Sensational Alex Harvey Band (without Alex) : Fourplay
Category : underrated
If you're a casual music fan you might never have heard of this band, but The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (often simply abbreviated to SAHB) were voted the fifth greatest Scottish band of all time in a 2005 survey that had 15,000 participants, reaching higher up the list than Nazareth, Texas and Primal Scream.
SAHB was a 70's Glam Rock band led by singer Alex Harvey. They got quite a lot of respect and their albums were for the most part well received by critics. Not so this 'Fourplay' album. Why? Because the man himself wasn't involved in any way. He had actually left the band to do other things, only to change his mind and return after the release of 'Fourplay'.
To be honest, I admit Alex Harvey had its moments, but his singing style never convinced me. Neither did his songs that were too Rock'n'Roll for my taste. 'Swampsnake' and 'Vambo Marble Eye' from the 'Next' album are very impressive, but they are also the only two songs of his to have reached my permanent playlist. Fourplay, by contrast, is present in its entirety.
'Fourplay' sounds radically different than all the albums that were recorded with Harvey. It's more a type of Funk influenced smooth AOR (with lots of keyboards) than plain Hard Rock, and if this were released by any other band than SAHB, it might have received a better welcome. Maybe. But some critics (at least the ones whose reviews I happened to read) were horrified, calling it an outright embarrasment devoid of originality and without one grain of the magic the normal Harvey releases had.
Huh? Am I going crazy here? To me each and every song on it sounds excellent. True, it's commercial stuff, not that far away from bands like Toto even, and certainly best suited for 80's American mainstream Rock radio. But that doesn't automatically mean it's bad. I guess what makes this such an interesting album to me is the fact that it's more melodic than the straight ahead Rock'n'Roll stompers of Mr. Harvey, but probably above all because I don't have to listen to his sloppy singing. But let's not forget that the songs are simply well written as well. Just one listen to the opening track alone is enough to understand that Harvey wasn't the only song writing talent in his band.
While the other tracks aren't lagging far behind in terms of quality (there's actually only two tracks that are "merely" above average), the standout tracks are 'Smouldering' and 'Chase it into the Night', two rather laid back Funk based Rock songs with very strong vocal melodies. 'Pick it up, Kick it' is entertaining too, with its jumpy rhythm and the funny chorus. And finally there's the rather weird and slightly nightmarish sounding 'Outer boogie'.
Are you a fan of radio-friendly Funk Rock à la latter day Grand Funk, AOR à la Toto and REO Speedwagon or "Progrock Light" à la Supertramp or 10CC, then distrust what you may have read about this album elsewhere. It might indeed not be for you. You might think it sounds too smooth or too commercial, but at least give it a fair chance because the Rock critics sure as hell didn't.
(Footnote: after Alex Harvey's died of a heart attack in 1982, the band re-emerged from time to time. Visit their website for the latest information: http://www.sahbofficial.co.uk)