Review Summary: The Salieri to Black Sabbath's Mozart.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the genre known today as 'heavy metal' was created in Birmingham, UK, sometime in the last quarter of 1969, and introduced to the general public on February 13 of the following year, when the four men responsible for innovating it put out their self-titled debut album. Black Sabbath
– the album– is widely accepted as the first instance of the era's prevailing hard rock sound being taken to the next step in terms of heaviness and aggression, and Black Sabbath – the band – are generally credited with laying down the blueprint for not only metal as genre, but several of its myraid sub-genres as well.
The beauty of widely acknowledged truisms, however, is that they can be challenged; just as long as there is tangible proof to support the new theory, any paradigm can be reassessed or even altered. And, much like evidence of dinosaurs having feathers forced paleontologists to re-think their former classification of the pre-historic beasts as reptiles, so too does a recent finding suggest heavy metal may not have been invented in the UK, but rather across the pond, in the good old US of A.
The finding in question is the first and only album by Yesterday's Children, a short-lived and little-known five-piece from Cheshire-Prospect, Connecticut, founded by and centering around the Croce brothers – frontman Denis and rhythm guitarist Richard. First coming together in 1966, the group failed to stand out in any way from the ever-growing proto-hard-rock hordes of the time, and managed to eke out a single full-length album before calling it quits, only four years later. An unremarkable, commonplace story for what would have been just another unremarkable, commonplace late 1960s band – if not for the fact that they may unwittingly have re-written the history of rock and metal as it is known today.
In fact, listeners going into Yesterday's Children
– the album – with nothing but historical context to inform them may just find themselves falling off their chair the first time they hear the opening to She's Easy
, and bear witness to the existence of a genuine, honest-to-goodness NWOBHM/speed metal riff in an album from 1970 – ten years
before the genre was ever recognised! And as if that was not surprising enough, not two songs later, Providence Bummer
opens with a sludgy stoner riff – almost two decades
genre came to be! At a time when the term progressive
was tacked onto nearly every group of longhairs to pick up electric instruments, Yesterday's Children definitely make a case for the term being used - in its literal
sense – in the context of their sound!
Unfortunately, the remainder of the band's only album is nowhere near as surprising or ahead of its time as either of those two moments – much to the contrary. The remainder of the eight songs on offer see the group stay well within the status-quo of the genre known at the time as 'heavy psych', with citations to such well-known contemporaries as The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Big Brother and the Holding Company – most of them stemming from Denis Croce's incredibly varied, elastic vocal range, which can go from a pitch-perfect Robert Plant impersonation to a gruff stoner-rock husk, the R'n'B stylings of Jimi Hendrix or the soul/blues wail of a Janis Joplin, often within the span of a single song! Sadly, however, as much as they bring to mind the best acts from their time period, the band and their compositions lack that extra spark of genius that helped those acts achieve their legendary status.
This is not to say, of course, that Yesterday's Children are pedestrian from a technical standpoint; on the contrary, all five elements clearly know how to play their instruments, and are more than up to the task of creating the sort of complex, loosey-goosey, hard rock sound the aforementioned artists helped popularise. Rather, it is in the songwriting department that the Connecticut five-piece falter in relation to their peers. Nothing in Yesterday's Children
, the album, is by any means awful, or even below-average, but nothing stands out as being particularly memorable, either – at least nothing the group composed themselves.
In fact, the most noteworthy moments on this album are the two cover songs – at once the catchiest and the least representative of the album's eight tracks. It is perhaps no surprise that the group's label – small indie Map City – chose these two tracks to release back to back as the advance single for the album; they are far and away the most memorable, as well as the easiest to digest for an audience not used to the musical insanity characteristic of the psychedelia genre. However, they also in no way
give a good idea of Yesterday's Children's real sound, with neither the Beatlesque harmonies of What Of I
nor the almost reverential Led Zeppelin pastiche of Evil Woman
(not to be confused with the track of the same name Black Sabbath had covered months earlier) being present at any other point in the album. Rather, the group's six original tracks tread a much less well-behaved and linear path, falling somewhere in the vicinity of the more chaotic moments from bands like The Who, the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cactus.
leads the way with its non-linear, jam-friendly structure, and the other five originals on the album are quick to follow, pausing only for the obligatory-for-the-period introspective mushroom trip of Sailing
– a song which, again, pre-dates Black Sabbath's fairly similar Planet Caravan
by almost a year!
Sadly, being very much a band of their time, the Children also fall into one of the most notorious pitfalls affecting rock acts during that period – namely, the tendency to lapse into extended jams which threaten to derail the songs, and on occasion actually do. The most egregious example of this is She's Easy
, a rocking track which had every chance of becoming a standout – had the group not lost their grasp on it halfway through and let it extend to nearly seven minutes
in length! As a result, the song ends up being nearly twice as long as a track of this type needs to be, and all the goodwill it has accrued quickly runs out as listeners find themselves fighting the urge to reach for the 'Skip' button. A much better example of an in-song jam – one which is actually kept under control, and benefits the song rather than hinder it – can be found on closer Hunter's Moon
, a song designed to allow for this type of deviation, rather than having it shoehorned into its structure.
However, it is hard to deny that Yesterday's Children are at their best when they are at their most focused. Sad Born Loser
and Providence Bummer
, the best of the original songs included here, both have sensible run-times and a somewhat defined song structure – and are all the better off for it. The first is a soulful, slow-burning Janis-Joplin-meets-Jimi Hendrix R'n'B track, while the latter is a classic blues-rock boogie with – for once – a somewhat catchy chorus section. Together, they prove Yesterday's Children could rise above the averageness plaguing the rest of the album – though, like everything else surrounding them – they fail to live on in the listener's memory once the album has stopped playing.
All in all, then, Yesterday's Children are a typical example of historic importance overriding actual quality or worth. They may well come to be regarded as the true innovators of heavy metal and its sub-genres (provided more people learn about them, that is) but that does not make them worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Sabbath; rather, they, along with their only full-length album, remain very much a period piece, undoubtedly appealing to those already enamoured with this era in music history, but unlikely to be seen as anything more than run-of-the-mill by anybody else.
Sad Born Loser
What Of I