Monday, 23 June 2008

Blue Oyster Cult

"The clock strikes twelve and moondrops burst/Out at you from their hiding place" - 'Astronomy'

I remember embarking on camping holidays with my family in the late 80s and early 90s and a cassette of Imaginos (along with Secret Treaties, Spectres and a compilation entitled Career Of Evil) provided the perfect soundtrack to our inevitably rain-soaked trips to the south coast, or Wales. When you're young and susceptible to parent-induced boredom, music can add the necessary perfume to an imperfect situation, tranforming your predicament into something with the scent of adventure. The rain, sea and stars begin to whisper their secrets. The veil lifts a fraction. Magick is afoot.

"The Oyster boys are swimming now/Hear them chatter on the tide" - 'Blue Oyster Cult'

The concept of Imaginos was originally formulated in 1967 by Blue Oyster Cult manager, producer and lyricist Sandy Pearlman, and detailed in a collection of poems collectively titled 'The Soft Doctrines Of Immaginos'. Fragments of this concept surfaced in early 70s BOC songs such as 'Subhuman', 'Astronomy' and 'ETI' before its eventual shoring up into the album released in 1988. "Basically, it's an interpretation of history," explained Pearlman to Kerrang! magazine in September that year. "An explanation for the onset of World War I, or a revelation of the occult origins of it. Imaginos is the main character, and is what I call 'an actor in history'. He plays different roles in history and was born as a modified child, modified by an alien influence, and his mission is to present the human race with the challenge of evil. The aliens are playing with our history as if it's a game, and he motivates the game and presents the choices to the human race. They react as they will."

"The writing in the notebook/Notation from the stars" - 'I Am The One You Warned Me Of'

The narrative thread of Imaginos - described in the sleevenotes as a 'random access myth' - makes reference to the Spanish conquest of the New World, Haitian Voodoo, the reign of Elizabeth I and her counsel by occult advisor Dr. John Dee (who claimed to converse with spirits using a 'magic mirror' fashioned in Mexico from black volcanic stone), Lovecraftian gods, Egyptian fertility rites, hallucinogenic cacti ("Do the Don Pedro" - 'Les Invisibles'), the discredited Sirius myth of the African Dogon tribe as documented by Robert Anton Wilson in Cosmic Trigger, and the gothic literary traditions of Europe and America. Pearlman weaves a rich tapestry of truth, half-truth and out-and-out fantasy to spellbinding effect, and it is this rigorous dedication to the weird that makes Imaginos possibly the most literate and intelligent rock concept album ever devised. Enigmatic and often wilfully obtuse, Imaginos nevertheless lives up to its billing as "A bedtime story for the children of the damned." The cover image, perhaps harking back to the 'Black & White' trilogy of Blue Oyster Cult (1972), Tyranny And Mutation (1973) and Secret Treaties (1974), is a monochrome photograph of San Francisco's Cliff House Hotel, built in 1863. The hotel glowers on the cliffs, ghost-lit against a skyful of cumulonimbus. If I ever visit San Francisco, that's where I'd like to stay.

"Where witches went mad more than once" - 'Magna Of Illusion'

The unsavoury aspect of Imaginos becomes apparent when one considers its origins as a projected solo album by ex-drummer Albert Bouchard, and what appears to have been the wholesale hijacking of the project by Pearlman and the remaining members of BOC. Bouchard worked on the project with Pearlman after leaving the band in the early 80s, and BOC's label CBS showed interest, but allegedly requested that it be released as under the Blue Oyster Cult name. BOC broke up and the idea was eventually abandoned, but revived following the band's reformation - without Albert - in 1987. The released version of Imaginos contains basic tracks recorded by Bouchard and selected session musicians, with some elements overdubbed by Pearlman and Oyster boys Eric Bloom (vocals, guitars), Donald 'Buck Dharma' Roeser (vocals, guitars) and Allen Lanier (keyboards). Having been shut out of his own album project, Bouchard has expressed disappointment and anger at his old bandmates and manager. It's extremely unlikely that the original line-up will ever work together again.

"I've lived upon the edge of chance/For twenty years or more/And this is what my friends all mean" - 'Del Rio's Song'

Sonically, Imaginos is fucking odd, a disorientating blend of overblown pomp rock, AOR, metal and sea-shanty power pop. 'I Am The One You Warned Me Of', 'Les Invisibles', 'Del Rio's Song' and 'Magna Of Illusion' strike an uneasy balance between the sinister mysticism of Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny & Mutation and Secret Treaties and the radio-friendly gloss of the group's post-'Don't Fear The Reaper' incarnation. This was clearly no formula for mainstream success, and the album effectively wiped itself from history. But it's the story within the story that makes Imaginos so fascinating. A narrative spanning 200 years of myth and magick, it stands as testament not only to one of America's greatest bands, but also the unsung imagination of Sandy Pearlman, a maverick conceptualist convinced that rock music could be a vehicle not only for atavistic gratification or the expression of utopian ideals... but also for the starry wisdom glimpsed in fever dreams and wild hallucinations.

"So ladies fish and gentlemen/Here's my idle plea/See me in the blue sky bag/Meet me by the sea" - 'Blue Oyster Cult'