Guitarist Leigh Stephens quit Blue Cheer after touring in support of their second album, Outsideinside, but he may have been amused by the fact it took three men to replace him when the band cut their next LP. There are two different and distinct bands at work on New! Improved! Blue Cheer; on the album's first six tunes, founding members Dickie Peterson (bass and vocals) and Paul Whaley (drums) are joined by Bruce Stephens on guitar and Ralph Burns Kellogg on keyboards, and this lineup bears little musical resemblance to the wildly over-amped power trio that cut Vincebus Eruptum less than two years before. This new edition of Blue Cheer was still strongly influenced by the blues, but the raw physical impact of the band had been significantly buffered, and Bruce Stephens' rootsy guitar work was in a completely different league from the old band's bone-crushing onslaught. The gentle country-rock of "As Long as I Live" and the dynamic, percussive boogie of "When It All Gets Old" would have been inconceivable coming from Blue Cheer Mk. One, and while the notion of comparing them brings to mind that old cliché about apples and oranges, Peterson's vocals do reveal a lot more nuance on these recordings, and Whaley's more tightly controlled drumming gives the band a lean groove they didn't have before. On side two, Blue Cheer return to power trio format with Randy Holden (formerly of the Other Half) on guitar, and while his style is also considerably different from Leigh Stephens', his fondness for overwhelming volume and fierce, extended solos makes his contributions feel a lot more like the group's formative work; Peterson and Whaley also sound a lot more like their old selves here, calling up a thunderous report to match Holden's thick but graceful leads, and if Blue Cheer are a more subtle and artful band with Holden on guitar, his contributions suggest an evolution from the towering proto-metal of Vincebus Eruptum and Outsideinside, rather than the dramatic stylistic departure of the album's first half. Unfortunately, the possibilities suggested by Holden's material went unrealized when he quit the band shortly after making New! Improved! Blue Cheer; with him they might have made another album that, unlike this mixed bag, would have lived up to the boast of the title.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming