By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
BÖC’s intent is telegraphed by the leadoff track on the band’s eponymous 1972 Columbia debut, in the overt references to the Hell’s Angels’ murderous role in the Rolling Stones’ calamitous 1969 concert at Altamont heard in “Transmaniacon MC.” If the Stalk-Forrest Group was about tie-dyed trippiness, this incarnation was about bad vibes. The violence of the songs — the dope-burn murders of “Then Came the Last Days of May,” the roadhouse mayhem of “Before the Kiss, a Redcap,” the apocalyptic thunder of “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll” — and nonmusical elements such as artist Bill Gawlik’s swastikalike “Saturn” logo-symbol were calculated to promote bad dreams. If you listened carefully, though, you could imagine the band winking at the ghoulishness of it all.
Empowered by strong rock-press coverage (no doubt secured by Meltzer and Pearlman), BÖC responded with increasingly potent albums. Tyranny and Mutation (1973) sported the definitive version of “I’m on the Lamb,” fiercely rearranged and retitled “The Red & the Black”; Joe Bouchard’s power ride on the Satanic subway, “Hot Rails to Hell”; and the dopey, convulsive “Teen Archer.” Secret Treaties (1974) topped its predecessor with a badass Al Bouchard–Patti Smith anthem, “Career of Evil”; “ME 262,” a Nazi-turbojet-vs.-Allied-bomber dogfight fantasy by Bloom-Roeser-Pearlman; and the great/stupid Meltzerian sci-fi nightmare “Harvester of Eyes,” with its splendid double-tracked Buck Dharma solo.
Roeser took BÖC over the top commercially with his “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” a masterfully conceived paean to love beyond the grave. Riding a flamenco-injected riff and a ringing Dharma interlude, it soared to No. 12 on the Hot 100. Agents of Fortune, the 1976 album containing the hit, became the group’s first platinum album; it was also its first major artistic breakdown. Apart from the sardonic “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” (co-authored by yet another rock critic, L.A.’s Don Waller), the material was weak, reaching a nadir with “Debbie Denise,” a mawkish tune, rewritten from a sexually ambiguous Patti Smith poem, about a rocker’s faithful ol’ lady. Oh, brother.
In the 25 years since “Reaper,” BÖC have followed a familiar trajectory, from laser-toting arena-rockers to slug-it-out rock-club journeymen. Lanier deserted the band and returned, while the Bouchard brothers departed permanently, to be replaced by less swinging stand-ins. Columbia dropped the band in 1988; after a decade in the wilderness, the group signed with CMC International, a perennial home for wayward rock vets on an earthbound course.
In propaganda for the new record, Bloom refers to Curse of the Hidden Mirror as “a real ‘classic rock’–sounding record,” and therein lies a clue to its failings. The dully non-ironic lyrics of science-fiction novelist John Shirley are no substitute for the drollery of Pearlman or Al Bouchard (though Meltzer’s lyric hand comes into play on one possibly back-dated number, the suitably dippy “Stone of Love”). The stolid rhythm section makes one long for the Bouchards all the more. And Bloom’s leering rasp has been severely diminished by time.
But Roeser sounds as sweetly unforced as he did on “Reaper,” and his keening guitar chimes like a celestial bell on nearly every track. His best moments come on a “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rip-off called “Pocket.” There, between typically fleet solo excursions, the mighty Dharma asks, “Are you in the pocket of the moment, at this particular second?”
Obviously, unhappily for Blue Öyster Cult, the answer is a dismaying “No.”
THE STALK-FORREST GROUP | St. Cecilia: The Elektra Recordings (Rhino Handmade)
BLUE ÖYSTER CULT | Blue Öyster Cult; Tyranny and Mutation; Secret Treaties; Agents of Fortune | (all Columbia/Legacy)
BLUE ÖYSTER CULT | Curse of the Hidden Mirror | (CMC International)