Tuesday, July 01, 2008

#33: Circle Of Love

I like The Steve Miller Band. I know they are not the most critically successful band of all time, but I kind of have a soft spot for them. You see, my mom’s always had his hits set around and when the Fly Like An Eagle 30th Anniversary Set came out, I jumped on it. Of course, after that, I wanted more and I quickly realized how hard it is to get his catalogue on CD, even though most of his albums are in print. During a trip to Disney World, I grabbed Brave New World and Book Of Dreams without a second thought at the Virgin Mega Store. (BNW because of the Paul connection and BOD because it is practically the sequel to FLAE) I managed to get Sailor at a local record shop (Newburry Comics, for all you New Englanders). I also found out that he has quite a few albums out of print on CD and I read that CIRCLE OF LOVE, his 1982 release, was one of them. When I saw a vinyl copy at a flea market (Raynham Flea, again, for all you New Englanders) for just $3, I bought it, and quickly threw it on the turntable.

The album kicks off with Heart Like A Wheel, the single, with a good note. It’s got a great riff, but the song’s simplicity leaves a lot to be desired. (“Heart’s a wheel…I love you so.”) Still, it’s a great single and worthy of Book Of Dreams, but not Fly Like An Eagle, that’s for sure. “Heart Like A Wheel” melts into a synth-ified traditional song, Get On Home. It’s pretty good, but the synth-heavy production dates it considerably, especially the wild solo. Next is Baby Wanna Dance With Me. The track is a silly chant (“Baby wanna dance with me? C’Mon baby"...etc.), so there isn’t much and it feels like filler. Circle Of Love closes the album’s first side. It’s a lovely ballad and feels like it came right off of Book Of Dreams. There’s a great guitar solo about half-way through that grabs and takes hold of the remainder of the song. It has to be among Miller’s best work.
Side Two is where the controversy ends and begins. It contains the single nineteen minute track Macho City. The introductory part contains a humorous voice-over by Miller about some silly crap about ‘macho men’ and the ‘macho plan’. After the voice-over, there’s this great sequence of blistering guitar solos coming in, one after the other. Then the voice-over comes back and at this point, you’re already bored…and we’re only a few minutes in. Once the final voice-over is finished, we are treated to a wonderfully funky backing track behind sweeping (and seemingly random) keyboard notes, played by Byron Allred. Gerald Johnson, who plays bass on the album, has a great bass line that drives Gary Mallabar’s drums. The track actually fades off (in fact, on the record, it is banded as two separate tracks) and thus begins a new sequence. This part features another great guitar part. Honestly, though, I can talk about how great these guitar segments are all day, but it doesn’t help the fact that the track is going NOWHERE! He has not said a word since the track started! It feels like a series of guitar solos from a series of different songs that he never completed or decided to record.
The record is packed in a sleeve that alters his famous ‘horse-with-wings’ logo into a ‘liquid pink horse-with-wings.’ The cover has an elaborate painting of Miller and various creatures based of musical notes surrounding him and bubbles coming from his hands. On the back, you’ll find full credits and the track list.
So in the end, what on earth did Steve Miller think when he put this out? On the other hand, what was Capitol doing letting Miller put it out? How do you follow up the masterful one-two punch of Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams with this five-track mediocre ‘album’? I don’t know, but he did. It’s not awful, though. The four tracks on Side One are pretty good and “Heart Like A Wheel” is a wonderful lead-off single, but after that, it quickly falls apart. “Get On Home,” though following in the footsteps of the various covers Miller has put on his albums, it’s dependence on synths murder it. “Baby Wanna Dance With Me” is two-minute filler on a five-track record and “Circle Of Love” is pretty good, but is really just an extended opening to “Macho City”. I have no clue what the point of “Macho City” was but…really, if you want a jam track on your album, don’t disguise it as some symphonic crap with silly keyboard overdubs and a voice-over intro about nothing. Simply put, it’s a good thing you can’t get this on CD right now.

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