Saturday, August 17, 2013

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Love's a Prima Donna

Love's a Prima Donna (1976) **1/2

C-c-c-c-cocaine!  Well, I have no idea what Steve was strung out on, if anything, while recording this album, but this was the '70s and I think if you squint hard enough you can spot an inflamed nostril on the cover.  As if that embarrassing cover wasn't bad enough, the rest of the album lives up (down?) to its mixture of the tawdry and the tasteless.  It's as if Timeless Flight and Prima Donna, released within a short time span of each other, schizophrenically split Harley's musical personas:  one the overly sincere singer-songwriter, and the other the wildly experimental oddball.  And if you've got a definite preference for the latter over the former, then fine - reverse my ratings for your own personal pleasure.  I've always thought that the worst artistic crime was boredom, but I may have to rethink my aesthetics:  crass and tasteless sometimes loses out to bland tedium.  Anyway, this album finds Steve desperately reaching back into his bag of cheap tricks to harken back to the first two Cockney Rebel LPs' glory days of weird'n'flakey out-there pop:  but the rather faceless musicians here are no match for the original Cockneys, and the attempted oddball hooks are little too gaudy and obvious to be truly hooky.  Harley is clearly straining to be weird and experimental here, and you know what?  Genuinely eccentric people don't have to go overboard to prove that 'I'm not like everybody else' - natural non-conventionality just oozes out.  Generically average people are the ones who have to dress up in costumes to prove that they're 'different' - y'know, like this Lady Gaga dame I keep hearing out.  Mark E. Smith didn't have to wear anything more shocking than a beige sweater for it to be obvious that he was some sort of clinically insane, demented semi-genius.

Anyway, this album reeks of coke in a very specifically '70s rock star way, and you know exactly what I mean.  It's a "let's throw a bunch of halfbaked ideas against the wall that sound great when we're stoned and see if any of it sticks.  A lot of it doesn't?  Oh, what the hell, just leave it on the record, we're running late for another party," kind of album.  The first three songs rush by as a mini-Abbey Road suite, fragments that can't really stand on their own but sort of work stitched together.....I said sort of.  That said, that's probably my favorite stretch of the record, unless you count, "(Love) Compared With You," a nearly hookless Lennon-ish piano ballad that sounds like it accidentally wandered in from the previous album.  It probably did - it sounds like an inferior outtake from Timeless Flight - but for all that, it's still a relief from the ADD-addled flurry of the rest of the record.  The title track was an obvious bid for a hit single in the "Make Me Smile" vein, and while it's more than a few notches inferior, it's effective in its crude, classless way.  That hook is way too obvious and in your face for a man who once counted subtlety as one of the chief weapons in his arsenal.  The cover of "Here Comes the Sun," was an even more obvious shot at the charts, and sadly, a successful one:  the gracefully flowing George Harrison tune is drowned out by a tacky armada of dated synths.  There's some painfully obvious filler in the form of soundtrack muzak, and the preposterous 7-minuto epic, "Innocence and Guilt," which combines some cringe-inducing electronically-treated vocals with state-of-the-mid-'70s sound effects; it comes across as almost sublimely silly at points, but mostly is just silly.  And horribly dated.  And overall, Harley's in noticeably weak vocal form throughout - he strains so soulfully that you can sometimes hear his voice crack.  Anyway, he can still come up with lines like, "You give me loving like wanking in a dream," on the not-bad-at-all "(If This is Love) Give Me More".  But after all these years, I'd still like to know why the man overabuses hyphens.

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