Stray

Houdini

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1976's Houdini found Stray in recovery mode from the record company and personnel change woes that had afflicted the previous year's uneven Stand Up and Be Counted album -- one of the few occasions in their career when the enduring London outfit could be accused of playing it relatively safe, in what seemed like a conscious attempt to chart a single at radio. Not that they were about to risk the same level of almost reckless creative adventure that had both thrilled and confused the punters who'd purchased their first four albums, but anthemic Houdini tracks like the title song, "Fire and Glass," and "Give a Little Bit" nevertheless showed a confident resumption of the gritty guitar work that had underpinned most of Stray's best efforts past. This reenergized sense of purpose within the group paid additional dividends in the shape of opener "Feel Like I've Been Here Before," which seemed to foreshadow the Police with its stark, persistent chorus; "Take It Easy," with its fluid Southern rock-flavored melodies; and the darkly funky "Percy the Pimp," which may or not have been a knockoff of Thin Lizzy's "Johnny the Fox (Meets Jimmy the Weed)." In light of all this high-quality stuff, a trio of workmanlike boogies ("Everybody's Song," "Didn't We Love," and "Gonna Have a Party") weren't enough to derail the band's momentum, and even the sore-thumb disco exercise of "Wait Another Day" felt more amusing than offensive in the end. All things considered, the balance of these efforts helped make Houdini the last Stray album to show some hope of a turnaround in their slowly diminishing career prospects; but that was simply not meant to be, unfortunately.

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