Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Uriah Heep - Salisbury

Uriah Heep

Released 1970 on Mercury
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 25/01/2003ce

Recorded and released in the transitional year of 1970, Uriah Heep's second album is a unique entry in their catalog, dominated by a post-psychedelic pseudo-classical prog-ism that contrasts with the more "metalish" heaviness of their debut and subsequent albums.

Here they are either a couple years behind the times (psychedelic pop-art highbrow/lowbrow genre blending), or maybe a couple years ahead of the times (neo-classical overreach of the mid-1970s ELP/ELO/Yes/Genesis school) -- giving the whole affair the quality of sounding distinctly dated (it probably sounded dated the day it was released) yet somehow retaining a uniquely undatable sound which is what makes it kind of compelling. It's like a past vision of the future of music which never came to be.

IMHO, the truly "unsung" talents of Uriah Heep rest with singer David Byron, whose multiple-overdub falsettos and piercing shrieks put him on the short list with Freddie Mercury and Rob Halford in the opera-metal-vocalist sweepstakes. Also Mick Box, one of the most underrated heavy guitarists of the early 1970's. But unfortunately the classic Uriah Heep's musical vision was always dominated by the supremely pretentious "organist/pianist/harpsichordist/vibeist/second-guitarist/backup-vocalist/lyricist/composer/liner-note-writer" Ken Hensley.

First track on side one is "High Priestess," a galloping number which showcases the breadth of Box's guitar playing quite well: echoey slide guitars, whirling wahs, and harmonized double leads twine around the castrati choir of David Byrons to create an effect that is more trippy than heavy. According to Mr. Hensley's liner notes: "its lyrics speaks simply of the happiness which can be created by 'together' people."

Second track "The Park" is melancholy post-hippy balladry that is pleasant enough to listen to, livened up about 3/4 through by an uptempo "fake jazz" bridge that recalls mid-period Soft Machine but with the precision stop-and-start riffing of Yes or King Crimson.

Third track "Time To Live" is the only truly heavy song on the album, meaning for once Box's guitars are high enough in the mix to overpower Hensley's organ. On the riffy parts he crunches like a junior officer in the Iommi brigades, on the leads his overdriven wah wah throws off sparks. Byron's just-got-out-of-prison-now-I'm-lookin-for-revenge lyrics are the most direct on the LP, not suffering from the vague poetryisms of Hensley's words. Byron also tosses in some killer high note shrieks in the best Judas Priest tradition.

Fourth and last track on side A is "Lady In Black" which according to Hensley's liner notes "is unusually constructed using 4 acoustic guitars as the basic and a heavy vocal chant arrangement." And it's as dull as his description makes it sound. As is the first track on the B side, "Simon The Bullet Freak" which is dominated by a dull prog-blues piano and tells some obtuse parable which is apparently anti-war, or so it says in the liner notes.

Second and last track on side two is the magnum opus, "Salisbury" clocking in at 16-and-a-half minutes. According to the liner notes, "our first trip into large scale composing, complemented so excellently and unusually by John Fiddy's arrrangements for brass and woodwind. There are floods of spaced out sound and then almost baroque movements . . . the opening vocal leads into the organ solo driven hard by Paul's bass and the orchestra grooving incredibly!" There are also seemingly endless Mick Box wah guitar solos accompanied by said grooving orchestra, occasional echoey high-register wails from David for punctuation, and several lyrical orchestral passages which seem to be directly lifted from Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" album (compare the opening riff of "Salisbury" to the opening riff of "Concierto de Aranjuez".) But on the whole it all adds up to a quite listenable bit of "concierto for group and orchestra" conceited pretention.

When listening to the title track of this album I often think of Lester Bang's made-up review for a nonexistant Count Five opus: "Schizophrenic Rainbows: A Raga Concierto -- prententious, overarranged, overproduced, verbose, egotistical and gauche, but beautiful nonetheless -- the glockenspiel player was wailing his ass off for 27 minutes."

The US version also features a fantastically ugly charcoal sketch of some sort of emergent man-machine-thing on the front cover (in gross-looking rusted oxblood red no less), and on the back there are some groovy geometric interlocking hand/ball forms (too bad they're just black and white pen drawings -- I guess they blew the whole production budget on hiring the orchestra.)

NOTE: the original UK release of this album has "Bird of Prey" as the first track on side 1 (a great track which had already appeared on their first self-titled US LP), and has "High Priestess" in place of "Simon the Bulletfreak" (a non-LP B-side in the UK.) On the whole, that switcheroo probably makes the UK version better than the US -- though I don't get why there's a tank on the cover of the UK version.

Reviews Index