Blue Öyster Cult – The AOR Years

Music while I work today has been something of a Blue Öyster Cult-a-thon. I’ve been a fan of the band since I heard the live version of “Astronomy” at college many years ago, long before I discovered the likes of Mostly Autumn or Panic Room; indeed it was a chance encounter following a Blue Öyster Cult gig that made me a Mostly Autumn fan. But that’s another story.

Rather than their classic run of albums from the early to mid 70s, which might have been too engrossing and distracting, it’s been their later work; four consecutive albums from their AOR years beginning with 1979′s “Mirrors”. This is music that’s been part of my life for decades, and those familiar songs seeped into my consciousness as I did battle with gnomic XML interface errors and exchanged emails with colleagues over what was causing them.

These were the four.

MirrorsMirrors is one of those albums that still divides fans’ and critics’ opinions decades after it’s release. It was widely hated on its release; there had always been a lighter, poppier side to the bands’ music balancing out the heavy guitars and dark mysticism, but this was the one time they did an entire album in that vein. But taken as its own thing and approached on its own terms, it’s actually very good, and even the most commercial-sounding songs have a hint of darkness about them. The atmospheric epic “The Vigil” remains one of the band’s best songs. The only one that fails is “You’re Not The One I Was Looking For”, a strong candidate for the worst song they ever recorded, not just cheesy, but sounds like old cheese that’s been left out too long in the sun.

Cultaaurus ErectusThose who were underwhelmed by Mirrors hailed Cultosaurus Erectus, produced by Martin Birch of Deep Purple fame, as a return to form. It managed to keep a foot in both camps, with material in a similar vein as its predecessor balanced out with plenty of far heavier songs. One thing I’d never noticed before is the way a section of “Monsters” is a direct lift from “21st Century Schizoid Man”, many years before Kanye West sampled it. It’s probably the strongest of the band’s late-period albums, unless you include “Imaginos” which is best treated as a standalone thing in its own right.

Fire of Unknown OriginFire of Unknown Origin is something of a poor relation. Again produced by Martin Birch, but this time with a lighter, less guitar-heavy sound. With cheesy 80s synth often prominent in the mix, it’s one BÖC album whose production has dated badly. Not that there’s anything much wrong with the songs. The production works on the more pop-orientated material such the title track, and “Burnin’ for You” was a big hit. But you’re left with the feeling that the likes of “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” and “Vengeance (The Pact)” need a bit more oomph.

The Revolution By NightThe Revolution By Night is one of their more underrated disks. By this time original drummer Albert Bouchard had left the band As well as filling the drumstool he’s been one of their more prolific songwriters; and the band had to make greater use of outside writers to come up with enough material to fill an album. The album had a rawer, heavier production with a big guitar sound that brings the songs to life in a way its predecessor didn’t. It’s a little patchy, it has to be said; “Let Go” is down there with YNTOIWLF, but though it’s a “lesser” track I’ve always loved “Dragon Lady”. Buck Dharma’s funk-tinged “Shooting Shark” is an absolute classic, often performed live.

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