Album Reviews

Blonde On Blonde: Rebirth/Reflections On A Life (Esoteric Recordings)

blondeonblonde

Blonde On Blonde
Rebirth/Reflections On A Life
Esoteric Recordings

Welsh rockers Blonde On Blonde faced one of the more difficult trials a rock band could face: losing their frontman and founder. Lead vocalist Ralph Denyer quit the band soon after a handful of singles and their debut album was released. A Beatlesque style writer, he helped establish the band’s psychedelic/pop mix, and their early records, while critically well-received, didn’t make a commercial impact, which led the group to being dropped by their label, Pye. Upon this, Deyner left the group, and instead of disbanding, the group forged on, with David Thomas taking the role as their new lead singer and songwriter.

Rebirth, the band’s second album, was indeed a sonic rebirth. While they retained the psychedelic fringe of their previous records, their sound was stronger, harder, and a bit heavier. The pop elements were replaced with a rock swagger, and numbers like “Heart Without A Home” and “Circles” are more potent than anything they’d previously done, a blend of blues and boogie-woogie that definitely showed promise. They still had a delicate side, as heard on the lovely single “Castles Made Of Sky” and the album closing “You’ll Never Know Me/Release,” which closes the album with a plea for love and a gorgeous piano outro. Rebirth was the sound of a band resetting its gauges, and it showed that their decision to solider on was a wise one.

Their next album, 1971’s Reflections On A Life would be their most experimental record, a conceptual piece following a character from birth to adulthood. Yet while this concept is compelling enough, a few things undermine it. The opening track, “Gene Machine,” starts off with a discordant heavy guitar riff tempered with the sound of a baby crying; it’s a powerful contrast, but it’s also one that can be off-putting; the schizophrenic vocals that join in punch up the creepy factor. But that’s nothing compared to the creepiness of “I Don’t Care,” a song that is sung from the perspective of an unapologetic child molester.

That’s not to say that there aren’t pleasant moments; the pastoral “Love Song” mixes folk-rock sounds with a soulful groove, while “Sad Song For An Easy Lady” is an easy rocker. But overall, the concept falls flat, entrapping some otherwise lovely melodies into lackluster songs. It’s no surprise, then, that the album didn’t sell well, nor that the band split up soon after. A shame, because even though the concept wasn’t a strong one, the music they were making was certainly promising, and had they stuck with it, they might have obtained greater success. Or not. It’s impossible to gauge, but Blonde On Blonde’s music certainly hints that the could have gone on to greater things.

 

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