Thursday, January 18, 2007

somebody needs to be rogered, all right

After years of making due with the Rhino Yardbirds collection that only covers the band's early years, I've finally got ahold of "Roger the Engineer".

I don't know if the engineer is to be blamed, or what, but there is just something disappointing about this album. The performances sound like they were playing their stoned British hearts out, but the mix just falls flat.

Yardbirds vocalist Keith Relf is always guaranteed to disappoint anyone who first comes to the band seeking the origins of Led Zeppelin. It's hard to imagine a voice more different from (and not neccessarily in a good way) Robert Plant. At his best on this album he's sort of half-speaking, half-chanting, and probably drunk. But if you're any sort of fan of British Invasion beyond the big four (Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks) you've certainly heard worse. Hearing him sing about selling your soul to the devil, he sounds like a (very) poor man's Ozzy.

But Jeff Beck (who takes lead vocals on a couple of songs) is worse in every way. Now I understand why Eric Clapton (whose voice I've never liked either) could have a career as a vocalist: he's truly the only one of (Clapton, Beck, Page) who can sing in any way at all.

The songs that feature vocal harmony similarly will disappoint anyone who likes that sort of thing, because you want it to be as good as the Zombies and it's just not.

Almost making up the lackluster vocals is the guitar, which is of course why anyone listens to the Yardbirds anyway. The guitar, especially the lead, is distorted on almost every song. Even the songs where no fuzz pedal is used, the amp is cranked up to 11 that it approaches levels of crunch normally associated with 70's arena rock. When a fuzz pedal is used, as on the hit "Over, Under, Sideways, Down", the lead guitar is positively ear-splitting. Some songs are physically painful to listen to, the lead guitar as so trebly and loud in the mix. Songs like "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (a bonus track and the only Jimmy Page lead according to the credits) are almost completely noise, with very little actual music in them, which I actually like. Music is for zeroes - noise, noise, noise is for heroes.

The bass and drums, struggling to be heard over the guitar, flail along trying to play as loudly and rapidly as possible, with especially Paul Samwell-Smith's bass is very busy, nearly jazzy in spots. Check out "Lost Woman", it sounds like a whole song made 0ut of that one part of "I Want You/She's So Heavy" where the bass goes "doo doo doo doo..". You know what I mean. But somehow the mix makes all this effort seem wasted, and it just fails to impress. The bass is semi-distorted on songs where it doesn't need to be, and not bottomy enough. The drums are OK but occasionally their more trebly elements are also ear-splitting. (Maybe it's just that I'm listening on a 5th-gen iPod with it's infamous bass-cutting properties?)

Possibly my favorite song on here is "What Do You Want". I could almost swear that at least some of the leads on here are played by Page, not Beck. I think I've listened to enough Zeppelin in my life to be able to say that. But Beck is credited, so who knows.

Finally, and perhaps the worst thing about this albums, is the songwriting. The Yardbirds were one of those bands who really should stick to covering other people's songs.

Overall, C+. Recommended if you like guitar fuzz. (Which I do)