrial Intelligence)
3. M.E. 262
4. This Ain’t the Summer of Love
5. Burning For You
6. O.D.’D on Life Itself
7. Flaming Telepaths
8. Godzilla
9. Astronomy
10. Cities on Flame With Rock ‘n’ Roll
11. Harvester of Eyes
12. Buck’s Boogie
13. Don’t Fear the Reaper (TV Mix)
14. Godzilla (TV Mix)
Lineup:
Eric Bloom - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser - Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
Allen Lanier - Keyboards, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jon Rogers - Bass, Backing Vocals
Chuck Burgi - Drums,. Percussion, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Frontiers Music SRL
     


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