Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Turn On The Music Machine - The Music Machine

Turn On The Music Machine
The Music Machine 
Original Sound  OSR LMP 5015

Sean Bonniwell died on December 20th of last year.  He was one of the more interesting characters in rock history.  After being a folk singer, he became the leader and songwriter of the Music Machine, one of the classic garage bands of the 1960s.  In the 1970s he gave up music after getting ripped off by his management and record companies and explored various facets of spirituality eventually becoming a devout Christian.  He had a very strong vision and an eye for theatricality.  He dressed the band entirely in black at a time when paisley and bright colors were in fashion, had them dye their hair black as well and to top it all off, each member wore a single black glove while playing.  The band's only hit was "Talk Talk" which reached number 15 on the Billboard chart.  It has a simple, pounding riff and lyrics that express frustration and alienation, the classic recipe for garage band immortality.  These guys are often dismissed as one hit wonders, but this album is full of fine Bonniwell compositions.  My favorite song on the album after "Talk Talk" is "Masculine Intuition."  It is a hard driving song with screaming guitar lines and an irresistible beat creating a sense of urgency that heightens the desperation in the lyrics.  "The People in Me" is another excellent song.  Lyrically and musically it is the most psychedelic offering on the album and features raga-like fuzz guitar.  If it wasn't for "Talk Talk," "Wrong" might have been the song we remember the Music Machine for, it ought to be a garage band classic.  It has a fast-paced fuzz guitar riff punctuated by bursts of organ, an insistent, propulsive beat, and a powerful vocal intoning more desperate lyrics.  "Trouble" is in the mold of "Talk Talk," another straight ahead, beat-heavy song with heavy riffing fuzz guitar and wailing organ over lyrics of teenage angst.  "Come On In" bears a curious resemblance to the early Doors with its lugubrious vocal and prominent organ line.  "Some Other Drum" is a quiet, almost folky song that reminds me a bit of the Lovin' Spoonful.  There are four covers that were supposedly included against Bonniwell's wishes at the record company's insistence.  I like their version of the Beatles' "Taxman" which has a ferocious, noisy guitar solo from Mark Landon and a forceful, dynamic beat.  Their version of "Cherry Cherry" is surprising soft-rock in character, it reminds me of the Sandpipers.  I can see how Bonniwell was irked by its inclusion, it is totally out of character with the rest of the album.  "See See Rider" sounds like it was based on the Animals' version particularly in the organ riff and is only notable for another hot solo by Landon.  "96 Tears" has an exaggerated vocal by Bonniwell, he sounds like a lounge singer fronting a teen dance band.  The fifth cover was apparently approved by Bonniwell for the album.  It is a slow version of "Hey Joe" that is very similar to Tim Rose's arrangement of the song.  Bonniwell's voice is higher than normal, it almost sounds like he is imitating Arthur Lee.  It is interesting but as far as the slow versions of "Hey Joe" go, I prefer both Tim Rose and Jimi Hendrix's interpretations.  The covers do compromise the artistic quality of the album somewhat, but there is no denying the potency and originality of Bonniwell's music.  I admire the darkness and consistency of Bonniwell's vision.  His themes of confusion, desperation and anxiety stand out in a time when most West Coast bands were more interested in singing about love, beauty and getting high.  The raw power and distortion in the band's sound is also very striking.  Bonniwell was an impressive talent (Sundazed's CD reissues of his work for Warner Bros. are also worth checking out) and it is unfortunate that the record industry treated him so shabbily, he might have made a lot of great music with more support.   Recommended for goths who dig garage bands.

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