I have a love/hate relationship with the Blue Öyster Cult. Their first 2 albums are good, Secret Treaties (their 3rd) is their finest and most coherent studio album, and On Your Feet Or On Your Knees is the standard by which to judge all other live rock albums: it is basically the pinnacle of any rock album as far as I’m concerned, on a par with AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, Black Sabbath’s Vol.4 (or even their 1st LP), Led Zeppelin 1 or Deep Purple’s In Rock. Even though they had their three big singles after this period, their albums were poor and their quality control left much to be desired. They just lost the cohesion they seemed to have during the so-called “Black and White” period of their first three albums.
Most of the criticism leveled at Secret Treaties has involved the mix and production and while this rerelease is just a remaster, it goes a long way towards correcting the mix of the original.
The new sound lends more prominence to the drums and bass, which was essential because Al Bouchard’s drumming is genius bordering on mania. I believe his musicality is as important to rock as Keith Moon, John Bonham or Ian Paice, and only reasons he isn’t popularly counted amongst their number is partly due to lack of sustained record sales but mainly due to his jazzier stylings. Not unlike John Densmore’s work, on the first four BÖC records he has a lighter touch (and also on the Stalk-Forrest Group album from the period immediately before that), and that helped him get a little lost in the mix.
The main factor of Secret Treaties has always been its coherency due to most of its songs relating to the Imaginos story arc, the three unrelated tracks being suitably quirky and edgy to earn them a place amongst the madness. This is where the release starts to fuck with me: the additional tracks are mainly non-mythos, but they are all rubbish. It’s telling, especially in light of BÖC’s later releases that the only tracks left off the LP were genuinely not good enough to be included, that there were no “preference” cuts of similar quality left off due to simple time constraints. It makes me really sad that this band were struggling to fill an LP so early in their career, but then I suppose the signs had always been there. Songs had been retreaded many times – as SFG they had recorded I’m On the Lamb, then again on the 1st BÖC album as I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep and then again as The Red & The Black on their 2nd album, Tyranny And Mutation.
Listening to the SFG album, there are many little musical stealings from their own canon, but this one is the most blatant because it actually appears a fourth time on the Secret Treaties remaster as one of the finished but discarded pieces, Mes Dames Sarat, which is only very slightly changed using the same method that the 2nd album version was made to differ from the previous version.
I suppose, apart from a few albums’ worth of killer tracks, they were just a jam band gettin’ off on wigging out…