Saturday, 5 November 2016

"Agents Of Fortune" by BLUE OYSTER CULT [feat Patti Smith] (2001 Columbia/Legacy 'Expanded Edition' CD - Vic Anesini Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...(Don't Fear) The Reaper..."

After three studio albums that the US public showed only mild interest in (1972 to 1974) and the storming live-double "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees" that peaked at a healthy No. 22 in March 1975 - the purposely obscure 'I don't know what a hit single is and I won't write one because I'm so rad man' BLUE OYSTER CULT found themselves in October 1976 with exactly that - a monster all-conquering guns-blazing big fat Rock hit - "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". Long Island's BOC and their now signature song sat proudly at No. 12 on the US singles charts - helping to push studio album number four "Agents Of Fortune" into Platinum Status and a peak position of 29 with a huge 35-week run on the LP charts.

At times sounding like the US answer to England's Mott The Hoople meets their own Grand Funk Railroad - the mixed-up aural landscape of Blue Oyster Cult's "Agents Of Fortune" elicits both derision amongst diehards who loved the hard-rocking first three albums - and tearful affection from those who picked up on this most American of bands during the beginning of their (cue laughs) 'commercial' phase. Hell they even got Patti Smith to duet with them and co-write "The Revenge Of Vera Gemini" - whilst the Brecker Brothers (Randy and Michael) provided smooth horns on some tracks (BOC does silky brass - yikes). It was a long way from the eclecticism of  'The Stalk-Forrest Group' on Elektra Records in 1970 - a one-single band with songs penned by founder BOC member Allen Lanier with Lyricist Richard Meltzer (see my review of Stalk-Forrest in the "Forever Changing: The Elektra Records Story" 5CD Box Set).

But that's where this 'Blue Oyster Cult Collection' CD Reissue comes barrelling in – sporting a tasty new Vic Anesini Remaster. Here are the gory details that will include tales of Not So Grim Reapers, an Extra Terrestrial Intelligence called Balthazar and Tattoo'd Vampires (nice)...

UK and US released June 2001 (reissued December 2003) - "Agents Of Fortune" by BLUE OYSTER CULT on Columbia/Legacy 502237 2 (Barcode 5099750223727) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Four Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (51:41 minutes):

1. This Ain't The Summer Of Love
2. True Confessions
3. (Don't Fear) The Reaper
4. E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
5. The Revenge Of Vera Gemini
6. Sinful Love [Side 2]
7. Tattoo Vampire
8. Morning Final
9. Tenderlion
10. Debbie Denise
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 4th studio album "Agents Of Fortune" - released June 1976 in the USA on Columbia PC 34164 and in the UK on CBS Records S 81385. Produced by DAVID LUCAS, MURRAY KRUGMAN and SANDY PEARLMAN – it peaked at No. 29 on the US LP charts.

11. Fire Of Unknown Origin (Original Version)
12. Sally (Demo)
13. (Don't Fear) The Reaper (Demo)
14. Dance The Night Away (Demo)

ERIC BLOOM - Vocals, Guitar and Percussion
ALBERT BOUCHARD - Drums, Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion and Harmonica
DONALD (Buck Dharma) ROESER - Guitar, Vocals, Synthesizer and Percussion
JOE BOUCHARD - Bass, Vocals and Piano
ALLEN LANIER - Keyboards, Vocals, Guitar and Bass

The 12-page booklet has brief but informative liner notes by noted writer LENNY KAYE, the lyrics and gatefold artwork of the original vinyl LP and the usual reissue credits. But the big news is a VIC ANESINI Remaster - a name associated with a huge range of Sony releases - Santana, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Byrds, Nilsson, Mountain, The Jayhawks, Mott The Hoople and many more. The audio here is better than the album I had for years and even the four Bonus Tracks prove more than filler.

It opens with the 'not playing nice' of "This Ain't The Summer Of Love" where menacing guitars tell us this isn't The Garden Of Eden (oh dear) and a very clear guitar solo. That's followed by Allen Lanier's "True Confessions" where his rare lead vocal sounds like Ian Hunter fronting Mott The Hoople through another piano-swagger song (one of The Brecker Brothers puts in a Saxophone solo too). Then you're hit with Hitsville USA but instead of Radio Shows and oldies hit-lists - I'm immediately thinking of that great episode in the Season 2 finale of "Orange Is The New Black" when one of the girls whose dying from cancer (Rosa) drives past the prison gates – runs over the killer inmate whose been making her life a misery - then makes a bid for freedom as the songs plays out – the wind of possibility blowing through her prison van window. The Remaster has improved its muted audio considerably - the song always feeling like it needed some serious Production input. And don't you just love that break and solo. The voicebox treated guitar of "E.T.I." suddenly has muscle and those chorus voices feel bigger too (Balthazar ahoy). I've never really known how to react to Patti Smith's collaboration with the band on "The Revenge Of Vera Gemini" - is it Rock or early US New Wave - but I am loving the better clarity on offer here.

Side 2 opens with the hammy Piano/Guitar Rock of "Sinful Love" where he loves her like sin but he won’t be her pigeon (God help us all). Far better is the excellent riffage of "Tattoo Vampire" where grisly smiles and a photo is sucking skin for our rattled heroes. There’s sophistication to the funky arrangements in "Morning Final" – a recounting of inner city life – scenes where a gun-totting junkie wanders the morning pavements aimless and dangerous. "Tenderloin" feels like BOC-lite and the dreadful "Debbie Denise" offers too many falsetto vocal moments that make you cringe instead of making you swoon. I wasn’t expecting much from the four unreleased Bonus Tracks – but each is excellent is their own way. Even in demo form "(Don’t Fear) The Reaper" is a winner – this early stab featuring a great guitar passage and harmonising vocals very close to the released version.

It’s not all genius by any means and I can think of a few "Californication" episodes where Rock like this and bands like BOC rightly had the piss taken out of them. But the good bits are great and the Remaster Rocks.

"…Baby take my hand…don't fear the reaper…" - they sang 40 years ago as the two star-crossed lovers made their dash for freedom. Agreed…

BLUE OYSTER CULT titles available as June 2001 Columbia/Legacy 'Expanded Edition' CDs are:
1. Blue Oyster Cult (1972) – Columbia/Legacy 502234 2 (Barcode 5099750223420)
2. Tyranny And Mutation (1973) – Columbia/Legacy 502235 2 (Barcode 5099750223529)
3. Secret Treaties (1974) – Columbia/Legacy 502236 2 (Barcode 5099750223628)
4. Agents Of Fortune (1976) – Columbia/Legacy 502237 2 (Barcode 5099750223727)

March 2007 ‘Expanded’ Legacy Editions
5. Spectres (1977) – Columbia/Legacy 82796964082 (Barcode 827969640821)
6. Some Enchanted Evening (1978) – Columbia/Legacy 82876752042 CD+DVD (Barcode 828767520421)

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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