Graded on a Curve:
Three Man Army,
Three Man Army Two

First a bit of history. When my older brother fled home in the mid-Seventies to escape the horrors of small town life, he left behind his record collection, which included this Three Man Army LP he picked up for 99 cents at a J.G. McCrory cutout record bin in nearby Hanover. A rock critic in embryo, I listened to every one of his left-behinds–including a Strawbs LP I intuitively knew would suck–but this one. Not only had I never heard of Three Man Army, I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion that whatever was on Three Man Army Two would scar me for life.

I needn’t have worried. 1974’s Three Man Army Two isn’t likely to land you in a PTSD therapy group. It’s merely the workmanlike product of a trio of Brit journeymen flailing about in search of a sound they could call their own. As you can tell by that 99-cent sticker price, they didn’t find it.

Three Man Army Two includes a song whose title they stole from Sun Ra, a song about the vision-impaired, an instrumental whose apparent inspiration was a guy named Irving, a song about a polecat woman which I doubt was meant as a compliment and leads me to suspect the boys weren’t averse to a bit of hot and sweaty bestiality, and a couple of other songs of a generic nature too boring to mention. Personally, I think they’d have been better off writing more songs about the joys of interspecies fornication. I’d have happily coughed up the money for a single called “Fruit Bat Lady.”

Three Man Army’s problems were two-fold. First, they were a musically talented but utterly faceless power trio whose specialty lay in writing serviceable but remarkably unremarkable songs. There isn’t a single truly bad track on Three Man Army Two, but aside from “Polecat Woman” I have a hard time remembering a single one of them.

More importantly, when I listen to Three Man Army Two I find myself wondering, “What’s the point?” The band lacked personality, a coherent message, and a unique sound. I don’t know who they are or what they represent and I don’t care. This is not a recipe for rock stardom, hence they did not become rock stars. They become one of those bands whose name appears in tiny print at the bottom of a festival flyer, just below Mighty Baby and Gary Farr.

Most of the songs on Three Man Army Two fall into the hard rock category, There is no denying the guys in Three Man Army were crack musicians and kept things tight, but they kept things too tight perhaps. Theirs was a tightly wound species of Swiss Clock Rock–let one note go sproing! and it’s off to the repairman. This is most apparent on songs like the ramped-up “Irving,” which is less song than machine-tooled precision instrument, and such speed rockers as “Burning Angel” and “Polecat Woman,” the latter of which could be a Led Zeppelin outtake were it not for the drum solo. Who inserts a drum solo into a song that lasts less than four minutes? Ginger Baker perhaps. But there are reasons Ginger Baker didn’t sell records, and Tony Newman was no Ginger Baker.

As for the other songs on the LP, “Flying” is a studio shiny hybrid of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” and Boston, while the bona fide pretty “Today” brings Traffic to mind. “In My Eyes” opens on a quiet and pleasingly melodic note before veering into Who territory. “Space Is the Place” has a Procol Harum vibe, and are you beginning to get the idea these guys didn’t have a single original idea in their collective cranium? As for the slow ride that is “I Can’t Make the Blind See,” Joe Cocker could have performed miracles with it. Perhaps they dropped by Joe’s place to gauge his interest. If so, Joe hid behind the curtains until they went away.

The guys in Three Man Army could play up a storm, but theirs was a generic product, and the only way to successfully sell a generic product is to offer it at a lower price than the original. Which probably accounts for the fact that my brother found Three Man Army Two in a cutout record bin in the first place.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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