180 Vinyl Reissues: 'Nazareth', 'Exercises', 'Close Enough For Rock n' Roll', 'No Mean City', 'Malice In Wonderland', 'The Fool Circle', '2XS', 'Sound Elixir, 'The Catch', 'Cinema', 'Snakes n' Ladders'
(Back On Black)
Fewer bands epitomise classic British rock more than Scottish legends Nazareth, and 45 years after their formation Back On Black continue their reissue campaign on heavy duty vinyl and in equally heavy duty packaging.
And while I'll be reviewing the original music – the sound on these LPs is superb – warm, clear, perfect. The masters are those used for the most recent Union Square CD issues, and the expanded artwork includes sleevenotes inside the gatefold. Many of these also credit yours truly for information and artwork supplied for those CD issues.
Born from the ashes of (largely a covers band) The Shadettes, Nazareth's 1971 eponymous debut showcased the band's blues/rock influences, with Manny Charlton's guitar and Dan McCafferty's gravelly vocals. While the band were a couple of years off being the solid monster everyone know, and there's an obvious lack of direction here, there are still some damn fine tracks. You can't argue with 'Witchdoctor Woman' or 'Red Light Lady', while the upbeat (almost funky) boogie of 'Dear John' (their first single) and the cover of 'Morning Dew' do stand out.
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1972s 'Exercises' featured production from Roy Thomas Baker and while it keeps the same influences as the debut there are many acoustic and orchestral arrangements. There is however the original version of the rough rockin' and bluesy 'Woke Up This Morning'.
Jump forward to 1976 and after a steady stream of hits around the world, 'Close Enough For Rock n' Roll' (a guitarist's line about less than perfect tuning) opens with the classic (and epic) 'Telegram' – a track that would open shows for years to come. It's a hard driving number that sees the rhythm section of drummer Darrell Sweet and bassist Pete Agnew complete the McCafferty/Charlton lead perfectly. A strong album with many a good moments – 'Vancouver Shakedown' will grab you, but 'Telegram' does more than enough to make the album worth a place in your collection.
Another jump to 1979 and Nazareth expanded to a five-piece with the addition of Glaswegian and former Alex Harvey guitarist Zal Cleminson. Now, let's not mess about with 'No Mean City'; it is without a doubt a sonic and visual orgasm, and just as essential as 'Razamanaz'.
Illustrated by Rodney Matthews, it benefits most from the gatefold sleeve and the blue vinyl matches the art. This album grabs you by the throat and bangs your head for you – and that's before you've even stuck it on the turntable.
Guitarist Manny Charlton admitted he got a kick up the arse from Zal joining the band; the album is the band's most Metal affair (while keeping their roots) and mixes power and melody equally. Even the acoustic tinged 'May The Sunshine' is a superb number, and the melodic 'Whatever You Want Babe' is catchy. But the title track stands head and shoulders above everything; taking its name from a book about the 1920 Glaswegian underworld and razor gangs, it's an all out sonic (and lyrical) assault – thunderous from all five members.
The following year's 'Malice In Wonderland', keeping the same line-up, was a little more melodic, the first sign of the American radio years to come. That said, opener 'Holiday' is catchy, and 'Talkin' To One Of The Boys' features some neat guitar work and vocal harmonies. 'Big Boy' is a track Cleminson had written while still with Alex Harvey.
1981s 'The Fool Circle' saw Nazareth back to a four piece with Zal moving on, although he does appear on the live version of 'Cocaine', and the album does feature pianist John Locke before he fully joined the band. This album was Nazareth's closest to a concept set, with many song nodding to the then cold war.
Opener 'Dressed To Kill' saw both smooth guitar and vocals, an uptempo track with some strong piano adding a punch. A second disc adds six bonus tracks – the first being 'Crazy (A Suitable Case For Treatment)' which was, along with a reworked 'Morning Dew', the first song the band recorded as the six piece (John Lock and guitarist Billy Rankin) that recorded the later 'Snaz' live set.
Also included is 'Morgentau', a remixed Morning Dew with German lyrics, and there's four live tracks recorded on the previous tour.
1982s '2XS' was the only full studio album from the six piece and was far more polished than the 70s albums. The songwriting was, however, as strong as ever and this album can't be ignored. From the outset 'Love Leads To Madness' is a melodic and well produced track. 'Boys In The Band' is the stand out rocker, ballsy and blistering from all six members – this did for Nazareth in the 80s what 'Razamanaz' did in the 70s. That, and the ballad 'Dream On' (a Billy Rankin track written in 1979) make the album an important part of the catalogue.
1983s 'Sound Elixir' did not get an original UK release and despite label and internal problems the tracks are still good – even though it pales to previous albums. Now a five piece, 'Local Still' and 'All Nite Radio' rock and stand out – seeing Charlton and Rankin work well together.
'The Catch', released in 1984, saw Nazareth back to the original four piece and again some solid tracks – including 'Sweetheart Tree', 'Party Down' and a more than decent cover of the Rolling Stones' 'Ruby Tuesday'. A good album – but it does come over as if Nazareth were having trouble reconciling themselves mid the mid 80s. Another excellent package though, with some bonus tracks on the second disc. The first, 'Do You Think About It', is stronger than some of the album tracks.
Again Nazareth were without a UK record deal but 1986s 'Cinema' is quite a strong album – OK many would argue it's far from Nazareth, but the title track, 'A Veteran's Song', 'Salty Salty' and 'White Boy' (the latter covered when Manny Charlton went solo) feature solid performances and songwriting – even if in a radio friendly vein.
The last set of this bunch, 1989s 'Snakes n' Ladders', is musically Nazareth's nadir – as all four members have at different times admitted to me. I won't go in to the politics but fair to say that friction between the band, and with the producer and label, the use of programming, outside writers, all (to varying degrees) led to a disjointed album and subsequently founder member, guitarist and songwriter Manny Charlton leaving the band.
'Animals' and 'Donna Get Off That Crack' are amongst those that are good songs in their own right, but they don't deserve the Nazareth label. The cover of 'Piece Of My Heart' was brave but worthy, while the non album single 'Winner On The Night' was regularly voted worst Nazareth track during my twelve plus years as Nazareth's fanclub editor. This is, however, probably the nicest package of the lot, a lovely purple vinyl with bonus tracks (including two live b-sides) on the second disc.
While the music was varied over certain periods, a lot more better than worse – there is more than plenty classic Nazareth here, and the packaging and mastering are wonderful. Some of the original CD sleevenotes are used here, and the heavyweight vinyl and sleeves really do the albums and sound quality justice.
Nazareth (LP, white vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 3/5
Exercises (LP, clear vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 3/5
Close Enough For Rock'n'roll (LP, grey vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 3.5/5
No Mean City (LP, blue vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 5/5
Malice In Wonderland (LP, white vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 4/5
The Fool Circle (2LP, green vinyl, gatefold sleeve, extra tracks) 3.5/5
2XS (LP, red vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 4/5
Sound Elixir (LP, orange vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 3/5
The Catch (2LP, red vinyl, gatefold sleeve, extra tracks) 3.5/5
Cinema (LP, clear vinyl, gatefold sleeve) 3/5
Snakes‘n'Ladders (2LP, purple vinyl, gatefold sleeve, extra tracks) 2/5