Wednesday, March 30, 2016

At Home - Shocking Blue

At Home
Shocking Blue
Metronome MLP 15 353

This is a German pressing of Shocking Blue's second album originally released in the Netherlands on Pink Elephant Records.  It was Mariska Veres' debut album with the band as lead vocalist.  I first encountered the band as a kid on the first rock record I ever bought, a compilation called "Get It Together," which featured their international hit single "Venus."  I liked the song but not so much that I made a big effort to obtain one of their albums which are not all that easy to find in the United States.  About 20 years later I heard Nirvana's wonderful cover of "Love Buzz" on "Bleach" and decided I had to get the original version by Shocking Blue.  Thus I finally ended up with this delightful album which contains both "Venus" and "Love Buzz."  The album opens with "Boll Weevil" which like all but one of the songs on the album was written by the band's guitarist/sitarist Robbie van Leeuwen.  It is a hard rocking song with a rockabilly flavor particularly in the chorus and guitar solo.  The lyrics are slight but Veres sings them with admirable verve.  "I'll Write Your Name Through The Fire" is trippy folk-rock.  The lyrics are of the "gotta ramble" varietyLike most of the lyrics on the record, they sound awkward to me.  "Acka Raga" is a cover of a song by John Mayer (no not that John Mayer.)  It is a raga rock instrumental driven by van Leeuwen on sitar and one of my favorite tracks.  "Love Machine" is greasy rock with stimulating guitar runs from van Leeuwen and a heavy bass riff propelling it.  Veres' vocal sounds slightly hoarse heightening the passion of her delivery.  "I'm a Woman" is a mix of raga rock and soul with a seductive vocal from Veres as she intones quasi-feminist lyrics of female empowerment.  The lyrics are extremely awkward bordering on abstruse which mutes the songs impact although Veres sings them so convincingly that they still convey the song's message.  Side one concludes with "Venus" which was their biggest hit and deservedly so.  The song features a hypnotic guitar riff over which Veres intones alluring lyrics of irresistible desireWhen I heard the song as a boy, Veres' vocal captivated me with her accent and her sensuality and all these years later I still find her performance very appealing.  I greatly prefer it to Bananarama's cover version.  Side two opens with "California Here I Come" which is driven by a strong guitar riff and features a stimulating instrumental break.  It is another "gotta ramble" type song that is a paean to California as well.  Despite the listing on the record sleeve the next song is "Long and Lonesome Road" which is a pounding rocker with an urgent vocal from Veres.  It is powered by a compelling organ riff and plenty of noisy guitar work from van Leeuwen.  "Poor Boy" opens with a lengthy instrumental passage featuring raga inflected guitar runs from van Leeuwen.  After a couple of minutes the vocal part of the song begins with Veres plaintively singing about the unhappy titular character.  She again uses the hoarse quality of her voice to great effect heightening the emotional impact of her singing.  "Love Buzz" begins with a memorable raga-style bass riff augmented by sitar over which Veres sings clumsy lyrics about desire leading to a frenzied rave up in the instrumental break.  Kurt Cobain followed the arrangement for Nirvana's cover but increased the tempo and rocked up the sound more.  I prefer the Nirvana version for its intensity, but being a raga rock fan I appreciate the Shocking Blue version too.  "The Butterfly and I" features more awkward lyrics so much so that I can't even figure out what the song is about.  Veres accent sounds particularly heavy on this track.  The song starts out with a raga rock sound and then halfway through the song it is weirdly transformed by a big band arrangement complete with a couple of trumpet solos.  If nothing else it gives the album a dynamic finish.  I really love the sound of this album, it pushes a lot of my buttons.  Van Leeuwen came up with a lot of great riffs and I like the sitar as well.  Veres was a charismatic and emotional singer and she goes a long way towards compensating for the weakness of the lyricsI suppose the lyrics are not bad for a Dutch guy, but they definitely diminish the strength of several of the songs.  It is still a terrific record though, well worth seeking out.  Recommended to fans of George Harrison's sitar playing.

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