The supposed sonic supremacy of compact discs apparently warps musicians' brains like vinyl LPs in the sun. Case in point: Blue Öyster Cult's Cult Classic. Classic collects new versions of BÖC hits, rerecorded note for note using state-of-the-art digital technology.
Comparing Classic's reheated leftovers with the originals produces a puzzling "Why?" in the listener's mind. As innovators of '70s heavy-metal thunder, BÖC captured their pivotal recordings in full analog glory. While analog recording results in more hiss and noise than its more sanitary electronic counterpart, it creates a warmer, fatter sound that artists from Lenny Kravitz to the Black Crowes continue to emulate. Indeed, Classic suffers from thinner drum and slightly dehydrated guitar sounds.
Still, that doesn't entirely diminish the appeal of these songs. At their best, BÖC create distinctive hard rock that betrays a bitter core, couching perverse, apocalyptic lyrics in deceptively catchy compositions. The band's Top 20 paean to suicide, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," sounds as good as or better than it did in 1976: Its irresistible minor-chord guitar hook sinks its fangs deep into the classic-rock consciousness, and the macabre subject matter makes current retro acts like Spin Doctors appear as tame as Disneyland. (Comprehending their Freedom Rock appeal, BÖC also include "TV mixes" of "Godzilla" and "[Don't Fear] The Reaper" without lead vocals so fans can sing along.) On "Burnin' for You," disembodied choral harmonies and twin guitar leads forge a darkly plaintive arena crunch. Undeniably, however, the "improved" version of "Godzilla" begets nostalgia for the definitive performance on 1978's live Some Enchanted Evening.
As the Brain Surgeons, ex-BÖC drummer Albert Bouchard and his wife, noted rock scribe Deborah Frost, also embrace digital recording, using a DAT machine to assemble their DIY debut Eponymous in their living room. While some of the album's songs were written with former BÖC collaborators Patti Smith and Richard Meltzer, Bouchard and Frost stake out their own musical turf, moving convincingly from the New Wave jangle of "Language of Love" to balls-out rockers like "Time Will Take Care of You."
Eponymous falters on dated '80s electro-funk like "Brain From Terra Incognita" (which isn't helped by Bouchard's near-rap vocalese), and the bass sounds synthetically sterile throughout. The Surgeons better demonstrate their idiosyncrasy on odd cover choices. The weirdo surfabilly of the Del Lords' "I Play the Drums" showcases Bouchard's gruff rasp, and Frost pleasantly toys with sexual ambiguity when she sings, "I told her I was a flop with chicks" on an appealing a cappella rendition of the Clovers' "Love Potion No. 9." Eponymous' revelation turns out to be Frost's voice, a technically proficient yet passionately raw instrument. Moving from virtuoso Robert Plant shrieks to breathy Patti Smith-style confessionals, Frost refutes the old adage that disgruntled musicians hurl at rock critics: "Those who can't do, write."
Eponymous is available from Ripe and Ready, 800-525-4659. (RS 701)
(Posted: Feb 9, 1995)