Wednesday 21 April 2021

Lee Kerslake - Eleventeen (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Rock
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

It's only been a couple of weeks since I reviewed Ken Hensley's My Book of Answers and I missed Trevor Bolder's Sail the Rivers in January. The common factor between these three albums is, of course, that they're the posthumous final solo releases from prominent members of Uriah Heep.

Hensley was with the Heep during their heyday, from 1969 to 1980, while Bolder had a couple of stints, from 1976 to 1981 and again from 1983 until his death in 2013. Oddly, given that these two were never in the band together, they recorded a joint album, Free Spirit, in 1980. Kerslake, of course, played with both of them: with Hensley during his initial term from 1971 to 1979 and with Bolder during his return from 1981 to 2007. All three are missed, though Uriah Heep continue onwards with Mick Box still going strong and Bernie Shaw and Phil Lanzon both there since 1986.

I appreciated Lee Kerslake's drumming in Uriah Heep immensely and he's also known for co-founding the band Blizzard of Ozz, before it became entirely Ozzy's solo project; it's Kerslake on their first two albums, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Given his enviable back catalogue, I was disappointed with this album, though it's easy to see why and I guess it's as good a reason as any. Put simply, it's as personal an album as I've heard in a long time and it's mostly not aimed at me.

Long story short, Kerslake has been ill for a long while and this final album really didn't emerge out of the blue. In 2013, he'd been given four years to live, and he started work on this halfway through that period. He outlasted the doctors' estimates but, in late 2018, he announced that he had been fighting cancer for some time and he was looking at only eight months. A couple of heart murmurs didn't help either, but he persevered with this project and completed it before he died in September of last year.

Therefore, it's not too surprising to find his mortality a common theme. Sometimes it's in the lyrics of songs like Home is Where the Heart Is, whose chorus is crystal clear: "Home is where the heart is and I know I'll be going home real soon. Home is where the heart is and we're past the point of no return." That's a decent song and the context adds poignancy and emotion. Mostly, though, it's in what I have to describe as songs that aren't there to be songs but opportunities for Kerslake to bid farewell to an array of friends and colleagues, who aren't named but are clearly the targets for this music.

These songs are clustered in the middle of the album and I'm sure have serious meaning to those who they're aimed at, but are difficult for us. You May Be By Yourself (But You're Never Alone) feels like it was performed for one of Kerslake's descendants, a child or a grandchild. It's touching, but it's acutely personal and I felt a little awkward listening to it, as if I was intruding on a private moment, even if it evolves into a Wings-esque rock song. I was more comfortable listening to Port and a Brandy and Lee's cover of Carole King's You've Got a Friend, but I felt excluded. The former is a Chas 'n' Dave-esque pub rocker presumably aimed at his friends, while the latter is surely a thank you to all the musicians he's played with over the years. The problem is that I'm in neither of those groups.

Fortunately for me, as a fan, there are some songs before those and some after them too. The album's kicked off by a decent rock song in Celia Sienna, which is a tad on the soft side but it moves along well enough. It fits fairly with Where Do We Go from Here, though the two are separated by Take Nothing for Granted, which is a more up beat rocker. This is definitely a softer album and it doesn't feature too much hard rock drumming, which would seem odd out of context.

It's Home is Where the Heart Is, late in the album after all the really personal songs, where the hard rock side of Kerslake's career kicks in, as it features some nice guitar and plenty of power chords. The album wraps up with Mom and, while that title surely emphasises that it's another personal piece I'm not really equipped to receive, it's also instrumental and instrumentals are kind of universal. It might carry a specific message but I could enjoy it without knowing that.

So this is Kerslake going out on his own terms and I can respect that. Across a career of half a century, he played on a lot of amazing music. Sadly, this isn't a reminder of that, but a set of goodbyes that he felt he wanted to make in musical form. Respect for that and RIP.

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