Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Big Chief
Platinum Jive

Released 1994 on Capitol
Reviewed by Moon Cat, 17/01/2003ce

The full title of this album from Big Chief is "Platinum Jive: Greatest Hits 1969-1999" and it's kind of important to the whole thang.

You may have noticed the incongruity of a greatest hits album purporting to be from “1969 – 1999” having a release date of 1994. Well that’s ‘cos “Platinum Jive” is something of an ingenious scam in that it is actually Big Chief’s third ‘regular’ album.
They had released a couple of kind of grungey albums before, one of which I believe was on original grunge label Sub Pop. Don’t own ‘em but what I’ve heard was ok; kind of fairly generic grunge rock with a slightly funkier edge than was the norm.
From what I know Big Chief also hailed from somewhere in Michigan, rather than Seattle, so its fair to assume that a number of influences informed their sound.

So what’s the deal here then? ‘Scam’ you say?
Basically ‘Platinum Jive’ offers a collection of mostly hard rocking songs done with a stylistic nod to the period that they are supposed to be sourced from. Along with the track listing is a fictitious source album for each track with both a title and a year of release.
So for example track 2 “Takeover Baby” is a late 60’s/70’s sounding slab of near southern fried rock taken from the fictitious 1969 album ‘Titty Twist Whitey”. And track 6 “Bona Fide” is like proto nu-funk metal featuring rapping from Schoolly D and apparently from a ‘1996’ album called “Groove Factory”. Given the subsequent rise of the rap-metal crossover it’s a fairly prescient piece of genre styling.

So what we have here then on one level is something of an album that has, at its heart, a ‘birrova wheeze’ i.e. the novelty aspect of doing songs in various decade-oriented styles. And sure there are a few minor interludes that titillate one’s genre-centric tastebuds, a notable example being the fabulously titled “Simply Barry”, a bit of a Barry White style shmooze with rock on top, supposedly from Big Chief vocalist Barry Henssler 1983 “solo album “ ‘The Sexual Intellectual”. Of course there is no such record but it’s fun all the same. And it is fair to say that the idea doesn’t always work successfully. There are a couple of tracks that just don’t sound like the era they’re supposed to be from, even though as rock tunes they do the stuff.
The tracks that best fit the “greatest hits” concept tend to be the ones supposedly recorded in the late 60’s, early 70’s and coming from a grungesque rockin’ band that is probably no real surprise. A standout of this is ‘All Downhill From Here’, which in Big Chief’s world, was recorded in 1969 on their ‘How The West Was Lost” album. The guitars and backing vocals in particular recall the rock era Big Chief are ‘doing’ here with great authenticity.

Thankfully though, even with all the clever-clever twists in style to fit the concept, “Platinum Jive” hangs together pretty decently as a rock album proper. The overall style of music is heavy, vaguely grungey rock with a touch of the funk n stuff going on. And it’s fair to say that in their aping of some of the 70’s rock styles Big Chief inadvertently pre-empted the stoner rock thing that bands like Kyuss and Fu Manchu would pick up and run with.

I’m not sure if Big Chief ever really did anything of note after “Platinum Jive”, maybe some other HHeads know? Anyway, you can listen to rock or have fun checking the credits and pretending “Oh Yeah, I remember when they did that album”. Whatever, “Platinum Jive” is an interesting grunge era curio; partly successful in concept and a decent slab of thee rock and thee roll.

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