Back in January when I started this blog, I revealed that an eye-catching facial appendage prominently displayed in a band portrait is often enough to persuade me to take a punt on an album, especially if that album dates from the late 1960s or the 1970s. This rule of thumb still helps lead me to some superb music, but once in a while the reverse happens. That is, I discover some spectacular facial hair as an unexpected bonus when I buy an album for the music contained therein. Birth Control's Hoodoo Man is one such album. Nowadays, facial hair, however off-the-wall, has become formulaic: it's part of the uniform of an alternative lifestyle along with tattoos and piercings. In the 1970s being in possession of an extravagant jaw cosy meant that you were probably a bit mental.
The Heinz Dofflein illustration on Birth Control's Hoodoo Man LP sleeve is like a Robert Crumb fantasy that's gone horribly wrong. It's not the kind of packaging you would usually expect for an album with a whiff of Deep Purple MkII's sound. Where's the self-aggrandising Mount Rushmore parody of In Rock or the cosmos-conquering meteorite of Fireball? Once you open up the gatefold sleeve you begin to understand why these Hammond-heavy Krautrockers might have opted for the bizarre over the iconic: they're all bonkers.
The Deep Purple comparison, however valid, is a bit of a lazy one based on the prevalence of Hammond organ throughout the LP. I hear sonic doffs of the hat to many heavy progressive bands of the era. That's not to say that Birth Control lacked originality, it just helps to have a convenient peg to hang that hat on when describing their sound. Of the two tracks presented here, the first, Buy!, begins in promising fashion with an explosion. You can't go wrong with an explosion! Over the course of its seven plus minutes, the track incorporates a fluid, mellow, funky bassline, tempo changes, a King Crimson-esque freakout featuring Mini Moog(?), a slide guitar solo and a Hammond / guitar duel. What's not to like? Gamma Ray, clocking in at almost ten minutes, opens with the sound of a spaceship taking off, followed by a spoken, scene-setting intro before the track settles into a relentless head-nodding, shakers and tom-toms, Bo Diddley rhythm. We are treated to lashings of Hammond organ and a rasping vocal underpinned at all times by that cosmic jungle beat and a subtle wah-wah guitar flavouring which morphs into something more primal as Bruno Frenzel unleashes a cry-baby solo akin to Uriah Heep's Mick Box at his best. A single manipulated piano note brings the solo to an end and introduces a hoodoo voodoo percussion-fest featuring maracas, timbales, congas, kit and kitchen sink. A quick guitar and vocal-scat duel, a verse or two and the Bo Diddleys take us home. This one really hits the spot!
It would be criminal not to bring out the Face Fungus-ometer for these fellas...
...And madness not to award them the FF-O's highest accolade!