Review Summary: Blue Oyster Cult decide to go down the conceptual album route and actually succeed. It's just a shame this was their last album before the band's split....
Blue Oyster Cult aren't referred to as 'the brainiest rock band of all time' for no reason. Every one of their albums has in some way or other conspired to mysterious concepts or out-of-this-world myths and legends, and they have even managed to make it work alongside their everlastingly well executed sounds. 'Imaginos', the last of BOC's albums with Columbia Records, is no different. In fact, rather than opting for the odd conceptual song here and there, the band have attempted at making a full album based on one theme. This time round, everything is based around the poetical works of Sandy Pearlman, more specifically on the so-called 'The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos' poems and scripts written in the late 60's. So this album is only twenty years older than the concept. This isn't to say they have suddenly adopted a completely new way of making their sound mysterious, just that they have sought different resources other than Michael Moorcock and Patti Smith.
Thing is, 'Imaginos' was supposed to be part of something very big indeed-and it wasn't even a full contribution by each member of the band! Drummer and Singer Albert Bouchard, who was unfortunately fired from the band following this album's tour, certainly did some thorough research for one of his own ideas, and even if it did take almost eight years(!) to complete, it still seems like the work of a genius. However, 'Imaginos' is the only part of a supposed three-part trilogy that has ever been worked on, and although this serves as one of the band's finest albums of the 80's, one can't help but feel it might have been overshadowed by the burgeoning Metal sub-genres that dominated this period with its accessibility.
With two re-workings of some of the band's past material (the band's anthem 'Blue Oyster Cult' and 'Astronomy' and not one track sinking below the five-minute mark, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the band had gone into Progressive Rock territory. 'Imaginos' is often regarded as the band's biggest sounding and heaviest album to date, and it isn't exactly surprising either. Every song here is filled to the brim with gigantic hooks, heavy guitar riffs and excellently timed solos, not to mention the ambitious grandiosity of the album's longer tracks, in particular 'The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle' (and fortunately enough, it is every bit as creepy and mysterious as the title may suggest).
There are still smatterings of keyboard melodies and the slight blues influences that the band had used frequently enough on earlier albums, and you can even sense the idea that Blue Oyster Cult wanted to go back to an even heavier sound than on 'Cultosaurus Erectus' and 'Fire of unknown Origin'. Even the guitar work itself, which contributes to the more aggressive numbers 'I am the one you warned me of' and 'The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle', is a significant part of 'Imaginos' sound itself.
An outstanding part of 'Imaginos' is the incredibly good lyrical content, even though most of the contribution is from the poetry and scriptures of Sandy Pearlman. It's always nice to see good re-workings of some of the band's original material, but 'Blue Oyster Cult' and 'Astronomy' still hit the listener hard with their accessibly well-written lyrics, not to mention the obvious genius of songs like 'In the Presence of another World' (Your master he's a monster/He will come on a bridge of paper/Inscribed with a hundred names of God) and 'Magna of Illusion' (Ships charmed and ordinary/Sailed the glidepath to the sun/And when the sun proved false/As it always does). You can see what I mean when you listen to the music supporting these lyrics, as conceptual albums often falter in this area.
However, not everything here works as well as it should. On such repetitively tiring tracks as the slightly annoying 'Les Invisibles' and 'Del Rio's Song', the latter of which being perhaps too upbeat for its own good, additional vocals from members of the band don't really add anything but excess to the sound in general. The singular vocals themselves, instead of having their own significance, now seem to come across like a hybrid of The Cult's Ian Astbury and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, which is somewhat forgiveable due to the time period of 'Imaginos' release.
Another thing which naturally doesn't work for the band all the time is the length of the album itself. Clocking in at 55 minutes in total, it doesn't seem too long, but when listening to each and every song on its own, one can feel tired and exhausted with the unnecessary repetition and recurring musical style by the end, which serves as something truly unremarkable as well. Granted, the band have made long songs before, but on 'Imaginos' they seem to falter by either using too many of Pearlman's own words or repeating themselves over and over again.
That said, 'Imaginos' is still a wonderfully insightful album. Fans will be used to the mysterious and conceptual nature of the band's earlier work, as well as lapping up the heaviness of the guitar work itself. An unfortunately underrated album compared to some of the band's 70's releases, 'Imaginos' still remains one of BOC's finest 80's albums.