Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Grand Funk Railroad - Closer to Home

Grand Funk Railroad
Closer to Home

Released 1970 on Capitol
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 21/01/2003ce

Grand Funk Railroad album #3, "Closer To Home" marks the first advancement in their style, as if they needed one. For the first time Mark Farner's guitar doesn't sound completely cheap, the instruments are evenly balanced in the mix, they add some organ, acoustic guitar, backup singers, flute and strings, and drummer Don Brewer gets to sing for the first time. The lyrics begin to move past simplistic "revolution" jingles and odes to groupies into futuristic dystopian jive that signals the end of the groovy 60's and the beginning of the bummer 70's. According to producer/svengali Terry Knight's liner notes:

"Like the generation to which they belong, their first album cried out, "This is me . . . this is what I see!" Their second grew as they grew and said, "This is me . . . this is what I feel!" And now with this, their third, they join hands with their millions of Brothers and Sisters and say, "This is me . . . this is where I am going!" They are three who belong to the New Culture setting forth on its final voyage through a dying world . . . searching to find a way to bring us all CLOSER TO HOME."

The lead off track is "Sin's A Good Man's Brother", later covered by Monster Magnet and others. It begins with some low key acoustic guitar strumming, which makes you want to turn up the volume to hear better, a neat trick because when the fuzz wah guitar and the rest of the band comes in it makes for a powerful HIT! The tune makes good use of the pentatonic E scale and has some nice dynamics in the bridge(s). Fun one-liner bon mot lyrics too: "Said this is the way it's supposed to be, but it just don't seem right to me, and that's outta sight!"

Second song is "Aimless Lady", yet another Funk ode to groupie love. It also includes one of the best one-note riffs ever (BOMBOM! cha-chukka-cha-chukka-cha BOMBOM!) and some hot up-the-neck bass runs from Mel Schacher that put him in the same league as heavy dudes like Jack Bruce and Geezer Butler.

Track three "Nothing Is The Same" begins with a classic bass & drum riff that has found its way into several hip hop songs (De La Soul's "En Focus" jumps to mind.) "I can flash through future years and nothing is the same." But the stereo panning on the wah guitar during the jazzoid bridge is, er, quite the same as heard on previous Funk albums. Not that that's a bad thing . . . as the next two tracks will demonstrate.

Track four "Mean Mistreater" was actually something of a minor hit back in the day, which boggles my mind. This 'luded-out dirge features Farner on organ instead of guitar for the first time on a Funk album. They seem to play in slow motion and the "woman done me wrong" lyrics are about as cliche as a whiteboy soul-blues song can get. If you can actually sit through this one all the way through Brothers and Sisters, then you are made of sterner stuff than I.

Last track on side one is "Get It Together" which again features Farner on the organ. After a long organ-bass-drums intro Don picks it up with a pseudo-latin drum break and you think they're finally going to kick into "the song", but no! It just starts over again but this time with some tasteful overdubbed wah guitar licks. About 2/3 through the 5:07 track the singing eventually starts -- and then you'll wish it was an instrumental after all! The only lyric is "Got to get it together" repeated over and over. Mark is accompanied by what sounds like a black girl soul chorus, although it could be a bunch of little kids or maybe it's just Farner singing with the tape sped up. Piercingly high, tuneless, and with the most annoyingly overdone vibrato EVER. On the whole this tune is a textbook example of "filler".

The structure of the "Closer To Home" album is quite similar to their previous effort "Grand Funk", in that side two comprises three longer, more "thoughtful" songs vs. the five "crowd pleasers" on the A side. Except there's nothing particularly thoughtful about the leadoff track on the flipside, "I Don't Have To Sing The Blues" which is best described as a boneheaded boner boogie. First two lines are: "I got this good lookin' woman back home, let me tell ya / she looks good, she cooks good, she can do no wrong." Did Mark mention that she's also good lookin'?

Next up is "Hooked On Love", a seven minute opus which features the return of the screechy soul chorus (again there to repeat the title over and over . . . ) and also marks drummer Don Brewer's vocal debut. Mark & Don shout at each other:

Mark: "I hope some day the light of love shines bright upon your face!"

Don: "I don't care who you are! I love the human race!"

Aside from the goofy lyrics, the other highlight of this track is some PHASED guitar on one of the latter sections which yields a krautrockish sound (Mark must've got a new pedal to add to the fuzz & wah he had used exclusively up to this point.)

Final track is another of those ten minute mini-operas ala "Inside-Looking Out" from the previous platter. "I'm Your Captain" is the one where they go nuts with every studio trick they can think of. It's also the only song from any of the first three Funk albums that gets substantial radio airplay here in the States these days (the corporate radio whores would rather torture us with clunkers from their later sellout period, like "Some Kinda Wonderful" and their massacre of "The Locomotion".) I guess it gets played simply because it has a slicker sheen than the super-econo sound of all Grand Funk tracks up until this point.

Anyhoo, "I'm Your Captain" begins with . . . the opening riff from "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by the Monkees (!) before it goes into a catchy two-chord pattern strummed on acoustic guitar over which Mel & Don (& Mark via overdub) can weave all sorts of jazzified dynamics. With typical lack of subtlety Mark informs us that he is THE CAPTAIN of this ship, and he's trying to find his way home, but for some reason never specified he's "feeling mighty sick." (See Terry Knight's "final voyage through a dying world" liner notes if you don't get it.) When they get to the bridge/breakdown there are nautical sounds (seagulls, waves) and a pleasant flute melody that provides the response to Mark's call: "I'm getting closer to my home." The band picks it up, there is a melodic guitar solo, then the flute returns accompanied by a cello, more nautical sounds and eventually a full string section ala the Moody Blues. All the while Mark intones: "I'm getting closer to my home." It might seem dull, except that in this case the monotony of the extended coda actually reinforces the lyrical mood of waiting, waiting, waiting to finally get home. Inch by inch, millimeter by millimeter until finally the fadeout comes and it's over.

But did the Funks ever make it back home? I'd say no, their albums just kept getting slicker and blander after this point. The base simplicity of the playing, writing and especially production was a VIRTUE on their first three albums. As they later begin to record in fancier studios with super-producers like Todd Rundgren ("We're An American Band" 1973) and Frank Zappa ("Good Singin' Good Playin'" 1976) and tried to pretty up their crude rantings they became hacks trying to bury their hackdom with glitz and glamour, instead of true workin' men who are PROUD of their hackwork which is the hallmark of the garage/punk tradition they originally came from.

Reviews Index