Blue Öyster Cult: Imaginos
This is my first review by request.
Blue Öyster Cult released a string of great albums in the ’70s, with the crowning achievement being “Secret Treaties” in 1974. Unfortunately, like so many of their contemporaries, the 80’s left a lot to be desired. The band hadn’t released a really good album since “Spectres,” (contrary to popular opinion, I always thought “Fire of Unknown Origin” was just okay on the whole). By 1989 the lineup was in a constant state of flux, and the contract with Columbia records was about to expire. So, what is left for a band at the bottom end of the slide from popularity? In this case, it was to finally record the grand concept that had been floating around, and occasionally coming to light, since the band’s earliest origins.
There are various stories as to how this all actually came to be. Obviously, the roots of “Imaginos” did go much further back in the band’s history. There are even two reworked versions of songs that appeared on “Secret Treaties.” This alone adds credibility to the project. However, there seems to be a bit of debate as to whether this is really a BÖC album, or more of an Albert Bouchard solo project. The conflicting opinion is compounded by the appearance of such luminaries as Aldo Nova, Joe Satriani, and even Robbie Krieger as session men. Well, there are plenty of places to read about the making of the album, but I want to discuss the music. It was released under the band’s name, and sounds more like the real Blue Öyster Cult to me than anything they had released in that particular decade.
As I often find the need in many of my reviews, I must clarify that previous statement (it’s that whole stream of consciousness thing). Just because it sounded more like the old style, does not mean simple regression. As before, the music is more complex, dark, and contains that mystic menace. Nevertheless, time does have its effect. The maturity shows through, and brings forth a much more finely tuned and honed product. It also helped that studio technology had vastly improved from the old days. There was also a danger in that for this time period. Many things of the era were overproduced, and too slick. Luckily by 1989 people were beginning to tire of that particular approach. “Imaginos” does come close at times, but the raw energy is never washed out. People have also debated whether or not Blue Öyster Cult should be considered in the realm of prog. This was due to their more bombastic work in the ’70s. Let me tell you, “Imaginos” is the most progressive thing to sport the mighty oyster umlauts.
There is supposed to be some kind of story, but I doubt I could have figured it out just by listening to the album. I won’t go into it because, a) you can read it on your own, b) it isn’t a necessity for enjoyment of the music, and c) in all honesty I don’t think it works.
What is really satisfying is the return of clarity of purpose. Gone is the homogenous rock of more recent outings. “I Am the One You Warned Me Of ” blasts right out and takes charge. There is no mistaking the source. It’s a solid opener, and enough to peak your curiosity. Thankfully, that interest is rewarded. I also think it was a good idea to not go too big right in the beginning, and reveal more as the album unfolds.
“Les Invisibles” is another solid number, but it is “In the Presence of Another World” where things get really interesting. It’s full-blown BÖC, a la prog. This is probably the most artistic piece they had done since “The Golden Age of Leather” (and then some). Even if you just want to hear them rocking, you won’t be disappointed.
For the fun of it, there is “Del Rio’s Song.” Hey, catchy rockers were always one of the band’s strengths too, so why not?
While “The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wesseria” does not sound unlike Blue Öyster Cult, there are many aspects that are foreign. Compositionally it’s right on track, but Joe Cerisano’s lead vocal took me by surprise right away (at first I thought it might be Dio). Coupled with Satriani’s guitar, this number has a decidedly full metal bent. A sign of the times, yes, but it works extremely well.
“Magna of Illusion” is another solid piece, and adds some Narrative to the ‘story,’ but is overshadowed by its bookends. “Astronomy” could easily be picked out as one of the reworked songs from “Secret Treaties” by the title, but no so much from just hearing it. It took me a minute until I realized I knew the lyrics. I do prefer the original, but this version is very cool. It also fits much better with the rest of “Imaginos” than an unchanged arrangement would have. Even more difficult to spot is “Blue Oyster Cult.” It is essentially “Subhuman,” but almost unrecognizable as such, even with the lyrics. This reinterpretation is absolutely outstanding. “Subhuman” has always been one of my favorites, but I can’t even say which I like more because they are so different. For the most part I think classics should be left alone, but here are a couple of those rare cases where it was the right idea.
“Imaginos” is a perplexing closer. I just don’t know what to make of it. It’s jazzy, and actually a bit funky. Not a bad track, and I like the fact they tried something different, but it doesn’t really fit. The song might be more forgivable if renamed and placed in the middle of the album. However, closing with a title track that bears little resemblance to the musical experience you have just been through was just a bad move.
This is probably the last really good Blue Öyster Cult album. Some of the lingering ’80s trends (production, metal of the time) keep it from being great. I could probably even overlook those aspects and raise it up a notch if I clipped the title track off. The fact remains that the album is as it is, and not the masterwork that was probably intended. Don’t take that as condemnation, just as honest assessment. There is a lot of great stuff here. Love the classics, skip the mediocrity, and add “Imaginos” to your collection.
Eric Bloom – vocals
Albert Bouchard – guitar, percussion, vocals
Joe Bouchard – keyboard, vocals
Allen Lanier – keyboards
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser – guitars, vocals
Kenny Aaronson – bass; Thommy Price – drums; Jack Secret – additional vocals; Tommy Moringiello – guitars; Jack Rigg -guitars; Tommy Zvoncheck – keyboards; Shocking U – backing vocals (track 3); Joe Cerisano – lead vocal (track 5); Jon Rogers – lead vocal (track 9); Daniel Levitin – guitar, additional backing vocals; Marc Biederman – guitar; Kevin Carlson – guitar; Robby Krieger -lead guitar (tracks 7 & 8); Aldo Nova – guitar; Joe Satriani – lead guitar (track 5)
Many thanks to my dear friend Raffaella for the suggestion.