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Wishbone Four album review - Melody Maker, 12 May 1973

It came as something of a surprise last year when Wishbone Ash repeated their newcomers section success of ’71 to scoop the MM Readers Poll award for the Best Album of ’72 with Argus.

 

That album, their third, was good but seemed a track or two short of being really outstanding. Once the first track, ‘Time Was’ ended, side one palled into disappointing, aimless music. Side two, though, was a clear improvement. A four-part conceptual work in which ‘The King Will Come’, ‘Warrior’ and the latter stages of ‘Throw Down the Sword’ overshadowed the rather weak ‘Leaf & Stream’. The album succeeded with such consummate ease through the band’s consistent (in both quality and regularity) live appearances – the vote was one of thanks for playing on stage as well as saying thanks for the album. It was a solid record, no more. So much for Ash’s platform and ballot-box performance of ’72. What of their ’73 manifesto.

 

Four is as sound as its predecessor. It also has a small surprise or two on odd tracks which indicate that it’s been a year since Argus and a lot has happened in that time. Certainly the opening track ‘So Many Things To Say’ doesn’t distil the essence of Four into one song and leave the rest of the set to re-state the same basic themes. ‘Sorrel’ for instance, is deliberately English in a Fairport Convention style while ‘Sing Out The Song’ has an American country lilt.

 

Once again Martin Turner’s lyrics are barely functional and Wishbone’s vocals are not the most expressive in the land – there’s little emotional flair in them, they rely to a large extent on the strength of their choruses and harmonies. Instrumental ability is still their greatest asset – but unlike say, Focus, they’re sensible enough not to over emphasise or bore. Ted Turner and Andy Powell peel off easily flowing guitar lines with a calm assurance and self-confidence of youth. In the past, there has been a definite lack of intensity in their playing – it was stunningly illustrated just after the success of Argus when Carlos Santana released ‘Caravanserai’ which featured the most uplifting guitar passages of the year. McLaughlin too exuded a deep spirituality missing from Ash. Having been perhaps too over-concerned with getting the structure of their music right, honing its form to a fine degree, Ash are now evolving a heart with a warm pulse to beat in the solid body they’ve built. They’re like a model who, having spent her time on facial beauty suddenly decides to do something about her cerebral charms.

 

‘So Many Things To Say’ has all the instrumental flash of old – a sudden, cosmic guitar duo section, some snappy drum fills from Steve Upton, plenty of rich-textured guitar. ‘Ballad of the Beacon’ is, presumably, in praise of the Brecons where, I believe, the band wrote the material for the album. ‘ No Easy Road’ was their first attempt at a single and it’s fairly obvious why it failed. First, their fans are album-buyers, second the single is too “level” – it only excites near the end when the horn section really gets squealing. ‘Everybody Needs a Friend’ – despite lifting from The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’ (that “I’d love to turn you on” line) has a nice sentimental dreamy atmosphere. ‘Doctor’ with its chorus looking back to ‘Time Was’ is pacey and just about survives its idiot lyrics but ‘Sorrel’ is an interesting departure for Ash with Steve doing a fair imitation of Dave Mattacks’ drumming and the band’s vocal taking on an Olde Englande nasal tone. ‘Sing Out The Song’ goes West with Ted Turner taking steel guitar in lap (it hovers between C&W and Hawaiian steel and sounds quite like the Shads ‘Midnight’) until it slips South of the Border and a Mexican flavour creeps in after the vocal. All very eclectic.

 

‘Rock and Roll Widow’ (Upton’s lyrics) is a fairly mediocre and disappointing end to the album featuring slide guitar that’s merely pleasant. Wishbone’s style had always been attractive, perhaps too saccharine. Ash seem well aware of this sugar-coated appeal of theirs, it’s followed through to the album’s packaging. The Cover photo of the boys, their wind-blown hair in carefully barbered disarray looking like an ad for the latest lemon shampoo, would grace the cover of Vogue. Can they really be the Twiggys, Jean Shrimptons and Sasanne Neves of rock?

 

G.B.