Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Blue Oyster Cult

  • Blue Oyster Cult [Columbia, 1972] B+
  • Tyranny and Mutation [Columbia, 1973] B+
  • Secret Treaties [Columbia, 1974] B
  • On Your Feet or on Your Knees [Columbia, 1975] C+
  • Agents of Fortune [Columbia, 1976] B+
  • Spectres [Columbia, 1977] B
  • Mirrors [Columbia, 1979] C

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Blue Oyster Cult [Columbia, 1972]
Warning: critics' band, managed by Sandy Pearlman with occasional lyrics by R. Meltzer. Reassurance: the most musical hard rock album since Who's Next. (Well, that's less than six months, and this is not a great time for hard rock albums.) The style is technocratic psychedelic, a distanced, decisively post-Altamont reworking of the hallucinogenic guitar patterns of yore, with lots of heavy trappings. Not that they don't have a lyrical side. In "Then Came the Last Days of May," for instance, four young men ride out to seek their fortune in the dope biz and one makes his by wasting the other three. B+

Tyranny and Mutation [Columbia, 1973]
Says S. Pearlman: "We want to be disgusting, not trans-repulsive." Says R. Meltzer: "This is really hard rock comedy." Musically, Long Island's only underground band impales the entire heavy ethos on a finely-honed guitar neck, often at high speed, which is the punch line. And the lyrics aren't inaudible, just unbelievable--a parody-surreal refraction of the abysmal "poetry" of heavy, with its evil women and gods of hellfire. Which is not to suggest that it doesn't become what it takes off from. But is that bad or good? B+

Secret Treaties [Columbia, 1974]
Sometime over the past year, while I wasn't playing their records, I began to wonder whether a cross between the Velvet Underground and Uriah Heep was my idea of a good time. The driving, effortless wit and density of Buck Dharma's guitar flourish in this cold climate, but Eric Bloom couldn't project emotion if they let him, and I'm square enough to find his pseudo-pseudospade cynicism less than funny. Subject of "Dominance and Submission": New Year's 1964 in Times Square. B

On Your Feet or on Your Knees [Columbia, 1975]
This live double, proof that they've earned the right to issue cheapo product, is a fitting testament. The packaging makes their ominoso joke more explicit than it's ever been, and if the music is humdrum more often than searing, maybe that means these closet intellectuals have finally achieved the transubstantiation of their most baroque fantasies. C+

Agents of Fortune [Columbia, 1976]
Just when I figured they were doomed to repeat themselves until the breakup, they come up with the Fleetwood Mac of heavy metal, not as fast as Tyranny and Mutation but longer on momentum, with MOR tongue-in-cheek replacing the black-leather posturing and future games. I wonder how long it took them to do the la-la-las on "Debbie Denise" without cracking up. B+

Spectres [Columbia, 1977]
Although Sandy Pearlman used to say the Cult's audience couldn't tolerate any suggestion that the band's laser-and-leathers fooforaw was funny, their parodic side has become progressively more overt. What do today's Cultists think of "Godzilla" ("Oh no there goes Tokyo") or the beerhall intro to "Golden Age of Leather"? I bet some of 'em like laughing at laser-and-leathers, and good. I also bet some of 'em are so zonked they wouldn't get it if John Belushi emceed, and to, er, hell with them. B

Mirrors [Columbia, 1979]
The Cult's identity has been deteriorating for years, but this is a quantum leap into anonymity--songs for slick (what happened to dense?) hard rock band by five different musicians and their numerous collaborators. Only "In Thee," a farewell to Patti Smith by Allen Lanier that deserves to become a standard on the order of "Alison," is more than marginally interesting. C

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1980s]: Though the power-packed Career of Evil compilation stole great slabs of 1982's Extraterrestrial Live, only two of its songs were written in the '80s. They should know.