Leviathan: The Legendary Lost Elektra Album
The desire to change one’s name when one’s attempts at establishing oneself is understandable, especially if previous attempts had proven disastrous or embarrassing. Sometimes the change comes for a more positive reason—members have left and said departures led to a general consensus that the band no longer warranted such a moniker. Sometimes, it’s simply business: another band has used or is using said name. In many instances, it is because the band’s sound has radically changed.
In the case of Mike Stuart Span, the name change came was due to a number of factors. Though they had released a handful of singles that were modestly received, their breakthrough never quite came. Still, they had impressed enough people to justify soldiering on, and in late 1968 they signed on to be the subjects of a BBC documentary that followed them over the course of a year. In the interim, they had impressed Elektra Records, who signed them; shortly thereafter, boss Jac Holzman insisted they change their name, in order to give them a fresh start.
The decision was understandable, because the music they were now making proved to be much wilder and much heavier than Mike Stuart Span’s psychedelic-tinged pop-rock. Leviathan proved to be an excellent choice for their new sound, as witnessed by the band’s first two singles, released simultaneously. “The War Machine” was a pure political rocker, a hard lament against the violence of the era, while its b-side continued the political message, this time in a downtempo ballad. “Remember The Times” is poppy, but much more aggressive than anything they had previously released, while its flip-side, “Second Production,” is pure psychedelic blues-rock, heavy on proto-metal guitar licks that predict the coming of Black Sabbath.
“Second Production” is the most indicative of the band’s new direction, as evidenced by the majority of Leviathan’s album cuts. The songs are longer, heavier, and tend to lean a bit heavy on jamming, it’s a formula that works wonderfully on the heavy (metal) blues of “Evil Woman” and “Blue Day,” yet unfortunately makes otherwise good songs “Through The Looking Glass” and “World In My Head” sound unfocused. The song “Flames”—which would be remixed and released as the band’s final single—proves the point; the album version meanders, while the single version is a bit easier on the ears, and even though it’s not one of the band’s better songs, it’s much better than the album version. (It’s a puzzling choice for an A-side, too; the b-side, “Just Forget Tomorrow” is a much better number.)
Unfortunately for Leviathan, their fortunes would soon change when Jac Holzman declined to release the album, having lost enthusiasm for the band. It was a crushing blow, and would prove to be the final for frontman Stuart Hobday, who would use this rejection as the impetus to leave the music industry. Holzman wasn’t necessarily wrong in rejecting the album; it is rough, and their sound isn’t particularly well-defined, as there’s an odd dichotomy between the songs that had been released as singles and the heavier, occasionally unwieldy album tracks. Those complaints aside, they don’t detract from the overall promise that the band offers. Leviathan was very much a debut album in that regard—it’s intriguing in what it promises for the band’s future direction—and it’s a shame that it never got the chance to grow.