Friday, July 5, 2019

Archive Review: Humble Pie's On To Victory/Go For the Throat (2012)

Humble Pie's On To Victory/Go For the Throat
Fronted by the dynamic, charismatic Steve Marriott, British blues-rockers Humble Pie enjoyed a brief early-1970s heyday that reached its peak with the band’s 1972 album Smokin’. Originally formed in 1968 by Marriott and guitarist Peter Frampton, the band would go through various line-ups and musical directions before latching onto Marriott’s favored rock ‘n’ soul hybrid, a boogie-and-blues brew that, combined with an unrelenting tour schedule, would take Smokin’ to number six on the Billboard albums chart.

While subsequent albums would experience diminishing commercial returns, Humble Pie remained a popular live band when Marriott decided to pull the plug after 1975’s disappointing Street Rats in favor of reforming his 1960s-era outfit the Small Faces. When that reunion went south in a tangle of egos and mediocre music, Marriott put together Steve Marriott’s All-Stars and toured briefly before finally forming a new version of Humble Pie in 1979 with original drummer Jerry Shirley, guitarist Bobby Tench (from the Jeff Beck Group), and bassist Anthony “Sooty” Jones. This Humble Pie line-up recorded a pair of albums – 1980’s On To Victory and the following year’s Go For the Throat before health issues prompted Marriott to bust up the band for a second time in 1981.

Humble Pie’s On To Victory

Reissued as part of a two-disc set, On To Victory and Go For the Throat were both unfairly maligned at the time of their original release, and both albums deserve another listen by long-time fans and newcomers alike. Rather than rest on past laurels or try to recreate the heavy blues-rock formula that struck gold with Smokin’, Marriott’s new Humble Pie would sojourn into unexpected musical territories, incorporating Marriott’s love of American soul music and R&B with the blues-rock sound with which he had built his reputation. As such, On To Victory cleverly mixes these related influences to create a fresh (and funky) sound.

On To Victory scored an unexpected minor hit with “Fool For A Pretty Face,” the song’s swaggering bravado mixing boogie-blues with raucous soul to good effect. The similar “Infatuation” is built with the same blueprint, Marriott adding backing harmonies behind his growling vocals, blasts of R&B styled horns accenting the mix. A cover of the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic “Baby Don’t You Do It” is offered a reckless performance with a lot of charm, Marriott’s signature high-flying vox imitating his previous “I Don’t Need No Doctor” while the band delivers a stone rhythmic groove in the background. Marriott plays a cover of Otis Redding’s “My Lover’s Prayer” fairly straight, gospel-styled keyboards chiming reverently behind his anguished vocals, while the high-flying “Further Down the Road” displays Marriott’s underrated six-string skills and a killer performance by drummer Shirley.

Humble Pie’s Go For the Throat

Experiencing a modicum of sales success with On To Victory, the re-formed Humble Pie was hustled into the studio to record a quick follow-up. Released in 1981, Go For the Throat could be viewed as a sequel to its predecessor and, in many aspects, its songs are almost interchangeable with On To Victory, with a few minor artistic lapses. An overwrought cover of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” features some fine guitar and keyboards from Marriott, but an overall embarrassing vocal take. Much better is Marriott’s original “Teenage Anxiety,” a mid-tempo ballad with emotional vocals, a solid rhythmic construct, and tasteful piano leads.

Marriott revisits an old Small Faces tune he co-wrote with Ronnie Lane, “Tin Soldier” a relic of the psychedelic 1960s but still holding a bluesy, soulful edge with Marriott’s inspired vocals and nuanced fretwork, and Shirley’s big-beat timekeeping. Another Marriott original, “Driver,” sounds like a ZZ Top outtake albeit with more frantic percussion and a chaotic arrangement fueled by ripping guitar, flying harmonica riffs, and explosive drumbeats. The swinging, Rolling Stones-styled “Restless Blood” is pure raunch ‘n’ roll cheap thrills, and “Chip Away” (The Stone)” is an unbridled rocker from the early Humble Pie songbook, Marriott’s vocals almost lost beneath a storm of stammering guitar, bass, and drums.

Live In Los Angeles 1981

This reissue of On To Victory and Go For the Throat packages both albums on a single CD, accompanied by a second live disc that captures a live 1981 radio broadcast recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Reseda Country Club in Los Angeles, California. The eight-track playlist, although stretching across a full 45-minutes, is curiously short on material from the reformed band’s then-current albums. No matter, because starting with a particularly high-octane ten-minute jam on the band’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (originally an R&B chart hit for Ray Charles), this live set strikes like lightning and sounds like thunder, showing why Marriott was always more popular as a live performer than a studio artist.

“Infatuation” takes on a new life on-stage, the band stomping and snorting like a mad bull tearing through a china shop. The band revisits another early Humble Pie gem in “30 Days In The Hole,” one of the more popular AOR tracks from Smokin’, Jerry Shirley’s flying drumbeats and Marriott’s out-of-control vocals paired with intertwined guitars and heavy bass lines. The hit “Fool For A Pretty Face” is well-received, Marriott’s vocals edgier and stronger than the studio version, the band’s crashing instrumentation building to a cacophonous crescendo. Marriott revisits his childhood with a livewire cover of Gene Vincent’s early rock classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” pulling off an audacious performance, while a cover of Don William’s country classic “Tulsa Time” swings as hard as the original with amped-up guitars and sonic drumbeats, although the gravel-throated Marriott’s attempt at twangy vocals fall far short of the mark.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Since both On To Victory and Go For the Throat have long been out-of-print in the U.S. and available only sporadically as a British import, it’s good to have both albums available again as part of a single set. While neither album is as engaging or entertaining as early Humble Pie efforts like Rock On or Smokin’, neither is as bad as critics avowed at the time. Both albums include a handful of truly transcendent musical moments – solid fusions of blues, rock, and soul – and although On To Victory is the better and more spontaneous of the two releases, the albums mesh together seamlessly on a single disc. Throw in the red-hot live set, and you have a deluxe edition tailor-made for Humble Pie fans to chew upon for a while. (Deadline Music, released March 13, 2012)

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