Saturday, 24 October 2009

Groundhogs 'Thank Christ For the Bomb' (1970)

I say this often, but this time I've really got something special for yuz.
Once upon a time, albums like this got to number 9 in the pop charts. I suspect it had something to do with the fading 60's counterculture - that era of cultural identity crisis, political activism and constant fear of nuclear holocaust... And the stoned white-blues pretenders that helped to herald heavy metal, of course.
But Cream and Led Zeppelin this ain't, in fact Groundhogs were in a league of their own. Aside from the best album cover/title ever for what is first and foremost a leftist, anti-war concept album, stylistically the band were carving their own niche with this record which they would further explore on their next two albums Split and Who Will Save the World?. This very special sound falls somewhere between prog rock, hard rock, psychedelia and an advanced strain of blues, all delivered with the kind of raw production that (combined with the imagery in their artwork) no doubt played a large part in the Groundhogs being looked on today as somewhat 'proto-punk' - for their acknowledged influence on many first generation UK punk luminaries in this decade. A young Mark E. Smith was particularly smitten, and the Fall have covered the first track here 'Strangetown' (hear below), as well as 'Junkman' from the subsequent LP.

^sound quality's better in upload

So Thank Christ was a turning point for Tony McPhee (jaw-dropping guitar, vox) and co; having been a semi-successful blues band in various forms since '66 and earned their stripes, they were going down a path nairy travelled, opposed the cheesy machismo and studied wankology of their peers. Perhaps this was to their detriment financially (McPhee is conspicuously lacking in phoney Hall of Fame tokens of commercial achievement, when he should be remembered as one of the greats), but ultimately to those in the know, the classic run of albums speak for themselves as some of the most remarkably fresh and emotionally-charged rock albums you'll come across. At their best Groundhogs are not clawing to capture the blues with over-acted guitar solos; a world-weary fatigue just emanates naturally from the songs and playing technique, especially on this album.
I've got time for the rest somewhere, don't get me wrong, but when you hear Groundhogs you'll just wonder what those other groups were playing at...


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