Review Summary: The jam session of the Gods...with mortality.
THIS is the explosion album.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first two albums, Are You Experienced
and Axis: Bold As Love
, were widely expansive in their inspirations yet tightly controlled, with hardly a bad song between the two, which was astonishing given the experimental sounds that they expressed.
However, if Electric Ladyland
shows us anything, it is that the genius of the ultimate 1960s supergroup was not one that could be satisfied with “tightly controlled” music: only until everything had been recorded, played and tried would they be able to put the feet up and breathe a sigh of contentment.
And that is how Electric Ladyland
sounds: sixteen unapologetically insane songs with every thought recorded, every style, flavour and colour played and every mind-bending drug tried. It is therefore not surprising that on Electric Ladyland
The Jimi Hendrix Experience give us not only moments that are by far their worst ….but the most jaw-dropping, beautiful, artistic and emblematic as well.
I’ll start with the highs, and [i] man [/i, the highs on Ladyland
are positively unearthly. The extended art piece 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
, is the most advanced song that the trio ever recorded: a 13 minute, exotically angelic, existential composition that is a perfectly fragmented opus of influences: the beautiful Indian unfurling of Hendrix’s guitar, the delicate, positively Amazonian, stampeding of Mitchell’s drums with the gorgeously ethereal underwater imagery, like Hendrix meeting T.S Eliot, while the heart of a spiritual bluesman beats gently throughout.
As for the genre dabbling, psychedelic jazz has few higher points than the melting-hot-ice-cool warbling of Rainy Day, Dream Away
and its little brother Still Raining, Still Dreaming
, in which Hendrix only briefly uses the lyrics as his manner of storytelling, with his elegantly squawking guitar and Freddie Smith’s sax painting the song’s canvas in the most expansive, freewheeling colours they can.
In a relatively new turn for the Experience, the Vietnam War is touched upon in House Burning Down
, with Hendrix’s opening arpeggio genuinely sounding like a building being razed to the ground. The US Army are portrayed as aliens (“A giant boat from space landed with eerie grace/ And came and taken all the dead away”
) in a strangely jaunty description of a napalm attack.
The cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower
is a full realisation of the song’s potential that hardly any covers can lay claim to: Dylan’s cold strumming and foreboding beat-poetry is nowhere to be seen in lieu
of Hendrix’s meticulously unstructured and cathartic howling, marrying a searing heat with the simmering build of his control to all explode at the climax of his extended psychedelic solo with his roar of “ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER!” Dylan later paid Hendrix the ultimate compliment by rearranging his version of Watchtower
into Hendrix’s composition when played live.
However, it’s the stunning, dramatic bow of the emblematic finale Voodoo Child
, the definitive manifesto of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which takes the prize of the album’s finest track. Opening with the ropy whipping of Hendrix’s muted riff, the sound explodes into an astonishing proto-metal masterpiece in which you can hear the earth splitting, the seas roaring and Hendrix himself crashing through the evening sky’s ceiling, sounding 800 feet tall as he declares:
Well, I stand up next to a mountain, chop it down with the edge of my hand
Pick up all the pieces and make an island, might even just raise a little sand
The torrential tornado continues, with Hendrix revisiting 1983…’s
concepts of transcending this reality for a new enlightenment:
If I don’t see you no more in this world,
I’ll meet you on the next one, and don’t be late!
So, with the Experience taking their craft to a new level of expertise with such astonishingly high quality artmusik, how is it possible that this is their worst album?
The answer lies in juxtaposition: all six of these songs, as well as the eloquent, melted night heat of Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
and the acid-flavoured country of Gypsy Eyes
, come in the second half of the album. The listener must trudge through the album’s largely average first seven songs to reach the nirvana of the final nine.
A couple of forgettable songs would be forgivable, given that Electric Ladyland
sounds like an extended jam session. But infuriatingly irrelevant songs like …And The Gods Made Love
and Moon, Turn The Tides…gently, gently away
are minute long noise pieces and just wastes of awesome song titles, whilst the dismissive, pink, fluffy falsetto of (Have You Ever Been To) Electric Ladyland
and Little Miss Strange
, which was penned by the dissatisfied Noel Redding, are overproduced and under realised performances.
Also, the genius that is so stacked in the album’s second half is very much lacking in the moronic Crosstown Traffic
, which has some of the Experience’s worst ever lyrics with the clunky, brawny double entendres (“Tyre tracks across your back/I can see you’ve had your fun”)
, as well as Long Hot Summer Night
and Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)
, which could’ve been written by any number of early 1970s artists: that divine touch of ingenuity is just absent in the conformity. Of the album’s first seven songs, only the extended studio jam Voodoo Chile
, with lyrical allusions to both early bluesmen (“On the night I was born/Lord, the moon turned a fire red”)
and Greek gods (“Well, my arrows are made of desire/From far away Jupiter is sulphur mines”),
stands out as a musical achievement.
So, is Electric Ladyland
a worthwhile pursuit? The answer is yes, but you will eventually, inevitably find yourself skipping tracks to get to the dramatic compositions of genius. Of course, with so many average songs, it cannot be called a great album, but with three masterpieces (1983, All Along The Watchtower, Voodoo Child)
, its achievements are undeniable.
: the worst Experience album, yet simultaneously the definitive, epic mural of Hendrix’s genius.
Rainy Day, Dream Away
1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
Still Raining, Still Dreaming
House Burning Down
All Along The Watchtower
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)