The Austin Chronicle

Record Reviews

Reviewed by Ken Lieck, July 13, 2001, Music

Blue Öyster Cult

Secret Treaties (Columbia/Legacy), Agents of Fortune (Columbia/Legacy)

A New York band trying to follow in the bootsteps of British metallers like Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult bore one very significant difference. Where most metal bands were far removed from the critics' community, if not actively at war with them, BÖC was always "in" with the music journos, even to the point of having direct involvement in the playing and songwriting departments from the likes of Richard Meltzer from Crawdaddy magazine (BÖC svengali Sandy Pearlman was also a contributor), Jim "The Basketball Diaries" Carroll, and later on, sword and sorcery king Michael "Elric of Melnibone" Moorcock. The result was a band that was far more intellectual than any other in the metal world, yet which drew in headbangers and boasted an unprecedented radio success to boot. Their 1972 debut remains their leanest and meanest, with bizarro song titles like "She's as Beautiful as a Foot" and "I'm on the Lamb but I Ain't No Sheep" rivaled only by those of UK grinders Budgie ("Napoleon Bona Parts I & II," "Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman"). "On the Lamb," to further confuse, was an ode to the Canadian Mounted Police, of all things, and on the band's tighter, catchier follow-up, Tyranny and Mutation, they added insult to injury by changing the melody but keeping the same lyrics for the superior "The Red and the Black." This was no stodgy rock band, this was a coterie of madmen with an overriding sense of art and humor. BÖC never mustered the rock & roll fury of a Sabbath or a Deep Purple, but as power balladeers with an edge, they had few rivals, especially once they softened their bite to get their tongue that much further in cheek with Agents of Fortune. Hits like "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" hold up as classic rock standards today, combining tears and fears with surgical precision, and all the reissues herein sport better bonus tracks than usually associated with such projects. Blue Öyster Cult supplies four demos from the band's first attempt at signing under the name "Soft White Underbelly." Tyranny and Mutation carries three prime live versions of faves from the first two LPs, plus the studio version of concert showstopper "Buck's Boogie." Secret Treaties, besides finding the band shifting into their smoother phase, carries three tracks recorded for the original vinyl, including the Stranglers-esque "Mother," plus the "clean" single version of "Career of Evil" and B-side "Born to Be Wild." The mellower Agents of Fortune brings amazing "new" tracks into the mix, with the Lanier/Carroll-penned "Dance the Night Away" (previously released in a Jim Carroll solo version), the original demo of "Fire of Unknown Origin," the unreleased "Sally," and finally, the original demo of "The Reaper." If the band's sense of wit and humor still remains in question, take note: With a wink toward SNL, the liner notes refer to this track as the "no cowbell" version!

(Blue Öyster Cult; Secret Treaties) ***

(Tyranny and Mutation; Agents of Fortune) **** 

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