Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mahavishnu Orchestra/John McLaughlin

  • The Inner Mounting Flame [Columbia, 1971] A
  • Inner Worlds [Columbia, 1976] B-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Inner Mounting Flame [Columbia, 1971]
He couldn't very well call it the John McLaughlin Lifetime, but that's what it is--with Billy Cobham a somewhat heavier Tony Williams, Rick Laird subbing for fellow Scot Jack Bruce, violinist Jerry Goodman and keyboard man Jan Hammer vainly filling in Khalid Yasin's organ textures, and McLaughlin back on electric guitar. The raveups aren't quite as intense as "Right On," though "Awakening" and "The Noonward Race" come close, but McLaughlin has a much clearer idea of how to make a rock band work than Williams. No vocals is the right idea--imagine what claptrap he'd come up with putting the beyond into words. To change pace he provides more of the noble, elemental themes he introduced on Devotion--my favorite is "The Dance of Maya," which breaks into a blues about halfway through. Mistake: "A Lotus on Irish Streams," a lyrical digression featuring Goodman, who ought to be watched closely at all times. A

Inner Worlds [Columbia, 1976]
McLaughlin's return to a small group would seem overdue, but in fact he's right on time--trapped in the dead end he saw looming ahead of him way back in 1973, which is why he resorted to orchestrations in the first place. Yup, John's got himself a funk fusion group just like Jan Hammer and Billy Cobham. Stu Goldberg (come back, Jan) and Ralphe Armstrong (composer of "Planetary Citizen") are the sidemen, Narada Michael Walden the coauthor. Walden has better technical control of funk rhythms than a lot of jazz-oriented players, but he's squeamish about grease, and as a result his tunes tend to be cute even when they're good. McLaughlin, meanwhile, tends to be impressive even when he's repeating himself. But not that impressive. B-