Graded on a Curve:
Family,
It’s Only a Movie

Oddballs; you’ve got to love them. Just recently I was happy to happen upon a great band in the grand tradition of English eccentrics, namely Family, who failed to make much of an impression on anybody over the course of their 7 studio LPs, and may well best be remembered as the temporary home of Ric Grech and John Wetton. A psychedelic band boasting a lead singer (Roger Chapman) whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Peter Gabriel (that is when he doesn’t sound like Steve Marriott or Ronnie Lane), Family hung in from 1966 to 1973, when they released their final LP, 1973’s excellent It’s Only a Movie.

To be honest, they sound more like an English folk band with mild progressive pretentions than a psychedelic band to this critic. Songs like the title cut are mildly freaky music hall tunes, while “Leroy” (and this is one of the reasons I love them) sounds like a great lost Faces tune. Meanwhile “Boom Bang” kinda reminds me of Steve Marriott, and I think you know what I’m getting at. It’s Only a Movie is an LP that’s all over the place, but it works magnificently.

I’m going to tell you the plain truth: Family will not blow you away. But they’re a great lost link in the English music time line, and they’re fun and funky, and you could do much, much worse. Unlike Marriott and the more overtly proggish bands of their time, they never hold you hostage with 17-minute songs full of feudal synthesizers (see Gabriel’s Genesis) or inter-song rants about this social issue or that (the Humble Pie era Steve Marriott’s great downfall). No, they keep ‘em short and sweet, and just weird enough to keep you intrigued.

Yeah, let me reiterate: Family sounds like a union of Genesis, Faces, and Humble Pie, with some eccentric theatrics tossed in to liven up matters. And while there’s nothing as good as the bellowing “Sat’d’dy Barfly” (from the band’s 1971 LP Fearless) on It’s Only a Movie, the LP has plenty to offer. Take “Buffet Tea for Two,” which incorporates some great power chords with a folksy melody, then adds lots of slightly off-kilter lounge piano and strings as it climbs and climbs to a marvelous crescendo. The guitar towards the end is pretty cool too.

Or the languorous and bluesy “Banger,” an instrumental with horns that makes one think of an English sausage walking down the street. It pauses and looks over the side of a London bridge; look, a seagull, it cries, as its Derby hat is picked up by a gusting wind and tossed into the Thames. As for “Leroy” it makes me think of the Faces’ Ronnie Lane, right down to the harmonica. Chapman talks his way through the thing, accompanied by a piano, some strummed guitars, and strings, and the chorus is, I must insist, a lovely, lovely thing.

“Boots’n’Roots” is an eccentric number that opens with some music hall horns and highlights Chapman’s slightly berserk vocals; throw in some sweet piano, and you’re halfway between Humble Pie and vaudeville. “Sweet Desiree” is a funky, funky number in the tradition of War; it comes at you with lots of cool percussion, to say nothing of great backing vocals, wild piano, and killer horns. Along with “Leroy” and “Boom Bang,” it’s my favorite song on the album, and in a sane world would be considered a classic. “Boom Bang” is mad great; Chapman is at the top of his game and the song is raucous, especially when all the vocalists come in. I love Chapman’s vocals and consider him the equal of both Marriott and Rod Stewart; on this number especially, he shows himself to be a blues shouter of the first order.

“Suspicion” is another rock’n’roller of the first order, and once again demonstrates the chops that should, in a fair world, have made Chapman a major star. The piano kicks ass, the horns are right on, and once again the backing vocals lend the tune that special touch. “Check Out” is a raunchy number featuring a Deep Purple organ and more excellent horns; it builds to a great climax, featuring a vicious guitar, that funky organ, and Chapman and vocalists repeating, “Check out, check out.”

The title track is the LP’s oddest; it opens on a hard rock note, then a piano comes in and Chapman and a chorus go back and forth, just as the piano and guitar do. The chorus is great, and the piano player goes mad, but don’t shoot him or the guy playing the horn solo that follows. No, leave the gunfire to the song; it comes straight from a 1940s Western and commences as the song comes to a close, along with the whinnying of horses and what you’ve got is one very strange shoot ‘em up.

I’m prone to hyperbole, but in the case of It’s Only a Movie I’m going to make no great claims. It’s most definitely worth a listen, or two even, and you just might find yourself hooked by Family’s odd charms. They deserve to be better remembered, I’ll say that. “Leroy,” “Boom Bang,” and “Sweet Desiree” are all great tunes, and I’m glad to have made their acquaintance. Next to the Manson Family, this is the Family I’d most like to call my own.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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