Blue Öyster Cult
Complete catalogs trump career overviews
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 14, 2012
Blue Öyster CultThe Columbia Albums Collection (Sony Legacy)
At the wane of CDs – in these latter stages of the album era – the digital paradigm fulfills its new millennial covenant with Blue Öyster Cult's 17-disc The Columbia Albums Collection. Pity its all-under-one-roof aesthetic didn't survive the fall of major labels. In 1980, as Albert Bouchard's coldcocking compression yell ("onetwotreefawh!") opens Extraterrestrial Live two years later with "Dominance and Submission," Poughkeepsie, N.Y., erupts into a radioactive hell storm of guitars and tectonic rhythms. Classic rock? A King Biscuit Flower Hour audience's rabid call ("dominance!") and frontman Eric Bloom's crackling response ("submission") throttles full-bore punk rock. No accident that at the nexus of Iggy Pop – from whose "1970" they misheard their name – and Blue Öyster Cult arises first-wave Aussie punks Radio Birdman and 1977 LP Radios Appear, titled for "Dominance and Submission" lyric "warpage in my figures, radios appear." Patti Smith's initial foray into song spellcasting arcs from second BÖC scripture, 1973's Tyranny and Mutation, to The Revölution by Night a decade later and her co-write of the New York quintet's penultimate chart single, "Shooting Shark." Secret Treaties leads with Smith and drummer/composer/arranger Bouchard's sinisterly poppy "Career of Evil" on the 1974 air raid's way to "Dominance and Submission" and rocket ride finale "Harvester of Eyes," "Flaming Telepaths," and "Astronomy." From the Doors to the Minutemen, the Öi boys' six degrees of separation from cutting-edge music, literature, and pop-art connects a singular matrix. Starting upstate in the late Sixties, Bouchard encounters fellow imp and guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser their first week at college (revisit epic Music tome "Death Valley Nights," Feb. 16, 2007), dominoing eventually into frontman Bloom, bassist/brother Joe Bouchard, and keyboardist Allen Lanier – later Patti Smith's boyfriend. Gratefully Dead at first, Soft White Underbelly (aka Oaxaca and later Stalk-Forrest Group) cuts an Elektra Records' full-length only posthumously released decades later. Becoming Blue Öyster Cult for manager/Svengali/South by Southwest panelist emeritus Sandy Pearlman's poem of the same name (an alien society shaping mankind) the cabal of singer-songwriters – hard rock's the Band – bows eponymously on Columbia Records in 1972. FM radio standard "Cities on Flame With Rock & Roll," plus future Mike Watt all-star covers "I'm on the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep" and "She's As Beautiful As a Foot," anchor an alternately proto-punk and space rock charge (first responder "Transmaniacon MC" and "Then Came the Last Days of May," respectively). BÖC goes on to release an album a year through 1983's The Revölution by Night, progressing increasingly metallic, operatic. Allying Sony Legacy's 21st century reboot of the first half-dozen or so Cult transmissions, including the label's titanium upgrade of five-star "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" incubator Agents of Fortune, this Complete mother lode of 14 album minis, two rarities discs, and the DVD accompanying 2007's Some Enchanted Evening remasters the remaining catalog. Curse plummeting CD sales undercutting reissues of Mirrors (1979), Cultösaurus Erectus (1980), and Fire of Unknown Origin (1981), here missing the same caliber bonus cuts appended to Agents of Fortune and its near-equal follow-up Spectres, but at least concert bookends On Your Feet or on Your Knees and Extraterrestrial Live receive sonic restoration in joining Radios Appear: The Best of the Broadcasts bonus compendium, and a download card for a quartet of Eighties performances. Better still, while there's no proper lagniappe grafted to Mirrors – that's Willie Nelson sidecar Mickey Raphael harping kerosene on "Dr. Music" – a five-song live extract of the album's core in Berkeley from 1979 on the Rarities disc suffices. Ditto a raw run-through of "Lips in the Hills" from Cultösaurus Erectus, which furthers its predecessor's collaboration with UK sci-fi/fantasy avatar Michael Moorcock on the Sword precursor "Black Blade." Even then, Fire of Unknown Origin, crackling open on the Patti Smith-assisted hearse ride of the title track, plus Roeser's Top 40 "Reaper" match "Burnin' for You," still begs for proper tie-in with its cultish midnight movie inspiration, animated 1981 feature Heavy Metal. Albert Bouchard's bloodthirsty "Vengeance (The Pact)" quotes the film, while his hair-raising "Joan Crawford" could soundtrack Mommie Dearest. Luckily, final Columbia mission Imaginos, adapting Bouchard's Frankenstein-flirting rock opera for a 1988 BÖC reunion (dig Stephen King's previously unreleased intro to a retooled "Astronomy"), finally rejoins its brotherhood. Submit, mortal.