CHRIS SPEDDING/The RAK Years (4CD set) reviewed!

     Chris Spedding is a Rock ‘n’ Roll renaissance man. Ever since the British guitarist arrived on the music scene in the late ‘60s, he has been the personification of cool. He’s played (live and/or in the studio) with artists as varied as Sharks, Harry Nilsson, Roy Harper, Sixto Rodriquez, Roxy Music, John Cale, The Wombles and many others. His solo career started in 1970 but he didn’t make an impact until his fifth album, the self-titled debut album for the RAK Records label, was released in 1975. And that album is where the four CD set CHRIS SPEDDING: THE RAK YEARS begins. Containing his four albums for the label (including bonus tracks), this is an essential box set that will appeal to fans of Rock, Punk, Power Pop and most other guitar-fueled Rock genres.

     Mixing classic Rock ‘n’ Roll, Garage Rock, Glam and proto-punk, the CHRIS SPEDDING album was a delight. With a sweaty swagger and a bucketful of great hooks, the album features delectable, edgy rockers that pre-dated Punk and guitar-heavy New Wave by a few years. His approach was very simple and not unlike a mix of Eddie Cochran and Alvis Stardust with a twist of Roxy Music. Spedding scored his first hit with “Motor Bikin’” but there’s so much more to love including “Guitar Jamboree” and “Jump in My Car”. The album itself finds Spedding more comfortable as a songwriter and vocalist, sliding into the role as a front man with ease. With three bonus tracks added to the original album, this album still sounds as vibrant as it did 40+ years ago.
     One year later, Spedding offered up the rougher,  tougher HURT, a defiant Rock ‘n’ Roll album filled with even more great hooks. Embracing the Punk ethos while acting like a rockin’ elder statesman, the album is a triumph in every way. The album travels the same musical path but every track comes packed with a sneer and the flick of a cigarette butt. Not unlike Rockpile’s earliest efforts, Spedding again mines Rock ‘n’ Roll’s rich tapestry and comes up trumps. “Hurt by Love” is a Rock ‘n Roll anthem just waiting to be accepted by the masses. “Wild in The Street,”, “Get Outta My Pagoda,” “Wild Wild Women” and “Silver Bullet” are about as great as anything else from this time period. With three bonus tracks – two including backing by Punk legends The Vibrators – HURT is as good as Rock ‘n’ Roll gets.

     While the album title GUITAR GRAFFITI (1978) would lead you to assume that it was more of the same, the album actually tones down on the edgier aspects of his previous two albums and gets a bit experimental and much more relaxed. There are tracks that could have easily fit on the HURT album – “Bored Bored” and “Walking” immediately come to mind – but the album features more acoustic guitars, backing vocals and excursions into new territories like Reggae (“Breakout”) and experimental Rock (“Time Warp”). The rocking ‘live’ tracks that make up part of Side Two seem to have a dubbed in audience but they still sound like great fun. Features two bonus tracks including the instrumental “Gunfight.”
     I’M NOT LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE (1980) was his final album for RAK Records and is certainly the most restrained album of the bunch. Certainly living up to the album’s title, the songs here travel down different musical avenues. “Box Number” slightly resembles Steve Miller’s “The Joker” as interpreted by The Police if they had been influenced by Eddie Cochran. Dave Berry’s “The Crying Game” might be a bit ramshackle but it retains its emotional core. “Depravitie” and “Counterfeit” recall the Rock ‘n’ Roll vibe of Spedding’s first two albums on RAK. In a sense, the album is the least commercial of the bunch but that doesn’t take away from Spedding’s talents. Though not as rocking as his early albums, Chris makes sure that there’s always a hook ready to spring upon the listener.
     THE RAK YEARS is an essential introduction to the solo career of one of Britain’s finest musicians. He released albums before and he’s released albums since but this set contains the finest moments of his solo career.
Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee