Saturday, June 15, 2013

Set the time on half past tilt: TO THE HILT


Joining Golden Earring here already eleven albums deep into their recording career, one that began way back in 1965 - but To The Hilt was only the third released on these shores, the US not coming on board until '73's Moontan and that album's hit "Radar Love." And yeah, if these guys remain defined by said cut (and later on "Twilight Zone") in the minds of most passers by, it's a shame because digging deeper one discovers these albums rise above the seventies second-tier bin they're often tossed in.

Case in point: To The Hilt, an album that rocks mightily in its own idiosyncratic way, peddles an odd brand of narcotic Euro-funk, and fills in the lines with unexpected instrumental flavors, all while serving up a dose of morbid, fatalistic lyrical imagery (dig the Hipgnosis designed cover) that really stirs the senses. Yeah, immerse yourself in the greyscale yet groovy world of To The Hilt and one comes away a little flush with the excitement of a Seventh Seal-style contest of life vs. Death, chess board replaced with a dance floor from which we peer over the edge into the abyss.

"Why Me" opens with the prevalent Golden Earring guitar riffery that will rev the engine of most of these tunes, one a touch too detached and determined to be labeled mere 'boogie', as a contrasting synth line offers a small source of warmth in this already chilly world. Barry Hay gives us an oblique tale of love gone wrong then redeemed, sprinkled with foreboding and violence, as the band swoops in with ghostly backing falsettos on the chorus. Acoustics come out for "Face Dancer," an ode to beauty, manipulation and eventual corruption, again synths coming in to soften the edges of the guitar lines, the song ending in a lush analog glow.

The album's title track ponders the thoughts racing through one's head as it is about to be decapitated by an oncoming train or consumed alive by a swarm of ants, concluding a life lived "To the Hilt" is the only one that's gonna make these grotesque exits go down without a hint of regret. Sort of a Who-styled slammer, straight ahead with the sing-songy, slightly mocking vocals perfectly delivering those great lyrics. Side one closes with "Nomad," the life on the road tale treated to an interstellar chug by the Earring, sweetened by truly 'phat' synths and dissolving into an extended, defeated dirge, guitarist George Kooymens offering an abstracted blues as Barry signs off with a pleading "We've got a dream in common."

Flip To The Hilt over and a loopy filtered bassline introduces "Sleepwalkin'," the Earring paralyzed by the beat as Hay finds himself at the losing end of some romantic encounter on the deck of the Titanic - outta nowhere blasts forth a sax to lift us into the cold arctic night. And yeah, we're sorta transported for a moment from the psychiatrists office to the disco on this and the meat of side two, "Latin Lightning." Just a total blast, "Latin Lightning" stands in awe of some charismatic hombre as he tears it up, "spinnin' a cyclone, man alive, and a' kicking." True to the tale this one whirls you into oblivion with it's rhythmic strumming and an extended guitar and keyboard duel that leaves nothing but a pile of sweat-stained polyester in its wake.

Finally, "Violins," its menacing blues lick portending trouble - and sure enough we're dropped into a weird scene with Barry dishing out his most cracked poetry yet, comprising a Paganini film, murder, and albino monkeys in Barcelona. Essentially a two part tune, the clenched fist choruses of the first part setting up a lengthy outro where credits roll as Hay sobbs "forever, forever," strings arriving and getting more and more discordant until suddenly - nothing. No fade out, just a hard cut into total blackness.