Drawing Blodwyn from a Stone

19 Oct

Oh my does the writing of “prolific rock critic” Richie Unterberger put a nasty itch under my skin. Seems every time I click over to http://www.allmusic.com to get the lowdown on the career of some 60’s or 70’s heavy/hard rock group, I find that egads! the group has been placed in front of Ritchie for due consideration. And consider he does . . . only through the squinty little eyes of someone who apparently believes 1966 was the high point of western civilization as we know it. A strict folkrock=good, heavyrock=bad maxim permeates nearly every one of his jaded reviews, like he’s never read Joe Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic. When he’s not decrying the apparently subpar musicians on later LOVE records I dig (“none of whom had skills on the level of Bryan MacLean or the other original LOVE men”), he can be found yawning at the work of gorgeous acid-psych bands like MIGHTY BABY (“fairly generic late-’60s British rock”).

Worst of all, he’s often saddled with the task of revisiting the inconsistent but still important discography of full-on hardrock bands like THREE MAN ARMY, whom he can’t possibly begin to understand, let alone appreciate. It’s a recipe for disaster. Of course he’s gonna brand their best record, Third of a Lifetime: “ordinary to the point of dullness.” Might as well ask my grandmother her opinion of it – at least she’d find it novel. Ritchie just doesn’t have it in him to make sense of such music; in the process, great rock gets completely overlooked.

Which gets me to BLODWYN PIG’s second and altogether greater LP, entitled Getting To This. Over at AllMusic, Ritchie gives it no more than two sentences, one of which claims it “took a more pile-driving approach than their first effort, but the material wasn’t as strong.” I am again struck by this man’s inability to tackle anything with an ounce of heavy in it. And yet again, a great platter is dismissed outright.

What actually was going on here was Mick Abraham‘s jazzy, TULLoid hard bluesrock was growing in expansive/creative directions similar to Roger Chapman’s great and unique FAMILY. But the PIG were less eccentric about it, and hence able to remind audiences more frequently that they were hardrockers at heart. Folks often compare this to early COLOSSEUM LPs like Grass Is Greener – yet another 2nd tier Brit jazz rock band you oughta at least spend a quid or two on before you die. Fair enough, though I find the energy of the PIG fires this to an entirely new level, bringing to mind a raucous, turn-of-the-decade PRETTY THINGS. And anyway the effete jazzbos in COLOSSEUM never enticed gtr-Adonis Larry Wallis (later of PINK FAIRIES) to join them, as the PIG did for a few months after this record was released.

In retrospect, Getting To This is a totally vital piece of the beautiful and outta-control puzzle that was the late 60’s/early 70’s UK rock underground. It was produced in that exciting cusp where progressive still meant vibrancy, still meant unpredictability, still everything-but-the-kitchen-sink exploratory. To this day it blows my mind that this island produced soooo goddamn many worthy – hell, great! – rock bands as the 60’s became the 70’s. Screw the punker era – hands down, this earlier period was the pinnacle of UK rock, probably forevermore.

‘Course, knowing Ritchie biases, he’d probably gloss over both of these periods – and get paid to say so, no less. Hey Ritchie: next time AllMusic asks you to review a newly-discovered SAVOY BROWN live set from ’69, kindly float it my way; I’ll know how to listen to it.

BLODWYN PIG – “See My Way” (Getting To This, Chrysalis Records, 1970)


10 Responses to “Drawing Blodwyn from a Stone”

  1. mark October 20, 2008 at 3:34 pm #

    Oh, snap! Gonna dig up my Bloodwyn records, now that I have a few days to kill before the World Series!

  2. mrowster October 20, 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    You’re not from Philly or Tampa; who you rooting for?

  3. Clefnote October 22, 2008 at 2:04 am #

    Well, maybe dudes like you will force R.U. to get off his high horse. I think it’s the critics disease, these guys just get so used to their schtick, they just churn it out.

    I confess, I never was able to read much of that Carducci book (Pop Narc), but from what I hear, the Enter Naomi book is much better.

    Keep keepin’ on, I’m thankful for the posts.

  4. mrowster October 22, 2008 at 6:34 am #

    Clef: You are right about that critics disease, though I imagine it can afflict even some of us unassuming blogger types too. Mental note to self: SHUT UP, Mrowster, when ya got nothing more to say.

    I admit Joe’s first book was pretty goddamn sprawling/unwieldy; I probably wouldn’t have made it through if I hadn’t been such an SST Records fan at the time. But it was integral to articulating just what made rock music itself worthy of deep consideration, separate from important but ultimately peripheral baggage like youth trends, fashion, cultural/political context etc. I don’t get the sense that Ritchie is able to listen to music in that way.

  5. mark October 22, 2008 at 5:35 pm #

    National League, but Tampa will put a beat down.
    Dude, my f’in turntable broke! No joke!
    Enter Naomi features much more tender feeling, in my opinion. The great thing about Rock and Pop Narcotic is the amount of really critical thinking and insight. Especially when it comes to “journalists” on their high horses. And, of course, the Solo section is just great kicks; every time I check it out, I find a new band to discover!

  6. Dave Lang October 23, 2008 at 10:30 am #

    Uh yeah… Mr. ‘berger. I’ve got a bit of a love/hate relationship w/ that guy’s scribing. I like the fact that he can write about both the Monks and CRASS in the one book at great length, but he does appear to have a real bee in his bonnet when it comes to assessing the merits of good pre-punk hard rock. It’s a can of worms I shan’t open! Great blog, as always… I’ve been hibernating for a while, getting other things done. BTW, the new issue of Rocka Rolla should have an interview w/ Gary Arce!

  7. mark October 23, 2008 at 9:13 pm #

    “Music writers don’t like us. They have too much taste.”
    –Leslie West

  8. Chris B February 6, 2009 at 9:42 pm #

    Finally snagged a copy of this rec, thanks for hipping me to it, love it.

    Love the writing, keep up the good work.

  9. mrowster February 6, 2009 at 10:35 pm #

    Chris: Yeah it’s a great one fr sure – not sure why more don’t agree. I suppose it’s their loss.

  10. Pedal April 13, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    It’s good to see that someone else out there is as tired of the Unterberger shtick as I am. I’m a psych-rock/psych-folk fanatic and I’m more than tired of him defecating all over perfectly good records on AMG. I’m also a huge fan of Buffy Sainte-Marie and he gives abysmal reviews to every record of hers after she quit doing straight folk in the mid-sixties. Feh.

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