Ten Years After

Come on, guys...you weren't THAT far outta style.

Ten Years After
Cricklewood Green
A Space In Time
Alvin Lee and Company
Rock & Roll Music To The World
Recorded Live
Positive Vibrations
About Time

The Lineup Card 1967-1988

Alvin Lee (guitar, vocals)

Chick Churchill (keyboards)

Leo Lyons  (bass)

Ric Lee (drums)


Ten Years After's career can now be boiled down to one 10-minute sequence in the Woodstock movie where guitarist Alvin Lee goes boogie-berserk on his red Gibson semi-hollow body in a most impressive but dangerously artless way - this sort of finger-flashing was just the poop of the day in 1969 when 'blues-rock' as a style hadn't yet grown staler than last month's fat-free tortillas once every idiot (Savoy Brown) realised they could play this way. Except for the Three Day Bummer In the Shit, Ten Years After might be as well-remembered as any other pachouli-scented Marshall-wonking Cream wannabe jam band you care to dredge up.  And not without reason - this band only had a small handful of radio hits (none of which is particularly well-remembered nowadays), had a mediocre singer, and gained most of its fandom via levitating heads from spinal columns in the friendly confines of the Fillmore West or Royal Albert Hall. As it is, this band essentially represents what would've happened to Fleetwood Mac had they never met Christine Perfect, or if the Allman Brothers'd hadn't ever met  - a short-term fanbase big on authenticity and consistency, but one that tends to forget what the big deal was once the amplifiers stop ringing.  It's not to say this band is one-dimensional (that thay ain't - they got downright cranky and increasingly stiff as the years went on), it's just that they never were able to distinguish any of their dimensions too well. 

For me, TYA represents nothing more than competence.  Lee is an obviously skilled and sometimes interesting player schooled in the same B.B. King/Lightning Hopkins style of blues guitar as Clapton, albeit with a slightly more jazzy bent, but his solos tended to be endless flurries of notes performed identically, as if from rote, from concert to concert. Compared to a similarly hazily-remembered late-60's blues god like Fleetwood Mac's smooth-as-satin-panties Peter Green, Alvin Lee sounds crude and garagey. Or maybe simply 'authentic', considering how endearingly clunky some of the real Chicago blues guys really were. The rhythm section keeps up with ol Al, but no one provides much of a foil for Lee's solomongering - there's no John Entwistle bass or Ian Anderson flute to fill any of the spaces, and since Lee is also the vocalist, he can shut up for as long as he feels like when he decides to wank his maple phallus. If there was ever a man who liked to 'squeeze the sap', it's Alvin 'Don't Dare Call Me Arthur' Lee. Mostly, it's the songs that get me down - despite trippy-dippy album titles like Stonedhenge or Sssssh, the band never did anything too outlandish as to be called daring on any of their albums, and since they weren't particularly good melodicists or lyric-writers, either, yer sorta left with a canteen full of sand at the end of the day.  If there's a line drawn between blooze bands that could write (The Allman Brothers, Derek and the Dominoes, Cream sometimes) and those that couldn't, Ten Years After would definitely be on the Dixie end of that equation. Dig it.

Still, Ten Years After didn't ever suck so badly they became a joke or anything, and while they hung around far longer than anyone had any right to expect them to, they never really hit the skids, either. Consistent, you know. Like corn grits or Craig Biggio. If you can't get enough of that heavy late-60's crawlin' crumpetsnake blues band vibe, you probably at least gotta hear some of this Ten Queers' Laughter stuff.

Ten Years After - Deram 1967

About as consequential as a pine tree air freshener in a slaughterhouse, but Ten Years After's unloved and unmissed debut is one of their fresher and more listenable albums. This is simply because this is quite clearly a bunch of pals having just about barely scraped together the nosh to schedule some sessions, and they want to do their darndest to impress the Boss (no, not Bruce Springsteen, who was locked in his garage trying to teach himself 'Telstar' while his dad screamed at him, but the Record Honcho). So far, the band ain't doing one Calista Flockhart of a thing differently than a zillion other English blues-record addicted bands, other than possibly Lee's fetish for $10 diminished-epiglottis, sharped sixteenth, Aeriolian mode chords and Les Paul swing licks, which, admittedly, give this thing a sort of professional sheen that most of the hordes similarly zit-faced Limeyshire dropout bands didn't have.  It sounds like Alvin may have a had at least a few lessons in his lifetime, versus most of his competition, who evidently all learned guitar from each other in the bathroom of the local Art College between cigarettes and blood brother pacts to all become junkies in the year 1976.  Except the professional/authentic sheen is taken just a smidge too far when it comes to the low-rent four-track production...guitar and organ in the right channel, bass and vox all mashed together up your ass in the middle, and drums all stacked away by their lonesome WAAAAAY over in the left channel, apparently assembled in the crapper down the hall.  It's amazing records were ever recorded like this, because while it's clear as day, it sounds claustrophobic and bizarre, plus with headphones on my left ear begins to pant and howl for mercy after too many damn tom-tom rolls stacked together in an attempt to perforate my eardrum. See, there used to be these big arguments about whether mono was a better way to record rock and roll than stereo, that monaural sound gave you a more exciting mix without a bunch of show-off panning or, even worse, exactly the kind of blunt, one-size-fits-all assembly-line mix this album got. This is the sort of thing that maybe makes me think the Rock and Roll Flat Earth Society may not be the absolute crackpots they appear.

Songwise, everything is either a cover of one of those venerable old Blues Titans, or it sounds directly ripped off from the same dudes.  The one you're gonna snatch straight off the tree is 'Spoonful', also covered by some cracker named Eric Crap-tone and his band Creed the year before.  Oddly enough, the main differences appear to be the fact that TYA use an organ on the main riff line ('dut doo dut doo dut doooo dum') while Cream made do with a bass and Jack Bruce's intestinal vocal stylings.  Both bands do decide to scrape this heap of a track (never one of my favorites - always makes me wish they were singing about a spoonful of something interesting, like stem cells or Dick Cheney's conscience or some mint chocolate chip ice cream or something) over 6 minutes for no good reason outside of a mere guitar solo, to show who's copped whose licks in the last year. Alvin's gotten Jimmy Page and Freddie King, apparently, both jagged, machine gun blues soloists with about as much regard for smoothness as they do the sensitive eardrums of the women and children. So the guy can blast - outside of his jazzy opening two tracks, he really doesn't distinguish himself on this album with his playing. And he sure as hell can't do it with his singing, which is so homely it makes milk curdle and people's bum ankles throb.

Six of the remaining eight tracks barely scrape three minutes in length, giving us just enough chance to A) bop our head to Lee's groove for a period of time guaranteed short enough not to bore us, like 'Spoonful' did, but also B) figure out that Alvin Lee also learned everything he knows about lyrics from blues records, meaning his subject matter apparently ranges all the way from begging women to let him fuck them ('Feel It For Me', which wins the Totally Not Blunt Song Title Of the Year, 1967), to killing them when he gets bored of 'em again ('Losing the Dogs', which almost sounds like the early Doors, outside the whistling, of course. The only time Jim Morrison whistled was when he was trying to get the bartender's attention). 'Don't Want You Woman' is a good enough acoustic country blues of the very-familiar type, but the idiotic instrumental 'Adventures of a Young Organ' is just another Soloing Excuse. For some people, the mere fact that the red light is on is enough...

The closing torch blues 'Help Me' is nine minutes of Alvin Lee attempting to be something he's naturally not, which is a compelling Crawlin' Kingsnake hootin' and hollerin' while his rhythm section plays the late-show voodoo changes at their most brooding.  The soloing here is first rate, though, one of the first places where it sounds like Alvin may, in fact, be listening to something other than himself.  Either that, or he's got one heck of a sympathetic drummer...either way, the parts where Alvin just shuts up and gays his plitar on 'Help Me' are the album's absolute best.  For a few minutes here, the cauldron begins to actually bubble a little bit. Invite in, say, Eric Burdon to lay down the long iron here instead of Alvin Lee, and you might just take this reviewer's head clean off. As it is, it's still a fine way to conjure just a whiff of the midnite swamp vapors.

Ten Years After is not a groundbreaking or artistically sound record. When Alvin talks about stabbing his woman (no doubt for being 'evil' or some such macho-mysogynistic asscrap), all I can do is say 'my' and wonder what John Lee might think. But there are times where it is as good as this kind of music got, even in spite of the inherent un-extraordinariness of this band. There are times when Trent Dilfer wins the Super Bowl, there are times when Arthur Miller gets to fuck Marylin Monroe, and there are times when Ten Years After makes some of the better blues music of 1967.

Capn's Final Word: School kids playing blues music like they've heard their older brothers do it, but isn't child's play still fun sometimes? Come on...Uno rules!

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Undead - Deram 1968

A live album from the young-gunslinger blues-only-please Ten Years After, as opposed to their later live albums, one coming from the 'last-ever-rock-band-to-take-acid-yes-even-after-Sha-Na-Na' days of 1970, and one from the 'what-you're-still-here' days of 1973.  Each song here is performed like the band just took center stage at the Rotary Club Free Jazz and Blues Days concert series, right after the lady who once sang backup on some Harry Connick Jr. album fifteen years ago and the Salvation Army Band featuring all the area middle school clarinet players.  It's clear that Alvin works out most of his solos (as do the organist and bassist) beforehand, and I might even hazard a guess that the cat might even write them down (oh sin of sins! Rock and roll is an illiterate's game, doncha know?), and he sure as shit never hits a note that he didn't entirely intend to hit.  It's blues played by white people who've studied far too much jazz, enough to spoil the sweet, sweet honey of the raw blues. What I mean here is, is that while they may impress with their flashy lines and steady stomp, they completely miss the point that guys like Muddy Waters were trying to make when they first amplified the country blues in the dank clubs of South Chicago.  Blues is dirty, and it sure as hell ain't rote. The five minute organ solo over an endless number of 12-bar figures played identically to each other is the invention of the New York jazz crowd, too disciplined and too stuck up to understand that most of the original electric bluesmen couldn't give a donkey's bottom lip if you dropped a bar or three from your chord figure, as long as it tore. Tore a hole in the opposite wall, tore the audience a new consciousness, tore the wimmen's panties straight off.

To a certain extent, Ten Years After achieve ignition despite their adherence to their particular illusionary 'rules' of performance.  'Goin' Home' is fondly remembered for its boogie madness - this is 50's rock and roll spun out to its logical extreme, a savage flurry of every Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley lick ever devised spewed out on the audience at a tempo just south of breakup speed. Listen, practised or not, this stuff, as well as sections of 'Woodchopper's Ball' and the band's lyrical take on Gershwin's 'Summertime', is what the late 60's were about. It's got less range but more texture than, say, Cream or some of the longer-winded San Fran bands of the same period, but it retains more of the rock and roll dirty-ass teen outlaw spirit than those bands often did, too. As a live record, the main thing I can fault it for is not having nearly enough memorable moments - 'Summertime' sadly gives itself up to the threatening come-on of a drum solo halfway through, and I can't tell you a damn thing about 'Spider in My Web'. Mostly, I sit and wait for 'Goin' Home' to come and hype my inner greaser and make that cretin hop. It takes 'em more than half and hour, but they finally get themselves down in the dirt, and for that I'm-a smilin' and a shimmyin'. 

Capn's Final Word: Maybe it just takes them awhile to get warmed up, or to let the drugs start workin', but they sound like they're readin' off charts until the blazin' closer.

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Stonedhenge - Deram 1969

From the hardy-har dishwater-brained title to the liberal use of randomly spliced tape loops of some blitzed-out longhair playing the Indian percussion device of the month to the fact that not one second of this beast can be deemed worthy of your precious memory until the very last song, Stonedhenge is just about the realization of the flakiest that the late 60's had to offer.  In just a short year, Ten Yokels Blather has turned from a scarily square straight blues band into a bunch of dope-injecting puddles of primordial ooze without either a minute's warning or a 'thank you Vicar'. What ended up happening, no doubt, is a corresponding increase in their studio budget and drug intake as Undead caught a small level of buzz around the record racks amongst the ass-wiggling enthusasts.  If it weren't for the vestigal jazz licks left lying around all over the place, I'd be forced to think maybe Alvin had pulled a Mark E. Smith and driven his backing band out to a dark, deserted forest, said one quick, tearful goodbye, and lobbed three Milk Bones as far as he could into the brush before absconding in a most deceitful manner.  But then 'Hear Me Calling' comes on and the familiar feeling that we've heard this exact same blues figure played by this exact same band exactly seven times on the last few albums...you can take Ten Years After away from the genericism, but you can't take the genericism out of Ten Years After.  If this band was potato chips, it would come in a white, block-lettered bag that said 'POTATO CHIPS - 16 OUNCES'. And would smell like hasish when you opened it up.

Yup, Stonedhenge is as weird as they allowed themselves (or were allowed) to make it, but even that ain't all that shakin; not when you think back to the bizarrities of 1969 (not to mention 1968 or 1967, when doing these kinds of meandering, free-form albums was still considered radical), this one sure sounds like a boring, worn down blues-rock album masquerading as an acid trip etched in vinyl. This ain't something fun and whimsical like Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, it's not nearly as gloriously whacked out as, say, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and it sure as shit doesn't rock as well as six thousand other albums I could name. 'Woman Trouble' (sounds sorta like 'Up From the Skies' off Axis: Bold As Love, yet another album that's much better than this one) and the closing bah-whoogie barnburner 'Speed Kills' are fairly memorable  Alvin almost approaches In The Court Of the Crimson King-levels of self-importance on the opening 'Going to Try', at least in between the periods of time when the idiotic drum thawhumping intro ends and the part that sounds like Country Joe and the Fish starts up.  'No Title' is far too ragged to overcome its lack of any decent melody or groove not to mention it's long, inexplicable stretches of near silence and lack of any decent guitar work, and 'Sad Song' is exactly that - one sad excuse for a blues ballad. Alvin's vocals sound especially stomach-churning on this one. Man, he might be an exciting guitar player, but his big bad black bluesman caterwauls sound more like the grunts of indigestion than the howls of the hellhounds.

As for the more 'experimental' sections, what I hear is shreds of some small element of a potentially better song (the repeated swing piano line on 'I Can't Live Without Lydia', a shred of the scat on 'Skoobly-Doobly-Doobie-Sucking', or whatever the fuck that's called) frigged all up by what was no doubt considered to be a really revolutionary sort of fucking about back in '69 (covering up the 'Lydia' piano with some horribly clashing dissonant chords, allowing 'Skoobly' to continue unabated for more than five seconds, including a drum solo as its own track, including a drum solo at all).  If all you had to do to become original is to screw up something marginal by purposefully smearing your grubby, poxy hands all over it, Ten Years After would be the Beatles and Stonedhenge would be Sergeant Pepper's.  But I know Sgt. Pepper's, I've worked with Sgt. Pepper's, and you, Stonedhenge, are no Sgt. Pepper's. You're not even Julius Peppers.

So far, Ten Years After has shown me not one soggy Chee-toe's worth of songwriting talent beyond the ability to rewrite old blues and rock formulas into listenable boogie tracks on their debut record and with 'Goin' Home'.  So, before now they had the excuse that they were young and inexperienced, but you'd think by a band's third release (and after two whole years, I might add), they might figure out that Chord B does not always have to follow Chord A.  Here, where they had a legitimate chance to really do something weird and possibly get away with it, they mess it up. Now, all they've got left is 'Goin' Home', and it's time to try to do something with that.

Capn's Final Word: Boring yourself to sleep ain't exactly putting yourself into an altered state of consciousness, gentlemen.

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Ssssh - BGO 1969

Yeah, go ahead and shut the fuck up already, because on their fourth album release, Ten Years After finally decide to yank their heads out of their collective bongoid haze and actually release an album with some decent original tracks on it, and if you and talk through it like the last time around, I'll be forced to get the theatre manager and have him ask you not to yell 'OHHH SNAP!' whenever the lead actor makes some lame quip. Thing is, while there are at least, say, a half dozen decent cuts on this record, and probably at least that number of memorable hooks, the feeling that Ten Years After has now progressed from being, in 1967, a band shamelessly copying old South Side Chicago bluesmen to being a band, in 1969, shamelessly copying 1966-era garage and proto-psychedelia bands.  Listen to their cover of 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' as a good example - while a few years back, this band would've played this song like they were all wearing tweed jackets and attempting to impress Alexis Korner, now they all play like they're trying out for the Asbury Dukes or something - Alvin drowns his guitar in fuzz, the bass pops and wheezes in a drugged-up simulation of excitation, and the organ player, well, he's probably off somewhere putting in an application at a Woolworth's or something. Aww, what the hell, it's good swingtime fun, and at least they put some energy into the damn thing. Jumpin' and Jivin'! It's Mambo Number Six! It's me putting a bullet in the skulls of each of the Squirrel Nut Zippers! And the Barenaked Ladies while I'm at it! Gonna get me a shotgun and shoot all the jive whitey ironic Top 40 rock bands I can.

Ten Years After wouldn't probably be one of those I'd submit nine hot grams to, though. They never had a Top 40 hit worth a damn anyway, and besides, the songwriting improvement here is pretty impressive over the crackpole slumming of Stonedhenge and the blues-by-numbers of the first two records. Of course, a gay lumberjack humming Shostakovitch might be better than that crap on Stonedhenge, but that's neither here nor there. What is here is an awfully decent listening experience for people who aren't easily bored by thin-sounding rock songs sung by a dude who, well, probably couldn't outsing that gay lumberjack I was talking about. Outside of the rat terrier they tortured there at the beginning, 'Bad Scene' is the sort of fuzz-box overload 'Back In the USSR' rewrite that can make a guy like me appreciate the fact that Alvin might possibly have a sense of humor. If that change from the 180 bpm main knife-edge boogaloo riff to the heaving 'catch my breath' part isn't funny, I don't know what is. Ditto with the Vincent Price vocal treatment that makes Alvin Lee sound like he's narrating a movie about Crazy Bloodsucking Vampires from Venus. If it's a sendup of how overcooked fast, heavy rock can be, it's a classic. If it's just fast, heavy rock, hell...it's a classic, too. The band does acoustic blues the right way on the laid back 'Two Time Mama' - not too slow, and with a good bass presence, and if the soul pleader 'If You Should Love Me' had been sung by, say, Rod Stewart and not by Generale Iguanavoice, it'd probably have been much better loved. 'Stoned Woman' ('gonna keep him stoned all the time') is a hoot, and even the frightfully titled blues song 'I Woke Up This Morning' (why not just write a rap song and title it 'Put Your Hands In the Air (And Wave 'Em Like You Just Don't Care That There Hasn't Been Anything Original In Hip Hop Since 1992?) has a pretty great performance behind it. Alvin's guitars sound like they've been coated in a crust of sugar or something - besides embracing the power of the Fuzz pedal, the man's no doubt been woodshedding.  His lines are longer and more coherent, and a few of his solos (one of them on 'Woke Up') actually go from one place and lead you to another. Good stuff. Still way too generic, but what're ya gonna do? Expect 'em to hire Captain Beefheart as their bassoon player and do an album full of Edith Piaf covers? Well, too late, because Savoy Brown already took that idea, Mr. Smartypants.

Capn's Final Word: Some good songs! And little, if any of it sucks! And best of all, it sounds nothing like Harvey Danger!

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Cricklewood Green - Chrysalis 1970

Consistently decent. Consistent decency. Consistency of oatmeal.  Nah, really...Ten Years After still can't write an articulate set of lyrics to save their lives, but they've at least gotten the drift that people likes a bit of riffy, crunchy rock in their long-hair music. The band's never gonna be Led Zeppelin, exactly, but they're still more organic and believable than, say, ur-men like the Grand Funk Railroad (just listen to the beat on the opening 'Sugar the Road', wouldya?), who were probably their main competition back in the early 70's. They've tightened down even more from Shut Yer Pie Hole, cutting out some of the cute, winking innui of songs like 'Stoned Woman' and the odd changes of 'Bad Scene', preferring to incorporate such high-dollar innovations as the awesome tempo changes on 'Working On the Road', which otherwise sounds like a cross between the Kinks and Traffic (if Stevie Winwood had a sinus infection and total blockage of the ears, that is), and is one the band's greater riff tracks. You still shouldn't come crawling to Lee if you want lyrics about anything other than the poontang that absconded or the road that never ends. Thing is, to guys like Alvin and Company, that's probably all there really was, except for drugs and Archies comic books.

There's two seven-plus minute extendo bonanza tracks on Cricklewood, both of which keep one foot on the ground at all times and are better off for it. '50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain', despite the Flaming Lips-esque title, is just another song about pussy, but they sure get that cooter cooking in the last several minutes as they ride the augmented rhythm section like a wild razorback through the brush as Alvin pulls off a rather simplistic, yet effective solo down to the fadeout.  'Love Like a Man' is the second.  Evidently, this song was inescapable on early 70's free-form 'progressive' FM radio, no doubt in heavy rotation in the hours directly following lunch, coffee breaks, and following watermelon eating contests.  To me, the thing's rather lame, sounding more than a little bit like a random live Cream jam tune, based on a slippery little buzz-note riff that, as if you couldn't guess it, proceeds to spin itself into a veritable frenzy of bazookaboogaloo for probably about three minutes too long.  Awww, whatever....DJ's gotta pee too, y'know. I once totally missed returning from a commercial break during my radio show because of the four half-liter beers I drowned prior to going on the air, but my intrepid engineer kept things on the up-and-up by replaying the exact same track I played right before the commercial. If that ain't in keeping with the spirit of 1970's FM radio, I don't know what is.  Peter Frampton marathons, maybe?

Even the three petite tunes, which on any other Ten Years After album would be godawful filler, are decent little tunes. 'Year 3,000 Blues' is acoustic spaced cowboy country honk of the Hot Tuna/New Riders stripe, and it's charming (not to mention giving Alvin a chance to make his acoustic guitar sound like a mandolin, he plucks so fast). 'Me And My Baby' is a jazzy, generic Ten Years After throwback and not a lot more, and 'Circles' is a gorgeous ballad that George Harrison might be proud of. At least until Eric Clapton starts following it around with his tongue up its ass for ten years, dedicating albums to it and finally marrying it long after its turned into a musty old hag desperately in need of a good set of headgear.

In short, Cricklewood Green's far and away the best Ten Years After ever got, which in sum means its all-around a workable set of middle-of-the-road blues rock tunes that never shook anybody's tree down.  I personally am about as underwhelmed as I can be, and sorta wish I hadn't decided to review the 60's rock and roll version of the Toyota Carolla, but there we are. Standing here with a bootieload more TYA reviews to do is like being stranded with my pants around my ankles, wondering where my hot date went. Probably to a Who concert.

Capn's Final Word: Everything strikes on all four cylinders for Ten Years After. Catch the feeling.

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Watt - Chrysalis 1970.

Besides stealing from Black Sabbath for the main riff of 'I'm Comin' On', and totally copping out with a Chuck Berry cover to fill this album out to a shockingly long (for TYA) 38 minutes, Watt is merely Cricklewood Green all over again, except somewhat worse. Call it Cricklewood Puce. Or maybe We Spent A Bunch of Fucking Money on this Synthesizer, and We're Gonna Get Our Money's Worth Out of It, By God. Yup. Though I forgot to mention it on the last review, probably attributable to all the damage I did to my DNA in the late '90's, Ten Years After have added synthesizers into their collection of instruments, increasing the number to, what, four different sonic textures? Gentle Giant these guys are not, but they did dig into the silicon playground fairly early on for a bunch of hippie longhairs, and as such are sometimes lumped in with the Who as being pioneers of the field.  Well, as for Cricklewood Green, you can donate that notion to the 'National Trust', as John Lennon would say (I think he's referring to Yoko's fellative talents, but I could be wrong), 'cos I heard, like, maybe three synth notes underneath all that dark fuzzy guitar noise on that entire album.  As for Watt, however, they learn that you need to plug the fucking thing into the wall, and it's on everything. Instead of using the thing like a sort of background percussionist like Pete Townshend did, or use it exclusively for special effects (e.g., wind whooshes, scratchy sounds, the screams of an orgasmic marmot) like the Beatles, or as a sort of large, unlubricated ass dildo like Rick Wakeman, Ten Years After play loooonnnngggg, scritchy, off-putting notes on the thing, and run Alvin's guitar through it so it comes out on the other end sounding like a cross between a Claviet and Marvin the Martian pulling leeches off his reproductive organs. It's not exactly pretty, necessarily, and it sure doesn't sound like it means as much as Townshend's apocalyptic arpeggios, but give 'em credit - they did find something to do with the damn things that doesn't sound completely ridiculous.  As for Ten Years After somehow therefore belonging to the ranks of early prog rock, well....all I can say is that some people wonder when John Travolta and Kevin Spacey are gonna finally settle down with a nice Jewish girl and have kids, too. Ten Years After are as prog-rock as Petula Clark.

What Ten Years After is, unquestionably, is depressed. This is one droopy-ass set of tunes for the same guys who once made goin' home sound like being locked in a room with sixteen female high school gymnasts, a mountain of pillows, a couple of 55-gallon drums of cherry Jello, and an unlimited supply of pure Peruvian cocaine.  'She Left Me' is self-explanatory, and 'Gonna Run' sounds like nothing more than Alvin expressing the road blues followed by the same jazzy blues solo he's been playing for three years now.  The acoustic instrumental 'Band With No Name' no doubt was intended to sound like an Ennio Morricone cowpoke aria, but ends up more like 'Theme From and Imaginary Western' with all the cool parts cut out. 'I'm Comin' On' continues the bitch and moan session with a straight-ahead rocker whose message seems to be that Alvin's bored and, therefore, he's gonna fuck you whether you like it or not.  If that's the case, that sure sounds like a very special episode of Just the Ten of Us I saw one time.  Either that or my junior prom. I told her 'no', but she said, after all, I had ordered the lobster and, besides, she 'had to have a little Cap'n in her'. I'm still shaken to this day.

Not by this record, though. This is boring and tiresome.  Usually, 'dark' and 'despondent' are pretty decent emotions for a rock and roll album to concern itself with (just listen to Berlin or Tonight's the Night or Tigger's Extra Special Birthday Surprise for more on that tip), but Ten Year's After just sound like they need a few weeks off, mostly.  Hopefully then they can come back and finish 'Think About the Times' and make it into a decent song, 'cos this ain't it, Jack Palance.  Besides, when has Ten Years After ever been able to effectively express emotions that don't generate within three inches of their belt buckle, anyway?  Never, that's what I say. This band has so little emotional range it makes Nazareth sound like Joni Mitchell.

Capn's Final Word: That moaning sound you keep hearing is not a synthesizer. It's actually Alvin Lee. The grinding sound you hear is his career. The yawning sound is his audience.

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A Space In Time - Chrysalis 1971

Oddly enough, in 1971, Ten Years After, heretofore a decent if underwhelming blues rock band that never much crossed the line into 'memorable', refused to go quietly off into the sunset and finally leave the poor Sixties to die a quiet death.  Just when you think, well, after Watt the endless touring has finally gotten to 'em and they're just playing out the string, and that it's enough just to wade shallowly through the last four, increasingly crusty contractual obligation record albums released as their career winds down, and turn out the lights on these reviews for good. Well, I say that in 1971, completely out of the blue, Ten Years After did the highly unlikely and gave us their best album ever - a complex, no-simple-answers bit of bitterness that indicates that somewhere along the line they learned how to write songs with actual, real-life emotional and intellectual content. Possibly that's just because they've lowered the tempos and learned a few drama-queen chord sequences with which to open up their sound, but that might just be enough for me.  I hear a three-minute winner like 'Hard Monkeys', relegated to the dank caverns of the second side otherwise reserved for half-efforts and near-outtakes, and I hear a great song with an exciting instrumental section, an effective-if-cliched descending chord sequence (think 'Dear Prudence', or 'House of the Rising Sun', or just about any Cream original you care to name), and lyrics that touch on a junkie's lament - one side telling him 'he ain't got no monkeys on his back', the other warning against certain death. Chilling stuff, really - a fantastic track, just one of many scattered liberally throughout this record.  Or conservatively (I don't want to spout off and be presumptuous, doncha know...that's why they call me Capn 'Mr Integrity' Marvel, and have nominated me for the Pulitzer six years running. In the Assholish Internet Music Criticism category, of course.), depending on the angle of your dangle, and whether you're a closet pedophile or not.

The album opens not with a gratingly ugly scraping noise, as has been the case for an excessive number of albums now, but with one cooking hoodoo blues, driven by an overdriven harmonica of the type I usually associate with Led Zeppelin's 'When the Levee Breaks'. This song isn't quite that good, but it introduces the album as being something thicker, more serious, better considered, than what they've put out before. 'Here They Come' recalls early-period Fleetwood Mac for me in its spacy, acoustic flow, and sense of vague weariness.  The big hit 'I'd Love to Change the World' isn't too much musically (it's essentially a soul-boogie tune crossed with acoustic passages that recall the Who's 'Behind Blue Eyes'), but it's got feel, man. Theend of the Sixties, things falling to shit, Woodstock nation drowning in their mud and shit and bile. The lyrics are intentionally stupid in the places they need to be ('life is funny, skies are sunny, bees make honey, who needs money?' is a pretty good piss-take on the flower generation), and every bit of anger or dissatisfaction that's built up by the chorus is defused by the whispered line 'I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do. So I'll leave it up to you..' on the verse.  Activism becomes passivism. Externalization becomes internalization. This track was a minor hit at the time, and while it can still be heard once in a blue moon on classic rock radio, it really is one of the few songs that consciously marks a very important shift in the consciousness of our world - the Sixties becoming the Seventies. As the world yawns.

This is one of those records where even the 50's-style rockabilly track ('Baby Won't You Let Me Rock and Roll') and the tossoff country send-up (the oddly convincing 'Once There Was a Time', at least before it hits double time and begins to shimmy a bit too hard for rural Arkansas) sound great. The only blah track is the two-minute jazz piano closer 'Uncle Jam', which has absolutely nothing to do with the Funkadelic album of the same name. Or Uncle Meat. Or the Man from U.N.C.L.E. Uncle Jesse, possibly. But only the episode where he drinks too much 'shine and starts asking aloud whether Vance and Coy were still shacking up in Greenwich Village together and then Daisy gets pissed and demands to know why she keeps finding all her 'britches' wadded up under the bench seat of Jesse's truck.  Yeee-haw. Love them Dukes. Or 'Dynasty in the Dirt', as I like to call it. Just-a good ol' boys, hm?

The fact that TYA, representing the 'old wave' of hippie-era bands quickly seeing themselves supplanted by hard(er) rock, prog, glam, and what-have-you, released an album in 1971 that was not just coherent, but actually held some emotional and social weight, well...I sure as shit can't think of too many others that were able to pull that off. It's still lacking the clincher hooks and that extra bit of white heat necessary to really make it sound like a classic, but it's still stronger and more tasteful than it has any right to be.  Unlike, say, this review or anything associated with it.

Capn's Final Word: A shot from the blue from a band that had appeared to be headed for the ditch. How were they able to find their heads when everybody else was losing theirs, exactly?

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Alvin Lee & Company - Chrysalis 1972

Is this where Al begins to demand separate billing, ala Iggy and the Stooges, Diana Ross and the Supremes, or Balsac the Jaws of Death and GWAR? Or is that just another consequence of the fact that the record company took fifteen minutes of thought before dumping this odds-and-ends outtakes-and-single-edits collection on the market in the wake of A Space in Time's success? Well, considering the other three guys in Ten Years After may as well be naked albino Pygmy virgins for all I know about them (I still have to look up their names every time I don't mention them in these reviews), it's only fitting that the Star of the Show get a little extra encouragement to keep on with his band before the inevitable shift into the long, hitless solo career, one that, in terms of visibility, made Jack Bruce look like Frank Sinatra. Anyway, outtakes and pisstakes abound here, and as surprised as you all may be by this statement, I am not all a-flitter with girlish enthusiasm at the mention of this thing. Six 'new' tracks, one of which is a cover of Robert Johnson-by-way-of-Cream's 'Crossroads', one of which is a nigh-15 minute studio warm-up jam. That's essentially, what, one and a half new songs? Most of which were probably stolen from the Bay City Rollers anyway? And what's with this 'guitar-bass-drums-keyboards' lineup, anyway? Doesn't he know that all the cool kids are doing all their 1972 outtake albums using only Chapman sticks, potted ficus plants, and sound bites of old Robitussin commercials? Why couldn't Alvin Lee have made an ambient house album, or maybe some 'twee pop'? Well, I guess that's why Alvin is stuck working the night shift at the Wimpy Burger drive-through while I'm busily banging chicks wearing miniskirts made out of old Hello Kitty backpacks with pacifiers around their necks and pupils the size of hubcaps. Anyone want some Snapple?

Oh, sorry...I have to apologize. I became the year 1996 for a second there. I have to stop doing that. Everyone knows that my heart belongs to 1972, a time and place where this record album probably was seen by most critics as a reprehensible bit of record company greed, and by most fans as a blurry, bongwater-stained mass that might be a good place to separate the seeds from the shank. Seriously now, there's really no place or time where something as aimless and obviously not-intended-for-mass-consumption as 'Boogie On' was considered as potentially entertaining as in the early 70's.  I swear by God there's a place during the bass solo where the guy actually stops and begins tuning up. And God only knows what that drummer was trying to accomplish.  Recreate the sounds of the Battle of Waterloo, maybe? Luckily we have Alvin Lee there to fumble his way over the same scales he's been playing since 1964 around minute number 8, because otherwise I never would've gotten the opportunity to realize how overrated a soloist this guy really is. He sounds like Dave Davies on tape loop.

Anyhow, the cover of 'Crossroads' is predictably pale compared to Cream's classic Wheels of Fire take (the rhythm section is especially weak here - it sounds like the drummer was reading his pattern out of a book, and of course Alvin's voice creaks like an abandoned sawmill in a stiff breeze.) 'The Sounds' brings back the Watt-era synthesizers and overly-frigged guitar to hellishy depressing effect, and 'Rock Me Mama' and 'Hold Me Tight' are more of that slap-back 1958 boogie thing that takes all of five seconds to write. Only the Canned Heat-sounding 1968 acoustic blues 'Portable People' shows something new, namely a tendency towards cutesiness and good humor that was totally obliterated in the years since, when these guys became grouchier than the time they told the Bush daughters they weren't going to inherit the company that made Bud Light when daddy died. The three single edits tacked onto the end of the CD ('I'm Goin Home', minus the blitzed excitement, and 'Spider in my Web', and 'Hear Me Calling', neither of which were all that boner in the first place) are, to be sure, entirely worthless for anyone currently utilizing a human brain.

Capn's Final Word: Record Industry Revenge Volume One. I suspicion there won't be much of a followup barrage.

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Rock & Roll Music to the World - Chrysalis 1972

As opposed to, say, a bad chest cold or the heartbreak of genital herpes, both of which could probably also have been supplied by this band at a moment's notice.  Ten Years After finally ease off their speedbump-sized career peak (Ssssh through A Space In Time, Watt non-inclusive, of course) with an album that sounds like it was written in the studio during a one-week break from the endless tour of one-night stands that started in 1967 and didn't give the boys off a night off until September 1974, when two of the members finally self-immolated into little puffs of fatigued smoke.  Not that I know that for sure or anything, but each and every review I've ever read of this band makes sure to mention how much they were touring, and how every lame album they ever released could be directly blamed on their exhaustion, rather than the fact that they were marginal songwriters at best.  This was a band that made their reputation onstage, sure, and had very little to bank on outside of that, so it was only natural that they kept the buses rolling as much as they possibly could, but I think all this 'well, the road's finally gotten to 'em' stuff is a little bit overstated.  Yeah, compared to A Space In Time, this album sounds like it was only completed through liberal use of horsewhips and jumper cables connected to OTR truck batteries, but it may also have been the fact that Ten Years After only had, like, five different types of songs in their repertoire, and they'd pretty much used all of them up on the last album. That and the fact that Alvin was as pickled as a jar of cabbage during this time. Which was probably attributable to too much touring. So touring caused TYA to suck. Well, stick gourds up my nose and call me Tom Wopat.

Well, when songwriting fails you, it creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. Some bands will proceed to fill up the time with lots of solos and gee-whiz gimmicks like completely uncalled-for sci-fi synthtones Others rewrite old material. Others play reeeealll slow so the requisite 45 minutes of running time passes with minimal effort. Ten Years After goes for the trifecta by doing everything I just mentioned.  In fact, the only tricks they leave in their bag are including live cuts of old songs (they no doubt already had the live album planned and didn't want to undercut the sales potential of that) and cover versions (surprisingly, considering they'd been to that well so many times before).  Otherhow, it's exactly as I described it - songs that have no business being stretched out (ahem...'Standing at the Station') get the whole band-jam treatment, there's gobs of solos all over the place, and Alvin runs through just about his entire fake book trying to come up with another variation on 'generic 50's boogie', of which he includes a heapin' helpin' ('You Can't Win Them All', 'Tomorrow I'll Be Out Of Town', 'Choo Choo Mama', 'Rock and Roll Music To the World', each of which are generic two-note shuffles that have seemingly been recorded in at least half a dozen incarnations by this band. In terms of rock songs, Chuck Berry is Igor Stravinsky compared to this guy.) Most alarming is the lack of apparent energy here - everything is recorded way too fat and murkily, and it drags the band down into a morass of repetitive slapping at their instruments.   Despite a few good tracks ('Turned Off TV Blues', 'Religion'), this is simply not an attractive album to listen to.  It sounds like they realized how uninspired and out-of-style they were, but were powerless to stop writing the same songs over and over again, and were afraid to record another acoustic-driven album like Space for fear of alienating their cottage-cheese brained fanbase with too much 'sissy music'.  Not like this stuff rocks the paint off the ceiling, mind you, but by God they use a lot of loud electric guitar just like the People want. And the People are always Right.  Just look at how the People have chosen Family Values, Clean Politicians, a Balanced Budget, and Prosperity in Our Times the last two elections. Or, rather, last election. The time before that they chose Satan, but luckily we were able to prove that a bunch of black people had voted , fix that error, and...woila!...the Right Man was Chosen by the Right People. 

Capn's Final Word: The people apparently want Alvin to boogie mindlessly. The dude abides.

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Recorded Live - Chrysalis 1973

One thing I want to make sure I mention here is that, despite what you might think, Alvin Lee does not play a godzillion-mile-per-hour 'Goin' Home' solo on each and every one of his solo tracks.  In fact, I'm sorta surprised at the fact that, outside of the early albums and Rock and Roll Music to the World, the solos really aren't a big deal on these albums at all.  He's not like, say, Eddie Van Halen, for example, who has to put his little 'mark' on every song, affixing a stamp of approval/excuse to try out some new trick on every track just so you don't forget who's playing for you (and who the band is named after...the group ain't fucking called Anthony, now is it?) Alvin really only lets his wank flag fly when he's playing live (or live in the studio - see 'Boogie On' from Alvin Lee and Company), and he hasn't had a chance to really show that off to the record-buying public since the Woodstock album.  So those of you that thirst for that Lee-ian guitar sound, Recorded Live is definitely for you, especially when compared to Undead, which makes TYA sound like a fill-in Holiday Inn cocktail bar house band. Alvin, by this time, had become a legitimate hard rock guitar player (as opposed to the blues/jazz trad guy he was in 1968) and his band is seasoned enough to make this live album sound quite unlike any of their studio albums - balls out, cheery, and packed with muscle. Like a gay weightlifter. In fact...exactly like that. Think Lou Ferrigno wearing eyeliner and covering himself in baby oil.

Boogie rock's version of the Chevrolet Pickup believes one thing for sure, though, and that's that people like their live shows loud, distorted, and filled with lots of solos over easy-to-assimilate blues riffs. Therefore the band cuts out any of their poppier or folky material (including anything from the Space in Time album), thus reducing their potential weaponry to only the bludgeoning devices. The track listing shows lots of jams cheaply renamed as new songs ('Classical Thing', 'Silly Thing', 'Slow Blues in C', the three versions of 'I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes', only one of which is credited to original composer Al Kooper) so as to score more songwriting royalties.  Each song is some slight variation on the following: riff, riff, riff, riff, then the inevitable breakdown into the endless minutes of soloing while the rhythm section either bashes away on said riff or stops playing completely. Then riff riff before the ending crescendo afterwhich the audience stonedly goes berserk. There's little, if any, art to these kinds of performances (listen to the Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead for a much livelier and more interesting method of instrumental hoo-haw), and it takes about six brain cells to accomplish onstage, but it is thrilling to hear from time to time.  It's more like a physical exercise than an experience in creativity, but then again so are most musical performances (what is ballet other than synchronized gymnastics? What about a classical piano recital? If that retarded Australian flake from Shine can bang out Liszt like it's 'Happy Birthday', how much creative energy can go into it?) Alvin Lee obviously loves being able to showboat, and therefore lets himself hang out far more than he did on the comparatively Victorian performances on Undead. At times I'd even qualify his playing as 'unhinged', as he reaches a zone where his practiced ability breaks down and he just turns into a fretboard madman. Those are good times. He's not exactly Ritchie Blackmore, necessarily, but he does hit the next level. When he simply twiddles, the album grinds on in a boogie haze.

Still, though, out of all their albums, this one probably comes closest to what people's perception of this band is - a band of overloud boogie meltdown artists led by their puckish lead guitarist, and that's gotta count for something, because it delivers on that promise. Ten Years After never put so much sweat and piss and vomit into their studio albums as they expend here, pushing the generic and obvious into the realm of interesting at inconsistent intervals.

Capn's Final Word: Not for the boogie allergic, or for those who only like the Space in Time album. Nice 'n' loud, though.

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Positive Vibrations - Chrysalis 1974

This band's very genericism, absolutely evident outside of a couple of records (Ssssh, Cricklewood, and Space in Time, for those that weren't paying attention) when they outdid themselves, is both their curse and their safety net.  They might be predictable and use the same guitar figures that have been used ever since the beginning of time, but at least they've never tried to put out, say, a disco album or something. This final 70's album, released after Alvin had already begun his solo career and the Ten Years After name was about as marketable to 1974's rock audiences as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, could have been an absolute disaster, a tumble down the hell-pit of boredom, desperate clutching at commericalism and metallic mindlessness.  Well, instead of a tumble, let's call it a controlled slide. While Alvin's voice sounds like he's been face down in a storm gutter for the last three days, and the rhythm section would rather be sifting through the want-ads for roadie jobs, this album is clean, listenable, and far less of a bummer than Rock and Roll Music to the World was.  Perhaps that's why it was called Positive Vibrations...to leave on an up note rather than let things peter out on a depressing boogie retread, even if that up note is about as droopy as Paris Hilton's left eye. Perhaps Alvin was just too worn out to be pissed off or depressed anymore - it's all he can do just to keep the rockers afloat (side 2 of this album is especially sad - prior to this, the sludge quantity is kept admirably in check). Whatever. No one cared about this album when it came out and it's not like you should start attempting to do so now, especially since this bastard's now long out of print.  Only the opening Hendrix knock-off 'Nowhere to Run' really packs much of a punch, and that's mostly due to the suspiciously familiar funk riff that Alvin supplies it with.

Capn's Final Word: Again, not as awful as you might think it is, but when even your formulas seem threadbare, it's time to pack it in. Yee haw.

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