B | Rochester, NY United States | 07/12/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's 1968, and a very young Todd Rundgren (about 20 years old to be exact) is the guitar player of a psychedelic/blues band from Philidelphia called The Nazz (named after a Yardbirds song).
Though he's not the singer or frontman, The Nazz *was* Todd Rundgren. He wrote all the songs, and usually came up with all the arrangements. This, of course, led to much friction in the band, since Todd was obviously the musical brains behind the whole band, and exercised that in the studio.
Still, it's not like the other members barely knew how to play. Robert 'Stewkey' Antoni is a formidable lead singer (and also handles piano and organ), Carson Van Osten is a fluid bass player, and Thom Mooney is a much more than capable drummer. And Todd of course, already by a young age, is a terrific lead guitar player. Listen to his solos and riffs, and tell me he's not every bit as good as Eric Clapton or any other 'guitar god' from that era.
On their debut album, they're primary brand of music is riff-driven blues/rock, heavily inspired by Cream and the Yardbirds. However, there's also a good dose of pop (Beatles, Beach Boys) that comes across at times.
The opening number sums it all up perfectly, driven by a flange-soaked and deliciously catchy guitar riff that would make both Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck smile. And then, out of nowhere, the song enters Brian Wilson territory on the harmony loaded bridge, before returning back to it's heavier core (featuring a short but sweet guitar solo from Todd).
The song is "Open My Eyes", and it's the quintessential Nazz song. A classic power pop nugget that got lost in all the other psychedelic shuffle. Thus, unless you own this album, you probably haven't heard it before.
"Open My Eyes" is reason enough to buy the album, but there's some other great stuff on here too. "Back Of Your Mind" is wholly Cream inspired, from the Clapton inspired guitar riff that drives the song to the lengthy, Clapton inspired guitar solo in the middle.
There's plenty of other guitar driven numbers, though most are little more left of center. "Lemming Song" features a searing guitar intro from Todd; the songs gets progressively more psychedelic throughout, with a middle section in which Todd overdubs about 3 guitars going off on various tangents at the same time.
Todd knew enough to turn his guitar down at times, though, and it gives the album some variety. For example, on "Crowded", you would think the band is covering a Laura Nyro tune, but it's just another facet of The Nazz's sound (they'd really delve into this sound on their next album). There's also "If That's the Way You Feel", a lengthy ballad with a complex arrangement and heavy orchestration. Stewkey's vocals are great, though the song bites off a bit more than it can chew at times.
The other gem is the original version of "Hello It's Me", a tune that Todd jazzed up a bit for his solo album "Something/Anything", and it became his biggest hit. The version on here is druggy and dreary sounding, with Carson's bass up in the forefront to round out all the rich vocal harmonies. It's just as good, if not better, than the version we all know and love.
Other highlights include the playful, Who-like "When I Get My Plane", and the raucous closer "She's Goin' Down", in which each band member takes a turn solo'ing.
Though it doesn't have as much overall variety as their next two albums (the cleverly titled "Nazz Nazz" and "Nazz III", the latter of which probably had a working title of "Nazz Nazz Nazz"), their debut album is still great.
Soon after this, Todd expressed his Laura Nyro infatuation by tossing his guitar aside and writing most of the songs on the piano, which would ultimately cause a lot of dissatisfaction with the other group members, which leads me to believe that "Nazz" sums up what the Nazz was really about."