A Powerful Curiosity
317 East 32nd | Toledo, OH USA | 12/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Play It Loud (1970) was Slade's first proper LP, not counting the semi-psychedelic release as "Ambrose Slade." This is the only record cut during the band's "skinhead" phase (skinhead in the pre-punk application of the term). Do not expect punk or ska just because the band is pictured on the cover looking somewhat like a Northern Sham69. This is before all that.
With the 2004 CD release being unavailable through Amazon at the time of this writing, I'll devote this review to the 1990 release you may be able to obtain second-hand. My pressing is one of those discs from the period when it was determined some European CDs were prone to deterioration over time, and indeed over the past fifteen years my disc has turned a lovely shade of brown, as though it were left in a bowl of coffee for a week; the edges of the metal disc itself (inside the plastic) appear to have evaporated. Still, the disc continues to play without any issues.
A complete track listing is as follows: 1. Raven 2. See Us Here 3. Dapple Rose 4. Could I 5. One Way Hotel 6. The Shape Of Things To Come 7. Know Who You Are 8. I Remember 9. Pouk Hill 10. Angelina 11. Dirty Joker 12. Sweet Box
I consider this to be Slade's most outstanding album. It contains, in rough form, nearly all the elements that would make them U.K. superstars but adds odd, thick, almost classically-constructed vocal harmonies atop rather bizarre minor-key hooks to create a slightly discomforting overall sound somewhat reminiscent of early Bee Gees records. Add to this the fact that only two of the twelve tracks clock in at over three minutes and you've got a little gem of a CD on your hands.
More care went into the songwriting and arrangements here than on any other Slade album save perhaps Slade In Flame. Yet it's not nearly as polished as that LP; there certainly aren't any horns, for instance. Just densely-packed two-and-a-half-minute bursts of melody, harmony and energy. Though there are plenty of dynamics in the arrangements themselves, the mix sounds as though all instruments are pushed to the front, and when you think the crunchy guitars and punchy bass are quite loud enough, along comes one of those eerie harmonized vocal hooks blasting through your speakers.
The best cuts here are "Could I," the quirky and lyrically clever "One Way Hotel," "Know Who You Are," and the fantastic "I Remember." "Pouk Hill" at 2:25 makes a convincing and melodic single, and even "Dapple Rose," a rather maudlin ditty about a put-to-pasture horse's final days, is redeemed by the earnest harmony chorus. "Angelina," "Dirty Joker" and "Sweet Box" would have been right at home on the Slayed? album, although I prefer the production here to the band's '71-'72 output.
While not the "definitive" set of Slade recordings, I do feel it is arguably their best, most concisely delivered set of tunes outside of Sladest and the numerous other greatest hits packages. Like certain other "non-representative" LPs (Scorpions' Lonesome Crow and Sabbath's Never Say Die come to mind), it possesses a strange sort of magic that isolates it from the rest of the band's catalog yet begs frequent revisiting. A sadly overlooked work, and pushing five stars when I'm in the right mood.