Tuesday, March 19, 2013
"Electric Ladyland" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (October, 1968)
Electric Ladyland is Hendrix's third album of new material, and his last. With tracks like "Voodoo Chile,""Crosstown Traffic," and "All Along The Watchtower," how could this be anything but a classic?
Hendrix is at his psychedelic blues best here, with the heavy, effects-driven axe pushing the limits of what a rock and roll guitar could do. This is a double album, and the entire thing is highly listenable, full of the legendary heavy blues jams that both delight and frighten the listener.
This is 1968, which means the two-and-a-half minute pop song is long gone. The album starts with three conventional-length songs, then roars into the extended 15-minute tour de force of "Voodoo Chile." One other song tops 13 minutes. The rest are in the three to four minute range.
Hendrix could do what few others managed, however. He could go into a long jam without becoming dull by varying his playing and throwing in so many magical touches that it doesn't become tedious.
The album is weakest on the songs that feature the rest of the band, as in the "Little Miss Strange," but this record's "weak" is still pretty amazing. "Little Miss Strange" combines the mid-sixties brit-pop sound of the Hollies and the Kinks with Hendrix's inventive guitar playing, taking the song far beyond the usual conventions of the genre. Songs like that only sound weak compared to the sheer power of Hendrix's vocal and musical performances.
That was Jimi's genius. He worked in conventional musical genres like blues, rock, and even folk, but then twisted the conventions on their ear and delivered something different than anything else, ever.
There are so many great songs here that to list them all would pretty much be to provide the entire track list of the album. Instead of doing that, I'm going to turn it up and listen.
I tend to have music A.D.D. sometimes so when I saw that there were a couple of songs over 10 minutes, I kind of cringed, and when I saw that the album clocks in at just under 80 minutes, I debated about going back into hiding from reviews again or not... But I hit play anyway, and when I realized that the 15 minute song "Voodoo Chile" was almost over, I became very optimistic that I was going to be able to get through this just fine!
"Voodoo Chile" really surprised me. Making a 15 minute long song feel short is a very hard and rare thing to actually accomplish, but Jimi did it. I should have had more faith in the boy. He rules.
I agree with my old man that songs like "Little Miss Strange" are definitely the weakest parts of this album, but even though they're the weakest, it doesn't make them actually weak. It's more like The Incredible Hulk going against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 70s. Obviously the Hulk would win, but Arny could still put up a decent fight back then, I'm sure. Somehow this analogy makes sense in my head so just go with it...
"All Along The Watchtower" is another great song. I've heard the original Bob Dylan version of it, but also a few different cover versions of the same song, like Dave Matthews Band's rendition (which is actually my favorite version of the song.) This is one of the only songs I can think of off the top of my head where I like the original version less than the covers. Jimi Hendrix's version is great. He makes it his own, as artists should do when covering another musician's song.
The song "1983: A Merman I Should Turn To Be" was another super long one, but this one wasn't as exciting as "Voodoo Chile" was, unfortunately. I started getting antsy by the middle of it. "Moon, Turn the Tides...gently gently away" did the same thing to me.
This album really doesn't feel as long as it actually is, which is a great feat. Instead of feeling like the 80 minutes it actually is, it felt more like 60 minutes. Still a little long, but it could have been much worse. Jimi's guitar playing really makes the album enjoyable, but the weird experimental parts of the album were a little off-putting to me.
Hopefully I'll never go back in time via a phone booth made into a time machine and get stuck in the late 60s...