Sunday, 5 January 2014

Album of the Week #7

Artist: Moby Grape
Album: Moby Grape
Year: 1967
Label: Columbia

I hate the feeling of being too stuffed after eating a meal. Sure, the steak was fantastic, but did you really need to serve all of those dressings too? Sometimes it's best to serve as much as you need, enjoy all of it, and stop punishing yourself  by scraping the last few sprouts into your mouth hours after you started eating. Let's be honest, you probably stopped enjoying the meal after twenty or thirty minutes anyway.

Take another example of this. Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 1974 live album, Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends...Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I feel stuffed after reading that album title alone. It was a trifold (luckily, that term never became a word) album. Arguably the most ridiculous album ever released, these 109 minutes of pure self-indulgence leave the listener feeling a little nauseous afterwards. It's too long. Too much hair. Too many keyboard solos. Too many guitar solos. Too many oboe solos. Too many sprouts.

So it's quite amazing that just seven years prior to Emerson, Lake and Palmer officially hurling themselves up their own arses, we had none of this needless self-indulgence. It was just the good stuff, and nothing more. 1967 in particular was a stellar year for album releases - The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors and Love all released career-defining efforts - so in a sense, it's no wonder that Moby Grape's eponymous debut album might have slipped under the radar in recent years.

Twenty nine minutes and twenty three seconds is all Moby Grape needed to make a classic album. They were a band in the truest sense, fostering the aesthetics of their other 60s contemporaries not just in sound, but also in the fact that all five band members wrote songs for the album. It's a collaborative effort that recalls the DIY spirit of the decade.

As you might imagine from a 60s album heralding from the San Francisco scene of the time, you can draw parallels with the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Buffalo Springfield (Skip Spence, one of the Moby Grape guitarists, was the original drummer for Jefferson Airplane). Together with Spence, the other two guitarists, Peter Lewis and Jerry Miller, combined in a way that was pretty much unseen at the time - only Buffalo Springfield's three guitar-pronged approach could light a candle to it.

The album kicks off with furious 60s rock 'n' roll (Hey Grandma) and rattles through songs with similar vibes throughout. It manages to capture a moment in time expertly - if you want the signature sound of this fabled decade, here it is. Most songs come and go in the blink of an eye, complete with that woozy, laid-back vibe throughout. And at 3.13, Changes is the longest song on the album. No bloated song structures or extended solos here. Moby Grape only give you what you need.

The highpoint of the album arrives early on, in the majestic 8.05. A yearning call for a lost love, it's probably been on hundreds of those compilations of the best songs of the decade, with good reason. It's not forced, it's delicate, and nothing here is being forced upon you. There's nothing unnecessary on this album. Because, after all, who really enjoys sprouts anyway?

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