5 October 2013

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - The Best Years Of Our Lives

The also ran’s; there is many of them, people who release songs which are shot to the stratosphere, yet they never live up to that promised potential.  You get many of them throughout the ages, take Shed Seven in the 90's - their first album had a couple of hit singles, then it was the law of diminishing returns till they ended (probably got back together to be honest, but not too sure).  But the bands keep going, just like Steve Harley, even today he is still releasing records and regularly tours the septic isle which is called the United Kingdom. The reason I am reviewing this is due to a question I was asked in my real job (I could only wish to do this full time for money); I was asked what one of my favourite songs was which connected with Christmas; yet was not a Christmas song.  I picked "Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)" as it was once used as a song for a winter advert campaign for a famous lager.  This made me think about the song a lot and realise that I have not actually heard the rest of the album it is from.  This was the third release from Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel and the first with Mr Harley's name in front of the band's name; and it was the third album to be produced by rock producer/legend Alan Parson.

This album starts off with a weird little introduction track called "Introducing 'The Best Years'" which sort of goes nowhere and is on the album for the sake of having an extra track - pointless. Anyway, the album proper starts with a live recording of Mad, Mad Moonlight which comes across as much of the soft rock of the day - wishing it was David Bowie/T-Rex ala anything that was glam rock at the time.  Following this is the equally strange "Mr Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)" which was the second single released off this album; again aiming for the Bowie market, but without the charm or talent.  Just adding a quirky keyboard and a weird falsetto does not make you the second coming of Mr DR Jones. Which brings us onto the next song "It Wasn't Me" which is trying to be a strange haunting ballad that has a hammy organ over the top of melody which does nothing much for it.

Coming hot on its heels is the Mott The Hopple obsessed "Panorama" which is a nice throw away track which goes by without outstaying it's welcome, quite pleasing on the ear.  After this comes Mr Harley & this London rebellion's pinnacle moment - "Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)".  In a television interview recorded in 2002, Harley described how the lyrics are vindictively directed at the former band members, whom he felt had abandoned him after the band pretty much upped sticks following a successful UK tour in 1974.  That sort of makes the song bittersweet, as it was openly one of the happiest pieces of music that was ever made.  Another good thing about it, the song does not try to sound like anything or anybody else.  On a side note, this song also contains guitar work from Marc Bolan and backing vocals from future chart topper Tina Charles (no idea, but it is noted as important for some reason). After this, the album does retain a few more interesting moments which don't actually sound like anybody else either.

The last three tracks of the album "Back To The Farm", "49th Parallel" and the title track of the album just feel a lot more natural and not a pastiche or tribute to another artist of the time.  They work better and feel fresher; that said they are not exactly important and a little bit forgettable to be honest as well.  There are also two bonus tracks which have been added for the re-releases of this album.  One track called "Another Journey" is throw away and over quicker than you can blink, the last track is a live version of one of their earlier singles "Sebastian" which is a brilliant piece of early 70's prog rock which is at odds with the rest of the album but it is also a fantastic track.  Overall, the album is ok but I can see what it is not held up as a brilliant example of 70's pop rock.  It is done by players trying to keep up with the pop market of the time and apart from one moment of genius in "Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)" the rest of the album is utterly dispensable and the last track goes to show what the band could have (and should have) kept on doing.

3 out of ten - Not for everyone but played well

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel website here (they are still going)

You listen to the album on Spotify here

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