Reviewing The Klaatu Discography [1976-81]

Klaatu (aka: 3:47 EST) [1976] - The album that started it all: from the circuitous rumors surrounding the group's members (probably didn't help that Klaatu was on the same label as The Beatles, Capitol) to the deliciously Beatlesque minor single, "Sub Rosa Subway", Klaatu's debut not only showcases the musical dexterity of the band, but as pop albums go in general, is one very impressive album. From the ambitious opener, "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft" to the Beach Boys-inspired "California Jam", Klaatu seamlessly integrates the classic rock of the 60's and 70's, while their songcraft is equally on-par with the sonic influences on display. The delightful "Doctor Marvello" is a sonic collage of psychedelia (from the backwards piano-chord intro to the shimmering sitar filigrees and reverse-engineered guitar to the Turtles-influenced harmonies circa "You Showed Me"), while the goofy "Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III" is no less disposable than the Fab Four's "Octopus' Garden." But the delightful prog-bombast of the album's closer, "Little Neutrino" encapsulates the loose narrative begun with "Calling Occupants" - culminating in a nuclear confrontation which suggests the only living creature left alive is a mouse, which can be heard squeaking after the tune fades out.   A

Hope [1977] - Klaatu's debut was a tough act to follow, and thankfully, Messrs. Long, Draper and Woloschuk decided to get even more experimental and conceptual with the rock-operatic sequel, Hope. Picking up where the last album left off, we are given a post-apocalyptic scenario where a lone survivor tries to warm fellow space travelers of the consequences of man's atavistic impulses. Deceptively opening with the upbeat "We're Off You Know" ("We'll follow the North star to know where we are, so/You sleepyheads, get out of bed/Let your fortunes be cast to the wind"), the tune segues into the cautionary "Madman" ("You tried, and were thrown out of the garden, now you find it harder still/You seem quite catatonic of late/Say your last rites for the world that created you, madman!") and the gorgeous sci-fi power ballad "Around The Universe In 80 Days" (an album highlight). Other highlights include "The Loneliest Of Creatures", "So Said The Lighthouse Keeper" and the surprisingly optimistic title track, which closes the record on a hopeful, if somewhat melancholy note. With assist from the London Symphony Orchestra (adding a marvelous symphonic texture and cinematic gravitas) Hope is considerably less poppy than its predecessor, but what it lacks in radio-friendliness it more than makes up for in ambition and scope. B+

Sir Army Suit [1978] - This album opens up with bassist John Woloschuk's paean to Gilbert O'Sullivan, the complex pop of "A Routine Day", and ends with the Pink Floydian "Silly Boys" - in other words, Klaatu at their eclectic best. The band goes off the beaten path, stylistically-speaking with the offerings "My Juicy Luicy" (sort of a Cheap Trick-meets-Raspberries at Studio 54 number), and the hard-charging, sinister feel of "Older" ("I think it's time you realized, for I can see it in your eyes/You seem convinced that you will live forever!"). And yay, the band embraces its occasionally Beatlesque side on "Tokeymor Field" and "Mister Manson" - which pulls out all the stops musically, from backwards guitars to a spoken-word recreation of the trial that rocked the Century, and a slowed-down middle eight which grinds to a halt as Adolf Hitler lectures German youth. This album is my favorite because it bridges the aural gap between the pop/rock sensibilities of the first album and the increasingly sophisticated songwriting and recording techniques employed here.  Oh, did I mention that "Silly Boys" began life as the backing track to 3:47's "Hanus Of Uranus" played in reverse? Silly boys, we love you, indeed. A+

Endangered Species [1980] - Klaatu's label, Capitol, frustrated by the lack of sales from the band's previous releases, felt it was time to exert some 'creative control' over the group's output - hence, they enlisted producer Christopher Bond (Maria Muldaur, Hall & Oates, Richie Havens) to imbue a more commercial sound on Endangered Species. As a result, the charm and musical variegation that was Klaatu's hallmark became subsumed by a calculated radio-friendly paradigm that simply did not work, at least not to these ears. "I Can't Help It" begins the album, and it becomes painfully apparent what we are hearing is NOT KLAATU - it's more like The Monkees' story in reverse: heavy-handed producer comes in and disavows the musicians' own creative impulses. There are a few decent numbers here, however: "Hot Box City" is a page from the Steve Miller playbook; "Dog Star" sports a great lead guitar, sweet harmonies and "more cowbell"; and the telling "Sell Out, Sell Out" finds Klaatu critiquing the very process at play here: "This is the year that either we do or die/I'm tired of breaking my back to please critics who can't be pleased/Play that funky aint all you need." Worse, the majority of the band's tracks were overdubbed (read: replaced) by Bond and a cabal of studio musicians. The general consensus is that this is the album all three of them loathe, and I can totally see why. C+

Magentalane [1981] - A happy medium? Maybe, maybe not. The overly-slick production heard on Endangered Species remains, but on the plus side, the band regained creative control after being dumped by Capitol, and one does sense a return to the playfulness (if not the 'outside the box' musical constructs) of their early work. As on Species, the majority of the compositions were written by Woloschuk, but Long and Draper do show up, both as musicians and collaborators on such tracks as the marvelously Lennon-eque "December Dream" (written as an elegy to the tragic death of John Lennon in 1980), the enchanting space ballad "Maybe I'll Move To Mars" and the characteristically-Klaatu title track - a sprightly, Baroque-scented pop confection referencing poets Elizabeth Browning and Gilbert O'Sullivan, respectively. And it's nothing short of shameful that "At The End of the Rainbow" (reminiscent of vintage Stealers Wheel) wasn't released as a single, as it's not only the most chart-promising number in this set, but showcases Klaatu without detracting from what Klaatu fans most admire the band for. As swan songs go, Magentalane is a respectable, if not entirely trippy exit. B


Popular posts from this blog

The Twisted, Tortured Genius Of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band [Part One]

Hark And Enamour Me! Sir Army Suit Turns Forty!

A Conversation With Dean Friedman (Continued)