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New England album review - NME, October 1976 by Phil McNeil

A Sort of Monastic Quality

 

First time I saw Wishbone Ash I thought I was hallucinating.  Tow superb guitarists!  It was a major step forward in the history of mankind.

Second time was Christmas Eve in a converted Nissen hut and we skipped home through the snow hollering that amazing ‘Phoenix’ riff the whole three miles.

 

I bought the first LP straight after, then forgot about them,; like all innovations, their dual guitar line-up became an accursed standard; they got medieval on Argus – a unique sound, but hardly exciting and bugged by the dumbest words ever commited to record; and to cap it all, Ted Turner, the one with soul, left the band in ’74.

 

I went to see them at Hammersmith last week and, slightly to my surprise, found them excellent.

 

Still squeaky clean, but it’s refreshing today not to be harangued non-stop and to hear everything so clearly and to encounter efficient stage management and lighting and not to be subjected to bodily as well as facial contortions.

 

I take Andy Gill’s point in his recent live review about their stiltedness; sure, it’s clinical, mathematical rifferama.  But Ash music does have a cold sort of beauty in its simplicity, it has a monastic quality few rockers achieve (not that many try), and they are the best drilled squad in the biz.

 

Wishbone Ash are incapable of playing bum notes.  The final proof is to see them play ‘Outward Bound’, the instrumental which opens the second side of this album.    

 

High speed precision riffs follow one another in dazzling succession, and when they introduce a burble of taped electronics halfway through, you catch yourself wondering if maybe the entire number’s on tape; such accuracy is inhuman.

 

They do most of the record live, which I guess is a fair test of its strength.

 

The measured Olde Englishness is still there in places, notably on ‘When You Know Love’, which wouldn’t be out of place on Argus. 

 

The prime innovation comes in Laurie Wisefield’s solo, where he’s less inclined than Ted Turner to build up in geometric progressions and indulges his slightly discomforting penchant for notes which slide down several semi-tones like an electrocuted seagull.

 

Wisefield’s not such a pure player as Turner, and maybe that’s influenced their move towards minor and major sevenths on the slowies and noise on the quickies.

 

Thus ‘Lonely Island’ drifts about as vapidly as the title might suggest and ‘Mother Of Pearl’ is little more than its considerable brute force.

Best tracks are probably ‘(In All Of My Dreams) You Rescue Me’, a reverbed creampuff with weird, gawky guitar – sliding notes again – intruding out of a meticulous plan thinly disguised as nowhere; the heavy metalloid ‘Runaway’ (based around one of Jimi’s fave flash chords); the instrumental ‘Outward Bound’; and ‘Lorelei’, mid-temp lilting with the sort of soppy, romantic singing that Martin Turner’s actually pretty good at, neat guitar hook, and inventive axe work from Wisefield that nicks phrases from Hendrix and Garcia as well as some quite ambitious stuff of his own.

 

In other words, it’s all very shallow and very attractive and…howsabout that then I seem to have given a Wishbone album a good review.