Sunday, April 19, 2015

GOLDEN ROCK BOMBS (Pt. V) - Nazareth "2XS"

(Pt. V)

Even the biggest, most
iconic names in rock
can detonate a "bomb."
However, some of these
sleepers and sinkers are
actually the gemstones
of the artist's otherwise
platinum-selling catalog.

Safer than Sabbath, yet punchier than PurpleNazareth rocked every bit as hard as Zeppelin — but without the pretentious aftertaste. The band unleashed an impressive string of nut-busting slabs throughout the '70, and in the process, also established a large and loyal worldwide concert audience. However, this gang of wild-eyed, whisky-drinking Scotsmen somehow missed being issued VIP credentials to rock's "Champagne Room." As a result, by the early '80s, the band had to fight for survival  yet rolled famously with the changing times. And it was during this super-corporate, "Don't Stop Believin'" / "Keep on Loving You" / "Mr. Roboto" era that Nazareth created, arguably, some of their finest work.

But even during its loudest and proudest, "Messin' with a Son of a Bitch" '70s glory days, Nazareth possessed a proclivity for producing guitar-driven power pop (e.g., "Broken Down Angel," "Carry Out Feelings," "My White Bicycle," "Place in Your Heart"). In fact, the band's global Top Ten mega hit, "Love Hurts," was a bona fide power ballad. And by the decade's end, Nazareth was clearly making a seemingly calculated move towards pursuing an overall more "polished" sound. Following the radio-friendly, Malice in Wonderland in 1980 and the melodic, The Fool Circle in 1981, the band released 2XS (To Excess), in early 1982. Produced by John Punter (Roxy Music, Slade, Japan), the album boasted an array of fabulously well-written rock / pop treasures — all performed with precision, and produced to perfection. It tanked. Stalling at a disappointing #122 on the Billboard 200.

2XS was innovative and fresh-sounding more so than even it's two predecessors. Laced with reggae-inspired riffs, Phil Collins-style electronic drum programs and hooky, sing-along choruses, 2XS was light-years beyond what many at the time perceived as the band's previous "dinosaur-like" recordings. Much of the credit for this exciting new musical direction (aside from the likely label pressure) can be attributed to the arrival of former Spirit keyboardist, John Locke, who had come on board during the Fool Circle sessions, plus the recent addition of then 22-year-old guitarist, Billy Rankin, who brought a much-needed youthful vitality to the veteran collective.

Me and my "ex," backstage with Nazareth
at Florida's Fort Pierce Civic Center
during the 2XS tour in September 1982.
Among the record's 11 tracks were highlights galore. The infectious, mid-tempo debut single, "Love Leads to Madness," combined maximum era-appropriate poppiness with a healthy dose of lead guitarist, Manny Charlton's signature rock edge — making for what should have been a snappy, slam-dunk winner. Yet, despite becoming a modest hit in a few smaller countries, the song missed making the U.S. charts.

The follow-up single, "Dream On," was every bit as compelling as that other "Dream On" from the '70s and should have become THE power ballad of the '80s. It didn't. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I will confess that Dan McCafferty's iconic, sweet yet raspy vocal was so on-point, so heartfelt, so honest and pure, that even today, I can't listen to this song without balling up in a corner and sobbing like a silly schoolgirl left out of a Bobby Sherman meet-and-greet. Above any other from Nazareth's entire catalog, "Dream On" proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that along with Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, McCafferty's was one of the two all-time greatest voices in rock.

New millennium 2XS re-issue
back cover with bonus tracks.
Additional highlights included "You Love Another," "Games" and "Preservation" — all of which oozed glorious, early '80s synth-pop charm — quality material that sadly, many fans will likely never know.

But, be sure that even during the golden Members Only era, Nazareth was not about to surrender all of its well-earned street cred. Hence, propelled by the ace rhythm section of bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet, the energized "Boys in the Band," the boogie-based "Gatecrash" and the blistering "Take the Rap" all were Expect No Mercy-caliber, high-octane rockers — the likes of which simply couldn't be matched (or even touched) by any of the day's reigning "Roboto"-type poster boys.

In sum, despite lackluster sales, 2XS remains an epic piece of work, and an essential title for any dedicated rock fan's Nazareth library.

This concludes my five-part Golden Rock Bombs series. And if you enjoyed discovering, or re-discovering these gems half as much as I did, then the objective was accomplished successfully.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

-Christopher Long
(April 2015)


Check out the entire
Golden Rock Bombs series:

Peter Criss
Out of Control

Cheap Trick 
The Doctor

REO Speedwagon
Building the Bridge

Fleetwood Mac


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