It took a quarter century for Rock Follies to get reissued on CD, which is amazing, considering that it was not only a number one charting album in England in 1976 (supplanting a Led Zeppelin album, no less), but actually entered the U.K. charts at number one, and sold enough to generate a follow-up LP. Hearing it anew nearly 30 years after its original release is a strange experience -- the novelty of an all-woman rock & roll band is, of course, long gone, courtesy of the Bangles, the Pandoras et al (and even in 1976, there was the precedent of Fanny); and it wasn't even that much of a novelty in 1976 except for the fact that the group had such a superb production pedigree, with Roxy Music's Andy Mackay calling the shots musically. For those who don't remember or weren't around, Rock Follies started life as a British television musical drama, about three women who form a band called the "Little Ladies," and the travails and humiliations they endure and the triumph that they enjoy in the course of pursuing success -- the novelty at the time, beyond the casting of first-rate talent, including Julie Covington, Rula Lenska, and Charlotte Cornwell, was that songs programmed into the drama and sung by the trio referred to their emotional and interior lives -- like a real, old-fashioned musical, except this was rock music -- and the music was first-rate or better, courtesy of Mackay. The results today seem astonishingly good -- about seven-eighths of the album is still golden, starting with the opening track, the wryly cynical yet gorgeously harmonized "Sugar Mountain." The pounding "Good Behaviour," the lyrical "Lamplight," and the viscerally impassioned "The Road" aren't far behind, and "Glenn Miller Is Missing" is perhaps the most interesting song here, mixing elements of blues, girl group harmony, and some solid rock playing (especially Tony Stevens on the bass), along with a reed solo by Mackay that's worth the price of admission. It's difficult to imagine that one could do better than that track, but then along comes the gorgeous "Biba Nova," which is pretty enough to be a record by the Roches, so lovely that one wants to float away with the ethereal singing and the lyrical playing, and then comes the hard rock bridge with the instruments right in your face played hard and loud, and that leads to -- a ravishing violin solo by Robin Williams (why does one get the feeling that Kate Bush wore out a copy or two of this album as a teenager?). The album reasserts some solid hard rock credentials with "Taking Pictures," detailing the sleezy side of the music (and movie) business amid some nicely crunchy guitar (by Ray Russell); the related song "Hot Neon" is almost operatic by comparison. And "Roller Coaster" is a straight-ahead, quick-tempo rock & roll number, with a great (but brief) sax solo from Mackay, all leading to the title track, a bittersweet mid-tempo summation of the series' mood with some elegant synthesizer playing and tasteful string accompaniment over the trio's gorgeous vocals. Brian Chatton's keyboards are a treat throughout, and fans of good bass playing will want the CD reissue of this record for the way it throws Stevens' bass out in front of the mix; this is ballsy pop/rock, with a live feel a good part of the time, and that's a serious achievement for music generated in this context. And Cornwell, Covington, and Lenska are three voices worth hearing as much in 2005 as they were in 1976 -- and maybe even more so -- the CD comes with a bonus track, "War Bride," done in the style of the Andrews Sisters, that offers a special irony amid the British and American occupation of Iraq.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder