Agents of Fortune is a startlingly excellent album startling because one does not expect Blue Oyster Cult to sound like this: loud but calm, manic but confident, melodic but rocking. Every song on the first side is commercially accessible without compromising the band's malevolent stance.
One area of clear improvement is in the matter of lyrics; for the first time there is less emphasis on absurd, crypto-intellectual rambling and more of a coherent attack on a variety of subjects. The former had become simply tiresome; the latter opens up whole new areas for Cult investigation. "This Ain't the Summer of Love," for example, is a fresh approach to a subject one would expect to have been exhausted long ago.
The Cult is still loud ("Tattoo Vampire"), still mordant ("[Don't Fear] The Reaper"), still obsessed with their peculiar brand of beery mysticism ("E.T.I. [Extra Terrestrial Intelligence]"). But by dropping the S&M angle and by inserting slivers of genuine rock & roll like "True Confessions," their best song ever, the Cult is easing into maturity with integrity. Agents of Fortune's comparative slickness even serves to enhance their dark image: the ominous villainy conveyed by Buck Dharma's agile guitar lines on "Tenderloin" is far more effective than his heretofore standard thudding meanness.
Blue Oyster Cult has built its career on a series of brutal non sequiturs. Initially, these took the form of a group image of fascist hoodiness and "ugly" music detailed by AWOL rock critics' wordplay. This time, it is Patti Smith's presence, as cowriter of "Debbie Denise" and "The Revenge of Vera Gemini," that provides the Cult with the aleatory motivation to seek success in the burgeoning commercial punk rock sweepstakes. Another central influence is Allen Lanier's increasing importance, here evidenced by his authorship of "True Confessions" and "Morning Final," an ambitious bomb.
In fact, former major-domos Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman seem to be barely keeping the boys in line, let alone under their aesthetic thumbs. Or maybe that's just what they want us to think, since, with David Lewis, they are credited with producing the record. In any event, it works: Agents of Fortune is a very pleasant surprise, its first side containing some of the best rock released thus far this year. (RS 217)
(Posted: Jul 15, 1976)
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