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Monday, May 13, 2013

Grand Funk - Shinin' On (1974 us, hard groovy rockin', 2014 SHM remaster)

And now, here it comes,  Grand Funk in all their slick rag-tag glory, where roughness and toughness in the essence have been overshadowed by gloss and, well, shining on the surface. Yeah, it took Todd Rundgren and even a second try at that to bring out the very best in Grand Funk, but believe me, the result was worth it; Shinin' On is a brilliant 'guilty pleasure' and the one "late period" Grand Funk album to buy if you're only gonna buy one, far better than any of those stupid hit packages that are all busy incorporating dreck like 'I'm Your Captain' and 'Heartbreaker' instead of showcasing the band's driving, energetic, boozy rock'n'roll sound as neatly combed and fleshed out by Mr Todd "Pop Is More Than Just A Pretty Chorus" Rundgren.

And Shinin' On certainly has a lot of that - a bit too much, even, perhaps, but heck, since it's the only true style I can easily tolerate from Farner and his dudes, it's all right in the end. The album is remarkably short, with none of the songs stretched out to ultra-epic length (well, many of them feature extended codas, but they're not epic codas - rather like unpretentious dance grooves), and six of the eight tracks are in-yer-face rock, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but almost always ballsy and gruff, with a lot of energy and, occasionally, wonderful lead work from Farner. Of course, six years of work still haven't managed to teach Mark the skill of writing something at least halfway memorable, but I did close my eyes on that a long long time ago - we all know that Grand Funk Railroad thought themselves above such a primitive idea as 'hook'. I know. They must be progressive.

Only one tune has any signs of gospel ('Carry Me Through'), and, of course, it's one of the longest and the most boring numbers on the entire record, but still, it's interesting how Todd cleverly applies all those production devices to transform a routine gospel throwaway into a strange 'cosmic' weird chanting complete with electronic voice processing and otherworldly wah-wah solos. Whenever I check the lyrics sheet, I feel like pukin' ("help me find the hand that knows where I've been" - isn't that part a little bit too ambiguous?), but apparently, Rundgren felt that way, too, because he cleverly laid all these "voice screens" on Mark's delivery so he sounds like some Andromedan guy from far, far away, with a bunch of "space synth loops" confirming that idea.

Likewise, 'Mr Pretty Boy' is a very strange and exciting interpretation of a straightforward blues original, with atmospheric Mellotrons roaming in the background and weird underwatery guitars underpinning Farner's vocals. It's not that I'm actually saying these tunes are great or anything like that - but you gotta understand, for a band so unimaginative as GFR these arrangements are top of the game indeed. Subtract them, and you'll be left with basic derivative structures that do nothing, except for reminding you of several dozen identic performances from several dozen generic Southern rock bands. Whoever said production doesn't really matter? Oh, I did. Would you please get into your time machine, move five years back and shoot me?

And the rest just R-O-C-K-S. Rocks well, rocks hard, despite all the sheen, and even if you forget every single note as soon as the album's over (and you will, unless you grew up with this stuff under your pillow or something), that doesn't mean you won't have a real good time while the music's on. The title track is again the biggest highlight, with a classy 'dry' guitar tone employed by Farner as he bases the song on a phased funky riff, with booming, echoey vocals on top, more of a caveman than of a Christian. Craig Frost comes to the forefront here, getting involved in the same kind of driving interplay with Mark as he did on 'Flight Of The Phoenix' - but this here thing is rather funky than bluesy, meaning it actually gets hot during the performance.

The band's take on the golden oldie 'Loco-Motion' is funny; not great but essentially saved by the fact that it's the most lightweight tune they ever did up to that moment - in the context of this album, it functions akin to the Traveling Wilburys' 'Wilbury Twist', well, you know the score. Hardcore fans were probably disappointed hearing GFR do such blatant pop-rock, but hey, thank the Lord they're not doing generic bubblegum, and I suppose that Farner's (or is that really Rundgren? my commentators seem to be split on that one) blazing solo will put everybody to their senses anyway.

'Please Me' is the strangest thing on here lyrically, since I can't figure out who or what is the 'she' of the song supposed to symbolize. 'Five million guys have tried to reduce her to another girl on the street?' What the heck is that? That's a bit too few if they mean the world, and way too many if... well you know. The song rocks anyway, and so does the funky 'Gettin' Over You' and the socially biting 'Little Johnny Hooker', the latter apparently GFR's analog of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Saturday Night Special' (only where the Skynyrders condemned hand guns, the Funkers condemn switchblade knives).

I don't know why, but they even manage to come out with enough sincerity on that track. Maybe it's the poison emanating out of Farner's guitar that drives me berserk, but I am perfectly ready to perceive 'Johnny Hooker' as a sincere, emotional, powerful anthem directed against... ah, well, all the anthems that are directed against something are directed against one thing all the time. It works, anyway, and even the vocals aren't overdriven this time.
by George Starostin 

1. Shinin' On (Don Brewer, Mark Farner) - 5:59
2. To Get Back In (Mark Farner) - 3:56
3. The Loco-Motion (Gerry Goffin, Carol King) - 2:46
4. Carry Me Through (Don Brewer, Craig Frost) - 5:34
5. Please Me (Don Brewer, Mark Farner) - 3:37
6. Mr. Pretty Boy (Don Brewer, Mark Farner, Craig Frost) - 3:08
7. Gettin' Over You (Don Brewer, Craig Frost) - 3:59
8. Little Johnny Hooker (Mark Farner) - 4:59

Grand Funk
*Mark Farner - Guitar, Guitarrón, Harmonica, Organ, Vocals
*Don Brewer - Drums, Percussion, Vocals
*Craig Frost - Organ, Clavinet, Moog, Piano, Mellotron, Vocals
*Mel Schacher - Bass Guitar

1966-67   Terry Knight And The Pack / Reflections
1969  Grand Funk Railroad - On Time (Japan edition)
1970  Grand Funk - Closer To Home (Japan edition)
1970  Grand Funk Railroad - Live (Japan edition)

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