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Late 70’s Budgie is, for some odd reason, a period of contention amongst the small but loyal worldwide fanbase. With then-new drummer Steve Williams as a permanent part of the lineup, Tony Bourge and Burke Shelley would use his outside influence as a vehicle into more exotic flavors, injecting their molten blues metal template with a smooth funky soul. Somehow, this secondary nuance has gained exaggerated notoriety in contemporary reviews, some going so far as to claim that this is the moment when Budgie began to “sell out.” Those willing to look beyond Bandolier’s obvious differences and occasional negative press will find such claims to be unfounded, and may just find another excellent record to cherish in their collection.
The baffling thing about any sort of “sell-out” accusations is that classic Budgie heaviness still dominates Bandolier’s runtime. “Breaking All the House Rules,” despite its seven minute stretch and the guess-the-downbeat nature of that main riff, is a no-nonsense banger that fits comfortably into the weathered but untattered Budgie catalogue. That Bourge/Shelley rhythmic chemistry is still right on the money, Burke is still shrieking his glasses off, and Steve Williams beats his way into the mix pretty naturally, performing distinctively without abandoning the mostly minimalistic percussive requirements of the band. This group intuition gets better and better as the album plays. “I Can’t See my Feelings” is remarkably heavy, featuring Spanish-flavored verses and an unforgettable bass break in the bridge that further proves that Budgie can still lock onto some brilliant melodic ideas. They keep on grooving through the more traditional “I Ain’t No Mountain” before climaxing with the cheekily-titled “Napoleon Bona Parts 1&2.” This thunderous piece plays up the mellow-to-heavy buildup like never before: several minutes of foreboding acoustic chords develop into a mighty Mercyful Fate-like gallop that buries everything around it in a shower of dust as it stampedes onward into battle. Budgie had clearly seen the future of heavy metal, and had brought back riffage from their vision into their then-current repertoire to dramatic effect.
It is tracks two and three that seem to garner most of the disdain here, for reasons beyond my capacity to fully understand. These are the two where signs of funk begin to manifest, but the effect is hardly jarring to these ears. “Slipaway” is a smooth ballad carried by Bourge’s mysteriously attractive arpeggios and soft strumming (not to mention a slick electric solo) and featuring one of Shelley’s sweetest vocal performances. Not very heavy metal for sure, but didn’t Budgie always have ballads in this manner? And weren’t those nowhere near as compelling as this one? Really, “Slipaway” is an excellent diversion and in the same sonic camaraderie as some of the early Yes ballads from the Peter Banks days, such as “Yesterday and Today” or “Sweetness.” “Who do You Want for Your Lover” is the other offender from the naysayers’ perspective, featuring a solid minute or so of subdued funk groove at its outset. Again, why this is heretical is unknown to me. After all, it’s not exaggerated: at no point will you find yourself convinced you’re suddenly listening to Rick James or the Gap Band or anything. And secondly, even if you did, what’s so awful about funk music? Sure it sucks when a Mordred or a Sacred Reich does it, but the fit here, in its decade of prominence, is far more natural. Finally, even if this were the worst passage in the history of the band’s music (it’s not), Bourge’s riff machine kicks into top gear before the two minute mark and the rest of the track progresses rigorously into heavier territory. Like the old slogan goes, where’s the beef?
Nowhere to be found, apparently. At this point, Budgie could basically do whatever they wanted without doing any wrong. The album is a bit on the short side, but hardly a moment on Bandolier is wasted. And unlike the regimented In for the Kill before it, Bandolier is a more advanced showcase of the group’s musical potential, making it the most recommended point of introduction for strangers to the band.
Opening with the barnstorming Breaking All the House Rules, Bandolier kicks off well, but unfortunately Budgie were never the most consistent of bands and this is only underlined by Slipaway (A Parrot Fashion Ball), a horrible experiment in mixing acoustic soft rock with a little bit of blue-eyed soul. This is followed up with a similarly limp track in the form of What Do You Want For Your Love, which captures Burke Shelley doing an unconvincing Robert Plant impersonation in a horrible funk-tinged soft rock piece, reminiscent of a bad cover of The Crunge from Led Zep's Houses of the Holy with only a rather generic guitar solo or two to remind us that we're still at the edge of metal territory.
The album perks up on the second side with I Can't See My Feelings (featuring some honest to goodness cowbell), but slumps again with the simplistic singalong I Ain't No Mountain. The closing Napoleon Bona Parts 1 and 2 is padded out with uninteresting acoustic filler (such as the overlong intro) and doesn't stand up to Budgie epics from previous albums.
The bottom line is that on this album Budgie watered down their distinctive proto-speed metal sound with all the other influences third-string hard rock groups from the mid-1970s were dabbling in, with the result that the album ends up sounding anonymous, cliched, and at points downright dull. By the end of the decade Budgie would be regularly blown out of the water by far heavier and far more distinctive groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden; they should be remembered for more influential and important albums than this one.
Seemingly oblivious to the fact that almost nobody cared about them, Budgie just rolled on through the seventies forging ever-stronger alloys of indestructible metal, creating a legacy that would flummox and fulfill even the most jaded of rock ears. And Bandolier in a sense is the first really modern Budgie album, one that saw them shake off the fuzz ‘n sludge of their earlier work, and start down a cleaner and sharper path. That’s not to say that the old wackiness of yore is gone. No, here it’s just brighter and less hung-over, eyes wide to the future of metal that bands like the Scorpions, Judas Priest, UFO and Thin Lizzy were also becoming awakened to.
But unlike most of their occasionally popular compatriots, Budgie would continue reveling in the margins right up through the eighties, receiving only a slight shot in the arm from the fortunes of the NWOBHM and the renown almost all Brit-related metal enjoyed during the period. But whatever the sales figures figure, Bandolier is a remarkable piece of work.
Opener “Breaking All The House Rules” rolls with the kind of infectious half-riff that only gents as sublime as this band could write, seeing simplicity as the path towards enlightenment as often as they did complexity and craft. Notice however how much brighter the band sound here, their new sheen giving vibrant life to their music which was previously (thought enjoyably) mud-caked. This newfound clarity is in full effect on he ethereal and translucent “Slipaway,” a mellow track that’s as optimistic as its spiritual cousins (“Wondering What Everyone Knows,” for example) were forlorn and doomed. Funk riffs and silky notions abound on “Who Do You Want For Your Love,” before the now standard but welcome Budgie bombast begins.
The flip is just as gloriously confounding. “I Can’t See My Feelings” is rhythmically odd, a stop-start base peppered up with acoustic and electric sentiments that can’t help but keep one on his/her toes. I must beg you, though, hold on to your ear-holes for “Napoleon Bona-Part One & Two,” a titanic brute of a construct that creeps in with eerie calm and then erupts into one of the heaviest tracks the band ever penned, and also one of the seventies’ heaviest in general! For me, this is the apex of the band’s intellectual property, being a smart but thuggish number, full of bluster and flair, the kind of metal one just does not hear anymore, but should, damn it!
If you can only manage to absorb one Budgie opus overall, I’d make it this one, if I were you. But since I’m me and can’t be you, I’ll truck on down the Budgie highway where still more disturbingly original discoveries await.
I first became interested in Budgie when I was looking through a record store and saw the weird cover art. "Whoa! Those people have Parakeet heads! And they're doing crazy stuff! I bet that's from the 70's!" And I was right. I picked it up solely because of the bizarre cover art, and it turned out far better than I had expected.
Budgie's music is an interesting amalgam of early heavy metal, Led Zeppelinish bluesy hard rock, and some of the psychedelic/progressive stuff that was prevelent in the 70s. The band at this point consisted of Tony Bourge on guitar, Steve Williams on drums, and Burke Shelley on bass and vocals. The songs are all of epic length, with only six songs clocking in at almost 40 minutes, and don't really get boring. The riffs are somewhat overused within the songs, but they're so good that it doesn't really matter. Burke's high-pitched vocals are sort of a cross between Robert Plant and Geddy Lee, and fit the music perfectly. His bass is also nice and audible, and has some great interplay with the guitar. Though Bourge is hardly a guitar god, his riffs are great, and his solos fit the music nicely. Williams is a good, if somewhat unspectacular, drummer. But again, this music isn't meant to be a shred-fest; it's meant to be listened to while cruising down an empty road at night with a few friends.
It's no wonder bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden cite this band as an influence, but it's a wonder to me that this band has had practically no lasting success. I think any metal fan would be able to enjoy this album.