without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
The early-80’s were significantly better times for the few British rock veterans who survived the cataclysmic punk movement and the disco fever chart domination. Back in the days, new projects in the likes of Gillan, M.S.G. or Ozzy’s band scored not only a substantial commercial success in their home country, but they earned also the devotion of a new generation of metal kids. For other groups however, it was harder to endure musically, specially for those who weren’t willing to change their old ways. As for Budgie, they seemed pretty much aware of that do-or-die situation, more notably on their most recent albums at the time, eventually being given back the credibility and respect punks took away from them in the late-70’s.
Though it was obvious the Welsh rockers weren’t likely to give up their cunning melodies and harmonious arrangements yet, elements which made their music distinguishable in the 70’s. “I Turned To Stone” in particular provides the most emotionally-charged moment on the album, remarkably sung by Shelley’s and his sorrowful, sobbing message, blessed delightfully by Big J.T.’s chop chords and acoustic gestures . More staggering melodies can be found here, think of “Change Your Ways”, for instance; yet more simplistically-perpetrated and mostly following the imperative verses and sticky choruses, neatly-played however and displaying lyricism and soulfulness on Thomas’ playing, without falling into self-indulgence, humbly serving the verses. This is an undeniably commercial sound in comparison with the NWOBHM efforts of that year, naturally highlighting the presence and recurrence of catchphrases and vocals, on “Reaper of the Glory” and “She Used Me Up” more tangibly, titles that feature a most charismatic performance by Shelley, as well as some rugged riffs in the tradition of Humble Pie and UFO – don’t be surprised if you hear some familiar Schenker licks here. But the sound remains accessible still overall, naturally requiring technical abstinence, which is what “Don’t Lay Down And Die” and “Superstar” are about, with their spirited pace, straightforward riff policy and nearly inexistent instrumental fragments. As you may have noticed, unlike the highly-adept jamming and soloing on the 70’s albums, there ain’t much instrumental flights to be found – here, they’ve a majority of them become pretty succinct, making clear these Welsh have been taking notes from the early-NWOBHM platters which determined the new demands of the new decade British rock scene.
Nightflight might be Budgie’s wariest offering, on which their instrumental deftness, generous soloing and unpredictable arranging is more restrained than ever. For sure a conscious rock band in 1981 would rarely perform a 10 minute blues jam, but these Welsh’s mindset hasn’t changed radically, they’ve just cleverly simplified their thoughts and performance, still sticking to their roots – not meaning that the complements and re-conceptualizations have become excessively indolent, in fact what most of their NWOBHM disciples could never match was their facility to design tenacious, juicy melodies and meticulous arrangements for the songs. The wisdom and seniority of Shelley & co. also allows them to visualize and execute refreshing songs which wasn’t necessarily brilliantly-written – in someone else’s hands, stuff like “Apparatus” or “Keeping A Rendezvous” would have surely failed deplorably, devoid of the enchantment of Burkey’s voice and John Thomas’ articulate, quick-witted playing. So it might not be in general a very cohesive output, but this record doesn’t need pretention or technical mastery to please the listener, as you see – the seemly conception of the solos, the validity of the writing and the professional performance are its strengths. Heaviness might not be mind-boggling either, but the stripped-back technique, physique and constitution of a few riffs here surely paved the way for NWOBHM anthems to come.
Sagacity and astuteness made Budgie one of the strongest British rock veteran survivors of the early-80’s as Nightflight clearly proves, even though the glory and triumph of the 70’s albums was sadly long gone for good. Despite the hostility of opposing, bestselling musical movements at the time, Shelley & co. more importantly earned the admiration of distinct generations of musicians from 2 truly musically dissimilar decades, which gave them back the recognition they lost during the darkest of days for classic rock, specially from their home country new metal wave (after all, the NWOBHM kids grew up listening to Never Turn Your Back On A Friend and Bandolier). Capable of still making pretty cool songs, these Welsh still had something to offer – Deliver Us From Evil it’s a different story, though...
Considering Budgie’s underground reputation as one of heavy metal’s progenitors, I was surprised to see that no fans had bothered to review anything from their second decade in action on the Metal Archives. Initial confusion gave way to keen understanding once I finally received an opportunity to hear that era of the band: Budgie’s 80’s recordings, particularly the final two (the ones on the RCA label), were their most commercial offerings, reeking of AOR and pop rock more often than anything resembling heavy metal. The first of these is entitled Nightflight. And Nightflight is quite depressingly bland, the soundtrack to a band once comfortably gliding just above the pits of obsolescence now spiraling uncontrollably into the void.
Similar to Power Supply in its straightforward approach to the genre, Nightflight takes the next leap downward with weak synthesizer augmentation, emphasis on vocal harmonies over instrumental prowess, and the kind of shallow hooks one might expect for the big arena rock bands of the era: Journey, Styx, Def Leppard, etc. For an album so short (thirty two minutes), the multitude of ballads is disheartening. “Apparatus,” “Change Your Ways,” most of “I Turned to Stone:” this stuff could be leftover from REO Speedwagon records. And when the band does attempt to rock (and we must emphasize, it is merely an attempt), they do so with middling enthusiasm. The guitars lack power, even in the solo sections, and the rhythm section is purely by the numbers. Even Burke Shelley’s voice is distinct only in its absent quality.
Occasionally the band get the whole synth-rock thing right, echoing Blue Oyster Cult material of the same era on tracks like “Reaper of the Glory” or “Keeping a Rendezvous,” but usually they miff the whole thing pretty badly. The main riff of “Superstar” is like a bad ripoff of Devo’s “Whip It” for lucifer’s sake. What the hell is going on here? Did Shelley and friends really have to resort to clichés to sell their last few records? A career of trailblazing in spite of adversary, cut down by a limp-wristed finale. I hang my head in sorrow.
If all Budgie albums had sounded like this, they probably wouldn’t have had any fans to begin with. It’s not just shitty rock ‘n’ roll, it’s a reality check for those of us that thought Budgie were one of those rare groups who’d managed to bow out gracefully without selling out. Whether it’s RCA or guitarist John Thomas to blame, I’m not sure, but Nightflight has nothing graceful about it.