Wednesday, 10 May 2017

"The Albums" by MEAL TICKET (2017 Lemon Records 3CD Mini Box Set of Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Out Of The Blue..."

When I worked for Reckless Records in Islington and Berwick Street in Soho (I was a buyer for 20 years) – Meal Ticket LPs were strictly a no-no - bargain bin fodder that never sold - always reduced to sell. And despite the gorgeous presentation of this lavish Lemon Records 3CD Mini Box Set (Lemon is a part of Cherry Red of the UK) - it's easy to hear why that was the case for this very US-influenced West London band.

That's not to say that there isn't anything worth loving here – there most definitely is. The "Code Of The Rode" debut album from July 1977 has some genuine melodic peaches on it (Britain's answer to the Americana of The Eagles, America and The Band) - but the second platter "Three Times A Day" that followed only four months later in November 1977 is a dog and the third "Take Away" from November 1978 is not much better.

London's Meal Ticket formed in 1975 - so the 1977 debut album on EMI International/Logo Records had time to gestate and songs like "Out Of The Blue", "Last One To Know" and the epic sounding harmonies of "The Man From Mexico" would do any Crazy Horse LP proud. The lyrics too are long and smart and penned by actor and scriptwriter David Pierce. Along with Canadian singer Rick Jones – Pierce was an integral part of Meal Ticket the band and a prime mover behind the 1975 Chrysalis Records LP "Flash Fearless Versus The Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6" (CHR 1081) – a Sci-Fi spoof album project that featured Elkie Brooks, Alice Cooper, Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas, James Dewar of Stone The Crows and The Robin Trower Band and John Entwistle of The Who. But clearly out of decent songs - and given the visceral musical scene of Punk and New Wave exploding all around them - it's no wonder that the insipid soft-rock of the second and third LPs died a death commercially (none of Meal Ticket's recorded output disturbed the UK charts and none of it was issued Stateside). And rehearing them now – 40 years of time has not been kind to either of the later LPs.

But for fans who've waited decades for these albums to be put out on CD (especially that debut) - this first-time-on-digital in the UK 3-Disc Box Set from Lemon Records with its great Audio and classy presentation is going to be a must buy. Here are the Bar Room details...

UK released 27 January 2017 (3 February 2017 in the USA) - "The Albums" by MEAL TICKET on Lemon Records CDLEMBOX227 (Barcode 5013929782709) is a 3CD Mini Box Set offering their three studio albums from 1977 and 1978 and Two Bonus Live Tracks Remastered. There are Singular Card Repro Artwork Sleeves and a 20-page booklet and it plays out as follows:

Disc 1 - "Code Of The Road" (46:40 minutes):
1. Out Of The Blue [Side 1]
2. Keepin' The Faith
3. OK Bar (Same Old Story)
4. Last One To Know
5. Day Job
6. The Man From Mexico [Side 2]
7. Snow
8. Golden Girl
9. Standing On The Wrong Corner
10. Georgia Syncopator
11. The Code Of The Road (Travellers Bible)
Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut album "Code Of The Road" - released July 1977 in the UK on EMI International/Logo INS 3008. Produced by ALAN O'DUFFY and WILLY FINLAYSON (no US release).

Disc 2 - "Three Times A Day" (38:10 minutes):
1. This Could Be The Town [Side 1]
2. Oh Sister
3. Last Port Of Call
4. Comes The Dawn
5. River Man
6. Yesterday's Music [Side 2]
7. Rural Routes
8. I Wish I Wish
9. Laughing Daughter
10. This Dream I Have Of You
Tracks 1 to 10 are their second studio album "Three Times A Day" - released November 1977 in the UK on EMI International/Logo INS 3010. Produced by RICHIE GOLD (no US release)

Disc 3 - "Take Away" (44:11 minutes):
1. Why In The World [Side 1]
2. Down On My Knees (After Memphis)
3. Lucy
4. Lone Star Motel
5. The Shape I'm In
6. Blame [Side 2]
7. Simple
8. Bonnie Lee's Dinette
9. At The Funny Farm
10. Get On Board
Tracks 1 to 10 are their third and final studio album "Take Away" - released November 1978 (reissued April 1979) on Logo Records LOGO 1008. Produced by DAVID MACKAY.

11. Son Of The Creature From The Black Lagoon (Live)
12. Boogie Queen (Live)
Tracks 11 and 12 are non-album - released November 1978 as the second single in a UK double-pack for "Simple" on Logo Records GO(D) 330. The standard single (Disc 1 of the double-pack) on Logo Records GO 330 contained "Simple" on the A-side and "Funny Farm" on the B-side. There is no venue or recording date advised for the live cuts.

You have to say that the glossy clamshell box is pretty as are the three repro card sleeves and the 20-page booklet. New liner notes come courtesy of MICHAEL HEATLEY and with recent interviews give a thorough history of the band's beginnings and end. In-between the text are photos of the many EMI International and Logo 45s that EMI tried - as well as live photos of the band, the rear sleeve artwork on the back page (no inners) and various press cuttings. The mastering is down to JAMES BRAGG and the Audio on all three is excellent - especially "Code Of The Road".

You can immediately hear why EMI thought "Out Of The Blue" would be the best lead-off single for the debut album - it's a fantastically hooky song. EMI International INS 533 was issued as a British 45 towards the end of May 1977 with the witty "Day Job" as its B-side - months ahead of the album. Given the strength of the Rick Jones, David Pierce and Steve Hammond composition - it should have been huge really and yet I can't recall ever hearing it at the time. Other nuggets on an album obsessed with American Highways and Mexican Haciendas are the very Crazy Horse vibe of "Last One To Know" and the brilliant harmony breaks that occur in the near six-minute Side 2 stunner "The Man From Mexico".

After the relative high of the debut - "Three Times A Day" comes as a huge disappointment. Tracks like "This Could Be The Town" and "Rural Routes" suddenly sound dull and derivative. EMI tried "Yesterday's Dreams" b/w "The Man From Mexico" from the first LP in September 1977 as a 45 on EMI International INS 539 - even awarding it the luxury of a picture sleeve (both sides are repro'd on Pages 3 and 4 of the booklet). But fans of say Cado Belle or Ace didn't seem to be listening as it tanked. When album number three "Take Away" showed in November 1978 - EMI (under their Logo label imprint) tried "Simple" as the LPs first 45 in two formats - a standard 7" single and a double-pack with two unreleased live tracks on Disc 2 - but no takers. March 1979 saw them try their cover of The Band's "The Shape I'm In" as a single - Logo GO 342 with the LP opener "Why In The World" as its B-side. But that and the last UK single "Blame" in May 1979 on Logo GO 352 (with "At The Funny Farm" on the flip-side) failed as well.

You have to say that re-listening to these albums has been a mixed emotion - loving the first but I'd forgotten how forgettable the other two really are. Still - fans will adore the quality presentation and the sparkly audio and will need to own it. Others should try a listen first...

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