Friday, January 4, 2008

Budgie - You're all Living in Cuckooland

There is a fascinating lost era in rock history that nestles somewhere between 1967 and the early 1970's. Famous for the death of the Peace and Love flower children, this era represents a transition from the classic euphoric optimism of the LSD psychedelic 60's to the bad trip, crash-back-down to the gritty reality of the Vietnam War/heroin 70's. Reflecting this loss of hippy innocence, music mutated from shimmering glorious idealistic pop into a vehicle for the expression of the anger of a generation, the lost hopes and daily struggles of unemployment, war, drugs and poverty. Wrapped up in exaggerated blues riffs, powerful detuned chords and dark imagery, Heavy Metal crawled out of the muck and mire like a Tolkien Orc being birthed from the muddy bowels of Mordor.

This incredibly fertile period of proto-metal can be mined endlessly for the fantastic variety of bands that burst forth, each offering their own transmuted version of heavy psychedelic rock. Bands like,
Leaf Hound, May Blitz and Pentagram may have been forgotten by the next generation of kids, victims of poor marketing and even worse distribution, but were essential in laying down the blueprint for what became heavy metal. Arguably, one of the best to emerge from this proto-metal period was Budgie.

With a sound that mixed Sabbath heaviness with Rush-esque vocals, acoustic folk passages and a fist-stuck-firmly-in-mouth sense of humor, Budgie raged out of the Welsh highlands to. . . well, not much. Moderately popular in the U.K., Budgie remained a lost treasure in the U.S. until Metallica covered their songs "Breadfan," and "Crash Course in Brain Surgery." In retrospect, they've now been recognized as one of the major pioneering forces in early heavy metal and Budgie songs have been covered by followers as diverse as Soundgarden and Iron Maiden. Now experiencing a renaissance of interest, Budgie is back.

You're all Livng in Cuckooland, is Budgie's first release of all-new material since 1982's Deliver Us From Evil, (although several excellent live CD's, Greatest Hits and boxed packages have kept the band in the public eye) and the good news is that the boys haven't missed a step in the last 25 years.

If anything, Budgie sounds fresher and more vital than they did on their last album back in the early eighties. Usually, when an old band reforms after a million years, the fans have reason to be suspect of what they'll get from their old stalwarts; will the boys sound horribly outdated, resurrecting a long-past sound, trying to re-live old glories or will they sound simply horrible, trying to tap into tune of the latest craze. Fortunately for us, Budgie does neither. In fact, Budgie is simply, Budgie.

Ignoring grunge, nu-metal, rap-metal and any other metal trend that came and went since their last album, Budgie sound oddly vital. "Justice," rages with a charging riff, produced with a wash of keyboards and effects that is neither derivative of their earlier work, nor copied from the current hot band of the day. Burke Shelley's voice, always a unique instrument, has held up well over the years. While it may have lost some of the upper echelons of it's Geddy Lee range, that loss has been replaced by a more textured tone, slightly rawer in the throat. "Dead Men Don't Talk," hits next with a riff heavy enough to make most of the current metal kids look up and take notice. "Falling," carries the torch, roaring on heavy and hard.

Joining Shelley and long-time drummer Steve Williams, Simon Lees does an admirable job filling the empty guitar slot, pumping up the energy, pounding out post-seventies metal riffs. As always, Shelley doesn't pass up the more folk-oriented numbers or his typical off-brand of humor. Continuing his trademark of bizarrely named songs (in the tradition of "Hot as a Dockers Armpit," "You're the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk," and "Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman) the new release launches "I'm Compressing the Comb of a Cockerel's Head," into the grand world of the Budgie title-mythos.

In the end, there's something oddly satisfying to hear that these elder statesmen, founders actually, of heavy metal can still rock as hard as kids half (a third) of their age. Without sounding forced or labored, You're all Living in Cuckooland has earned the right to take its place in the grand metal arsenal that Budgie has created. Hang onto the viagra for the soft codgers over in Aerosmith, these boys clearly can still keep it coming hard and strong.

---Racer X

Buy here: You're All Living in Cuckooland

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