Blue Oyster Cult
Columbia JC 35019
Released: October 1977
Chart Peak: #43
Weeks Charted: 14
Certified Gold: 1/19/78
The Blue Oyster Cult has always been plagued by image problems of its own creation. By taking heaving metal to its literary extreme, the Cult made itself an in-joke to intellectual rockers and the consummate heavy-guitar band to the teenage underbelly. If anything gave the Cult a cogent image, it was the group's recorded sound -- dense and spacey with sledgehammer rhythms that sounded as if they were being beamed in from an orbiting satellite. But by the time it recorded its live album, the Cult was in a bind: its popularity had plateaued and its audience was almost exclusively composed of guitar-hungry, get-down kids. Which is cool -- the Cult is nothing if not guitar-heavy, get-down kids -- but ultimately limiting.
It's not surprising then that the two riff rockers on Spectres, the crucial followup to last year's breakthrough, Agents of Fortune, direct themselves toward that heavy-metal paradox. "Godzilla" encapsulates the Cult's stylistic attitude: the conceit of the tune must inevitably be larger than its execution. On its first album, the Cult sang about "Cities on Flame with Rock & Roll," and the theme is the same here: Godzilla rips apart Tokyo with the same monstrous bravado of the riffing guitars that destroyed the kids. In this case, though, the idea is more attractive than the song.
Beyond the forenamed riffers that open each side, the Cult's music is more subtly crafted than ever before, continuing in the sleek, textured vein that provided the highlights of Agents of Fortune. "I Love the Night," which bends the tale of Dracula into a perverse love story, features the dense guitar orchestration of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." "Nosferatu" boasts the same heady complexion, with vocal harmonies and Allen Lanier's rolling piano providing a properly celestial backdrop for the romantic epic. The words are hard to catch -- I'm told it's about another bloodsucker -- but "only a woman can break his spell" sticks out like an Adam's apple.
Lanier's "Searching for Celine," his only composition on the album, is the Cult's best new song. Combining riffing verses with a jet-stream chorus, it also contains the album's ultimate romantic image: "Love is like a gun/And in the hands of someone like you, it kills/But oh, what a thrill!" Its sister song, "Celestial the Queen," one of two songs cowritten by New York rocker Helen Wheels, is another standout, with a seamless rock sound that recalls the Who's Quadrophenia. It is this smooth integration of styles that has allowed the Cult to transform the boogie beast into a more progressive but no less combustible animal.
"Fireworks" boasts all the qualities of the Cult's new approach, combining multiple layers of guitars with harmonic vocal sweetening. The Cult has always prided itself on being a New York band, but it has been the addition of folk-rock vocal harmonies to its already riveting heavy-metal attack that has enabled the group to produce an album as stunningly consistent as Spectres. The band still remains anonymous behind the slick sheen of the recording studio, and the voices, too, eschew personality for the sake of fitting into the cerebral context. But the Cult's creative combination of styles has pioneered a new genre of MOR heavy metal. Hard as nails but as sweet as cream, Spectres shows the Blue Oyster Cult to be the Fleetwood Mac of heavy metal.
- John Milward, Rolling Stone, 12/29/77.
As the Blue Oyster Cult matures, each LP becomes more complex, incorporating various melodic and harmonic interludes as counterpoint to the band's heavy metal basics. The band plays rock as hard as anybody, but moments when an unexpected bit of harmony or a piano interlude breaks in, they shine as brightly as the band's visual laser effects. The band makes an effort at poetic, or at least "heavy," lyrics, though you have to send away 50 cents for a copy of the lyrics sheet. Best cuts: "Nosferatu," "R.U. Ready 2 Rock," "Golden Age Of Leather," "Fireworks."
- Billboard, 1977.
Although Sandy Pearlman used to say the Cult's audience couldn't tolerate any suggestion that the band's laser-and-leathers fooforaw was funny, their parodic side has become progressively more overt. What do today's Cultists think of "Godzilla" ("Oh no there goes Tokyo") or a beerhall intro to "Golden Age of Leather"? I bet some of 'em like laughing at laser-and-leathers, and good. I also bet some of 'em are so zonked they wouldn't get it if John Belushi emceed, and to, er, hell with them. B
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
On the all-important followup to its commercial breakthrough with Agents of Fortune, Blue Oyster Cult introduced some enjoyable additions to its repertoire in "Godzilla" and "R.U. Ready 2 Rock," but did not come up with a song as memorable as "(Don't Fear) the Reaper," despite trying the same formula with "Fireworks" and "Nosferatu." Instead of consolidating its success, the group seemed to be, as one of the better songs had it, "Goin' Through the Motions," seemingly unable to follow through on the pop aspirations of the previous album and unwilling to retreat to the metal pretensions of its early records. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place -- just when Blue Oyster Cult should have been conquering, they seemed ready to retreat. * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Spectres is just as good as Agents of Fortune but funnier, with "Godzilla" and "Golden Age of Leather" a riotous one-two punch and "R.U. Ready to Rock" an anthem. * * * *
- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Main Page | Readers' Favorites | The Classic 500 | Other Seventies Discs | Search The RockSite/The Web