Classic Rock Review

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The Mahavishnu Orchestra Birds of Fire (1973)


Formed in 1970 by McLaughlin, per recommendation by Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra was the first truly Jazz-Rock group. They combined Indian Rythms with Jazz, complete with blazing riffage and insane soloing.

Here is a track by track analysis of Mahavishnu’s groundbreaking album Birds Of Fire.

Although 1971’s Inner Mounting Flame was possibly more controversial, by Birds Of Fire, Mahavishnu had honed themselves into a much more incindiary group, truly Birds Of Fire(s). 15 weeks on the charts followed, as well as grammy nominations.

Birds Of Fire
The album’s first and title track, this song wails. Starts out with a basic riff in 9/8, then culminates early with McLaughlin and Goodman doubling up on the incindiary riff that’s the back bone of the song. Blazing solos follow, with a completion after 5 minutes of jaw-dropping musicianship. This song gives a feeling of soaring and possibly never ever playing guitar again because it’s just not fair that McLaughlin’s THAT good.

Miles Beyond
This second track starts with an almost In A Silent Way vibe (hence the title), but it’s a serious jam song. It’s one of the strongest on the album, shown as soon as Goodman’s riffage comes in. As repeated countless times on this album, McLaughlin’s compositional skill is enviable, and his ability to overlap parts in conflicting times is absolutely mind-boggiling.

Celestial Terrestial Commuters
By far the albums most flashy song, it’s in 19/8 time. The is one of those songs that’s so amazingly technical that it’s simply difficult to listen to, because it’s just so hard to tell what the fuck McLaughlin and company are doing. This song is sonic embroidery, something that members of Mesugga, Dream Theater and Planet X have obviously listened to obsessively. This song starts with the “basic” groove, which really isn’t very basic at all, and climaxes in an incredible trading off between McLaughlin and Goodman of riffs.

Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love
Although at first listen this song is nothing but white noise, it’s actually McLaughlin’s first experimentation with a guitar synthesizer. That being said, it’s really not that exciting. Interesting, but not fantastic. A decent filler though, but it’s the albums only downside.

Thousand Island Park
The prettiest thing Mahavishnu ever did, this song, despite the exterior shell of almost cheesy diatonic beauty, is insanely technical. McLaughlin’s finger style gives DiMeola a raping. Not my favorite song on the album, but it’s really good. Very flowing, almost lyrical, despite the instrumental nature.

Surreal is the best word for this track. Synthesizer with violin and finger style guitar, with plenty of cymbal crashes make this an extremely successful song. Abosluetly nothing wrong with it, but it’s not the strongest song on the album.

One Word
Hands down the strongest song on the album. Starts off with just a simple bass lines, but launches into something best described as epic. Over a truly driving riff, each member of the band takes a solo. Goodman simply shreds, making the listener think that nothing could show it up. Then comes Cobham and Laird, and well, all I can say is that Cobham is one of the best drummers ever. He’s simply insane. Laird is no Jaco, but he’s a seriously solid bassist, and can lay down a mean solo. Then comes McLaughlin and all I can say is “wow”. He starts, time and time again, a soulful, firey riff that builds to such speed at such a rapid pace, and then continues to build, and continues, and finally finishes in something that makes Steve Vai look like a fool. Finally, the whole band joins back in, and culminates this seriously fiery song.

Eeire. Strange. Out. But very very very soulful. This is a song to put in the category of “That’s the Way” (Zeppelin) and “Behind Blue Eyes” (The Who) as a soft song on a rocking album that’s almost more moving than any solo-fest or groove-fest. It’s an amazing song, with a huge amount of emotion. McLaughlin’s composition shines through again.

Open Country Joy
Lives up to it’s name. It’s a free song, a firey song, and a real “Birds Of Fire” song. It’s a groove, but we see the side that McLaughlin and Goodman have been hiding until now. The more Hendrix or Gilmour side, of much more free soloing. Really letting out the gain, and holding bends and playing some seriously soulful stuff. Starts out as an almost country-oriented song, but then the incindiary soloing comes in. Another classic.

Slightly slower, but it really shines. It’s definitely a resolution to this album, and has more of a feel of the soon to come Last Trident Sessions.

This album speaks for itself. It’s truly great. I can’t even begin to explain the effect this music has had on me. Get your hands on it!!

March 7, 2013 - Posted by | The Mahavishnu Orchestra Birds Of Fire | ,

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