Saturday, 15 July 2017

Jimi Hendrix Experience "Electric Ladyland"

The first two double albums of 1968 suffer from a similar problem - they combine some strong material with other stuff that is less strong or just plain weak. Some of the writing on "Electric Ladyland" is tentative. The "song" "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)" is forgettable even while you are listening to it. The melody has no focus. "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", while innovative, feels over-written, like it has too many bits to it. The long jam version of "Voodoo Chile" may have been amazing in the studio but it is not an interesting listen, and I could do without the groovy crowd sounds. I have no recollection of "Still Raining, Still Dreaming" and "House Burning Down" and I only listened to them again two days ago.

Additionally, I do not care much for the production. It is difficult to follow what is going on in "Crosstown Traffic" for instance (is Hendrix playing a kazoo?) and "All Along the Watchtower" comes and goes like a poorly tuned radio station. There are too many overdubs throughout the album and too many tricksy vocal effects (something that could also be said of "Axis: Bold as Love").

I do feel a bit small minded in offering my opinion of the towering brilliance that is Jimi Hendrix and his recorded works. Like looking at the Mona Lisa and saying "it's not very big, is it". But it is the case that I am not a huge fan of "Electric Ladyland" and I find it underwhelming each time I listen to it.

However, it is expansive and an example of how Hendrix enlarged the palette of rock music. Unlike previous pop double albums which just contained lots of songs, both "Wheels of Fire" and "Electric Ladyland" showed groups presenting extended instrumental interplay. Jazz musicians such as Miles Davis were surely listening and envious of the freedom pop groups were given to extemporise at length. "Electric Ladyland" also presents an array of musical styles from blues to soul to chamber pop to straight rock music. Hendrix demonstrated that albums could encompass a range of sounds and styles and did not have to have a thematic musical unity.

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