Saturday, November 19, 2011

Be Bop Deluxe Modern Music 1976

Be Bop Deluxe was one of those bands that never quite got off the ground commercially, even though they made some very interesting music. Singer-writer-guitarist Bill Nelson blended his impressive guitar playing into a sound that was equal parts glam, progressive rock, and quirky pop. Nelson's frequent lyrical forays into science fiction territory were sometimes fun, occasionally pretentious. Releasing six records between 1974-1978, their two 1976 albums, Sunburst Finish and Modern Music, were both excellent.

Orphans Of Babylon kicks off side one in fine style, and Kiss Of Light and Bring Back The Spark are both strong. Kiss Of Light should have been the hit follow-up to their most successful single, Ships In The Night, but it didn't dent the charts. Even their most commercial moments contain a certain lyrical awkwardness that Nelson never seems to escape.

Side two starts with the Modern Music suite/medley, and it is twelve minutes of near-perfect Be Bop Deluxe. The suite contains all of their best elements, from the romance of Modern Music, to the catchy pop of Dancing In The Moonlight, and on to the instrumental fireworks of Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids. Forbidden Lovers follows and features their more prog side, and contains enough ideas for three songs in most bands' hands. It is a fine example of Nelson's weakness for cramming too many ideas into one song, and his inability, sometimes, to weave those ideas together comfortably. A common problem for prog bands in general, with Yes, ELP, and Genesis all displaying this same dilemma.

The best of the songs are terrific, and the band have a truly unique sound. Nelson's guitar is always a stand-out, but Andrew Clark's keyboards and Simon Fox's drumming are also very important to the band's tight, quirky arrangements. This record's immediate predecessor, Sunburst Finish, is equally good, contains their biggest hit, the reggae-flavored Ships In The Night, and comes with a cover that includes a naked woman holding a flaming guitar. How could you go wrong?

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