Vanilla Fudge

Mystery

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Quiet Riot's producer gives Vanilla Fudge -- whom producer Shadow Morton discovered in the late '60s -- a "bang your head" onslaught of big hair drums, compressed guitar, and tired homogenization. The fun psychedelic distortion of Vinny Martell is totally stripped away -- he is relegated to rhythm guitar on one song and backing vocals on three. That is a total travesty. It is one thing to have the leader of Beck, Bogert & Appice, one Jeff Beck, funk up "My World Is Empty," even under the disguise of J. Toad (shades of George Harrison in his L'Angelo Mysterioso garb), but this version of the Supremes is so far removed from what made Vanilla Fudge so special that, really, it should be included as a bonus track on a reissue of the 1973 Epic debut Beck, Bogert & Appice. One Ron Mancuso is listed under Martell in the credits, but he is the hip guitarist recruited for this calculated disc to replace Martell. His name might be in small print, but his sound is what is splashed all over this veteran group's comeback attempt. Proffer takes the once angelic voices and puts them through his machinery to come up with something that could be Patty Smyth's Scandal or even 38 Special. Clearly, this wasn't an attempt at former glories, but a stab at reinventing the band instead of putting their trademark arrangements on familiar tunes. This is everything fans of '60s music hate about the '80s. Whether it is the first track, "Golden Age Dreams," or the decent cover of Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By," or the song that took seven writers to compose, "Don't Stop Now," the drumbeat is incessant and is more Quiet Riot than Fudge. The worst track is probably "Hot Blood," which is Scott Sheets, Mark Stein, and Carmine Appice totally ripping off the chorus of Foreigner's 1978 hit "Hot Blooded." You can rest assured they would've been sued if this album sold, but where the covers are amusing, and some of the originals show sparks of ingenuity, "Hot Blood" is so bad that most bar bands would balk before sending it to an A&R man. That this was released on Foreigner's own label is even more appalling. The song that follows, "The Stranger," thankfully does not cop Billy Joel's riffs -- it is interesting because of the use of Vanilla Fudge's slow pace combined with metal of the day. Had the band gone totally heavy metal with this, perhaps taking a Black Sabbath signature tune like "Paranoid" and making it sound like their second Top 40 hit, the eternal "Take Me for a Little While," much of this could be excused. But "The Stranger"'s early promise quickly descends into a parody that makes it sound like a Spinal Tap outtake. For musicians who launched Cactus and who could lure Jeff Beck into this quagmire (maybe the reason he goes incognito here is for artistic rather than contractual reasons), it sure sounds like they took Ahmet Ertegun's money and ran. "Golden Age Dreams" is a clone of Loverboy's 1981 hit sound for "Turn Me Loose." So this new incarnation of Vanilla Fudge turned to imitating what was current rather than putting a refreshing stamp and change on contemporary records. What the original Fudge and Shadow Morton would've have done was take Fabian's 1959 hit, Turn Me Loose, and have it melt into an eight-minute-plus saga that contorts until it has a re-birth as a slowed down version of the Loverboy title. Someone should re-release this on CD with the Vinny Martell demos from this period. His demo tapes have a charm and sparkle that is absent on this disc. "Jealousy" might boast Jeff Beck, but it is flavored with the Jefferson Starship's "Jane" and "Find Your Way Back" riffs. Their success with this venture would have been assured had they given the Starship tune "Jane" that original Vanilla Fudge treatment, performed it at the pace of the title track here, "Mystery," and let Marty Balin sing the lead. Balin was practicing "Jane" before he jumped ship from the Starship -- it would have been a coup, and could have made all the difference in the world. It would have been a relief from the labor that listening to the track "It Gets Stronger" is. Nothing on early Vanilla Fudge is as difficult as this experiment.

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