Graded on a Curve:
Blue Öyster Cult,
Secret Treaties

So what do we have here? An album by a band that purports to be heavy metal but isn’t, lyrics by Patti Smith, famed rock crit Richard Meltzer and producer/manager/svengali Sandy Perlman, songs about a famous Nazi jet, cagey cretins, a guy who gets high on human eyeballs, dominance & submission and other everyday topics, and a vocalist/guitarist so cool the Minuteman named dropped him in a song. No wonder a Melody Maker critics’ poll declared it “the Top Rock Album of All Time.” Not band for a bunch of Long Island boys.

BOC began their career as Soft White Underbelly, changed their name to Oaxaca and then to the Stalk-Forrest Group before being signed to Columbia Records by Clive Davis. Pearlman saw BOC as America’s answer to Black Sabbath, which was kinda like declaring the Doobie Brothers America’s answer to Led Zeppelin. A lot of my badass pig farmer pals thought BOC were psychopomps sent to guide them to the underworld; in reality they were the kinds of well-mannered boys who would carry granny’s grocery bags up the stairs. Their “career of evil” most likely consisted of forgetting to pay a couple of parking tickets.

Metal these guys ain’t. Sabbath’s “Iron Man” crushes anything BOC ever recorded, Tokyo menace “Godzilla” (BOC’s least representative tune) aside. Secret Treaties’s less GTO than finely tuned sports car. It places a premium on speed and turning power. The LP’s sound is streamlined and clean, and there’s no muffler noise. It wouldn’t be stretching a comparison too far to say BOC have more in common with Bon Jovi.

No surprise, then, that my least favorite tune on the album is the lumbering “Subhuman.” That said, the lyrics are tres cool: “Left to die by two good friends” recaps their debut’s “Then Came the Last Days of May,” in which three “three good buddies” get offed in a dope burn. Better is the slow-paced “Astronomy,” which works thanks to Allen Lanier’s piano and a Van Halen-like “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chorus. Pearlman’s lyrics (sample couplet “In hellish glare and inference/The other one’s a duplicate”) don’t make a lick of sense to me, but then again, T.S. Eliot I ain’t.

The lyrics to “Career of Evil” are credited to Patti Smith and based on her “Poem of Isidore Ducasse” (big whoop); the song itself is mid-tempo and puts Lanier’s organ front and center. For some odd reason I hear an Allman Brother’s riff in there someplace; Buck Dharma’s solo is copacetic. “Dominance and Submission” goes gangbusters and boasts a chainsaw riff (as well as a doozy of a solo) by Dharma; with a title like that you would expect some kinky sex, but there’s nary a whip or chain in sight. Close as I can tell, it’s about people doing the polka in Times Square on New Year’s Eve in 1963. Maybe I’m missing something.

“ME 262” is as propulsive as the Junkers Jumo 004-powered Nazi fighter jet it’s named for, and the lyrics are a hoot; Hermann Goering tells Adolf Hitler Willie Braun’s “down quite a job.” You hear the crowds at Nuremberg, some gunfire, and an air raid siren; the pilot sings about “heavy metal fruit” hanging in the sky, and asks “Must these Englishmen live that I might die?” On the hard-rocking

“Flaming Telepaths” Lanier punches the piano keys like Jerry Lee Lewis, the backing singers go droop, and Bloom sings “the joke’s on you,” which is basically their band philosophy. Wish Lanier had spared me the brief synthesizer solo; it gives me PTSD flashbacks to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. “Cagey Cretins” opens with what sounds like to the beginning of Led Zep’s “Rock and Roll,” then segues into the boys singing “Oooh, cagey cretins! Bloom sings “What you got there dummy?” then utters the wonderful non sequitur “It’s so lonely/In the state of Maine.” Richard Meltzer must have had laugh writing it.

As for “Harvester of Eyes,” Meltzer supposedly wrote it about Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas, but if you can make the connection between Honest Abe and a guy who eats eyeballs to catch a buzz I’ll PayPal you 10 bucks pronto. Song’s got a chug-a-lugging feel to it gratis an almost ZZ Top-like guitar riff, and Dharma lets rip an eye-gouger of a solo.

Secret Treaties puts Blue Öyster Cult’s strengths to the forefront–their surprising deft touch and penchant for melody, their decidedly off-kilter sense of humor, and the virtuoso skills of both Dharma and Lanier. It may not be the band’s best album–my vote goes to 1976’s Agents of Fortune–but it’s a jet-powered gas. The guys in BOC were no more serious than Alice Cooper, but there are still people out there who take their wink-of-the-eye crypto-mythical bullshit seriously. My guess it’s the umlaut. Yeah, it has to be the umlaut.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text