Saturday, November 26, 2016

Nazz - Nazz

SGC Records  SD 5001

I was surprised to see a large obituary for Carson Van Osten in the "LA Times" late last year.  I figured that somebody there must be a Nazz fan, but when I read the obituary I discovered that he had a prominent career as a comic book artist, Nazz were hardly even mentioned.  I only knew him as the bassist for Nazz, a group that I've loved ever since I first heard them on the "Nuggets" comp as a teenager.  This was their debut album which I consider one of the best albums of 1968.  It begins with "Open My Eyes" which is my favorite Nazz song.  Like most of the songs on the album it was written by Todd Rundgren, the lead guitarist in Nazz.  It is a dazzling hard rocking song with a driving beat that makes brilliant use of phasing to give it a psychedelic edge.  The song blew me away when I heard it on "Nuggets" and it still thrills me whenever I hear it.  It was a flop single, but I think it is better than 99% of the songs in the top 40 in 1968.  "Back of Your Mind" is similarly riff-driven, it sounds like a more pop-oriented version of Cream.  Rundgren delivers a hot guitar solo and Robert "Stewkey" Antoni's lead vocal has a winning urgency that makes the song memorable.  "See What You Can Be" is soaring power pop reminiscent of the Left Banke.  "Hello It's Me" was a hit for Rundgren when he recorded it as a solo artist in the early 1970s.  This version is slower and features a less elaborate arrangement than the hit version but I like it almost as much primarily because of the strength of Antoni's vocal and Van Osten's melodic bass lines.  Side one concludes with a group composition, "Wildwood Blues."  The song is a full-on rocker driven by sizzling guitar work from Rundgren.  One of the things I like best about the band is that they retain their pop smarts even when they get loud and raucous much like the Beatles.  Side two opens with the delicate "If That's the Way You Feel" which features a string arrangement by Rundgren and a lovely vocal from Antoni.  "When I Get My Plane" is delicious power pop that blends hard rock with superb vocal harmonies, it sounds like the Association jamming with the Who.  "Lemming Song" is a straight ahead rocker propelled by Rundgren's howling guitar runs.  The rave-up in the song's instrumental break is extremely exciting.  "Crowded" was written by Antoni and Nazz's drummer Thom Mooney.  It is the weakest song on the album although it is still pleasant to listen to.  The album concludes with "She's Goin' Down" which is highly kinetic featuring Rundgren wailing on guitar and Antoni's frenetic organ work supported by Mooney's hyper-active drumming.  It gives the record an energetic finish.  I'll never understand why this band never became big.  They had it all - they were attractive, featured quality songwriting, creative arranging, a fine singer and they could play up a storm.  I've heard hundreds of albums from the late 1960s and this album is better than the vast majority of them.  Did people really prefer Crosby, Stills and Nash, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly or Blood, Sweat and Tears?   I guess Nazz was out of touch with the zeitgeist of the era, championing pop values at a time when hippies just wanted to get down and get dirty.  They missed out on a truly great album.  Recommended to fans of Big Star and Badfinger.

No comments:

Post a Comment