Blue Oyster Cult – Essential (review)

Blue Oyster Cult – Essential (Sony Legacy) review Sony’s “Essential” series is an excellent opportunity to delve deeper into an artist’s catalog with satisfying results.  Blue Oyster Cult are basically remembered for their macabre hit “Don’t Feat the Reaper,” and for a pair of Seventies Album Rock hits “Godzilla,” and “Burnin’ For You.”  Sony Legacy’s new Essential Blue Oyster Cult contains those three tracks, plus adds 28 more songs, helping give a much clearer picture of an under-appreciated band.

For starters, disc one doesn’t contain any of their hits, preferring to concentrate on BOC’s first three studio albums.  These tracks all feature a dense, dark sound more reminiscent of early Black Sabbath, kicking off the set with the appropriately-titled “Career of Evil.”  As these songs cycle by, you realize that Blue Oyster Cult was a damn good hard rock band, at times bordering on metal.  Disc one is dominated vocally by Eric Bloom – the material is better suited for his harder-edged delivery.  Especially good is the proto-punk “The Red and the Black,” which hardcore legends the Minutemen later covered with little changes.  There’s also a surprisingly large amount of live material – five tracks on disc one alone, including an infernal delivery of “Born to Be Wild.”  Because their early studio tracks were somewhat muddy, these live recordings breathe a little more.

Everything changed with “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which kicks off disc two.  Barely missing the Top Ten in 1976, the track featured a hypnotic guitar line and guitarist Buck Dharma’s smoother lead vocals.  To this day, it stands as one of the eeriest classic rock tunes of all time.  It also marked a shift stylistically, as the band moved away from murky metal and further into polished arena rock.  “Godzilla” remains one of the band’s best live cuts, but other tracks from the parent album, like “I Love the Night,” with its jangly guitars and background harmonies, sound like a completely different band.  The acoustic guitar-driven “In Thee” was the closest BOC had come to straight-ahead pop rock, yet it failed to make an impact.  Some songs, like “Veterans of the Psychic Wars,” make better song titles than actual songs.

Yet, there’s still some highlights in the latter days of their career – “Joan Crawford” might be the creepiest thing a mainstream band has ever laid to tape, while “Burning For You” sounds like some sort of unholy monks chanting at the beginning.  They also manage to actually pull off a 9-minute version of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” featuring some tasty guitar interplay, while they splice in a snippet of another Doors’ classic, “Soul Kitchen.”  “Shooting Shark,” with it’s electronic drums, heavy synth, and funky bass is an odd stretch, yet it’s surprisingly melodic, if maybe a little too long.  “Take Me Away” is one of the band’s best songs in years, and one of Bloom’s best vocals.

While not everything on The Essential Blue Oyster Cult can really be considered essential, it does give a nice overview of the entire band’s career, with a healthy dose of their early, mostly-forgotten material.  It also shows that they were a damned good live band, even when tackling hallowed classics like “Born to Be Wild.”  Any fan of Seventies hard rock will find much to enjoy here.  –Tony Peters