Monday, December 25, 2017

Steppenwolf-Hour Of the Wolf; Epic Records, 1975

It's been an age since Disaster Amnesiac reviewed anything from Steppenwolf, but that most definitely does not mean that I've stopped listening to them. Last week, while pontificating wildly to alto saxophone shredder Tom Weeks about Slow Flux reminded me that I still had not really gotten around to listening to my copy of Hour Of the Wolf, acquired as a two-fer CD with the Flux. Naturally, it's been dug up and heard.
Hour Of the Wolf starts off on a peppy, horn-punctuated note with Caroline (Are You Ready for the Outlaw World), right away distinguishing it from its predecessor. As far as Rock songs with horns go, it's not bad, either, especially when John Kay sings; there's really no amount of affect that can dispel the man's great tenor croon. Also great about the tune are the portions during which the band gets down to their signature Jerry Edmonton-led jamming stomp. Simple rhythm guitar strumming sets up cool keyboard colors from Andy Chapin, which begs the question, "where is Goldy McJohn?" Caroline is a fine slice of mid 1970's Pop inflected Rock. Were the 'wolf under a bit of pressure to deliver another hit? Disaster Amnesiac likes to think that I'd have bought the single.
Up next, Annie, Annie Over, such a great title for song, continues with the somewhat smoother keyboard driven sounds, telling the tale of second time around love. As with Caroline, this listener finds the most satisfaction when Steppenwolf get down to their more jam driven zones, this time as the song tags and fades. Female vocals are utilized, but, thankfully, they're kept harmonically close to Kay's, which strikes me as an aesthetically smart move. They enhance, but don't detract. You've got to hand it to Steppenwolf, they knew well what would not work in the mix.
Heavier Rock relief arrives with Two for the Love of One, a hooky tale of fightin' and boozin', bringing a great slowed down, slicked up biker Rock with a supremely catchy chorus and some of Steppenwolf's best mid-tune workouts. As Disaster Amnesiac has grooved to this song, I've imagined it being a fine vehicle for live call and response interactivity. Here's to hoping that audiences heard it as such! Two for the Love of One hits hard and effectively.
Road woe and its attendant debauchery are touched upon on Just For Tonight. The acoustic strumming brings me back to Smoky Factory Blues from Slow Flux, although instead of lyrics dedicated to a domestic lover, Kay seems to be singing the any and all ladies of the tour cycle. Being a generous dude, he gives them their own voice, in duet with either an actual female or one of the band singing soprano. As with previous tunes, Disaster Amnesiac can't help but wonder if this one had been written and included herein as a potential hit. These types of sentiments can grate a bit, but, the music industry is a tough master and demands these types of considerations from all of its charges. Hopefully it got 'em laid at least.
Things get a bit too razamatazz with Hard Rock Road, a slick bit of coming of age Rock 'n Roll propaganda, featuring the story of newly minted candidate for future treatment on songs such as Just For Tonight.  This song, sadly, kind of sucks, but at least Bobby Cochran plays really fine rhythm guitar throughout. His sounds are clear and clean, punctuating the changes and moving things along with gusto. More horns pick things up at the end, but Disaster Amnesiac ain't feeling them, especially the peppy alto sax to take it home. Serious Jazz Hands there....ah, no thanks guys. How 'bout letting Bobby wail a bit more?
Thankfully, Steppenwolf gets back on track for Someone Told a Lie, a major key riff that indeed allows Bobby to play more.  That signature sound of the mid-1970's, the vocoder, makes an appearance in the mix, and actually sounds pretty cool. Edmonton and bassist George Biondo lay it down, moving things swiftly along as the keys color and the gits strum and riff. Kay's world weary ruminations ring experienced and possibly a bit sad. It must have been rough to face the harder realities of that post-Aquarian era. That said, John's voice is always welcome to these ears, even as they deliver the harsher news.
Wolf's penultimate track, Another Lifetime, continues on with the sadness. Here, Kay sounds even more disappointed. Perhaps the previous decade's hard work with Steppenwolf was starting to catch up with him. I find the lyrics to be uplifting despite that, but their insights are clearly hard won and stinging. Icy keys lift the music as Edmonton give yet another understated, brilliant percussive performance. Another Lifetime has the feel of being a template for the power ballads that so many Hard Rock groups started delivering a decade hence.
Hints of the then-burgeoning New Wave abound in closing track Mr. Penny Pincher. Swirling synths frame the tale of some tight wad tight ass patriarchal type. John Kay damns him to lifetime of downers as the the bass pumps out eight notes and the guitars slash an almost Ska rhythm. This tune sounds as if it's pointing the way toward the second half of the 1970's, meshing hints of New York Punk with touches of Disco, both propped up by Steppenwolf's interactive jamming mastery. Not so much an anthem as a harbinger.
Although Disaster Amnesiac has really enjoyed my interaction with Hour Of the Wolf, I keep getting the feeling that it's the work of men that are exhausted on multiple fronts. It's nowhere near as solid a document of songs as its predecessor is, somewhat flawed in a few of its attempts. Still, the catchier moments are worth hearing, and, as mentioned, any time John Kay is the featured singer, Disaster Amnesiac will gladly lend an ear.


Pig State Recon said...

I once came across a terse dismissal of all post-'72 Steppenwolf work succinctly put: "Steppenshit". Good to see you've got a subtler nose for this stuff-- few bothered then/now.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Ouch! It ain't that bad, especially when they get down to jamming. Kay's voice is so great, too.