Review Summary: Thank Christ for the Groundhogs!
During the late 60’s/early 70’s there was a great number of Cream-influenced bands emerging from the UK blues and psychedelic rock scene. Most of these acts predictably failed to achieve the levels of success of those who had inspired them and were often criticized for treading ground already well trodden. Groundhogs were an exception to the rule in regards to the latter, having something of a creative streak in them that helped separate them from the pack and distance them from the Cream comparisons. Having released several moderately successful albums in the late 60’s, beginning with their aptly titled debut, Scratching the Surface, Groundhog’s breakthrough came in the form of their controversially titled fourth album, Thank Christ for the Bomb. The album is a concept album based around the topic of “alienness”, a theme that bandleader, Tony McPhee, came up with after the band’s manager suggested the album title. Tony McPhee’s thought provoking lyrics were one of the things that made the band stand out from other similar bands emerging around the same period such as Mountain and the lesser-known Frijid Pink. Song writing isn’t the only thing McPhee has in his locker, he’s also an excellent blues guitarist and a more than adequate singer who’s voice sounds like a cross between that of Jack Bruce (Cream) and John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Asia etc.). The rest of the band is made up of the rhythm section of Peter Cruikshank (bass) and Ken Pustelnik (drums) who’s playing combines brillantly with McPhee’s Hendrix-esque guitar playing.
The album opens with the stomping Strange Town, which is about the “alienness of a community” and finds McPhee delivering one his most Jack Bruce-esque vocal performaces accompanied by some of his most fiery guitar licks. The first track to deal with the subject of war, a topic quite central to the album’s theme, is the song Soldier, which the liner notes claim is about the “alienness of a country”. The song is one of the album’s catchiest tracks and manged to climb it’s way into the charts after the band performed it during one of John Peel’s radio sessions. It’s on the album’s centre piece, the seven minute title track, where the band really show what they’re capable of. The song starts off with McPhee singing about war through the years over a backdrop of acoustic guitars before the song transforms into a heavy pschedelic blues workout, which brings the song and side one of the original album to a crushing climax.
Another thing that distinguishes this album from those being released by other blues-based rock bands at the time is it’s consistency. Every track on the album is musically strong and lyrically important to the concept of the record. The only track that could be said to be rather forgetable, although the term less-memorable seems more appropriate, is Status People. The track is led by a slow, simple bass riff and never seems to get going as much as it threatens to. It does however pave the way nicely for the more upbeat Rich Man, Poor Man, which is an album highlight along with the title track and the superb album closer, Eccentric Man, arguably the heaviest track on the album.
Overall Thank Christ for the Bomb is an excellent blues rock album that will appeal to fans of bands such as Cream and Ten Years After as well as fans of more experimental bands like Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull.