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Not a rediscovered psychedelic masterpiece?
on 5 November 2015
I am bemused and even slightly amused by the rave reviews that have been posted for this album. I bought this cd with fairly high expectations.
However, a contemporary Rolling Stone magazine review quoted in the cd booklet sums up for me why this album was not, and still is not a success.
To quote 'The ideas are fantastic, but without interpretive power to match, the resulting music is cold and cerebral.'
For me the musicianship is often second rate at best, and sounds like a college band stretching themselves beyond their capabilities. I don't want to offend other reviewers, as everyone's opinion is worthy of consideration, but to compare Dorothy Moskovitz's vocals to Grace Slick's doesn't hold up for me. She doesn't deliver anything like the power, range or emotion of the Jefferson Airplane vocalist, based on these recordings.
When this album was released other LPs already released or being recorded included The Beatles 'Revolver' & 'Sgt Peppers', Tim Buckley's 'Goodbye and Hello', Procol Harum's eponymous album and 'Shine on Brightly', Jefferson Airplane's 'Crown of Creation', Jimi Hendrix's 'Axis Bold As Love' and 'Electric Landlady(sic)', Dr John's 'Gris Gris', Electric Flag's 'A Long Time Coming', Pink Floyd's 'Piper At The Gates of Dawn' and 'A Saucerful of Secrets', Cream's 'Disraeli Gears' and Traffic's 'Mr Fantasy' to name but a few.
In other words, very accomplished innovative music was already exploding in all directions in this era.
This United States of America album does lyrically have some interesting takes on the fracturing of the American dream, but much also seems derivative of other sources including The Beatles and other American 'underground' bands of the period. For me the music is not in the same league as those other artists and albums l have mentioned.
Irrespective of any argument concerning originality or influences, the killer for me is contained in that Rolling Stone quote. Sure, 'Wooden Wife' is very listenable and drily amusing, and the bonus track 'Osamu's Birthday' has far eastern influences unusual for the time.
But musically most tracks fail to deliver, with the rhythm section seemingly unable to bring much subtlety or invention to the proceedings, with DM not having the vocal power or range to add much interest to the more rock based numbers, and with a lack of cohesion to the overall sound.
This is probably due to the musicians having little previous experience of playing 'rock' music, and possibly not playing many live gigs together? Much of the album therefore sounds very studio bound and not organic in the way of songs having been developed through having been played together as a band.
I think for instance that Jorma Kaukonen, originally an acoustic guitarist, improved massively as a rock guitarist through playing many live gigs with Jefferson Airplane.
Anyway, that's my two pennies worth of a review. For me this album doesn't really hold any magic, but there appear to be many other strong favourable comments in the other reviews, including some from people like me who were around and listening to music throughout this era.
I suppose that's the beauty of all music and art forms. You make your own mind up, and enjoy what speaks to you.