Tuesday 1 December 2020

Albert Bouchard - Re Imaginos (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Nov 2020
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

OK, there's some history needed here. Strap yourselves in!

In case you don't know the name, Albert Bouchard was a founding member of Blue Öyster Cult back in 1967. He was also their drummer until 1981 and he's on their first eight albums, including the classics Agents of Fortune and Fire of Unknown Origin. You've heard his stuff, even if it's his cowbell on (Don't Fear) The Reaper. BÖC's producer and lyricist was a man named Sandy Pearlman, who had written a set of poems and scripts in the sixties by the name of The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos. Many early songs in BÖC's portfolio were drawn from this material, down to the band's very name.

In 1972, after the debut BÖC album, Bouchard began to adapt Pearlman's writings into a substantial rock opera by the name of Imaginos. This would be a solo project unfolding over a trilogy of double albums, an ambitious effort to be sure, but, while he'd completed the first of these by 1977, it didn't happen. And it continued to not happen. While BÖC demoed four of its songs while making Spectres, none made the album.

After being kicked out of the band, Bouchard knuckled down and recorded it in 1982 with a new set of musicians. He sang lead and played guitar throughout; guests included Aldo Nova and Robby Krieger, plus a few members of BÖC. And Columbia Records hated it. They wanted a different lead singer for a start and try-outs, fresh recordings and overdubs kept up until 1984, when they rejected it outright.

It seemed dead and buried until Pearlman persuaded them to try it again, but reworked as a new Blue Öyster Cult album, given that that band had split up after poor sales of Club Ninja. They went for this idea and the remixed, reworked, re-recorded album was released in 1988 in a notably different form to what Bouchard had envisaged. It omitted a bunch of songs and changed the order of tracks, which is a strange idea for a concept album, ending up a lot shorter. Albert Bouchard wasn't involved at all and had to take the band and label to court to even get paid for his work.

And, while Imaginos is a decent album, with a couple of well-remembered numbers in Astronomy and Del Rio's Song, that's how it was left, as a a bad taste in a lot of mouths. Fast forward thirty-four years and Bouchard has finally put together his version of Imaginos, even though it's not precisely what he had put together in 1982. His preferred song order is restored, even adding a song from the first BÖC album, Workshop of the Telescopes, in a different form.

And, quite frankly, this is much the superior work. It's been a while since I'd heard Imaginos, so I went back to it after listening to this, then returned to this for a second listen. There's simply no question about which is the better album.

Some songs are similar, playing better here mostly because of superior modern production. There's so much more gravitas on In the Presence of Another World from its very beginning because of that. That doesn't hold true throughout though, because some songs are changed considerably, most obviously The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria, which has a wildly different set of instrumentation; this version is acoustic, except for the searing solo in the middle, and heavily featuring what I presume are violin, hand drums and woodblocks. The trumpet on the title track and Black Telescope from Albert's brother Joe Bouchard is sublime.

The songs cut from Imaginos turn out to be good ones and they vary this release and free it. The most overt feeling I had here was one of freedom, because this album isn't merely a set of songs; it breathes like a complete entity. Songs like Girl That Love Made Blind and especially the Neil Young-esque Gil Blanco County breeze along and underline that feeling by making the whole experience less dark and constructed and more loose and liquid. What seems odd is that, even though all these songs breathe more, they're mostly shorter. Astronomy is now 6:36 rather than 6:54, while the song Blue Oyster Cult drops from 7:18 to 5:44.

I've always liked Imaginos, even though I've never quite figured out its convoluted narrative. It's very clear that I'm not likely to go back to it again, though I may well return to Re Imaginos. It still makes very little sense to me as a story, though it does feel a lot more like there actually is a story here that is unfolding if only I paid enough attention to grasp it. The songs that I remembered, like Astronomy and Del Rio Song, sound better here, and the ones I'd let slip away, such as In the Presence of Another World, Les Invisibles and I am the One You Warned Me Of, sound just as essential.

And, I'm sorry, Columbia Records, but what the heck did you find problematic with Albert Bouchard's voice? The vocals here seem much better to me, not to say much more consistent, than the mix of Eric Bloom, Joey Cerisano, Jon Rogers and whoever else might have wandered by mistake into the studio back in the late eighties. What else did you shelve that I'm going to prefer to what you released?

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