Classic Rock Review

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Ten Years After Ssssh (1969)

zap_tenyears2From starling.rinet.ru

And at last, this time around there was no doubt these guys were gonna be a major act. Good lads, they seem to have realized all of the mistakes they made on Stonedhenge, and this time you’re in for a listen of your lifetime! No more stupid grooves or Leo Lyons solo spots. No more trippy quiet guitar sounds and no more muddy, ear-destructive production. What you are presented with is a gruff, rip-roaring, tearing-at-the-walls progressive blues album which boasts brilliant production – at last!

I may be a little biased towards this album, but really, you must realise it was a grandiose effort for the boys. Ten Years After was a homemade album of four guys getting together to play a couple of covers; Undead was a live album made by the same boys; Stonedhenge was a first try, but a failure; and this, this is absolutely fantastic. Well, not absolutely. Ten Years After never made an album that was ‘absolutely’ fantastic. Forget about ‘absolutely’. But this is definitely fantastic in the fantastic Ten Years After way.

Where was I? Ah yes, Ssssh. The only real trouble with that album is an ungly cover and the fact that you never can remember how many ‘s’ you have to write between the capital one and the ‘h’. Apart from that, there are some great blues numbers, some great ballads and some great heavy rockers the likes of which were not to be found previously. The very album opener (‘Bad Scene’) is not just heavy – it’s practically hardcore punk: a breathtaking speed and a gruff guitar tone that predicts the Ramones but also kinda outdates them. But there are also tricky changes in signature, a special jazzy middle-eight, Alvin’s trademark solos, strange electronically encoded vocals and… well, you get my drift. There’s everything that Stonedhenge sorely lacked.

The blues covers are all done wisely – generic, mayhaps (which blues cover ain’t?), but catchy, and every one has something special to boast about. ‘Two Time Mama’ has a wonderfully sweet slide guitar tone resulting from several masterful overdubs so that ultimately you seem to be surrounded by a sea of slippery guitar waves gently falling onto one another; and there’s also Alvin singing in unison with the main guitar melody, which is always a pleasure. The harder antidote ‘Stoned Woman’ is built around a mean mean highly distorted bass riff and features complicated time signature changes again. And the closing ‘I Woke Up This Morning’, with the most blatantly obvious title in the world, features an especially ferocious rapid-fire solo by Alvin. Put it next to anything on Ten Years After and you’ll see how high the mighty hath risen: he’s now able to play so fluently, without a single break for more than a minute, that the 1967 style by now seems naive and outdated. Notes just keep falling out of nowhere, with such diabolic precision and craftsmanship that I don’t have much choice but to tip my hat. For some reason, speedy and technically proficient as other guitarists might be, I have never even once heard anybody play like that.

The album’s highest point, however, is the cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ with lyrics revised and melody re-written: the lyrics suck in any case, but the riff is now breathtaking, one of the two or three mightiest that the band had ever in its credit. And you really don’t know how fond I am of these little riffs that repeat themselves over and over; it’s mean and strong, just like Alvin’s accompanying singing. Yeah, I know all they’re trying to do is imitating ol’ bluesmen, but they’re a great bunch of Brit guys imitating ol’ bluesmen! Kinda like a British analog of CCR! Youpee! I don’t quite dig ‘The Stomp’ because that one’s a bit too repetitive for me; with its creepy, quiet atmosphere it sounds like a Stonedhenge outtake, too, and that’s never quite good news. But that’s my one and only complaint about the track listing, and at least you can perfectly ‘do the stomp’ while listening to that one.

Oh, and if you’re anti-blues or something, then I can offer you the somewhat naive but charming ballad ‘If You Should Love Me’ which some might dismiss as flower power hip crap, but I DIG generic flower power hip crap, so I don’t give a damn. I love this ballad, as Alvin once again makes a complete clown out of himself, overemoting on this pseudo-Motown number and thereby transforming it into a ridiculous love declaration by a young naive charming idiot who keeps repeating the same cliches over and over because he really doesn’t know any other words to say but he really feels something with his poor little heart and does his best to go ahead and articulate it. Okay, this is just how I feel about the song, and this is also how I feel about much of the flower power movement. Now where have I put that Country Joe And The Fish record?..

Nah, just pulling your leg once again. I don’t have no Country Joe records. I do have a lot of Ten Years After records, though. And what you are doing now is reading my reviews of them, particularly the review of what I consider to be one of their two best albums. So don’t let me bore you with my second-rate crappy digressions. Let’s just reiterate: this record is a must for anybody with even a passable interest in Sixties’ blues-rock and should forever remain one of the crucial landmarks in that genre. That’s how obstinate I am, and now let’s move on to the next album.

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March 13, 2013 Posted by | Ten Years After Ssssh | | Leave a comment