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Lynyrd Skynyrd Nuthin’ Fancy (1975)

nuthin' fancy - coverFrom

Ask any critic and he’ll go on raving all about how Second Helping was great and this album was really stagnated and dull and ‘never quite managed to take off’ and all that crap. Critics are stupid. Just because this album has no all-time hit like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ or ‘Free Bird’ doesn’t mean that it never ‘takes off’ or ‘achieves ignition’ (two of the most popular Rolling Stone critiques; you’d think these guys were originally in spacecraft constructing business).

Sure, it’s hard to pick off a favourite of this album. But it also shows significant artistic growth: the diversity of styles they tackle on here is impressive, considering that it’s kinda hard to stay in the ‘roots-rock’ basin and manage to flow in several different directions at the same time. And these songs are rarely generic. Now Skynyrd were never great composers, true, but at least what I see here is several persons painfully trying to step away from the boogie-woogie and soulful balladeering cliches of Helping and doing something, well, if not original, at least something in a style and with hooks of their own, not just nipped from some ancient bluesman.

Not that it grows on you; none of these songs are able to creep under your skin as well as the ones on the debut album do. But on the other hand, this is an album that I found out I wanted to give another listen, while everything was absolutely obvious with the redneck paradise of Second Helping. There are just so many little things and tricks here to fire your imagination – a pity the critics didn’t take the time to take a second listen, now.

On the count of ‘one two three four’ (a trick used on every successive Skynyrd album, by the way), the album opens with ‘Saturday Night Special’, a rip-roaring condemnation of handguns embellished by fiery guitar solos and moody synthesizer effects. This is sometimes called Skynyrd’s most hard-rocking number ever; dunno about that, not having heard everything, but it sure rocks pretty hard for a Southern band. ‘Cheatin’ Women’ is everything ‘I Need You’ tried to be but failed: same slow, lethargic mood, but the ballsy lyrical matters (Eric Clapton gets sued for such things these days) and the pretty organ passages more than makes up for it. Not to mention that Ronnie’s vocals are at least a trillion times more expressive here than on that crappy seven minute ‘epic’. Then, after the calm, three uptempo numbers, none of them hits, none of them great, but all quite solid.

‘Railroad Song’ has a cool groove to it – I particularly love it when they slow down the rhythm to get the impression of a train slowing down. ‘I’m A Country Boy’ is my second favourite song on the album: there’s something stately in the way Ronnie pronounces his death sentence to city civilization. ‘I don’t even want a piece of concrete in my town’, he says, ‘I’m a country boy, I’m as happy as can be’. Pedestrian? Banal? Dismissable? Perhaps, but such things often depend on how well you put yourself to it. And this performance is awesome: moody, precise guitar lines interweaving with Van Zant’s relaxed, ironic, slightly swagger-swaggering vocals, and all this makes the song a definite ‘country life’ anthem. Finally, there’s the funky, weird, sickeningly macho ‘On The Hunt’: this one does not particularly impress me at all, but at least it’s loud and proud.

Out of the next three songs, I’d like to pick out ‘Made In The Shade’, a terrific country-blues workout: ’tis one more humble tribute to Ol’ Black Blues Man (Ronnie even begins it with saying ‘when I was a young-un they used to teach me to play music like this here…’), and the boys once again show that nobody can beat their acoustic/slide guitar attack. By the way, they did this kind of style much, much better than the Allman Brothers, and that’s saying something. ‘Am I Losin’ is just a pretty, simplistic ballad with some deeply hidden charms, and the closing number, ‘Whiskey Rock-A-Roller’, is just your average by-the-book blues rocker with not a lot to say. Which actually means that it gets worse as it progresses.

Even so, the album is more consistent than Helping; and I insist on that. There were three great songs there (‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ‘Working For MCA’, ‘Curtis Loew’) which cannot be matched by anything on Fancy. But Fancy hasn’t got any ridiculous embarrasments like ‘Needle And The Spoon’ or ‘I Need You’, either, and, like I said, I definitely see signs of trying here. So what if the songs are mostly slow? Skynyrd aren’t that fast a band – they’re not your Ramones, and, well, they’re not even Deep Purple.

There are elements of taste on here, while there are definitely elements of lapse of taste on Helping. Sorry for all these shitty ramblings, folks, especially if you haven’t heard either and are wondering why the hell you have to read this: I just want to point out that the critics made a mighty mistake by drawing a deep, definite line in between these two albums and putting the first one above it and the second one under it. It’s just the opposite, and if you’re going to argue with me, I’ll see to it personally that you burn in the hottest furnace in Hell for three hundred thousand years.

March 27, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Nuthin' Fancy | | 1 Comment