I'm a little rusty at this, so please be gentle with me. Yes, late last year - 11 months ago, in fact - I walked away from this blog, wiped my hands of it and told myself I'd never go back. Well, it wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was close. My personal/work life underwent several upheavals and dramas, and essentially I felt that I didn't need nor did I want the burden of being expected to deliver 'the goods' with a blog which apparently actually boasted something known as a 'following' (I'm not tooting my own horn here, and there's no time for false humility: people from all over the globe, whether by accident or design, do actually read this blog). And so walk away I did, justifying my absence from it by pretending that it was all behind me, that it meant nothing to me. I haven't even checked my lexdev Yahoo account in over 6 months to see if there's been any correspondence, and given how much spam that account received on a weekly basis, I'm a little afraid to open it. Does anyone care about a revived Lexicon Devil? Possibly not, but it's something I need to do. I need a creative outlet which stretches my mind further than witless Facebook updates and barking at people on street corners.
Anyway, enough of the therapeutic hand-wringing, because no one reads this blog to hear about my personal dramas. I will ease myself into this with an easy entry: an assessment of Fleetwood Mac's Then Play On LP from 1969. If you think I've gone off the charts with my musical tastes, then I'm happy to upset you. In near-future posts, I will discuss the music of the Butthole Surfers, Devo, Hoss, Native Cats, Ry Cooder, Van der Graaf Generator, Ty Segall, Purling Hiss, Keith Jarrett, Sparks, Descendents, Martin Rev, The Who, HTRK, 10cc, Cheap Time and other artists who have kept insanity at bay the past 12 months. There have been two developments in my music-listening habits the past year: firstly, I have been listening to a lot more contemporary music than I had been for the prior decade, a lot of it being Australian (we antipodeans have entered a new Golden Age Of Sound with the likes of Total Control, Nun, Dick Diver, Ausmuteants, Native Cats, Living Eyes, etc., etc. and soaking up their wares has helped refrain me from becoming a hopelessly backwards-looking relic); and secondly, I have taken it upon myself to subscribe to Spotify, the music streaming service apparently designed by Satan Himself, but one whose politics I won't go into in this forum (as a sidenote: it is mighty odd that some compadres of mine have ascended their collective high horse in reaction to my subscribing to such a corporation, given their years upon years of illegal downloading which currently clog up their hard drives. Hey, my streaming is paying the artist a pittance, but at least it's something). Anyway. Spotify has allowed me to listen to a lot of music I otherwise wouldn't have easy access to, and given the fact that my collection of vinyl/CDs/cassettes/fanzines/books/etc. has reached a stage of utter madness and is something I really don't need to add to at all (I'm on a strict no-buying policy for the foreseeable future), streaming new music has been my listening mode of choice for unheard sounds. If you have a problem with that, contact my social secretary.
If you've been orbiting the music-dork stratosphere the past few decades then you've undoubtedly heard the line about Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac being the bomb in regards to Brit blues-rock of the 1960s. The band at this stage were of course an entirely different beast to the zillion-selling soft-rock cocaine cowboys (and girls) of the mid/late '70s and beyond, and in regards to 'Brit blues-rock', do not be afraid. The 'Mac kept it hard and tight, keeping their ouvre (at least when Green was with them) far astray from the bantamweight noodling of Clapton and his cohorts. I had forever kept my distance from this era of the band simply because I didn't imagine them to be that good, and that's because Brit blues-rock of the late '60s I have always found to be a fairly tedious prospect, with obvious exceptions. Peter Green was/is obviously a troubled soul and his story is well known. A Syd Barrettesque character in some ways, he's seen by many as the guiding light in a pioneering band who had to exit the stage to battle his own demons as the group he once lead gained phenomenal levels of fame and money in his absence. He also released an incredible solo album in 1970, just upon his departure from FM, entitled End Of The Game, a freeform/experimental instrumental disc which is well worth your trouble.
By 1969, the band had already released two LPs and secured US/UK hits with 'Black Magic Woman' and 'Albatross', but it was '69's Then Play On which really brought out a playful looseness within the group and a sound they'd never again replicate. Sonically, you could place this era of FM as some sort of meeting point of early Led Zep and early Groundhogs, but with more expansive and ambitious songwriting in tow, one which could encompass quiet ballads, bucolic instrumentals, elongated instrumental passages and some really hard and aggressive blues-influenced rock & roll. The debut of guitarist Danny Kirwan in the group - he wrote some of the LP's best songs - really paid off. There's several different versions of the album, there being slightly different original UK/US editions, a revised US edition and an expanded CD edition which takes on everything from from every issue available. Isn't this exciting? The version in my possession is a recent US CD edition, which replicates the revised US version from 1970, splicing some of the longer songs together (such as the brilliant, epic two-part 'Oh Well'), and inserting other tracks in different order, such as the beautifully plaintive instrumental, 'My Dream'. None of this information is particularly interesting unless you subscribe to MOJO magazine, but what is of great interest is just how excellent Then Play On truly is.
Audibly spruiking this album to all and sundry the past few months, I'm surprised by the broad fanbase it enjoys: 50-something No Wavers who bought it in the pre-punk mist, avant-krautrock types (there's certainly enough musical experimentalism present to cross over into that realm), indie snobs and, of course, the bog-standard rock slob. How did Then Play On fall into my lap? Whilst talking to Mr. Warwick Brown at Greville Records earlier in the year, he was so goddamn insistent of its genius that he simply gave me a copy of the CD. Gratis. He would not let me leave his store without a copy in my hand. His selling point was Green's soulful voice, the strength of the songwriting and the Zep-style riffery on display - his words. I say yes to all three. Within the first minute of the opener, 'Coming Your Way', which I played upon returning home from my jaunt, I was hooked. That instantaneous reaction happens just about never. Then Play On is absolutely essential listening - it should be held in just as high regard as the likes of Forever Changes and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It sounds absolutely nothing like either of those albums, of course, but for sprawling eclecticism and a kindred adventurousness, they're surely distant cousins of some sort. Just because the band mutated into something else and sold a whole lotta units later on (and I should mount a defense re: Rumours/Tusk at a later date), such flagrant populism doesn't detract one iota from the greatness of their music. That much should be obvious.