Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jeff Beck There And Back (1980)


Blow By Blow/Wired Vol. 3. Only this time it took Jeff almost four years to come up with this. One might also ask the inevitable question ‘Why?’ Eight tracks on here, all eight of them just more of the same fusion stuff that we’d already been fed with quite a lot. It’s also the weakest of the three (though only slightly weaker than Wired, so I give it only a slightly weaker rating) – inevitably, because there’s no new ground broken on here. Musically, it’s closer to Wired, because Jan Hammer is still here, with Jeff: his compositions dominate the first side of the record, while on the second he’s been replaced with new-found alumnus Tony Hymas. So the two sides differ from each other seriously: while on the first side there’s enough guitar to disclaim the statement that this is a pure synth-pop album, there’s still no doubt that it’s much more prominent on the second side.

The first side is still driven by Jan Hammer and his hi-tech, robotic noise-making which is even more in the way of good taste than it was before – no wonder, considering that we are ready to enter the Eighties. ‘Star Cycle’ opens the album with a synth riff that’s since become a norm for techno, and I usually shudder at the very first notes of this crap (perhaps it’s no small coincidence that the same riff opens Jethro Tull’s Crest Of A Knave and the beginning of the band’s total and absolute demise). Luckily, though, Jeff Beck’s guitar is anything but generic heavy metal: he does permit himself a little more distortion than usually, but it’s still essentially just a hard, bluesy tone with quite an independent feel. In fact, while the synth work on ‘Star Cycle’ is horrendous beyond words, the guitar parts there are absolutely stunning, some of the most blazing, angry work Jeff’s fingers ever managed to show us. Get it on, Mr Beck! You know you can’t fail your fans’ expectations!

Later on, though, he calms down, and brings to the forward bass player Mo Foster, who’s only happy to make the record as danceable as possible. So they steal the famous Bill Wyman disco bassline off ‘Miss You’ to incorporate in their throwaway-ish ‘Too Much To Lose’, and proceed to marry disco with funk in ‘You Never Know’. I’ll be honest with you, though: nothing ‘nobilizes’ the bland, banal dance rhythms as much as some inspired, fresh and technically masterful guitar playing from some master of the genre.

Whatever I may hold against the album, there’s just no doubt that Beck was in perfect form during the recordings: not a note sounds of place, play it loud and prepare for a couple of moments of musical ecstasy. There are even multi-tracked guitars here! On the other hand, Beck is bound to let down as often as he is bound to lift up. For one, he rarely manages to perform a good ‘slow’ composition: proof irrefutable is ‘The Pump’, a five-minute droning bore that goes nowhere (and it goes, and it goes, and it goes – there’s a steady, boom-boom-boom-boom-bassline, but the effort is ultimately wasted). Nothing particularly energizing about that kind of stuff.

Now the second side is definitely not disco. This is where Beck tries to diversify his style a little: there’s a Hard Rock number, a Psychedelic number, a Boogie Woogie number, and a, er, well, Grand Finale number. To summarize it all in a few words, the odds rock and the evens suck. ‘El Becko’ has loads of great, pulsating energy, an incredibly strong bass riff, and some really driving chops, making this if not the most memorable, at least the most mindlessly enjoyable number on the whole record.

And ‘Space Boogie’ is just the thing that its title suggests – a slight Fifties’ throwback, but clad in modern production values, with ‘astral’ synths all around it, indeed, kinda like Bill Haley among the Comets, if you get my pun. Very weird – I bet you never heard anybody playing strict rockabilly in that style. On the other hand, the other two numbers are just not distinguishable: ‘The Golden Road’ has no melody at all, and in ‘The Final Peace’ Beck and the boys make a brave stab at a grandiose album closer, but fail – even ‘Diamond Dust’ was a better effort than this three-minute whiny guitar showcase.

Overall, though, the album is not all that bad. I’d say the worst about it is that Jeff is too closely giving in to Eighties’ dance music, a thing that led him to the disaster of Flash five years later. His experimentalism, of course, places him a little above that old ‘washed-up bag’, Eric Clapton, but it also makes his music less accessible and much less digestible: Clapton, at least, never really flirted with all these dubious synths and stuff until he made the unforgettable mistake of teaming with Phil Collins. And, whatever you say, three instrumental albums in a row is a bit too much for a musician that’s said to be ‘rock’. Oh, well. I guess that’s what ‘real art’ is all about, isn’t it? You just have to assimilate these kinds of things.

I’ll give you an advice, though. If you have a spare 45 minutes on tape and spare time to lose, you might borrow all these three albums from your local library and tape the best songs – two or three from each album.

You’re guaranteed to come out with a winner. Later on, borrow some studio time, write up some lyrics, overdub them, and you’ll end up with a true lost Seventies’ classic! And don’t forget to mention me on your CD cover as ‘original idea by…’!!

March 5, 2013 - Posted by | Jeff Beck There And Back |

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