Those who'll be hearing this for the first time are to be envied, while seasoned...
Peter Marsh 2003-04-07
While Jack Bruce's solo career has beaten a sometimes wayward path (most notably in the formation of several dodgy power trios with guitarists Gary Moore, Robin Trower and Leslie West), his 1969 solo debut is worthy of the oft-used 'classic album' tag. It's a long way from the bluesy bluster of uber-trio Cream, though the bassist's aggression and authority shines through just as strongly here. The words are provided by Pete Brown, whose writing partnership with the bassist provided Cream's most substantial material. His slightly surreal prose is a great fit with Bruce's vocal delivery, which ranges from bruised, fragile white soul to bluesy belting.
Bruce's intricate but powerful settings concoct a fusion of rock, jazz and proggy psychedelia, given both punch and focus by Felix Pappalardi's spacious production. While there's a superficial resemblance to the early jazz/rock fusions of Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, this is much more adventurous, elegant fare. From sweaty R'n'B (''Ministry of Bag'') to psychedelic jazz improv (''Boston Ball Game 1967''), Procol Harum-esque melancholia (''Theme for an Imaginary Western'') to the intricate songforms of ''Ropeladder to the Moon'', Songs covers all the bases but never sounds thin or overstretched.
Unsurprisingly, the bass is up close and in your face throughout all this genre hopping. Bruce's melodic invention and (let's not put too fine a point on it) balls inspired a generation of potential bassists in ways few had done before; gone were the days when four string duties were handed out to the worst guitarist in the average rock band (though they do seem to be back now). Support comes from Colosseum's Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith, plus the wondrous Chris Spedding (melting a few frets at the Boston Ball Game) and a host of horn players.
Those who'll be hearing this for the first time are to be envied, while seasoned Bruceologists will be rewarded with a sparkling remastering job and the obligatory extra demo versions, alternate mixes and edits. Classic stuff (there, I've said it).