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Blue Öyster Cult

Imaginos

Review by John Pierpoint

Rarely has an album divided fans as much as BOC's Imaginos. There are those who refuse to define this 1988 offering as an “official” BOC album, while on the other extreme there are those who feel that it's their best ever release. One thing is for sure: to the casual listener it can be a bewildering and bumpy ride, with vast differences in style, production and personnel from one track to the next. I could spend some time relating the long and tortuous gestation of this album, from its original concept as a double-album by Sandy Pearlman and former BOC drummer Albert Bouchard – backed by a huge cast of guest and session players including Joe Satriani and Robbie Krieger - through record company tampering and the final compromise of involving Bouchard's erstwhile BOC colleagues (possibly reluctantly), to release the final version as a BOC product. However, I don't have the space here, so I recommend that you look around on the web for the complete (and very interesting) back-story. Even armed with this information, it is often unclear who plays what and where. The distinctive vocals of Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser are, of course, easy to identify. But even Roeser's normally inimitable guitar style becomes harder to pick out amongst the plethora of gifted guitar talent that contributed to the recording. Most sources agree that the other BOC members Alan Lanier (keyboards, guitars) and Joe Bouchard (bass) are hardly on this record (if at all).

The production suffers from those 80s evils: an over-abundance of synthesisers and over-loud, unsubtle drums, drowning in reverb. There are some strange mixing choices too: with backing FX and vocals sometimes over-powering the lead instruments. Apparently production was by long-time BOC mentor and producer Sandy Pearlman (who also co-wrote most of the songs with Albert Bouchard), but this record certainly sounds like there were too many other hands on the mixing board! I have read elsewhere that the original vinyl version has significantly different mixes, so it may be that many of these gripes should be laid at the door of whoever remastered the CD version. These points are minor though, for when it comes right down to it, the music is simply stunning. Although it may take three or four plays to achieve its magic, this record will first of all shock you into submission, then more subtly invade your brain to take you places that no other BOC album has – before or since.

While this album has many flaws (mostly technical), it seems to tap into something primeval that really appeals. The sheer addictiveness and staying power of some of the riffs and choruses are staggering. One can only wonder what the result would have been if the original double-album concept had been achieved. Would it have been better, or just too long and over-blown? There is a good case to argue for this being the last great album that BOC produced.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
I Am the One You Warned Me Of

The record starts off with the listener safely in familiar BOC territory. This song begins as a straightforward rocker that could have been lifted from any of their last few albums. Eric Bloom's vocals are in top form. The number is boosted part way through by a torrent of multi-tracked guitars, which racks up the intensity to the end.

Les Invisibles
A heavily-flanged guitar riff kicks off, with attendant bouncing synthesiser tones. Donald Roeser handles the vocals this time. The seven-fold repeated “seven” lyric in the chorus becomes a hypnotic mantra (which you'll be humming for days afterwards!), although unfortunately it manages to mostly drown out a fine guitar solo (which sounds like Roeser to me). The guitar solo winds down to end the song, which is a bit of an anti-climax. For a while it gives the impression that it's going to go further.
In the Presence of Another World
A gentle acoustic guitar and piano tinklings start off the song, moody and atmospheric. Flanged bass picks out notes and harmonics. Bloom is on restrained vocals. Then the drums and electric guitars kick in for the huge chorus, and a guitar solo. The main part of the song (and possibly the rest of the album) is eclipsed by the utterly over the top dramatic coda, which builds on a reprise of the initial guitar melody, adding layer after layer of instruments and (most notably) a plethora of vocal parts. There is the repeated refrain of “Your Master,” sung by a sizeable chorus, which is expanded on by a cast of guests muttering or shouting arcane phrases with great gusto. It's as though the listener is placed at the focus of a coven gathering. The effect is unsettling but exhilarating. This is rock opera at its best!
Del Rio's Song
This comes as a welcome antidote to the heavy gothic feel of the preceding track. With Bloom's soaring vocals, an upbeat guitar riff and swirling Hammond chords, this is pure BOC. The playout features a fine bluesy guitar solo.
The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria
A literal monster of a track! Guest vocalist Joey Cerisano puts in an impassioned and impressive performance, with a strong yet gravelly voice. It would be difficult to imagine Bloom or Roeser being able to handle the sheer power and dynamics that this song demands. In fact, a list of rock vocalists that could successfully sing this tour de force would probably be very short. The tune pivots on a guitar motif before a frantic guitar solo wheels in. Then another pause is added to bring in the main riff accompanied by the backing chorus. As with “In the Presence. . .” the song ends on a huge rock-operatic coda, which in many ways is the emotional centre of the whole album: a beautiful, blend of a heart-rending melodramatic guitar figure accompanied by the massed chorus singing “Worlds without end.” The whole mix drops down to the multi-tracked vocals swirling about, as the drums fall silent. Then comes the master-stroke: a simple two-note guitar riff (so addictive!) starts up, and then the heavy drums come back in: a moment to make the hairs on the skin rise. The song ends shortly after. I wish they had made this section carry on for another few minutes, it really is that good.
Astronomy
This is a totally new recording of the classic song from Secret Treaties. This time, Roeser takes the vocals (Bloom handled them on the original). The arrangement is less atmospheric, but equally as good as the original, with tight drums, a damped guitar riff, and elegant bass work. A “Hey Hey” mass vocal (very 80s!) introduces the chorus. The sheer precision of this version is what impresses, as it establishes a fine groove for the final “Astronomy – a star” chorus. It ends on a sweep of keyboards.
Magna of Illusion
This is a somewhat rambling account of the main themes of the album: the history of the main character “Imaginos”/”Desdinova”. Roeser shoehorns the overly wordy and complex vocals into the music with some difficulty. The whole track is quite messy, and seems to lack focus, but has a grand sweep to it. An interlude features sound effects and spoken dialogue from various guests, expounding some of the plot points.  Apparently, The Doors' guitarist Robbie Krieger takes the lead guitar role on this and the next track. To my ears though, the bluesy solo on “Del Rio's Song” sounds more like Krieger.
Blue Oyster Cult
This is a re-working of “Subhuman” from the Secret Treaties album. Albert Bouchard takes the lead vocal role in this version (a bit shakily). As with “Astronomy,” the new version is less atmospheric, but tighter, with a more cohesive structure. The lush extended playout on the “We understand” chorus is particularly impressive.
Imaginos
For me, this is the weakest track on the album, but possibly only because of the style adopted. It has more of a soul feel, and sits uncomfortably with the other tracks. To me, it sounds like Bouchard on vocals again, but I’ve seen it credited as Jon Rogers. It's not a powerful ending to the album, but this may be because the original concept was for a much longer (double) album, with the songs in an entirely different order.
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