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Blue
R.S.O. SO 873
Released: September 1973

Some of the best recordings by the new generation of song-based groups have dealt overtly with Beatles music, the idea being that if you can't ignore it, you might as well revel in it. This unashamedly idolatrous approach -- which is never limited by mere mimicry and utilizes more sources that just the Beatles -- has inspired immensely playable albums by such artists as (in roughly chronological order): Nilsson, Badfinger, Emitt Rhodes, Raspberries, Stories, Big Star and Stealers Wheel. Blue, an English trio (now a quartet) is the latest group to pursue this course.

Given my preference for the concise rock song form, Blue (with its dozen quick, catchy tunes) is the kind of record I can't get enough of. In performance and production, the group shows its understanding of the keys to getting a Beatles-style pop sound: simple, crisp instrumental work, close, natural-sounding vocals, an emphasis on recording on the highs (especially the vocals) and the use of subtle embellishments, like harmonica, accordion and tambourine. Blue adheres to this approach most religiously in the three songs by bass player Ian MacMillan.

Blue - Blue
Original album advertising art.
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On his "Look Around," a hot rock & roller, MacMillan's vocal similarity to Lennon is enhanced by double-tracking, a healthy treble boost and echo; the total effect is startlingly familiar and memorable. With its deliberate pace, snarling guitars and aggressive drumming, the track closely resembles the tough sound of "Hey, Bulldog" or the hard rock on the white album. MacMillan's other two, "The Way Things Are" and "Let Me Know," are dusky and intimate in the way that John's Rubber Soul ballads were. Although every band I mentioned can closely duplicate the style of middle-period Beatles, only Blue (at least on MacMillan's songs) and Stealers Wheel have directed themselves toward evoking the mood of that music. And Blue have succeeded, although not quite as dramatically as the other group.

Hugh Nicholson, who plays all the guitars and keyboards, wrote eight of the nine remaining songs. He's partial both to the Beatles and to the equally bright but more contemporary styles of Southern California groups like Poco and the Eagles. He also tries a Bee Gees-type production number and a neo-calypso tune, but he's most effective when he stays close to his chief influences. "Little Jody" (the single) and "Sitting on a Fence" are nice, unassuming rockers, and "Sunshine or Falling Rain" is as pretty as it is brief. But Nicholson's best song, and the only one to fully measure up to MacMillan's tunes, is the opener, "Red Light Song." It's a message tune but Blue gives it an irresistibly catchy chorus, dense with multi-tracked harmonies.

Now that guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (originally with Thunderclap Newman) has joined them, Blue is in a better position to correct the main deficiency of their first album, a disproportionate amount of prettiness to energy. In the absence of any deep emotional or intellectual stimulation, a visceral jolt now and then can be helpful.

So far, only Stealers Wheel have seriously attempted to push the rock song past the point at which the Beatles abandoned it in 1967. Blue, especially when led by Ian MacMillan, seems eager and nearly ready to meet that challenge. They are a group to keep track of.

- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 11/8/73.

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