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This was The Yardbirds third official LP release, and they had yet to release an actual album. That's strange, considering - especially by 1965 - it was the thing for pop bands to assemble albums. What we get here instead was yet another compilation, this time of 10 tracks. Six of them were singles, and the remaining four were live cuts recycled from Five Live Yardbirds (the CD reissue is loaded with a plethora of greatly appreciated bonus tracks and glossy liner notes).

Perhaps even more strange is that The Yardbirds, even without releasing albums, were still considered one of the top-tier groups of the era. They were probably even more influential than The Rolling Stones (and I say that even though I worship The Rolling Stones, but they didn't really start blooming until 1966, and it's not a stretch of the imagination whatsoever to assume that The Yardbirds helped give them a boost).

And maybe it's also the case that these singles were a direct predecessor of psychedelia, and Jeff Beck's explosive guitar playing is said to have done more than anyone to inspire the most explosive guitar player there ever was - Jimi Hendrix. In that respect, anyone into collecting historically important albums is required to acquire this one. But more than that, I think it should be collected because it has six freaking fantastic songs on it, and if you include the bonus tracks, then there are a whole lotta fantastic songs. One of the bonus tracks is “Shapes of Things” - it's sort of difficult to picture what the psychedelic movement would have been like without it. It was also written by the band, something they were slowly getting accustomed to doing. Most of the other songs here were original too, but they came from outside songwriters.

If you can listen to “The Train Kept A-Rollin'” and not feel its sheer power trying to rip through your stomach like that scene in Alien, then you might have to ask yourself: What's the point of life? (or maybe you're really not that into pop-rock). If you listen to the 1951 original, it's mindboggling how they managed to extract that piping hot riff from it. I am also infatuated with the wailing guitar-line at the beginning, and the harmonica in the middle miming the sound of an actual train. The lead vocals are also interesting in that we hear two lead voices singing at the same time, neither of which seem to pay much attention to what the other is doing. Whilst that does come off as messy, I like it, as it adds to the unruly spirit of the song. There's also a more distortion-heavy version of that riff in “Stroll On” in the bonus tracks.

Another excellent addition to the original album is the studio version of “I'm a Man”. Oddly enough they also included the live version of that song, so we get to know directly from the source which version is better. For me, it's easily the crisper tighter studio cut - that heart-thumping drum beat comes in clear as a bell!

The most well-regarded song of the lot is “Mr. You're a Better Man Than I”, which is a bit of pop - otherwise known as the reason Eric Clapton had already left the band. But he was a fool for doing so - what an excellent song! Its melody is brilliant, the rhythm is dark and driving, and it's peppered with a distortion-ridden guitar solo from Jeff Beck. Additionally, there are two songs here written by Graham Gouldman (who had previously written The Yardbirds' mega-hit “For Your Love”). The first is “Evil Hearted You”, which - perhaps appropriately - is orchestrated with dark tones. That's interesting since, surely, the vast majority of bands of the era wouldn't have orchestrated such a pop song - I could imagine it as a fluffy but legitimately strong hit for a band like say, The Dave Clarke Five. Gouldman also wrote “Heart Full of Soul”, which is more standard pop-rock, but the melody once again is fantastic. There's also a few interesting things going on there - it's characterized by some frantic bongo drums, a ghostly (and mightily psychedelic) voice in the background, and some strong Jeff Beck licks.

The important bonus track here was of course “The Shapes of Things”, which wasn't included on the original release because it hadn't been written yet. Otherwise, the reissue is loaded up with a bunch of instrumental jams, which I do actually enjoy listening to quite a bit, but I realize they're not especially substantial, although they're heaven for big fans of the electric guitar. My favorites are the distortion-heavy solos we get in the instrumental versions of “Someone to Love”, and “Here 'Tis”.

by Reviewer: Don Ignacio

Posted: Friday 18th Apr 2014 11:58 AM

Yeah, you saw the rating right ... their Fountains of Wayne debut was good enough in its generic mid-90s alt-rock way, but this is simply the best pop album of the decade - better than poor Weezer (see reviews), better than the overhyped Matthew Sweet, better even than the underhyped Sloan.

While on the debut the band relied too heavily on crunching post-Monster guitars, here they make a quantum leap by opening up their sound to a broader palette, adopting quirky New Wave keyboard brushes here and there, settling down to acoustic guitars now and then, and even delivering a lush piano ballad. This is nothing less than the 1990's equivalent to Parallel Lines or Hysteria - an overproduced monster of rich pop-rock hookcraft aimed squarely at world conquest, with nearly every song a potential smash hit single.

In a better world this would've been one of those pop classics that takes over radio for a year, with everybody having a copy lying near the dashboard of their car, just like Rumours. But as far as I can tell (I wasn't in America at the time), this album produced not a single hit, even though the obvious single "Denise" is one of the most throat-grabbingly catchy slabs of radio-prime hard-rocking pop I've heard since the first Cars album.

Maybe it's the terminally smart-ass lyrics ... "Prom Theme" aurally sounds like a heavenly Soft Rock pastiche, fully living up to its title, and while you can slow dance to it, you'll be snickering as you do ('Tonight we'll reach for the stars, we'll drive our rented cars, and play our air guitars'). Now to a Gen-X misanthrope like myself, that mocking irony is what keeps "Prom Theme" from turning into maudlin mush, but I suppose to a public used to and expecting maudlin cliches, making fun of the Soft Rock genre ensures that it won't get airplay on lite FM.

Utopia Parkway amounts to a concept album sarcastically overviewing 1990's American byways in Everysuburb (more specifically, middle-class New Jersey), kind of like how the Beach Boys conceptualized Southern California back in the '60s - except this album is more consistent than anything the Beach Boys ever released. As such, it requires a summer song, and "It Must Be Summer" - while I've heard its sentiments evoked a thousand times before - still makes me want to head to the beach (even if paradoxically, leader Chris Collingwood sings that he doesn't want to lie in the sand).

"Go Hippie," sounds like the type of thing Oasis would write if they had more talent, with its swirling late 60's melody and flanged guitars providing an ironic counterpoint to lyrics making fun of the hippie protagonist. Similarly, "Lost in Space" out-Weezers Weezer; "Amity Gardens" and "A Fine Day for a Parade" are suburban slice-of-daily-life sketches that make me quaintly sad, like an American Ray Davies or a modern-day Simon & Garfunkel; "Troubled Times" proves once again that breaking up is hard to do; and "Red Dragon Tattoo" gets attached to your skin much like the subject of the song.

The album lapses only in two spots. "Hat and Feet" is wispy and slight, while "Laser Show" is actively annoying and the album's only truly bad song. A pop masterpiece? Yeah. It makes me imagine I'm cruising the parking lot at the mall back in the States, one hand on the radio dial, another on my foot-long chili dog, thinking about girls, illicit substances, and .38 Special CDs.

by Reviewer: Creative Noise

Posted: Friday 18th Apr 2014 3:13 PM