Warner Bros 1973 / Esoteric 2018
Unique and quintessential: impressive debut of British ensemble who didn’t bother to conform.
They weren’t the first band to feature two keyboardists, of course, but if PROCOL HARUM drew a line between the timbres of ivories and had guitar for a link, GREENSLADE thrived on a shared use of synthesized sounds and didn’t need an axe to divide and conquer. This seemed to be the idea Dave Greenslade arrived at when, upon the release of a concert document, COLOSSEUM had broken up, and he knew that chidhood friend Tony Reeves, so solid and supple on the sophisticated "Valentyne Suite" endeavor, would gladly leave production duties and return to real action and deliver additional melodic leads. With ex-SAMURAI leader Dave Lawson balancing the black-and-white front and former KING CRIMSON Andrew McCulloch laying the groove, an unlikely supergroup emerged, and their first LP – bearing Roger Dean’s Hermit on the cover – is little short of stunning.
Reissued now in all its glory, “Greenslade” could signify refined art-rock or fusion, yet there was much more to the combo’s collective outlook, and they didn’t keep such a secret from the listener, opening up from the beginning and not ceasing to surprise to the end. Pure prog this piece may be, but the solemnity of “Feathered Friends” relents to lend its lyrics’ ecological angle to less than dystopian rhythm-and-blues that will shatter the initial stained-glass veneer to smithereens before allowing Lawson’s falsetto-flecked vocals to construct a soulful paean to endangered species and human relationships, one rendered cinematic in the cosmic passages of a Mellotron solo and a bulging bass line. The foursome are also erecting a pagoda-shaped pentatonic patterns in “Temple Song” and creating a chorale-like shimmer behind “Drowning Man” which would feel fragile, despite the presence of Lawson’s organ, until a robust, albeit almost funky, uplift takes its spirituality beyond a reverie veil.
Still, it’s “Melange” that must demonstrate the entire scope of the quartet’s fantastic interplay, with a four-string rumble at the fore, and the variety of their vertiginous techniques. There’s also elegiac playfulness in instrumental “An English Western” – whose intro Greenslade performed on piano, rather than Moog, in a live version which was preserved for posterity by BBC, alongside other tracks added to these two CDs as bonuses, shortly before and soon after the album release. For all the complexity of this material, their on-stage conversion proved to be easy and elegant, and only “What Are You Doin’ To Me” had never left the studio confines, remaining on the record as a proud display of the ensemble’s hard rock abilities, whereas the multi-part “Sundance” is majestically expanding an epic palette from recital simplicity to spaced-out assault, driven by McCulloch’s drums, and again restricting it to a well-disciplined swirl of tunes.
The album’s follow-up might have the same momentum, yet as far as debut record’s go, this one is nearly perfect.