Most helpful positive review
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The most unfairly criticised album in rock history!
on August 7, 2004
Let's be honest--is it ever fair to pan anyone's first album? Believe me, I've heard much worse debut albums than this one. Most bands are just trying to find their "sound" on their first album. I believe GFR discovered their sound from their very first rehearsals.
If there is anything to be criticised here, its only on the production side of things. When Rolling Stone magazine gave their first official scathing review of GFR's music, probably the only thing they got right was, "the drumming guaranteed to send you up the wall!" But that's only because on a lot of the songs here, the loudest thing you CAN hear is Don Brewer's drums. I read where Mark Farner complained that his guitar didn't come out loud enough on this album--which, when he switched on the fuzztone, as he did on "Anybody's Answer", "Can't Be Too Long" and toward the end of "Heartbreaker", could have easily rivaled that of Tony Iommi and Leslie West in terms of loudness, had only production levels been more in the "red". And Mel Schacher, the loudest bass player in the world--where was he? His bass can barely be heard on this album, as if it had hardly been plugged in at all! At any rate, manager/producer Terry Knight and engineer Ken Hamann turned things around sharply for the better on the next album, putting the guitar and bass out front, and the drums in it's rightful, lowly place in the back of the mix, and then putting all the levels in the "red"--hence, the "red" album.
But forget about production for a minute--how about the music. Let's take this one at a time. Rolling Stone called this album, "one-dimensional". Hardly! I've heard one-dimensional albums, and this is certainly not one. However, that's not to say that all "one-dimensional" albums are bad--Boston's debut is "one-dimensional". Being "one-dimesnional", or saying all the songs sound the same, just means you have your own "sound". GFR had its own sound, but injected it's sound into different kinds of music, such as the jazzy-"T.N.U.C.", the bluesy-"Time Machine", and the proto-power ballad, "Heartbreaker". GFR, much like Led Zeppelin, was very good at musical arrangements, timing, and tempo changes for such a young group, and knowing when to go from light-to heavy-and back to light, such as on "Anybody's Answer" and "Can't Be Too Long"--much as Led Zeppelin on a song like "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You".
"Unmusical" is another word for this album that Rolling Stone Mag used to describe. "Unmusical" is what a lot of the music is today, like Pantera and Metallica. Describing this album as "unmusical" is not even listening to this album, and denying everything I just said about it. If this was considered "heavy metal" for its time, its a whole lot more melodic, muscial, and listenable than what is called "heavy metal" today. It's only when Mark Farner slices through "Anybody's Answer", "Can't Be Too Long", and "Heartbreaker" with his chainsaw-sounding fuzz guitar that the band even reaches what I consider, "metallic proportions".
On the vocal harmony end of things, this is probably their best album in terms of overdubbing Mark and Don's voices to sound almost ethereal and frightening! If you like Vanilla Fudge or Uriah Heep for the vocal harmonies, you might like some of what you hear on this album. Overdubbing Mark's lead and rhythm guitars also comes out sounding great, and even adds a little drama, to songs like "T.N.U.C", "Into The Sun", and "Can't Be Too Long". And if there was anything that was most certainly not one-dimensional here, it was Mark Farner's guitar playing. Remember, this was a guy who had only learned to play "solos" a year before, and he only got even better with time. But I think his guitar playing, his phrasing and soloing, was spectacular all through this album--too bad production couldn't make it come out louder! But just because he wasn't quite on the level of a Jimmy Page or a Jimi Hendrix didn't make him a bad guitar player, or "one-dimensional", for that matter. He forged his own style, playing almost-Page style leads, and almost-Hendrix style rhythms.
Another high mark GFR gets for this album is originality. For a debut album to have ALL original music, and no covers, is quite an accomplishment, in and of, itself, and something I respect very highly. Mark wrote his own stuff for the group, and continued to do so for two more albums. The only other thing they did was re-arrange old songs from their previous group, The Pack, and make new songs out of them, much like Jimmy Page re-arranged old-Yardbird songs and riffs for Led Zeppelin. However, I still would have liked to hear a guitar-driven, GFR version of an old soul number, like "Land of 1,000 Dances", or "In the Midnight Hour", as I know they performed live on tour back in '69--It's only too bad Capitol records couldn't find a bootleg recording somewhere of them performing those two songs, when they re-mastered this disc to add bonus tracks. I think hearing them play, "Land of 1,000 Dances", would sound as unique as hearing Led Zeppelin play the old Motown-number, "We're Gonna Groove", and would have made this disc much more worthwhile, than adding an alternate-version of "Heartbreaker" with a tamborine! (By the way, who was playing that tamborine, anyway--Terry Knight?)
So contrary to what Rolling Stone mag said about this album back in '69, I consider this album very musical, multi-dimensional, and very listenable. But the drumming does send you up the wall, and that's only because production wasn't as balanced as it could have been. The album cover could have been a little-less cheesy--Grand Funk Railroad playing with "model trains"! In a way, it does sort of model itself after Cream's first album cover--with the black backdrop, and three guys in theme-oriented costumes. Production does get high marks for knowing when to use the speaker-to-speaker effects and the overdubbing--it's how Blue Cheer and The Stooges albums should have been done! But the balance of the bass-drums-guitar was severely out-of-whack, and as I said earlier, would be very much corrected for the next album--some might say, "over"-corrected. But that's just "Mr. Type-A" personality, Terry Knight, going from one extreme to the other. Overall, a great album, musically--probably one of the best of the 1960s, right at the end of the decade, but a "not-so-good" Knight production.