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Jeff Beck Shapes Of Things Review

Compilation. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

He was the greatest guitarist of the 60s until some wild-haired guy from Seattle...

Chris Jones 2003

Until late 1966, swinging London belonged to Jeff Beck. It's no accident that Antonioni's homage to a city in a state of cultural and moral upheaval - Blow-Up- had at its axis an incendiary live performance by Jeff and his band at the time, the Yardbirds. He was the greatest guitarist of the 60s until some wild-haired guy from Seattle appeared and took his crown away. Now revered (but still undervalued), his career is looked upon as a catalogue of missed opportunities, flashy fusion pyrotechnics and technical expertise at the expense of real musical value. Such a shameful state of affairs probably won't be reversed by Shapes Of Things, but at least it'll show you how, by the middle of the grooviest decade, he'd acquired the status of the coolest six strings in town...

Shapes...takes as its agenda the idea of Jeff as both band member and soloist, but fills in the lesser-known gaps with a plethora of pre-fame session work, collaborations and just plain oddities. Therefore, alongside the standard released-a-million-times-before stuff such as several Yardbird hits, the supergroup intensity of ''Beck's Bolero'' (Beck, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins!) and his work with a pre-Faces Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, we get a whole lot more.

It was (and still is) his application of texture and tone to his playing that made him stand out from the crowd. It was this ability to forge new styles at will that made him such a legend. It's hard to imagine how the blistering solo halfway through ''Shapes Of Things'' must have sounded to untrained ears in 1965. Yet this prowess also put him in demand way before and after his rise to pop stardom. Included are his prehistoric r 'n' b rumblings with the likes of Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages, Fitz And Startz and The Nightshift. We also get desultory jams with Jimmy Page and lesser known psych madness with John's Children and Paul Jones. More importantly, this compilation finds room for his superb work on Donovan's obtuse whimsy ''Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)'' and his truly bizarre work for Zappa's groupie protoges, The GTOs.

Ultimately it was this restless search for new lines of axe exploration that led to his becoming bored very quickly with each project he was involved in. His curiosity never really allowed him to capitalise on early successes and it was left to the more pedestrian Claptons and Pages of this world to clean up in the 70s. Beck just carried on looking. While he often found himself up some musical blind alleys, he's never really stopped, and for that we should be grateful. This album serves as a reminder of how far out he really went...

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