Review Summary: Cheerful, catchy, radio-friendly and with a simple instrumentation, Pampered Menial is everything that's usually seen as a sin in prog, done right
Bands like Kansas
always tried to create a good mix of prog with the radio-friendly, more pop sound of AOR, a genre that you can associate with other bands like Toto
. Even though all of these bands created stone cold classic songs, none of them managed to produce at least one "classic" album, that doesn't grapple only on its singles. The closest these bands got was Leftoverture by Kansas
but the album still had some notorious flaws.
Probably the only example of an album that blended these different styles in the right way was 1974's Pampered Menial
by Pavlov's Dog
. Formed in 1972 in St. Louis, Pavlov's Dog is probably the best example of a band that you'll either hate or love, not only because of their pop style in the prog world but mainly because of its vocalist: David Surkamp
Surkamp's voice can be described as Geddy Lee's on helium or as a sheep on its rutting period, EXTREMLY high-pitched, is what makes interesting even the worst albums by the band and is what won't allow you to forget Pampered Menial's sound even if you listen to it just once.
Now that we've noted the two main characteristics of the band (its blend of styles and Surkamp's voice) it is time to talk about the album. Pampered Menial
as stated in the beginning of the review is a mix of prog and commercial rock; what is it that makes it so different to other albums of its type" Probably how the band works together: Not an unnecesary note is played in the whole album; Stockton and Safron don't try to shine on their own on the bass and drums respectively, they just play in harmony with the rest of the band; Hamilton and Rayburn both do an excellent work on the keys, and, along with Carver on the violin, they are what make of Pavlov's Dog a prog band, creating rythms that are very catchy but easily associated with a progressive act; Scorfina does the same on the guitar, simple but catchy riffs and short but sweet solos. All of this complemented as we've stated before, with Surkamp's voice, reaching higher notes than most of the vocalists of his style like Geddy Lee, but at the same time, doing a better work on lower-notes and expressing better the feelings of a song than them, Surkamp's is easily one of the most impressive vocalists in the world of prog.
That's what makes of Pampered Menial such an interesting listen, the musicians don't try to shine on their own playing in a too complex way, instead they play all together with a much simpler sound that converges in a way more cohesive style. How well the acoustic instruments play together with Surkamp's voice on the classic ballad, Julia
, how the violin and the keys blend together so well in Natchez Trace
, or how insane are the closing seconds in Song Dance
(probably the best song in the album even if it is closer to a hard-rock song than to actual prog) with a bluesy piano, and a heavy guitar and violin in one of the best moments in the album.
It would be interesting to see a band with such a distinctive style to play longer songs, sure, the lenght of the album's pretty short and it would've been cool to listen to an epic by these guys but that's not what Pavlov's Dog wants, they just go the point, playing only what's necessary.
Even though At the Sound of the Bell
, the band's second album, would feature some of the best musicians of its time like Bill Bruford (Yes
and King Crimson
), Andy MacKay (Roxy Music
) or the jazz saxofonist Michael Brecker, the band would never reach the masterpiece that Pampered Menial was, the best mix of cheesy rock and classic, full of feelings, prog that until this day divides the prog community, from those who see it as just a pop-rock album with annoying vocals to those who see it as the perfect blend of two genres that many tried to achieved but only a few could. Recommended to every prog-head... you're warned though, you gotta be in the mood for something cheesy.
In 1974 Pavlov's Dog was:
David Surkamp - Vocals, Rythm guitar
Steve Scorfina - Lead guitar
David Hamilton - Organ, Piano
Doug Rayburn - Mellotron, Flute
Siegfried Carver - Violin, Viola, Vitar
Rick Stockton - Bass
Mike Safron - Drums, Percussion