Album review: CLIMAX BLUES BAND – Drastic Steps

 

 

 

Repertoire Records [Re-issue 2013]

Arguably one of the best albums of Climax Blues Band’s later FM rock career, ‘Drastic Steps’ is an overlooked gem and a prime example of being in the right place at the wrong time.

The album marked the band’s official recording comeback after a 5 year break and armed with a platoon of studio effects – from monster synth drums to all manner of electronics – Climax cut the kind of album that they had been searching for since the mid 70’s.

The sparkling production and dance friendly arrangements dominate the album as exemplified by the uplifting sweep of the opening ‘California Sunshine’. The programmed dance beats and insistent chorus of ‘Ordinary People’ and the self explanatory ‘Good Times’ sit well next to two updated versions of their transatlantic hit ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’.

‘Drastic Steps’ is an  album that drips with late 80’s production values – all percussive synths, relentless dance beats  and potent bv’s from Ruby Turner etc – but it all flows mellifluously on the back of quality songs with engaging hooks.

The opening’ California Sunshine’ is triggered by a thematic motif that is later reprised on the ‘American Dream’ instrumental. The two aptly titled songs almost reflect the band’s dashed American aspirations.

The Colin Cooper/George Glover song-writing team never sounded better, particularly on the mesmerising groove of ‘The Deceiver’.  The harmony laden hook and Steely Dan style production values make it an album highlight.

You can even forgive the insistent disco beat of the live stage favourite ‘Fool For The Bright Lights’ on which Colin adds a nuanced world weary vocal over a sumptuous groove, while Lester Hunt adds some tasty guitar licks. Topping it all is the two remixed versions of ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’, the song that defined the band’s dance friendly, crossover funky sound.

The album might not be anchored to the essential blues core of old, but the songs are excellent and played with real swagger. And in Colin Cooper, the band had a sax playing, smoky baritone vocalist, who was surely one of the greatest blues singers this country has ever produced.

‘Drastic Steps’ is well worth investigating particularly as it was overlooked at the time of its release, probably swamped by the synth-pop and New Wave of the time.  If you can deal with core disco beats and faux horn arrangements, there are some classic performances here on the best produced album of their career. ***** (5/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra


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