Monday, March 23, 2015

Quatermass - 1970 - Quatermass


01. Entropy (1:10)
02. Black sheep in the family (3:36)
03. Post war Saturday echo (9:42)
04. Good Lord knows (2:54)
05. Up on the ground (7:08)
06. Gemini (5:54)
07. Make up your mind (8:44)
08. Laughing tackle (10:35)
09. Entropy (0:40)

Bonus tracks on REP 4620 release:
10. One blind mice (3:15)
11. Punting (7:09)

- John Gustafson / bass, vocals
- Peter Robinson / keyboards
- Mick Underwood / drums

 Quartermass is a keyboard-dominated trio of almost mythical proportions, and its sole studio album has many moments of great excitement without being consistent enough to be the long lost progressive rock masterpiece that I'd been led to believe it was. While I'm usually all for diversity, the eclecticism that informs this album comes off as truly haphazard instead of being a result of carefully thought out composition, and as such, is a weakness. Still, Peter Robinson is a player that all fans of organ-based hard rock need to hear ...
If every song was as powerful as the two longest tracks Make Up Your Mind and the instrumental Laughin' Tackle, then this would be a sure-fire winner. Make Up Your Mind is a swirling piece with some decent vocals, great energetic bass work, and after a dramatic break, some outstanding dynamic passages in which solo organ rambles are punctuated by rapid fire runs from the rhythm section before a neat occasionally discordant solo takes the piece clear away. Laughin' Tackle is another real highlight, propelled by some bubbly bass and topped off with a nice jazzy electric piano solo, potent, almost overbearing strings, and then great double tracking by Robinson on electric piano and Hammond organ (a real treat for someone like me). At some point during the song, a Mick Underwood drum solo ensues (this was 1971 after all!) and it's highlighted by some outstanding rolling.

Unfortunately those two tracks are tucked away on the latter half of the record, and it's very likely that some impatient listeners will be turned off by the uneven offerings that come before. Black Sheep Of The Family, for example, (yes, it's the same track was popularised on Rainbow's first album) is basically a pop-tinged hard rock tune, while Gemini is an incongrous mix of poppy verses and great organ playing (first a strange Gothic Procol Harum-influenced slow passage, then a lengthy high octane jam).

Another culprit is Post War, Saturday Echo which is bookended by some really enticing organ work (especially during the second stretch), but is generally a soul-sapping 9-minute blues crawl, with a nice lyrical jazzy piano solo providing respite from the tedium. I'm also not sold on Entropy (which appears twice) first as a minute-long churchy organ piece, and then an even more concise jazzy run. I don't really like the harpsichord with strings ballad Good Lord Knows either.

The Deep Purple (and Jon Lord in particular) influences are very strong on some of the organ songs and Up On The Ground is an agressive exciting piece with lots of superb organ-led excursions from Robinson (and a nice lil' bit of funk thrown in the middle) but sadly Gustafson's vocals have a rather strangled quality that prevents this from being Quartermass' definitive track.

As for the bonus tracks, One Blind Mice is a wicked rock song, with a scorching bassline, and bold organ (with a solo right out of the Lord handbook). Unfortunately, it's another cut on which Gustafson has that strangled bluesy voice and which simply doesn't work for the song. Thankfully Robinson sets things right with a solo straight out of the Lord handbook. Punting is a playful, funky jam that overstays its welcome (it's a 7 minute cut with just two segments that repeat ad nauseum!). It still manages to show that these boys had a great thing going, and could probably have done anything they wanted.

If like me, you're a sucker for hard r0ck dominated by organ (and bear in mind that Uriah Heep's Ken Hensley and Lord are two of my biggest heroes) then you will still definitely want to listen to this album. If you're not into the hallowed organ, you will not find this essential.

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