Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gamma 2 and In Through the Out Door: Possibilities Left Aside

Disaster Amnesiac figures that anyone reading this blog would be familiar with the dynamic of "purity" in musical output. Hardcore fans of a given genre or act have their gospel statements, held up as lofty untouchables, along with their heretical screeds, at best dismissed, at worst ignored. I also figure that "purity" in that sense is complete horse shit. Disaster Amnesiac enjoys probing those sometimes neglected areas, with the leading questions: "how?" and "why?" I love looking into those lateral moves, if, for no other reason, than to get a break from whichever hegemony is currently putting a bee in my bonnet. With that in mind, I've been listening to two LP's from acts/musicians that were firmly established when they were released; both seem to have been somewhat forgotten, at least as far as I can tell. Gamma 2 and In Through the Out Door were released within one year of each other, and they both strike me as statements of possibility, that, once unleashed, and for whichever reasons, were pushed aside.

Gamma-Gamma 2-Elektra Records, 1980
Ronnie Montrose had already established a Hard Rock archetype with Montrose's first LP. As far as Disaster Amnesiac can tell, that album was a blueprint for many American bands that followed in its wake. Van Halen and parts of Ted Nugent's early solo LP's certainly seem to have taken a huge chunk of their presentation from it. Listening to Gamma 2, I feel like it could have had similar effects on subsequent Hard Rock bands of the 1980's. Ronnie's guitar playing is a fine mesh of melodic restraint, heavy riffing, and, when he solos, blistering finesse. At that time, L.A. guitar players such as Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen were the spotlight kids, but Montrose's sounds, textures, and riffing sound their equal and more. Listen to Four Horsemen, Skin and Bone, or Cat On a Leash for examples of what I mean. His playing is weathered, but far from stale. A fine solo even redeems the borderline cheese of the faux-optimism during a cover of Thunderclap Newman's 1969 nugget Something in the Air. Vocalist Davey Pattison delivers the tunes with a very male, almost gruff, melodic voice. The man could sing, and he was doing so on 2. An improvement on Sammy Hagar's similar style in Montrose, but perhaps taking some of the crooning influence of Paul Rodgers. Disaster Amnesiac wishes that more Hard Rock bands coming down the pike a few years later would have paid more attention to this style, but Davey's thing became outmoded pretty quick. Subsequent biz styled bands had moved to vocalists that aped the chicks that they wanted to meet up with in various ladies rooms, generally. And don't even bring up Eddie Vedder, it just ain't the same. Jim Alcivar provides good synthesizer support: always intriguing, often cutting with great treble-ey wheedles and Sci-Fi runs, especially on Mayday and Dirty City. Had he seen the Screamers? Probably not, but, you've got to figure that he'd been paying attention to Devo. His interjections are non-interfering New Wave touches to a very much Hard Rock overall sound. He certainly isn't wearing a sonic skinny tie. The rhythmic rampage of this LP, courtesy of Glen Letsch on bass and Denny Carmassi is perhaps its greatest asset. They're tightly entrained and focused throughout. Denny's stomping beats and fills on Mean Streak are downright clinical  in their precision, while Gamma's galloping Four Horsemen rides equally rough to Metallica's version of same. A better Rock undertow, one would be hard pressed to find, as Carmassi and Letsch lay it down. Gamma 2's great stylistic meshing, under a Hard Rock rubric, could have been just as much a template for succeeding bands' efforts as Montrose's debut, but, this was not to be. A few years later, and bands were either doing Hair Metal poodle dance or the Thrash Metal pit slam. Gamma 2, with its dry, booming sound, sits by itself now, with a foot in neither camp, but it sure provides a pleasurable listen. Kind of a shame that no one really took notice for too long.

Led Zeppelin-In Through the Out Door; Swan Song, 1979
Disaster Amnesiac feels pretty strongly that, unlike Gamma 2, which could have had tangible effects on other bands, had they chosen to listen and take note, In Through the Out Door must be conceptualized on a more singular level. It pointed to directions for one band: the mighty Led Zeppelin. I've listened to this one a lot, probably more than any other Zep LP, and I always wonder at where these developments could have gone, had John Bonham maybe drank just a few less white russians on that fateful night. By the time of this 1979 release, the band had already become more than established, a stand alone leviathan in the Rock world. Out Door seems to point toward fresh new approaches. Bassist/keyboard player John Paul Jones sounds like the member who instigated many of these new moves. His alternately punchy and swirling keys on Carouselambra, their theatrical mists on All My Love, and their pumping boogie on South Bound Suarez and Hot Dog give Zeppelin's sounds hot and fresh new timbres, sometimes looking back to earlier Rock 'n Roll (no surprise from the band, there), sometimes sounding as if they'd been listening to Morodor or the Stranglers. Disaster Amnesiac recalls an interview with Jones in which he claimed to be just a bit more on point than the rest of his droogies while waxing these tunes. Hopefully they were duly grateful for his focus! This is not to say that Page sounded any less focused than usual. Hear his solo on the majestic Fool In the Rain (hear the sound of rain in that solo) or his Punk Rock noisy squall on In the Evening, and it's clear that he was developing as well. The former points to concise, Pop-ey Rock that I seriously wish that they'd been able to explore more fully in the 1980's. On Out Door, the band seems to have gotten down to more essential, rockin' blasts, using any and all forms from which to draw inspiration, even on longer numbers like I'm Gonna Crawl. Robert Plant's vocals also sound as if he'd been focusing on pairing down to essentials. Gone are the high pitched caterwauls, replaced with a bit more croon, heaping helpings of Southern fried Rockabilly (continued from Presence), and a lot more emotional range in the lyric department. Plant's post-Zep work in the 1980's built upon this striving, so maybe Disaster Amnesiac is just a bit wrong in my initial assessment. Lastly......Bonham. I'd say listen to his ragin' snare pound on Hot Dog and South Bound Suarez, his slamming hi hat work on Carouselambra and In the Evening. All of these songs show more subtlety of touch and development from Bonzo, yes. That being said, listen to his fill that leads to the guitar solo on Fool In the Rain. For Disaster Amnesiac, that long snare drum roll, followed by the best tom tom set up ever, proves why it was such a musical tragedy the Bonham passed when he did. It's a shame that his drum innovations were silenced at the very outset of that decade. Clearly, he was in many ways just getting started. Sadly, In Through the Out Door was where, up until the reunions of the 2000's, Led Zeppelin crashed to a halt. A real shame, that, as, in Disaster Amnesiac's opinion, they were making fine aesthetic breakthroughs, rising up from their tragic late 1970's era, sloughing off some of the excess and getting down to slimmer, rockin' form. Keyboards and all.

So, back to the "purity" thing. Disaster Amnesiac realizes that people like what they like, and that it's near impossible to get them to change their minds, or, sometimes, to even consider alternate possibilities. Even tougher still to change what has already transpired within the linear time stream. Still, I find it fun to imagine what could have been, away from notions of "the pure". From Gamma 2 and In Through the Out Door, Disaster Amnesiac hears tons of appealing "what ifs", both for a collective, in the case of the former, and for established individual entity, in the case of the latter.

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