All in all, two albums slightly outside of the more usual Slade ‘box’, and ones which can get forgotten against some of the bigger and more iconic albums, both of these can hold their heads up proudly against almost anything else that the band did.
The Slade reissue campaign continues – in this case with a pair of CD releases complete with bonus tracks, as well as accompanying coloured vinyl issues. While the previous releases in this series all came out on vinyl first, with CD versions following later, now they have caught up with each other and are being released simultaneously. For the purposes of this review we will be looking at the CD releases, as they contain new essays with plenty of information about the albums and their recording, but also a number of significant bonus tracks. The two albums to get the treatment here are quite surprising – while the 1976 album Nobody’s Fools was to be expected following the previous release of its predecessor, 1974’s Slade In Flame, things then abruptly jump ahead seven years, and several albums, to 1983’s The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome. There is a connection however – that being the USA; while Nobody’s Fools was recorded over there during the band’s fruitless two-year relocation to try to crack the market, The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome actually saw the first real Stateside success, with the album track Run Runaway making the US Top 20 for the first and only time in the band’s career. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves – what of 1976’s Nobody’s Fools first, an album which was something of a flop by Slade standards at the time, and precipitated a four year spell in the relative doldrums before their legendary Reading Festival appearance in 1980 led to an unexpected second wind.
In actual fact, Nobody’s Fools is a far better album than its reputation (or lack of, given that it tends to be overlooked), even if its sound did represent something of a change, broadening out to incorporate new influences picked up in the US. Female backing vocals, including prominently the US singer Tasha Thomas, are present for the first time on a Slade record, with some soul and funk creeping into the mix. The opening (almost) title track Nobody’s Fool is a fine way to start the album, a sprightly rocker with a real commercial edge which disappointingly failed as a single. Two other singles from the album, the melodic and restrained In For A Penny and the heavy blues-rock of Let’s Call It Quits were both a little more successful chart-wise – deservedly so as they are still full of merit, but Nobody’s Fool remains to these ears the best of the three. A decidedly Country influence shows itself in the carefree Pack Up Your Troubles, talking about getting away from the stress of modern living and ‘catching a fish on the line’ – it’s complete and utter hokum, of course, and about as authentic as a nine-pound note or a pair of Oddidas trainers, but that’s really not the point, as it yomps along in a hugely pleasing manner, with a melody at times reminiscent of I’m The Urban Spaceman, and works delightfully. Funk influences enter the picture with the sleazy funk-rock groove of Do The Dirty, a track which skirts with failure owing to the band’s position so far outside their comfort zone, but it gets away with it by dint of sheer effort and undeniable good playing.
There is good old fashioned Slade rock to be found in Scratch My Back and Get On Up, the latter of which retained its place in the band’s live set for some years – the only one here to do so. LA Jinx is a track which really does ride the wall of death, trying not to collapse into a sea of absurdity, but despite the ham-fisted and awkward lyric it manages to keep out of trouble, largely due to a great guitar hookline and am excellent chorus. The song was written about a hoodoo the band seemed to feel every time they played LA for some years, as there would always be some gremlins to queer the pitch in the form of equipment malfunctions and the like. It’s hard to make a song work when the verses begin with cries of ‘Yahoo!’, ‘Hooray!’ ‘Hurrah’ and the like, but it manages it – though the lines ‘Yippee! Hooray and golly gee!’ and ‘The trumpets play tarah’ do cause the skin to itch a little! I’m A Talker is a marvellously infectious acoustic shuffle which cannot help but put a smile on the listener’s face, and the only real dip on the album is the rather clumsy and heavy-handed Did Your Mama Ever Tell Ya, concerning ‘adult’ interpretations of nursery rhyme characters, which is rather laboured. The best track on the record is saved for the closing All The World Is A Stage (taking its title from Shakespeare, and in the process giving the name to the recent box set of live recordings). A song about the relationship between band and audience, it rocks but is much more sophisticated than simply that, and finishes off a strong album on a real high note.
The bonus tracks here are interesting. The non-album single Thanks For The Memory is a real earworm of a hook, while getting extra points for the line ‘Eat an apple every day /An onion keeps everyone away’, while its B-side Raining In My Champagne manages to overcome what it lacks as a song by sheer effort. A virtual rewrite of Twist And Shout in places, it initially grates, but is played and sung with such infectious abandon that it’s impossible not to end up singing along to the chorus by the time it finishes; in that regard, classic Slade in its purest form. Can You Imagine, the B-side to In For A Penny, is a strong and slightly dark song partly inspired by the filming of the Slade In Flame movie, while the flip to Let’s Call It Quits, When The Chips Are Down is no slouch either. One further thing to mention about this extremely underrated album is that it was released in Slade’s tenth anniversary year (yes, they formed back in 1966, unbelievably!), and the cover photo deliberately nods back to their 1970 album Play It Loud, with the band members in the same positions and, apart from Hill, all looking in the same direction as that earlier cover.
Seven years on from that album, and Slade have been through some changes – in their music and their fortunes as opposed to the line-up, of course – with the early ’80s seeing something of a following within the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, and in turn a more metallic and heavier side to albums such as We’ll Bring The House Down and Till Deaf Us Do Part. With The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome, however, there was a far more varied sonic palette introduced again. In fact, in that sense there is a definite similarity between these two records, as Nobody’s Fools saw the band emerging from their ‘classic’ glam-rock phase while Kamikaze saw them similarly stretching out from the heavy rock bubble of the previous couple of releases.
All of this is not to say that The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome ditches the hard rock – indeed, quite the contrary, as there is still a lot of that here. Rather, it sees the band refining their sound with nuances and some new experiments which they hoped would broaden their appeal – something which, at long last, did bear some fruit in the USA. The opening Slam The Hammer Down, the cheeky nod to their misspelled past Cheap ‘n Nasty Luv and the appallingly titled yet actually excellent Cocky Rock Boys (Rule OK) are all very strong examples of good old back-to-basics hard-and-heavy rock (though one does wonder whether they titled that last one as a bet or something!), but certainly some of the less expected detours here are very much the most interesting. The big single in the USA (which also did pretty brisk business in the UK charts) was the Celtic swirl of Run Runaway, all tribal-sounding percussion and bagpipe-sounding guitars. For what it is, it’s an excellent song, and delivered surprisingly convincingly by a band who were about as Celtic as fish and chips and a pint of mild, but it somehow seems a little odd – in the hands of Big Country, for example, it could and would have been an anthemic favourite fitting like the proverbial glove, but it’s a little too West Highlands as opposed to West Midlands to really ring true for Slade. Then again, that could certainly be my own regional preconceptions unfairly colouring my view, so the track should certainly be enjoyed and appreciated for what it is at heart – a good, joyful, infectious romp that dares you not to sing along. The other big hit from the album was the arch flag-waver My Oh My – reaching Number Two in the UK and narrowly denying the band their first chart topper in a decade by virtue of the dubious qualities of the Flying Pickets with their novelty seasonal acapella take on the Yazoo song Only You. On this occasion only the stoniest of cold-hearted curmudgeons could deny the song its success, as it is impossible not to be engaged by its over-the-top, kitchen-sink pomposity. The lyrics may be simplistic (we all need loving, should stand together, yadda yadda) and at times cod-philosophical nonsense (‘I believe in woman, my oh my’ opens Noddy, in a fairly nebulous way which leads one to wonder whether he is putting forward a grand conceptual thesis regarding the quality of ‘woman’ as an entity, as opposed to the expected plural), but in truth it doesn’t matter one bit, From the moment the drums kick in as if Don Powell has just woken up from a nightmare and thrashed around the kit in alarm, to the huge massed choruses building layer upon layer of instruments and voices towards the conclusion, it’s an undeniable classic for what it purports to be. Mind you, the image of the Top Of The Pops audience gyrating around the band waving their BBC-issued black and white Slade scarves lives sadly long in the memory!
There is another unexpected turn as the what was (and is, of course) the second vinyl side comes around, in the shape of the eight and a half minute, multi-part ode to the joys of motor racing Ready To Explode. It’s not exactly what you’d call ‘prog rock’ of course – but it’s certainly a lot more ambitious in its structure and range than one would normally expect from the band – their longest recorded studio track by some distance. It works brilliantly, as does the album closer Razzle Dazzle Man, which begins as a straight rocker but opens up its scope towards the end with a very interesting coda including a nod back to Ready To Explode, as if tying up the second side as some sort of overarching concept (it isn’t, but kind of makes you think it is). Ready To Explode itself leads very nicely via a linking voice-over into the unfairly unsuccessful third single (And Now The Waltz) C’est La Vie. It’s a very strong album indeed, and there really isn’t an out and out failure to be found anywhere.
Once again the bonus tracks throw up some excellent diamonds in the rough. Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply is a song which was repurposed as the title track to an American album of that name which effectively replaced Kamikaze, by changing the cover design and several of the tracks as well as the album title, and it’s a great track which would have strengthened the Kamikaze album itself if replacing one of the less essential tracks, perhaps such as the relatively slight if enjoyable In The Doghouse. There are two non-album B-sides in the shape of the tremendous Don’t Tame A Hurricane and the slightly weaker yet brilliantly titled Two Track Stereo One Track Mind. Some single edits and two ‘hot’ and ‘hotter’ mixes of Slam The Hammer Down emphasising horns are less essential, but overall it’s a nicely rounded set for sure.
In terms of packaging, the CDs are very well presented. They lack the ‘wow factor’ of the coloured vinyl, of course, but coming in the form of small hard-back ‘mediabooks’ with the disc in an envelope on the inside back cover is a great idea. In each case it’s like a very nice digipak, with the booklet incorporated like the pages of the book instead of tucked inside, but by the nature of the robust design there will be no risk of accidental damage. Informative and well-designed booklet contents complete the packages very nicely.
All in all, two albums slightly outside of the more usual Slade ‘box’, and ones which can get forgotten against some of the bigger and more iconic albums, both of these can hold their heads up proudly against almost anything else that the band did. And if the albums in between these two get the same treatment, there will be more where that came from. Nice stuff.