Classic Rock Review

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Ten Years After A Space In Time (1971)

zap_tenyears3From starling.rinet.ru

Despite all the hype, Ten Years After could never have earned the title of a “prog-rock” band: sometimes they are mistakenly lumped in with the movement, but Alvin and Co.’s ambitions never really amounted that high – for the most part, they were just hardcore blues rockers with a slight experimental edge, to distinguish them from colleagues like early Fleetwood Mac or Free. Still, if there ever was a period in which they were real close to embodying some “progressive” tendencies, it was this fall of 1971, with this extremely strange, un-Ten Years After-like album, and this really great bunch of songs, with hardly a major stinker in among all the melodies. Unarguably the band’s strongest and most consistent effort since the Ssssh days, A Space In Time continues the line of Watt in its heavy use of synthesizers and special effects, but this time the members probably took out some time to make these thingamajigs actually work. Alvin’s guitar is not idle either; and his songwriting reached a peak at this time – never to be surpassed again.

One thing strikes you immediately as you let all the tracks flow through your mind, one by one – where’s the fingerflashing? This sounds nothing like what we’ve grown to expect from the band because the main trademark element of the sound, Alvin’s blazing speedy chops, are completely missing. An intentional move, of course; whereas I wouldn’t want to accuse Alvin of sharing the famous “guitar hero complex” that managed to overtake such six-string greats as Clapton and Jeff Beck in the early Seventies, it’s at least clear that on A Space In Time the man was keen on cutting out the crap and fully concentrating on the melodies and real musical substance. He wanted to be able to finally make a record that would feature him as a real solid composer, that would not just keep repeating the same lightning-speed licks over and over again. And while it’s rather hard to believe without having heard the record, he did succeed. On here, you’ll find the best batch of melodies ever created by the band – many of them acoustic, showing Alvin’s developing passion for the unplugged atmosphere, but some electric as well. Alvin’s lyrics rarely match the melodies in skillfulness or deepness, but as usual, he manages to walk the thin line between cliches/banality and pretentiousness just fine. And while his take on the ‘we gotta get out of this place’ schtick on ‘I’d Love To Change The World’ is nothing particularly special, it comes along as sincere and never too overblown. Just a guy lamenting over post-Woodstock disillusionment.

The opening track, ‘One Of These Days’ (not to be confounded with the famous Pink Floyd instrumental, or, for that matter, with the ninety thousand other songs by other composers with the same name), kicks in with such a staggering might that it makes you go wow. It’s essentially just a slow blues rocker, but produced like they never tried before – with a deep and elaborate sound, echoey guitars, moody swirling organs, and tremendously atmospheric. My guess is that it probably inspired the Stones for “Ventilator Blues” (which is a weaker song). It does end in a slightly overlong speedy jam that tends to get a wee bit tedious due to Alvin’s self-restriction on the guitar, but never mind – it is all compensated further on.

On no other Ten Years After album will you find, for instance, two tracks as moody and “place-taking” as ‘Here They Come’ and ‘Let The Sky Fall’. Sure, Alvin and the boys did try their hand at ‘mystical acoustic shuffles’ earlier, particularly on Stonedhenge, but there was basically no melody-creating back then. ‘Here They Come’, on the other hand, is based on a slow, entrancing acoustic riff with a slight medieval influence; it’s dark and a little bit creepy. ‘Let The Sky Fall’, on the other hand, features a reworking of the ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ riff, but with an entirely different purpose: the song is supposed not to let you rock your ass, but to contemplate some vivid psychedelic associations, what with all the backwards guitars and special synth effects… I love that mood.

More acoustic shuffles follow, with pretty folkish melodies that are charming in their naivety and amazing in their professional delivery. Isn’t ‘Over The Hill’ gorgeous? The way the steady acoustic riff and the moderate strings section interact with each other certainly is, and on top of that Alvin delivers a pretty catchy vocal melody. ‘Hard Monkeys’ is equally good, with a nice alternation of soft/hard parts and some of Alvin’s most delightful singing ever – the way he chants ‘got no monkey on my back’ almost manages to bring me to tears, so don’t you dare laugh at the song.

All of this stuff is pretty serious, of course, for the boys, and it’s only natural that sometimes they break loose and swap the grim, introspective mood of the songs for a few ‘have-at-it’ fun novelty numbers: ‘Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock’n’Roll You’ is a groovy Fifties sendup that doesn’t sound one second too strained as the band rips it up for two minutes, ‘ Uncle Jam’ is an unnecessary, but short jazz jam, and ‘Once There Was A Time’ is a sharp-edged country-rock number with the traditional ‘da-guitah-z-me-life-boy’ message delivered with vivid imagery: ‘Once there was a time/I robbed my mama/For a good meal and a smoke/Once there was a time/I’d sell my brother/For a dollar when I was broke/But I’d never sell my guitar, etc…’.

And over all of this rules supreme ‘I’d Love To Change The World’ – Alvin’s epoch-defining tune which is still the band’s best known self-penned composition. It’s so well-balanced, in fact, and so immaculately written and performed, that I wouldn’t know where to start to complain. Astute acoustic riff, masterfully created paranoid style on the fast parts, moody echoey vocals in the chorus, adrenaline-raising electric guitar, terrific hard-rocking climax: if you ask me, this song does in three minutes everything that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was doing in seven and maybe more. Of course, lyrics like ‘I’d love to change the world/But I don’t know what to do/So I’ll leave it up to you’ and most of Alvin’s social commentaries are pretty straightforward, but I’d still take them over Zeppelin’s cheap mysticism any time of day, particularly since there are not any less old-time cliches in the ‘Stairway’ lyrics than there are in ‘I’d Love To Change The World’. This is just to show you how much of an underrated band Ten Years After are, so there.

It’s absolutely incredible that a band as ambitionless and tour-busy as Ten Years After found the time and will to record such an album; but it’s also a shame that the band never preferred to follow this chosen route further, as their last two studio albums show them descending into mediocrity once again, leaving A Space In Time as the band’s undisputed songwriting masterpiece and a true, if minor, rock’n’roll classic that’s been overshadowed by time but will hopefully rise out of the depths of oblivion some day. Maybe with your help, oh ye gentle reader?

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March 15, 2013 Posted by | Ten Years After A Space In Time | | Leave a comment