Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Robin Trower Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973)


The liner notes to this CD (I have the edition paired with Bridge Of Sighs, which makes up for the best Trower collection ever, and probably the only one you’ll ever neeed) actually say: “Robin Trower is: Reg Isidore (drums), James Dewar (bass and vocals), Robin Trower (guitar)”. Which is supposed to mean that “Robin Trower” was a band? Like “Argent” or “Alice Cooper”? Whatever. Well, that’s up to the purists to figure out. What’s much more necessary to stress is that Trower’s debut LP, if not tremendously groundbreaking, still presents him in a light quite different from his usual Procol Harum stylistics, and establishes a distinct subgenre of “Trower-rock” that he would carry on for years without any particular development, for better or for worse.

James Dewar is quite a decent vocalist and stands up as a songwriter (all of the compositions here are co-written with Trower, sometimes with further collaboration with the drummer). But it’s clear that this time around Trower is going to dominate everything, and he does; no more half-measures, as with Procol Harum’s Broken Barricades. Trower’s guitar sound is ‘Gargantuan’ in its stature – this is a further bit of Hendrix heritage: the guitar must overshadow everything, including the rhythm section, and be estimated as an absolute value. Everything else is just like that, pro forma; GUITAR SOUND is what matters. So Robin distorts his poor instrument, lays on tons of echo and tremolo effects, picks up the fuzzbox and the wah-wah, abuses vibratos and staccato solos, and ultimately succeeds: when the record’s over, all you remember is POWER. Not even the melodies – just POWER, pure POWER.

As every self-assured debut album, this one sounds fresh and quite convincing; it’s said to be overlooked, but that’s often the fate of Album number One. Many of the numbers are winners, and Trower seems to pull out every ace out of his sleeve already on the first three tracks, all minor classics. ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’ welcomes the listener with a dreamy, majestic sound – the song’s spacey riff that seems to be coming from deep down under the earth is among Trower’s very best, and, in fact, he’s often imitated it since, repeating the same trick with minor variations on such tracks as ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ and others. How the hell he actually managed to procure such a fantastic guitar tone, not to mention reproducing it in concert, is way beyond the understanding of mortals.

‘Daydream’, on the other hand, is far softer, with much less distortion but the same type of sound overall: overwhelming and keeping one in deep awe. This is the “philosophic” aspect of Trower’s playing style – playing minimalistic, economic guitar lines with lots of vibratos (in the solo parts, I mean) to produce the required stately effect. I do consider the song slightly overlong, though.

Finally, “Hannah” returns us to the ‘gruff’ Trower, but this time around it’s not just ‘gruff’: it’s ‘gruff angry disturbed’ Trower, which means he’s not just subduing the audience but also brewing up a storm. This is where the overdubs and finger-flashing technique comes in: the instrumental part of the song rages along like mad, and it’s extremely hard to describe, but you certainly haven’t heard anything like it because it doesn’t sound like heavy metal, and it doesn’t sound like your average triple guitar interplay of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the like. It’s… well, a musical thunderstorm in the purest sense of the word; I’m actually free to draw on analogies with pouring rain – Lynyrd Skynyrd do not sound like pouring rain, while the instrumental bit in ‘Hannah’ does. Get the idea? Probably not, but it’s the best I can do; now you’ll just have to go and buy the record.

It gets seriously weaker from then on, though – after you’ve been hit by these three openers, Trower doesn’t leave a lot of surprises. The other six songs are not bad, but… well, they’re okay. Loud, abrasive, with more guitar pyrotechnics and stuff; sometimes Trower really rips it up, like on the old blues cover ‘Rock Me Baby’ or the stunning instrumental passage on ‘Sinner’s Song’, and sometimes he’s rather quiet and timid, like on the ballad ‘Ballerina’, but it’s still hard to feed on guitar wizardry alone, and the melodies are only so-so, not much more. In addition, Trower certainly does not care about traditional riffage: it would be very hard to notate a Trower composition because he doesn’t like repeating the same guitar line twice. Trower on guitar is like Elton John on piano: all over the place, half-improvising in the studio by building on a theme but never sticking to it note-for-note. The melodies are thus extremely hard to ‘decipher’, and often give the feel of being completely non-existent. I can’t really tell if this feel is true or false, but fact is, very few of the compositions are memorable, even if all of them are sonically impressive. Well, that’s the way it goes with Trower.

In any case, Twice Removed From Yesterday is Robin’s first record, and it has all the advantages of being a first. The style is new and fresh, the energy is unbeatable, and you can’t yet accuse Robin of ripping off himself; I easily give it a nine if only because of those factors. That said, his second record would be a lot more successful – apparently, Robin was the kind of artist who’d only strike it big on the second record, with the first being a careful treading of water.

March 7, 2013 - Posted by | Robin Trower Twice Removed From Yesterday |

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