We are used to pampered artists complaining about taking a long time to write an album due to writer’s block, tiring tours, and myriad other narcissistic excuses, and so the naked honesty from Kerslake in the sleeve notes of this album is startling: ‘It’s been a little over three years to record and finish it, it took so long because I could only manage two days a week and sometimes nothing for a period of time as the chemotherapy without my permission kept me away. Never mind, it’s done and I am very proud of the songs’. It is surely a testament to him that he soldiered on to produce his first solo album, but it will sadly also be his last since he finally succumbed to his illnesses and passed away in September of last year. Kerslake will of course always be remembered as the drummer in Uriah Heep, joining in 1972 to form what I think everyone would agree was the definite Uriah Heep line-up of Box-Byron-Hensley-Kerslake-Thain. That line-up recorded legendary albums such as Demons and Wizards and Sweet Freedom. Apart from one brief stint away to contribute to Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo albums he remained behind the drum kit with Heep until 2007 when his health problems forced him to quit the band.
The album is basically a two-man affair. Jake Libretto (of Blurred Vision) contributes all the guitar parts including the bass, and Kerslake does the rest: drums of course, but also vocals and keyboards. His voice is surprisingly good, although that shouldn’t be a shock really since the vocal harmonies in Heep that he contributed to were one of their signature sounds. Kerslake is also credited with writing or co-writing all but one song on the album. Again, that shouldn’t really be a surprise: if you look at the Heep catalogue, his name appears as co-writer on several tracks on those early albums. So, you are probably wondering whether this sounds like a Uriah Heep album, aren’t you? Well, I think the answer to that question is ‘no’. Perhaps the only echo of his former band is in the first track Celia Sienna, where the layered acoustic guitars reminded me of a similar approach used in tracks such as Paradise or Tales. Libretto certainly has a very different sound to Mick Box, and Kerslake’s keyboards are more modern synth-based than Hensley’s Hammond, but musically this is a straightforward pop/rock album without any heavy or progressive elements. It has a strong sense of melody throughout that will satisfy fans of The Moody Blues but also mixed with quite a hard rock edge that would for example appeal to fans of Roger Daltrey’s solo work.
The best track in my view is Home Is Where The Heart Is, co-written with Libretto, a fine mid-paced 80s style anthem with driving power chords and an irresistible chorus line. Surely there’s a single there! Take Nothing For Granted is another energetic rock track, again supported by a catchy chorus. The pace also slows down in You May Be By Yourself, a slow rock ballad with a strong 70s feel. There’s also an unexpected and surprisingly good slowed down rendition of Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend which is touchingly dedicated to ‘all of my friends past and represent who I have loved through music’. Adding further variety to the mix is the slightly bizarre Port And A Brandy, a sort of rowdy barroom song with honky-tonk piano celebrating the joys of drinking. While Kerslake is rightly in the spotlight, there are some excellent contributions from Libretto. Most obviously these are in the instrumental Mom where he gets time to demonstrate some neat bluesy guitar playing. But there are other telling touches, for example the way the guitar accompanies and enriches the vocals in Where Do We Go From Here and the beautiful acoustic guitar solo in You May Be By Yourself.
And if you are wondering about the strange album title: according to Wikipedia, that invented word comes from when Kerslake used to count as a child and couldn’t understand why there wasn’t an eleventeen (or a twelveteen presumably). In the context of the album, Kerslake states on the back cover ‘There are eleventeen good reasons why I made this album’. In this situation, with the artist leaving us prior to his first release, it can be difficult to step back and try to judge the album objectively. There is definitely very good material here although at the same time there’s not quite the class you can find in Hensley’s solo work for example. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable album and it left me wishing Kerslake had dedicated more time to developing and releasing his own material.
Eleventeen is available from February 26th, both as a CD and as a limited vinyl release with gatefold sleeve.