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Britannia is perhaps Budgie’s most eclectic effort, mirroring idealistically similar mid-late 70’s albums released by some of the era’s giants, see also Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy, Priest’s Sin After Sin, BOC’s Mirrors, ELP’s Works albums, and many more. Not satisfied with being pigeonholed into a single stylistic mold, particularly that of the workman-like heavy blues rockers they were so content upon being up until this point, the Shelley, Bourge, and Williams lineup decided to take the ideas expressed on Bandolier a few steps further in every direction at once. Considering how skillfully the band had previously proved themselves at this “idea blender with no top” method of composition, it’s surprising to see them faceplant so painfully on this second attempt.
From an elemental perspective, the album should rank among its older brothers, as all of the expected ingredients that compose the winning Budgie recipe are present and accounted for. Quirky song titles? Sure thing, check “Quacktors and Bureaucats.” Weird instrumental timing? Check the title track or “You’re Opening Doors.” Burke Shelley’s wailing vocals, bizarre lyrical observations, and thumping bass foundation? Tony Bourge’s well-written guitar lines, now with subdued funky undercurrents? An extra long piece to conclude the slightly too-short album? Why yes, all these are still in play, no cause for alarm. Part of the problem is how redundant Britannia feels in light of its most immediate predecessor. Where every other Budgie album can be considered as a progression, a genuine forward step (even their botched 80’s records apply, these merely being steps in the wrong direction), Budgie’s sixth effort is a direct retread of their fifth with ideas that don’t congeal quite as well.
The main reason for this is the absolute dilution of the group’s metal component, lending a lax commercial feel to the album’s generally shorter, more accessible track list. Opener “Anne Neggen” (and again?) has sufficient driving rhythmic force for its running length, as does side two’s standout, balls-out opener “Sky High Percentage,” but the others aren’t quite as eager or satisfying and all are confined within the rock spectrum. The mandatory ballad (“Heaven Knows Our Name”) takes a backstep from certain key predecessors, the newfound funk passages aren’t as well-constructed, and there’s a severe lack of rhythmic interplay that the band usually possesses. Nowhere is this more apparent than on album closer “Black Velvet Stallion.” It oozes along like magma with sinister chromatic chord accents that, with the right percussive backdrop, could have made this as thunderous a track as, say, “Napoleon Bona Parts 1 & 2.” Instead, with Steve Williams’ unyielding, unchanging simplicity, it merely sounds “mysterious” and begins to grate as its eight-minute runtime comes to a conclusion. These recurrences, combined with the short overall album length, lend an unfinished feeling to the record, leading me to speculate that perhaps an outside source was constricting the band’s potential. Perhaps.
The momentum from Bandolier should have propelled them into some very interesting territory. But with the exception of the title track, which features some creative progression and a couple of very memorable passages, Britannia simply isn’t tall enough to stand out amongst its peers.
Hmmm a strange one this, even by Budgie’s own especially quirky standards. This 1976 album saw a bit of a departure from the bands usually sludgy and bluesy rock sound and they incorporated ……funk elements! Oh lord have mercy, Welsh funk! But wait, this is actually good, surprisingly so.
This album kicks off in excellent fashion with the groovy, up tempo ‘Anne Neggen’ which is very similar to Wishbone Ash’s ‘Jailbait’ (every 70’s rock band has at least one song about under age females!). It’s perhaps my favourite Budgie song with some wonderful guitar riffs, far from metal and far from heavy but I suppose Budgie’s inclusion into these archives is based on their early 70’s and 80’s work, rather than their supposed late 70’s slump, although I’d have to say I’ve enjoyed this as much as any other Budgie album I’ve heard. Other songs of note include the title track which shifts from heavy riffing to very funky sections and it works, in fact out of all the 70’s heavy rock bands who attempted funk only Deep Purple mk III and IV did it better, no doubt down to Glenn ‘I’m the white/non-blind Stevie Wonder’ Hughes’ impossibly soulful vocals. ‘Sky High Percentage’ is another favourite here and has some excellent riffs, Tony Bourge certainly isn’t a Iommi, Blackmore or a Page despite what Budgie’s no. 1 fan may tell you, but he has some excellent riffs. However, there are some fairly average and flawed tracks here ‘Quacktors and Bureaucats’ just is some tired boogied rock and album closer ‘Black Velvet Stallion’ despite some good ideas seems a tad plodding and never really goes anywhere. But other than this does have some great moments and in places the idea of nerdy welsh guys playing funk is strangely appealing.
Budgie’s late 70’s work seems to have a bit of a bad reputation however I must say its not sufficiently worse than say the supposed classic ‘Never Turn Your Back on a Friend’. This isn’t an essential document of 70’s rock but if your into Budgie or just fancy something quite strange and quirky you could do a lot worse than this. Oh and surely this is worth owning for that wonderfully ridiculous art work.