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Cockney Rebel - 1973 The Human Menagerie



ARTIST: Cockney Rebel
ALBUM: The Human Menagerie
LABEL: EMI
SERIAL: EMA 759
YEAR: 1973
CD REISSUE: 1990, EMI, CZ 335 * 2004, BGO, BGOCD616

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Steve Harley - vocals * Paul Jeffreys - bass * Milton Reame-James - keyboards * Stuart Elliott - percussion * Jean-Paul Crocker - strings, guitar

TRACK LISTING: 01 Hideaway * 02 What Ruthy Said * 03 Loretta's Tale * 04 Crazy Raver * 05 Sebastian * 06 Mirror Freak * 07 My Only Vice * 08 Muriel The Actor * 09 Chameleon * 10 Death Trip

WEBLINKS: www.steveharley.com


Background
Aahh, the early '70's, these really were MY glory days. I was virtually a sponge back then soaking up anything and everything.. musically may I add!! There didn't seem to be a week go by when I didn't discover a new band or revel in the delights that 'Top Of The Pops' would bring to my TV screen, be it Mott the Hoople, Sparks, Queen, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music, Be Bop Deluxe.. do I need to go on? Cockney Rebel were part of that wonderful glam period, but rather than adopt the 'Bricklayers in drag' look, the band took the more artier route in their approach to the glam movement, and with former journalist Steve Harley as their front man and a look like they'd just fallen out of a 1930's Berlin nightclub, they really were something quite different.


The Songs
Back in '73, as a debut album this was indeed a very grand affair, with Harley as very much the focal point and with a sound like no other. Harley's songs were liberally sprinkled with girls names from Ruthy to Muriel and Loretta back to Louise, giving the album a quite exotic almost European feel, but what really did make this album so unusual was that there was no lead electric guitar to be found anywhere and instead its place was taken by the electric violin which really did confuse critics (of which there were plenty) at the time. The album's stand out tracks 'Sebastian' and 'Death Trip' are both extraordinary in that they employ an almost baroque approach, and with both having grandiose orchestral arrangements these were at the time quite stunning to hear. Harley has always for me anyways, come across a little like Ray Davies of The Kinks, with both his delivery and lyrical content, and although at times he does trip himself up with being slightly 'too wordy', that doesn't deter from the enjoyment and is only a minor quibble. Other highlights include the funky, for the time 'Muriel The Actor' and the smouldering 'Mirror Freak', but there are really no missteps at all anywhere to be found here. Production wise the album still stands the test of time being full and lush one moment and then fragile almost claustrophobic at others.


In Summary
With the equally pleasurable follow up 'The Psychomodo', Steve Harley would, to my mind never reach these artistic heights again, although he did hit the big time with the ubiquitous 'Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)', which has no doubt left him very comfortably off thank you. The first two Cockney Rebel albums still stand as a testament to ambition and overt arrogance, such was Harley's self belief back then. Harley in recent years has once more taken to the road and performed both albums complete with full orchestra, which I did find slightly disappointing, as his vocal range, even back in the '70's being somewhat limited really did struggle, which is a shame as 'The Human Menagerie' even today is a unique record and still evokes some very precious memories for me.. Essential. [word count 516]


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Comments
#1 | Carl Noonan on May 02 2016 13:22:17
Nobody sound like Cockney Rebel and this album was special. Brings back so many memories.
Bass player Paul Jefferies and his wife were murdered by terrorists when flying to their honeymoon and the plane was blown up by a bomb over Lockerbie in Scotland.
#2 | gdazegod on May 02 2016 14:10:35
Thanks for sharing that story Carl. Wow, I'm sure many didn't know that. Tragic indeed.
#3 | Carl Noonan on May 02 2016 14:31:18
The Lockerbie bombing was horrific in every way. Paul Jefferies was 36 yeas old at the time he was murdered.
#4 | Explorer on May 02 2016 15:34:38
Cockney Rebel Mk 1 which is the lineup that recorded this and The Psychomodo were a sight to behold. I saw them on a double bill with Be Bop Deluxe back in `74, and it remains one of the best shows I`ve ever seen. With reference to the sad death of Paul Jeffreys and his wife over Lockerbie, I will always remember this because my eldest son was born that very same night.
#5 | Eric on May 02 2016 17:09:15
Jefferies was in Be Bop Deluxe as well wasn't he? Great album and awesome review. Truly a sound like no other.
#6 | Carl Noonan on May 02 2016 17:10:31
Yes, Eric he was with BeBop for a while.
#7 | Explorer on May 02 2016 18:13:18
Harley' s mega hit 'Come up and see me, make new smile' was written about the break up of Cockney Rebel mk 1, and to this day, I believe the split still ranckles with all remaining parties.
 
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