Evidently, Blow By Blow left Jeff’s ambitions at least partially unsatisfied, because Wired is at the same time more of the same and a ‘step forward’. Yup, I put that last expression in quotes because I don’t really feel the necessity of these new additions, and, frankly speaking, I can hardly imagine how anything could be a serious improvement over Blow By Blow if its main genre specification was still left intact.
Some people actually prefer this one, but it all boils down to one important question: whether you can stand forty minutes of exclusively well performed, but primarily dance-oriented funk. While the playing might be a bit more tight and compact, the overall mood of the record is much too monotonous and strained in order for you to patiently sit through it in one sitting. After all, Blow By Blow was an interesting hodgepodge, with everything from basic rock’n’roll to funk to disco to reggae to soul thrown together in a melting pot.
On here, the band mostly sticks to a cleverly thought out, but very uniform funky groove, recreating just about three or four melodies throughout the whole record with nothing to hold on to them: for one thing, there’s nary a single interesting riff to be found; ‘Blue Wind’ is the one notable exception, but otherwise the tunes don’t really have a lot going for them in the memorability department. Beck’s soloing is as sparkling and technically brilliant as always, but isn’t a good solo just a fine bit of icing on the cake? Whilst the cake presented to us here is definitely not an exquisite one.
This might have something to do with different factors. First of all, not even a single tune on the whole record is credited to Jeff himself – a shame, since, for instance, the only song on BBB that he penned totally by himself, was ‘Constipated Duck’, and it had arguably the best and most exciting riff on the whole album. On Wired, he places all the songwriting in the hands of his half-inspired band members: thus, four of eight tunes are written by his drummer Michael Walden, one by his bassist Wilbur Bascomb, and one each by two of his keyboardists. (The eighth number is a sleepy, undistinguishable and undistinguished cover of Charlie Mingus’ ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ – some of Beck’s solos on that one do come close to ‘romantic’, but I usually shut it off because of the dreary, lethargic introduction).
Second, a significant factor in song arrangements has taken place: instead of George Martin’s orchestral arrangements, we now have new band member Jan Hammer move the group further into the direction of hi-fi technologies and robotic synthesizers. The keyboards are very prominent on the album: sometimes the synths are just used to distort Beck’s guitar, but most often they play an independent part, with Hammer reveling in his ‘techniques’ and turning the songs into an unlistenable mess (‘Led Boots’, ‘Come Dancing’, etc., all suffer from this hi-tech treatment).
Of course, they are in no way cheesy: the album’s mood is set to ‘funk’, and the keyboards are funky – what else should they be? But I’m just not that big a fan of funk – I can put up with a bouncy bassline or a generic wah-wah solo now and then, but forty minutes of ‘synthesized funk’ simply bore the daylights out of me. Especially when even the better numbers are constantly diluted with wanky filler like ‘Head For Backstage Pass’, with pro forma guitar solos that could have been marvelous on records by lesser acts, but sound indulgent and uninteresting by Jeff’s own standards.
I don’t even know how to describe these songs, they sound so much alike, except for perhaps the closing number, the semi-acoustic ‘Love Is Green’, which can be rated as an emotional masterpiece or as a deadly dull minimalistic piece, depending on your degree of Beck fanaticism. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the album is that it’s excellent to dance to – Walden’s ‘Come Dancing’, after all, invites you to do exactly that, and the drive and level of energy are so high that it’ll get you up (and down, and up, and down again). However, when they try to go for something more ‘serious’, they fail miserably.
Only on ‘Sophie’ and ‘Blue Wind’ (the first by Walden, the second by Hammer) they manage to strike some interesting chords. Namely, ‘Blue Wind’ is probably the most well-structured number on the record, with Beck’s guitar taking a highly prominent role and delivering some crunchy riffs and excellently constructed, memorable solos; and ‘Sophie’ has that weird, intriguing guitar line in the beginning and the end (i.e., in the slow intro and coda sections) that really shows Beck’s main talent – coming up with a brilliant melodic snippet once in a long while.
That said, professionalism and skill are still oozing out of every square inch of this record, and I figure it would be kinda rude to put down a record so flawlessly performed and recorded. And, come to think of it, there is a certain advantage to this kind of arrangements: Wired really sounds like the work of a band, not just a showcase of Beck’s guitar talents. Okay, a duet – apart from Beck and Hammer, the other players are understated – but a duet is still better than a solo, from a certain point of view, at least.
Not to mention that this is real great party music, especially for those who would like to go beyond Kiss and AC/DC for their parties. In other words, the album has enough small merits of its own to guarantee it a decent rating, despite the fact that it has nothing even closely remote to a ‘soul’ of its own. Oh, well, at least it ain’t modern classical.
Jazz-rock fusion music has had no greater exponent than Jeff Beck, whose latest album, Wired, demonstrates how vital this genre can be. Even more important, Wired presents Beck in a context that finally satisfies both his uncompromising musical standards and commercial necessity.
Beck’s first group, the Yardbirds, was the most inventive of the early Sixties British blues bands and is now credited with producing three of the most important electric guitarists of the past ten years — Eric Clapton, Beck and Jimmy Page. Both Clapton (with Cream) and Page (with Led Zeppelin) became famous after leaving the Yardbirds.
But Beck remained a relatively obscure figure. This despite the fact that the hits following “I’m a Man” — “For Your Love,” “Shapes of Things,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” — were all powered by his brilliantly manic lead guitar. In comparison, Clapton was an extremely conservative stylist and Page, merely a technician. But Beck’s guitar work was visionary: “Shapes of Things” shows his mastery over raga-style guitar solos and multitracking, ideas which were in their infancy at the time.
Beck experimented with blues progressions, using feedback and other distortion techniques to push the electric guitar’s expressive capabilities into new areas, as well as developing rock and R&B styles along the same lines.
After leaving the Yardbirds, Beck made a classic solo album, Truth, with a band which included Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Page, meanwhile, formed his own band, Led Zeppelin, whose music was a variation on Beck’s concept (compare the versions of “You Shook Me” on Truth and the first Zeppelin album). He returned two years later with a jazz-accented R&B outfit based around keyboardist Max Middleton and singer Bob Tench.
Their two albums featured a lighter, more progressive guitar style. But Beck was still not satisfied and tried a brief, disastrous fling into heavy metal with the ex-Vanilla Fudge/Cactus rhythm section of bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice.
Last year, producer George Martin reunited Beck and Middleton for their greatest collaboration, Blow by Blow, which became Beck’s best-selling solo album and established him firmly in the jazz-rock hierarchy. But Beck was only developing ideas he’d been playing with for years.
On Wired, Beck invites a direct and favorable comparison with John McLaughlin (with whom he toured last year) by collaborating with ex-Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer and his band. Martin didn’t score any of the horn arrangements because Hammer’s synthesizer fills all those spaces, but the album is better recorded and has a much fuller sound than Blow by Blow. Middleton’s contribution is still essential — his one song, “Led Boots,” opens the album at its hottest pace and it’s definitely enhanced by the interplay with Hammer’s keyboards and Beck’s guitar. Hammer’s synthesizers work from Middleton’s clavinet base, and Beck stitches runs in between.
Beck wrote no songs for this record in order to concentrate on his playing, but he dominates the album conceptually. You can tell “Head for Backstage Pass” is bassist Wilbur Bascomb’s song from the bass solo that kicks it off, but from there it’s all that Beck/Middleton Metal Motown Machine. Drummer Narada Michael Walden contributed four songs, three of which sound like they could have easily come from the Blow by Blow sessions. “Sophie” shows the distance between McLaughlin’s cerebral meandering and Beck’s incisive, witty compositional ability as the song moves from an introspective theme to an incredibly hard-edged exposition.
Hammer swings here in a sweating, unself-conscious ride of pure joy that needs no guru for inspiration. Hammer’s “duet” with Beck, “Blue Wind,” builds phased rhythm guitars against the tension of those slogging, perfectly imprecise drums into an anthem pitch with furious guitar-synthesizer solo duels overhead. Beck’s cover of the Charles Mingus ode to Lester Young, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” is an unlikely if not unappreciated inclusion that seems too understated to clock in as more than a tentative exploration of an already well-covered tune, but Beck’s soloing, as usual, carries it off with some bizarre phrasing and adventurous distortion.
Many of Beck’s older fans claim he’s toned down to play this music, but listening closely, you can hear all the fire and imagination that has characterized every phase of his career. Wired is the realization of a style Beck has been working toward for years, and should finally attract the recognition he deserves.
Fortunately, that just makes Beck hit back harder. On the stuttering “Stop, Look and Listen,” he rips into Rodgers’ grooves with violently distorted blues flourishes and air-raid-siren vibrato work. Beck clears the decks with a firestorm solo right at the start of “Gets Us All in the End,” then repeatedly butts into Baker’s dense arrangement with vengeful ingenuity. If there were a bit more Stewart-like grit in Jimmy Hall’s strong but anonymous lead vocals, the result could have been a real funk-metal Beck-Ola.
Nevertheless, Flash ranks as one of Beck’s best ever, a record of awesome guitar prowess and startling commercial daring. It is also irrefutable proof that his kind of flash never goes out of fashion.
After garnering universal accolades for the brilliant “Blow By Blow” album, Jeff Beck’s status as being much, much more than a gifted rock and roll guitarist blossomed. Those select musicians dwelling in the lofty penthouses of progressive jazz rock/fusion now had no choice but to acknowledge him as one of their own and he understandably attracted the attention of the likes of Jan Hammer and Narada Michael Walden, both formerly with the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra. Still taking advantage of the unmatched guidance and production skills of Sir George Martin, Jeff went about the business of following up what many consider his best album ever.
“Wired” is the perfect title for this record because the high-voltage electrical charge generated by the all-star band Beck assembled for this project gives you the impression that they had a coaxial conduit linking them together. The opening song, Max Middleton’s wild “Led Boots” lets you know up front that this isn’t going to be some kind of easy-listening MOR fare with its edgy, syncopated beat slapping you up side the head. Drummer Walden and bassist Wilbur Bascomb lay down a rhythm track that is tighter than the ProgArchives petty cash fund while Jeff supplies a ferocious guitar solo overhead. An added bonus is that Jan Hammer’s synthesizer lead at the end sounds amazingly like an electric violin. Walden’s “Come Dancing” follows and the infectious groove here is at least partly due to guest Ed Green adding a second drum kit to the beat, creating a funkathon of mammoth proportions. Hammer supplies some very realistic keyboard horn sounds to accompany Beck’s incredibly fat guitar licks. After an interesting detour into some rock and roll landscapes during the middle section Jeff and Jan each perform hair-raising rides that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.
Next is a fantastic arrangement of Charlie Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” in which Beck magically coaxes every beautiful tone imaginable from his Gibson Les Paul. Here you get a lesson in why Jeff is one of the best ever to pick up the instrument as he displays his immaculate technique and draws on every nuance of his unique style, doing full justice to this bluesy-jazz classic. “Head for Backstage Pass” starts with a torrid bass solo (it was written by Bascomb) before the crackerjack band (led here by drummer Richard Bailey) joins in to create a short but very funky ditty for Beck to set ablaze with his fiery runs. Hot stuff.
One of the highlights of the album is Hammer’s eclectic “Blue Wind.” The astounding thing about this particular cut is that it’s just comprised of Jeff and Jan and nobody else. Hammer provides the intense drums and synthesizers and Beck, of course, unleashes his jet-fueled guitar. Not only does the song feature a contagious melody but both virtuosos get to stretch out on three individual solos, each one topping the other as they create a landmark tune that ranks with the greatest in this genre. It’s not to be missed. Walden’s “Sophie” follows and it’s the most progressive number of all. It starts like a ballad with a complicated but pleasing theme as Jeff utilizes his guitar’s tremolo bar like the master he is, then the tune segues into an up-tempo, joyous mood where Max Middleton works absolute wonders on his clavinette. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard another keyboard sound like this. They then repeat both segments before Beck and Middleton do fierce battle back and forth to the end with Narada playing his ass off on the drums rumbling underneath.
Walden composed the final two tracks, as well. “Play With Me” is yet another funky jazz venture that has a good feel to it but, other than playing on the melody line with Jan, Jeff doesn’t even play a lead. Now, don’t get me wrong, Hammer does a fine job in the spotlight but the song really doesn’t go anywhere exciting. Beck chooses to end things with a quiet number, “Love Is Green,” in which he plays both acoustic and electric guitars as Walden supplies the piano and Wilbur the bass. It’s a very pretty tune, to be sure, but rather forgettable in the long run.
After getting a writer’s credit on four of the cuts on “Blow By Blow,” I find it curious that Jeff didn’t contribute a single track to this album. Perhaps he just felt the others’ material was better than what he had. Not that it matters all that much considering the excellent quality of the music contained here. But what Beck DOES do by the truckloads is deliver some of the best progressive guitar work you’ll ever hear. While I don’t consider it to be as consistent overall as his previous masterpiece, it still competently holds its own as a powerful, sizzling jazz rock/fusion recording that you can impress your ears with. 4.3 stars.
In the annals of British rock guitarists it is hard to escape the spectre of Clapton, Page and Beck, a great triumvirate, linked not just because their axe-wielding has left a considerable mark on both sides of the Atlantic, but also because they all shared roots with the same band. In the pre-psychedelia years, when white men confirmed that the blues was not actually beyond them, the Yardbirds managed to recruit three of the outstanding amplified pickers of that generation.
Yet the years have been kinder to the man they called God, richer to the fellow who forged Led Zeppelin once the New Yardbirds had run out of steam. Jeff Beck has instead remained a marginal figure, a guitarists’ guitarist maybe but no longer in the same division as his illustrious ex-colleagues, a Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductee but a player whose rock’n’roll fame is rather in the past. But fame can be a curse — Clapton and Page have hardly escaped the scars of celebrity — while a well-founded reputation can bring accolades that are no less deeply felt, just quieter and easier to bear. Don’t look Beck, as they might say.
By the middle Seventies, Beck had followed the rock fairground as electric blues became heavy metal or progressive rock and seemed to have found his niche. The eponymous group he led and the supergroup doodlings with former Vanilla Fudge supremos Tim Bogert and Carmen Appice had established large live followings.
So it was something of a surprise when Beck switched horses and decided to record an album of jazz-tinged instrumentals, perhaps to remind people that his Fender was not merely a war machine but an instrument capable of subtleties and that he was an instrumentalist with more than just blues riffs in his travelling case.
The result was 1975’s Blow by Blow to be followed the next year by Wired and, surprise, surprise, Beck’s creative diversion proved a great deal more than just an artistic success. The two long players became the two best-selling records of his career and really set the tone for his subsequent musical life — the rock antics were largely left behind and his journey as an fusion interpreter of quality commenced.
Fair enough, the time was ripe for this side-track. John McLaughlin had brought the grain of the guitar to Miles Davis’ amplified experiments before forming the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a band who blended the virtuosity of jazz with the worlds of rock, funk and the East. Frank Zappa, too, had taken rock licks into a higher universe in a string of post-Mothers space-trips. So perhaps Beck’s shift was just a case of Zeitgeist fever.
Whatever, for Blow By Blow, Beck was re-united with Max Middleton, keyboards man with his earlier self-named combo, and brought on board bassist Phil Chenn and drummer Richard Bailey, both of whom had worked out with the white British soul singer Jess Roden. The results were more promising than anyone could have hoped to expect.
Underpinned by a solid, unfussy rhythm section, Beck proceeded to weave a spell on a potent range of self-penned and out-sourced tunes. The guitarist and pianist shared composing honours on the opener, the sleek syncopated funk of “You Know What I Mean”, but changed gear on a reggae-fied re-make of the Lennon and McCartney classic “She’s a Woman”, slinky, sexy and distinctively branded by the talking guitar synth, a fresh weapon and rather in vogue that season. Peter Frampton had adopted the very same voice tube around the same time.
But the Beck album, overseen by the production skills of one George Martin, was about much more than technological gimmickry. He had also enlisted a writer at the height of his powers, Stevie Wonder himself, and the sinuous phrasing of “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”, deliciously fringed by Middleton’s electric keys, showed the band leader off at his very best. Wonder also threw in the Monk tribute “Thelonius”.
By 1976, the scene had changed. The Mahavishnus line-up had been re-jigged and Beck would be the principal beneficiary, engaging synthesiser master Jan Hammer and also adding the new Orchestra drummer Narada Michael Walden to his crew. The results, aired on Wired, were consequently rather different.
Hammer became writer-in-chief and his electronics coat almost everything in an artificial varnish; the clear, uncluttered lines of Blow by Blow, with Beck very much the featured artist, had been consumed by Moog trills, lean guitar lines submerged in the glutinous washes of the ex-McLaughlin sideman — Hammer blows, if you like.
Wired is not unlistenable by any means but played side by side with the earlier work-out, it has a cloying quality, redeemed occasionally on the Middleton penned “Led Boots”, the Hammer-less “Head for the Backstage Pass” and the Mingus celebration, a re-hash of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, itself a farewell to Lester Young.
In short, these re-issued, re-mastered volumes, draw attention to the changes that were infecting the jazz-rock interface at this time. The synthesiser, enormously versatile yet plastic in tone and timbre, had become the fashionable tool of fusion and by the second disc Beck’s instrumental voice is no longer centre stage — to the album’s detriment.
Take a look at your favorite album’s cover. The album cover to many often seems like just a picture of the artist, perhaps a nice looking one. Most album covers just seem to blend in with the crowd, however, true originals seem to stand out. Sgt. Pepper’s comes to mind, with it’s vibrant colors and assortment of many people, not just the band. Jeff Buckley’s Grace also comes to mind, with a portrait of Jeff, mic in hand, ready to sing his heart out. Wired is another one of those album covers, and is almost instantly recognizable by many music fans. The image of Beck and his Stratocaster seemingly moving at lightning fast speeds in a shade of blue stands out to others.
Wired was Beck’s first foray from his blues/Yardbirds roots into the world of electronic music. There is a lot of synth on this album, and Beck merges the digital sounds with electric guitar seamlessly. The result? It’s your judgement call.
It’s interesting to note that Beatles legend George Martin produced on this album along with Blow By Blow. Bruce Dickinson, of Blue Oyster Cult Saturday Night Live fame, produced the remaster. It’s also interesting to note that this is the first album cover that Beck has appeared with a Stratocaster on, with his others being Les Pauls.
The album starts off with Led Boots, and it’s very clear that this song is very electronically influenced. There is a main synth riff repeating over and over, and Jeff playing over it. This song seems to give Beck’s guitar a more electronic sound. It’s not distorted, but it seems to sound like an effect on a synth. Whatever sound, it sounds good, and Beck’s soloing is phenomenal.
Come Dancing is a funky song, with a groovy beat and sparse guitars. This however changes when Beck rips into a distorted solo, which literally notes a complete change of direction of where Beck was taking this. No longer is this song electronically dominated with Beck’s stacatto guitar lines as a linear note, this turned into a real rocker. It breaks into a short interlude and Beck begins to start ripping again until the eventual fade out.
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is a Beck masterpiece. It begins with some slow bends and is a step away from the previous two songs. No longer are the funky drumbeats and keyboards present, but just Beck and some slow blues. This song continues in this pattern. Drums enter, and Beck starts ripping it up. His way of expressing emotions through vibratos are present here, and you can just imagine Beck, standing on stage, just playing the hell out of this song, until the final cymbal hit fades out.
Head For Backstage Pass is like the first 2 songs, but it seems like a disco song at first. With it’s moderate tempo and groovy feel, one can definetly dance to this number. Beck’s tone here is impeccable, and almost indescribable. It’s a real treat and one of my favorites on the album.
Blue Wind starts off with some light ride tapping, then bursts out into a fast pace duel between Beck and… himself? He solos for a bit, then plays a rhythmn section. Lather, rinse, repeat. Overall, this song is very fast paced and a fun listen.
Sophie is the longest song on the album and one of my favorites. With a frantic lead guitar line, pounding drums and some very interesting hooks, this song is a nice listen to, albeit a bit long.
Play With Me starts out with a synth riff and a fill. It then turns into another electronically oriented rocker orchestrated by the mighty Beck. Becks’ tone is simply superb here, again. Near the end of the track, Beck begins to play fast. One begins to wonder how he was able to pull all this off without using a pick, especially getting the tone he is. This song is a clear precise attack of a solo.
The final track Love is Green starts out with double tracked guitars, some soft piano and a relaxing bass riff. It’s very relaxing to listen to. A synth-like guitar line comes in and adds that little more to completely fuse the workings of electronic music and a classical composition together. An excellent closing, and one of the best tracks on here.
Wired is a good album, although some might turn a blind eye to it because A) it has the word ‘jazz’ in the genre title and B) it’s all instrumental, if you couldn’t tell. This may turn off some non-avid music fans from it. If you’re looking for a awesome guitar oriented album that fuses a lot of different genres together, check this out.