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Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory  Hear it Now

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Shootout at the Fantasy Factory does not amount to the all-out, knock-down space trip that the title intimates. Rather it embodies the inconsistencies that beset the band as well as the high points that have kept Traffic moving. Shootout doesn't surprise or stun you, nor does it leave you empty. The title song itself, leading off side one, is an example of the ambivalence. It's a medium rocker, lit by Kwaku Baah's conga rhythm and Winwood's efficient guitar solo. It's always good to hear Winwood sing, although his vocal here is barely distinguishable—it's the old maxim that you leave a lot to the listener's imagination if you let him guess at the words, it adds to the fantasm. But it's almost as if the song has no beginning, middle or end though Winwood's production has everything even-tempered throughout: the sound is too uniform, too unruffled.

"Roll Right Stones" is another myth tune. The lyrics don't really tell you anything literally; Winwood lets you make inferences by yourself. He does sing, though, that "death awaits, with pearly gates, for those who have been mesmerized." Strangely enough, the song itself is mesmerizing. The chorus breaks loose from the staid rhythm, there's a plateau of piano, organ and sax that's fine, but then it's back to teasing, though with finesse. Winwood's vocal is fine—if you didn't know that he's capable of cooking while here he's only kindling. Just when things should break towards the end you're tantalized with some background fuzz guitar and one or two sax notes.

The disappointing thing is that there's no one instrument playing strongly against the rather methodical rhythm. The themes are there, but not the variations. Ronnie Hawkins and David Hood seem to disappear into the low-keyed texture. In fact, the whole first side is bridled in subtle restraint. Why sing about fantasy if you're not going to expand the motif with your playing?

Some of this problem is alleviated on side two. "Evening Blue" is a fine ballad, the kind Winwood has known his way around since "No Face, No Name, No Number" of the first album, through "Can't Find My Way Home" and "Every Mother's Son" on Barleycorn. There's a wonderful, soothing touch to this song. Chris Wood has a keen, well-phrased solo against Winwood's organ. Steve's vocal is good, again, but unnecessarily inhibited, and sometimes a bit amateurishly inflected. Winwood just doesn't stretch the way he used to. Still, the song's a pleasure because the arrangement is simple and straightforward.

Chris Wood's "Tragic Magic" follows, starting off fine, but Wood blows the chance to improvise so that the melody, otherwise well done, hurts for ideas and becomes perfunctory like the songs of side one. Still, Wood staggers the rhythm changes so that time doesn't hang on the song.

"Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired" is Winwood's direct approach to the mythical deficiency. The lyrics are depressingly sung at first, almost sighed. But then the song builds gradually, flowing right through a fine Claptonesque guitar solo, and actually turning into a happy tune. There's life here, sharp breaks, conflict, not oblique hinting. The themes are firm and strong and Winwood sings best when he's singing with a will.

It's all very soothing, not really an album you want to flip halfway through. You won't rave about it or get your mind fantastically blown, but you won't really dislike it. If, as Webster says, fantasy means free play of the creative imagination, then what we have here is a case of imagination sans free play. Perhaps because Traffic has worn out fantasy as a viable myth; perhaps the production is too placid; perhaps Mason's direction is lacking. Perhaps, as has been noted already, it's simply a matter of musical diffusion with the sound sequestered in technical subtleties, some that come across forcefully, others that do not.


(Posted: Mar 15, 1973)


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