The Band – Islands

Islands (1977)

C+ 

1. Right As Rain 2. Street Walker 3. Let The Night Fall 4. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love 5. Christmas Must Be Tonight 6. Islands 7. The Saga Of Pepote Rouge 8. Georgia On My Mind 9. Knockin’ Lost John 10. Livin’ In A Dream

 

A classic case of end-career, hastily patched-together, contract-fulfilling hackwork, but goddamn if it isn’t just barely light and breezy enough to hoist a facsimile of mindless almost-entertainment. And if you think that last hyphen-happy sentence means I’m trying in some kind of embarrassed, roundabout way that I actually like this thing deep down, well, I’m sure as fuck not saying that. What I am saying is that after sitting in perturbed fashion through like 79 overrated, stone faced Band albums (has it been that many? Shit, I have been stuck on them for almost three months now), it’s kind of a laugh to hear such a goofy toss off from the likes of these bearded Canadians, even if the overall songwriting quality falls somewhere between that of a drunken Roscommon, Michigan bar patron and a retarded terrier.

This was indeed thrown together to satisfy the Band’s contract with Capitol Records so they could officially split up and all go on their merry way separately. Accordingly, it’s apparently comprised of leftovers from previous album sessions. The Taj Mahal cover “Ain’t That A Lot Of Love” sounds like it was taken straight from the Moondog Matinee sessions (which means I probably don’t have to tell you how mailed-in it sounds), but the remainder of the album’s cheap aluminum can production, preponderance of synth pads, alto sax solos, and hysterically cheesy album cover just screams “late 70s,” so I’m assuming it was all re-recorded around ’76 or so.

OK, so the first side pretty much wholly sucks ass, featuring bland adult contemporary variations on the generic Robbie Robertson song form (“Right As Rain,” “Let The Night Fall”), what might as well be called “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp… Erm, A Ho” (the shockingly sleazy “Street Walker,” one song I wish I had never heard, especially from the likes of the puppy dog-esque Rick Danko), and what sounds to be a totally sincere Christian rock song (the cloying baby Jesus tale “Christmas Must Be Tonight”… honestly, the religious topic doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as the grammar book-raping chorus refrain, “This must be Christmas must be tonight,” which brings to mind the Spinal Tap classic “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”).

The second side is kind of hilarious though. Starts out with some instrumental Irish muzak (“Islands”) and proceeds into the bouncy singalongs “The Saga Of Pepote Rouge” and “Livin’ In A Dream,” which sound as though they were written by Robertson after he had undergone a lobotomy. But they’re so dumb and childish that they’re very nearly entertaining, sorta like how you secretly like your kids’ Wiggles albums even when your rational intellect is screaming at you that you’re too good for them. “Knockin’ Lost John” is hardly a serious, well thought out composition, but it’s the closet thing here to an actual quality original composition. Robbie shoves his way in front of the lead vocal mic again, but crazily enough, his singing actually fits perfectly – he sounds kinda like Dave Davies on it, actually, which contributes to the song sounding kinda like a fun second-tier Kinks rocker. This stuff is all about as slight as you can get, but at least it’s not turgid and pretentious like Cahoots or Rock Of Ages. I’m just trying to look for the positives, you know. I’m a positive guy.

Side 2’s red herring is the famous “Georgia On My Mind” cover that they recording to support Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid (which, haha, they campaigned for Jimmy Carter and are thus old and/or dead). It’s fine if you like synth pads, I guess, but by this point in time, after all the drug use, Richard Manuel was just no longer capable of really elevating a song with his voice alone like he could back on “Tears Of Rage” or “King Harvest.” Not to say he was alone in the Band in not being what he once was. Robertson had been reduced to writing (with apologies to Greil Marcus) rewrites of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” Danko was singing songs about hookers, Hudson was the same old Hudson, just with a lot more cheesy synths, and Levon was basically AWOL. I don’t even want to imagine what an 80s Band album might have sounded like after listening to this one, so I sure am glad Islands was the last word from the original lineup, and that it even showed that the Band were just barely capable of lightening up a bit.



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