‘Shine On’ (REP 5202) finds the Climax Blues Band on an upward commercial curve. Their previous album had delivered a big hit ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’ on both sides of the Atlantic and featured the enduring funk of ‘Chasing Change’. By the time of ‘Shine On’ the band’s quest for a follow up hit gave them a number one album stateside, even if they couldn’t quite ‘get it right’ again on the singles front.
Climax had signed to Warner Brothers and wrote most of their material while on the road in the States. The results are polished and commercial, but a sharp shift away from their blues roots. No matter, there are plenty of quality songs here, albeit they sometimes veer towards middle of the road territory. This is especially so on the radio friendly ‘Makin Love’ with its uplifting chorus and The Eagles influenced ‘When Talking Is Too Much Trouble’. Colin’s baritone covers ‘The Gospel Singer’ with a sticky treacle vocal, but together with some potent choral bv’s it works in a crossover way. By the time of the dance floor friendly funk of ‘Whatcha Feel’ the band are in Average White Band mode and close to more radio success. ‘Like A Movie’ meanwhile, is a distant cousin of ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’ and they add a belated slice of rock and roll on the aptly titled ‘Champagne& Rock ‘n’Roll’ as if to reference their blues roots. (****)
1979’s ‘Real To Reel’ (REP 5212) was recorded at George Martin’s Air studios in the Caribbean – a million miles away from the punk infested UK scene – and it’s a sophisticated affair with well crafted songs, glistening harmonies and a polished production that explores sumptuous grooves. For an English band from Stoke onTrent, Climax now sounded more American than several of theirUScounterparts. Indeed ‘Summer Rain’ almost approached the sophistication and laid back feel of Steely Dan, but this is in sharp contrast to the Johnny Guitar Watson vocal phrasing of the dance friendly ‘Money In Your Pocket’.
The double lead vocals on ‘Children of the Night Time’, is a near forgotten gem and Colin adds another great vocal on the funky ‘Lovin’ Wheel’, a number that is only dated by the use of synth guitar. Pete Haycock also indulges in some opening BB King licks on ‘Fallen In Love (For The Very Last Time)’ before an Eagles style vocal.
And just when you think the band are slipping dangerously into MOR territory they redress the balance with the scintillating rocker ‘Fat City’, on an album that crosses over funk into MOR radio territory but with just enough kick (****)
If 1980’s ‘Flying the Flag’ (REP5211) was a statement of their British origins, the music doesn’t bear it out. The album opens with a catchy disco pop cover ‘Gotta Have More Love’. The song is well suited to Colin’s earthy baritone and is counter balanced by banks of synth lines and a dance floor groove worthy of hit status as a follow up to ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’.
As it is, they achieved a follow up hit with Derek Holt’s insipid ballad ‘I Love You’ which sounds like a Leo Sayer cast off. The following Cooper/Holt composition ‘Hold On To Your Heart’ sounds like a thinly veiled reprise. Unfortunately, their attempts at commerciality also tended to middle of the road pap, as evidenced by the forgettable ‘Dance The Night Away’. Only the tough retro rocking of ‘Blackjack And Me’ makes any attempt at redressing the balance (***)
As with ‘Flying the Flag’, the songs on 1981’s ‘Lucky For Some’ (REP 5209) are individually credited rather than band compositions, a worrying trend for a band lost in their commercial tinged MOR style. Haycock’s ‘Victim’ comes with a big harmony chorus, while the tick-toc rhythm of the Cuffley/Holt ‘Cuttin’ Up Rough’- a tale of revenge – is surprisingly good, with its funky, electric piano led groove and double vocal lines. But there’s far too much stodge and a lack of real inspiration on the rest of the album, with hammy mid-tempo ballads and the calamitous white boy reggae of ‘This Time You’re the Singer’, albeit sung with a Steve Miller style vocal.
And just when all seems lost, the band belatedly comes up with a group composition, ‘Last Chance Saloon’ which has a wonderful wistful feel and brilliant vocal from Colin Cooper. Unsurprisingly it became a belated band staple when they reformed in ‘86. But with only one real highlight it’s hard to recommend this album (**)
‘Sample And Hold’ (REP5203) marked new territory for Climax, as they signed with Virgin while desperately trying to make sense of a fast changing musical scene.
They start off confidently with the excellent Haycock penned ‘Friends in High Places’ which features all the Climax trademarks of a husky Cooper vocal, a funky rhythm track, a snappy arrangement and a good verse. The Haycock/Cooper penned ‘Sign of the Times is equally good, being a mellifluous rocker with a lovely descending hook, while Haycock’s ‘Walking On Sunset’ has an eye on radio plays again. But you have to overlook the Missing Persons style, synth led, new wave pop of ‘Shine’ before you come to another gem, Cooper’s ‘Movie Queen’. He delivers a perfect vocal with great phrasing on a well crafted song and a great hook, that was resurrected by the reformed band in the mid 80’s.
Sadly the rest of the cd is a case of slowly diminishing returns, with Haycock’s ‘Doin’ Alright’ being another Eagles pastiche, and Frankie Miller’s ‘I’m Ready’ is ill suited to a band more used to exploring laid back horizons.(***)
It would be five long years before the band returned without Haycock but with the surprisingly good ‘Drastic Steps’
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Each week David Randall presents ‘New to GRTR!’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, with the emphasis on independent artists and labels. During December he replays favourite tracks including power plays featured during the year. This show covers the period January-March and was first broadcast on 1 December 2019.
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