on 16 February 2013
PREQUEL: This debut from Sharks is an epic in the same way as say, Chicago's 1st or Led Zeppelin's 2nd; anthemic, inventive, and musically unique with soft-left agitprop poetically risqué lyrics. At its launch in '73, First Water was hailed as as a masterpiece by the music press and soon afterwards UK critics declared supergroup Sharks to be the best live band on the planet. The following year Sharks released 'Jab It In Yore Eye', a weaker album overall due to lineup changes, but with sublime moments (worth buying for incredible single "Sophistication" alone). Sharks were on late night Old Grey Whistle Test after First Water's release and it was a series highlight I fondly remember. But when only a year later the magical combination known as Sharks had disbanded, critics and fans were stunned and bewildered, hardly able to believe it.
REVIEW: The opening proletarian track "World Park Junkies" is immediate and confident, and it sets a high standard, sounding like one of the greatest singles that never was. Next track "Follow Me", has catchy electric piano accompaniment, piano being just one element on this album of guitar-based blues-rock with semi-psychedelic lyrics. "Snakes and Swallowtails", (track 5) is an exciting, full-on, driven track, one to die for which would also have made a fine single. "Steal Away", track 7, is an exquisite respite track and an incredible masterpiece in its own right. (Sublime vocals, thanks Snips!) Oozing with originality, First Water is that rarity; substantial and entertaining with no weak tracks or filler and a strong sense of identity.
Now for the main course, Snips' vocals! Many have tried to describe them and no wonder, they're staggering!
Nuanced, deceptively laconic, gravel-perfect authentic blues, confidently delivered. But it's the SOUND of Snips voice that has fascinated fans of First Water. 'Voice exciter' technology was used and somehow Snips vocal attributes catalyse with this 'standard at the time' effect in a unique way, reiterating with it to create a level of dynamism you can hardly believe! On this album, Snips easily equals his peers at the time for impact (say, Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, etc., whoever - the greats).
Today the idealised 70s subculture lyrics sound charming and intriguing. Andy Fraser's familiar, friendly bass is much more than that here. So inventive is Andy that however unexpected it may be, this is his career highpoint. Legendary 'guitar god' Chris Spedding's virtuosity and technical skills are on abundant display along with top notch guitar tech and engineering - a career peak for him too! Who was it said supergroups never work?
LOADED DICE: Long gone Pirate Radio would have played First Water on rotation, but by '73 monopoly BBC Radio was the sole arbiter of taste with its playlist policy tool, standardising output (since the late 60's), favouring safe manufactured frothy pop, bubblegum, and mediocrity. Sharks weren't mediocre and nor were they indifferent to marketing or promotion, but as financially secure artists, all that mattered to them was making the best music they knew they could make and enjoy making and playing it. Namely, they were Artists Following Their Muse - not the market!"
GET IT NOW! Prior to this release First Water was scarce and expensive, unfairly sidelining it to cult status. This puts that right with vibrant sound and restored artwork. (By the way, on the original vinyl, Snips vocals were 'double-tracked' with delay across the stereo, which, with the speakers 6ft apart - facing you, and you in between [not about volume] sounded awesome - Wow! Remastering of course corrects such anomalies!!) First Water has sparks and sparkles sprinkled all over it! Originally on Island, now on 'Talking Elephant' - get this super flavour while you still can, or regret it!