Just give me your body and I'll give you my brain
It's a fair exchange
Postcards From the Future... Introducing Be Bop Deluxe (2004) ****
Be Bop Deluxe weren't so much a band as a showcase for guitarist Bill Nelson's guitar, songwriting, and sonic vision; in fact, he fired the original band and had them entirely replaced by the time they recorded their second album. The 16 tracks on this CD boil down five studio albums' worth of material released in five years (1974-1978) down to the essentials (I'm assuming, as I've only heard the debut). Be Bop Deluxe amounted to a relative footnote in the annals of '70s rock, a little too derivatively borrowing a bit from Ziggy Bowie and the Phil Manzanera side of Roxy Music, yet clearly defining their own unique style that combines elements of art-rock, glam, pop, and heavy metal. A Thin Lizzy with O-levels might be the aptest comparison; like Lizzy, once Nelson had settled into his unique sonic turf he rarely ventured outside of it, at least not until the synth-pop of their final album, Drastic Plastic, rears its head (and that's only for a pair of representative tracks). The songwriting as well stays consistent, at least on this compilation, and while as a songwriter Nelson is no Ray Davies or even a Ferry/Bowie, he displays enough adequate craftmanship in that category for the songs to more than sturdily get by. Let's put it this way: Nelson is a considerably better songwriter than most guitar virtuosos, who in general seem to suffer Jeff Beck syndrome (that is, a curious lack of ability to write truly memorable songs in inverse proportion to their ability to master their instrument). Not being a guitarist myself, I can't comment on the technical aspects of Nelson's expertise, and even if I could I'd probably bore most readers, who don't read music either. His style is sleek and crunchy, ductile and versatile, descended from art-rock forebearers Randy California (Spirit) and Mick Ronson (Bowie sidekick) rather than the more run-of-the-mill bloozy wankers spewing through their beards at the time. He's heavier, though, which nicely balances the more lightweight pop songwriting, and fortunately Be Bop Deluxe didn't waste airspace on extended nine-minute jams and solos (though there are plenty of guitar solos - concise guitar solos, mind, and that makes all the difference). The songs mostly fall into the 2 1/2 to 4 minute range, as Nelson's pop instincts force the guitar to serve the songs, not the other way around. Still, it's the guitar riffs and pyrotechnics that serve as the main dish, not the '70s-rock songwriting-by-numbers. Which is why, so far, I haven't named a single individual track from this compilation, and you know what? I'm going to make this my first lengthy review where I don't review the album track by track. It's Nelson's guitar and the overall sound that's the showcase. You'll play this CD the first time and it's guaranteed to be very memorable on the ears, without your ability to hum a single tune after it's over. OK, so that's an exaggeration. Be Bop Deluxe were one of those hard rock acts of the '70s that defined but did not transcend their time, which isn't to say that if you've got a yen for '70s hard rock these guys aren't a blast.