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Nazareth - 1980 Malice In Wonderland




ARTIST: Nazareth
ALBUM: Malice In Wonderland
LABEL: Vertigo/Mountain Records, A&M (USA)
SERIAL: TOPS 126, SP-4799
YEAR: 1980
CD REISSUE: 2010, Salvo Records, SALVOCD043

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Dan McCafferty - vocals * Manny Charlton - guitars * Zal Cleminson - guitars, synthesizer * Pete Agnew - bass * Darrell Sweet - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Holiday * 02 Showdown At The Border * 03 Talkin' To One Of The Boys * 04 Hearts Grown Cold * 05 Fast Cars * 06 Big Boy * 07 Talkin' About Love * 08 Fallen Angel * 09 Ship Of Dreams * 10 Turning A New Leaf

WEBLINKS: www.nazarethdirect.co.uk/


Background
From being a firm disbeliever I have slowly been converted to the Nazareth cause. The impeccable quality of the re-issues of these boys back catalogue carried out by Salvo (like they did with Slade) probably has something to do with. But large amounts of extra tracks, liner notes and neat wallet style packs will never cloud ones judgment if the original album lacks credence. Happily in the case of 'Malice In Wonderland' this recording has quality in spades and the extra's only go to enhance the product. Talking about the extra tracks in this case we have 7 more primarily made up BBC live recordings. Taking the series as a whole the amount of additional tracks that have been unearthed is a miracle in fact the last one of this type involved some loaves of bread and a small amount of fish. Anyway all in all enough to appease any melodic fan appetite for rock music, these grandfathers of rock from the land of lochs, fine whiskey, and 4-6-0 football formations can easily ferry you across to musical wonderland. What I've found that if you play the first decade of Nazareth recordings one after another you always find a slight change, they were produced at the time when groups used to incorporate new styles, be a bit daring, not frightened to offer something different, are we listening Jim Peterik and his Pride Of Lions? Probably not. A definite change on the artwork, out went the fantasy covers and in came more abstract, well.. dolls and 78's records. Maybe not the best idea for front of store sales promotions, but don't let it put you off because inside was an album bursting with fresh ideas and a group that still had the necessary fire in their bellies. Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks?


The Songs
The first couple of tracks have a southern rock feel, not in terms of Lynyrd Skynyrd but more Billy Satellite and New Frontier and brought into the modern day recently by the much underrated The Storys. 'Holiday' is as voluptuous as the Christine Hill (played by Courtney Ford) character in Dexter Season 4, nice girl but I have serious doubts about the father in law (otherwise the Trinity serial killer played by the excellent John Lithgow). Back to the tune, it's somewhat humorous lyrics feed perfectly into a highly commercial, catchy tune, the initial single from the album, which like many spicy foods with keep repeating on another one of your senses.

'Showdown At The Border', a real trigger gun session by vocalist Dan McCafferty and another memorable chorus, Jon Bon Jovi should have covered this for the Young Guns films. Chops into multiple sections before hitting the highway with that immense chorus. Whether this has any historical reference between the Scots and English over the ownership of the border port Berwick is unclear!

'Talkin To One Of The Boys' is a continuation of the ability of Nazareth to compose poppy melodic gems, even slightly dark and just like one of those pompous wine connoisseurs I can smell (hear) traces of Mama's & Papas with an essence of Lovin Spoonful, plus Guns 'n' Roses sprinkle on top. A strange combination and rightly so.

A large part of the success on this album is the injection of Cleminson once of the Sensation Alex Harvey Band, arriving slightly too late on the 1979 'No Mean City' to make a more meaningful contribution but here his song writing prowess is clear, especially on 'Heart's Grown Cold', of course covered by Blackfoot on their 'Siogo' album. The original version found here has a more gospel influenced chorus and the velocity levels have dropped and strangely enough has a feel of a Scottish football chant.

Continuing the Blackfoot connection 'Malice In Wonderland' may be viewed in slightly the same context as Blackfoot's 'Siogo'. A somewhat change in direction that may not always be supportive of new found friends, the preceding two albums by Nazareth, 'No Mean City' and 'Expect No Mercy' were their heaviest ever and they were even being accepted in the realms of Iron Maiden and NWOBHM brigade.

Quite a change to 'Fast Cars' as the vocals and piano tones start to create a brooding template forming the outline of The Doors, a real 60's groove which penetrates the tune, sliding, rhythmically to a fine chorus. Very interesting and a credible diversion. You see I find its tracks like these that makes album from 70's and 80's so much fulfilling they tend not to follow a standard formulae, they really take more of a chance to expand on their ideas, as it's this quality and variety they produce that make great albums that you return to on a more frequent basis.

'Big Boy' continues with the American vibrations. Never expected that a Tom Petty influence would make an appearance, although bearing in mind the more country styling of the original version of 'Expect No Mercy' it is not surprising, but it certainly shows here. By adding saxophone it creates even more enjoyable confusion. It's quirky; but it works on all counts, even if sometimes the definition of quirky in my book is sometimes can be describe as 'irritant'

Much more up my street is 'Talkin Bout Love', this jazzy and even freaking Speedway Boulevard. From a land that provided football score lines as East Fife 5, Forfar 4, this song is a Scottish as the chances of East Stirling ever be promoted from the lowest division. It is the stand out track, it's a silent gas leak followed by an explosion, excellent, and this could have even graced the likes of Airborne with their 1979 release.

'Fallen Angel' is another flag waving anthem and with the orchestral simmering in the background adds to the atmosphere and when these parts continue and become more apparent in reminds more of 70's Wings when they were providing the soundtrack to a James Bond film. Nazareth shows that they were never a zebra, totally indistinguishable in a herd, but more of a still undiscovered species in the depths of a jungle.

'Ship Of Dreams' seems to have connections with the Love classic 'Alone Again Or', but more in line with The Damned than UFO interpretation, who both covered the tune to great success. Again the electric and acoustic guitars mix perfectly. A real change in Dan's voice shows that he can harmonize with the best of them, just a great tune.

Finally we have 'Turning A New Leaf' which manages to mix hard core Nazareth stomp with a delightful guitar melody, plus a blues connection. Generous applause for another well-defined composition.


In Summary
I really am a late bloomer to appreciate the works of Nazareth, although I have already aired my views on the 1986 'Cinema' LP which tried to incorporate a more AOR sound, and in places it did succeed, I found 'Malice In Wonderland' to be much more appealing and that's coming from an AOR frantic, and as correctly mentioned on the re-issue a 'polished, radio friendly approach'. I really can't argue with that. Although I would add that a number of the tracks have a real southern flavour plus a 60's feel, mixed with shades of AOR and altogether a very interesting album which shows at the time 10 years' experience of touring and recording albums. The first of two albums with Jeff Baxter at the helm and a trip to Bahamas to record the album showed that at the time Nazareth were certainly as the song says, one of the 'Big Big Boys'.


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Comments

#1 | gdazegod on November 27 2010 08:49:54
I've always liked this album. My brother in law had it in his collection when it first came out, and I remember giving 'Ship Of Dreams' constant LP time back in my high school years. For some reason, I always kept comparing this album to the stuff Blue Oyster Cult were doing around this time. Not sure why, I don't think there is a connection, though 'Ship Of Dreams' has a similar feel.. It might be just me..
#2 | AOR Lee on April 01 2013 05:55:56
Listened to this again yesterday. Very strong album, as Chris mentions it's more consistent than 1986's Cinema release (although that one has several AOR highlights). The blend of sounds and influences here is pretty broad, but always touching on AOR, which would only increase further into the 80's. An essential band (from Expect No Mercy onward) if you're an AOR addict

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