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Nazareth : Exercises
(A&M - 1972)
Category : underrated
4,5 stars

Nazareth : Play'n' the Game
(A&M - 1976)
Category : underrated
4,33 stars

Nazareth : The Fool Circle
(A&M - 1981)
Category : underrated
4,33 stars

Nazareth : 2XS
(A&M - 1982)
Category : underrated
4 stars

The Scottish quartet Nazareth is without any doubt one of the most interesting Hard Rock bands to ever have come from the British isles, or from anywhere else for that matter. Their seventies and early eighties output especially is interesting(*) because their albums on general are varied, interlacing full out Rockers with more pop oriented material, thus keeping your attention going from the edge of the platter on side 1 to the hole in the middle on side 2. It's only late in their carreer that their inspiration seemed to slowly seep away. Albums like 'Snakes and Ladders' (1989), 'No Jive' (1991) and especially their creative low point 'Boogaloo' (1998) aren't the kind of albums that you have to listen to if you want to be able to appreciate what a terrific band they actually were.

If you want to understand why I think Nazareth is a band that every self respecting Rock fan should have listened to at least once, start with their 1980 album 'Malice in Wonderland'. For once I agree with many of the professional Rock critics that this is the band's most complete album. It is the perfect example of what constitutes Nazareth's main attraction, and that's the simple fact that they were skilled songsmiths. Most of their songs are in essence well written pop songs with strong vocal melodies and memorable choruses. And although additional flavour is added by Dan McCafferty's signature voice, with a less instantly recognisable singer these songs probably would've worked just as well.

But after 'Malice in Wonderland', most critics seem to focus on albums that I feel are decent at best, whereas the four albums I mention on this page are either ignored or underrated.

Exercises is an odd album. Although it is their second album, it sounds like it precedes their debut as it definitely sounds more light weight. Nazareth has rarely been a very aggressive sounding Hard Rock band, but I wouldn't even categorise 'Exercises' as a Rock album. It's simply a beautiful collection of relatively laid back and old fashioned sounding Folky Pop songs, most of which are dipped in a bit of melancholy. I can see why some people dismiss it. It's something of an oddity in their catalogue as it's the least Nazareth-sounding album. But a good song is a good song, no matter the style and apart from the soft ballad 'Madelaine' everything on it is strong as a brick from a song writing point of view. The closing '1962, Glenn Coe Massacre' especially, with the bagpipes, the violins and the martial percussion is awe inspiring. Are you feeling adventurous? Are you always in for a bit of quality music? Then put 'Exercises' on your list of "to listen to's". It's certainly not the "mistake" or "misstep" some of the more short sighted Rock critics say it is. To me it's topped only by 'Malice in Wonderland'.

Play'n' the Game
This is again a relatively more laid back album (although it does contain some real Hard Rock songs). It loses a bit of steam towards te end, but the first six cuts are extremely gratifying. The outlandish guitar riffs and rhythms of 'Somebody to Roll', the slow groove of 'Down Home Girl', the atmospheric and minimalist sounding approach and slow progress of 'Flying', the funky weirdness of 'Waiting for the Man' and the locomotive rhythm in 'Born to Love' give each song a distinctive personality. It makes this album one of Nazareth's most varied offerings and is evidence of the fact that they felt a need to experiment with their sound a bit.

The Fool Circle
This is a more typical sounding Nazareth album, but one that didn't always get the respect it deserved. There's a limited amout of filler ('Moonlight Eyes' especially isn't the most interesting ballad you'll ever hear), but most songs have such memorable choruses that it makes this album probably their second best 80's release (after 'Malice in Wonderland'). 'Little part of You' (with its uncomplicated, friendly tones) and 'Pop the Silo' especially are songs worth discovering.

This is the best album from what I like to call their "slick" period that more or less started just after (or with) 'The Fool Circle'. 'Sound Elixir', the album following '2XS', is still a pretty decent product, but after that things would very slowly deteriorate as the band starts carbon copying their previous output. Although not everything they released afterwards is bland or completely watered down, the interesting part of their carreer ends with '2XS' as far as I'm concerned. '2XS' itself isn't flawless as well (it isn't easy to suppress a yawn when listening to the Rock'n'Roll song 'Take the Rap'), but there are some very good songs present. The rather bombastic 'Games' with its epic sounding chorus and the odd 'You love Another' are but two examples (out of the seven tracks that are really good).

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(*= note: not all albums though, as I think some of their earlier albums (and 'Razamanaz' especially) tend to be overrated)

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