[30 July 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
During its brief career, the band Spirit represented a perplexing amalgam of musical tastes. Part jazz, part rock, part god knows what, Spirit was hailed by some as America’s version of Pink Floyd. Unfortunately for the group, nothing close to Dark Side of the Moon can be found on its resume. In actuality, Spirit’s sound defies definitive classification. At times Spirit’s work is reminiscent of the expertly crafted explorations of King Crimson and the Moody Blues. At others, a pop rock sensibility dominates, much in the vein of Three Dog Night. Depending on the listener’s tastes, Spirit can be considered brilliant, or merely inconsequential.
Led by stepfather and son Ed Cassidy and Randy California, Spirit harnessed the musical pedigrees of its members and branched out into numerous directions. The re-release of 1973’s Best of album highlights the diversity of the band’s music by coupling the 11 original tracks with five bonus entries. Three decades after its initial pressing, the album demonstrates the complexity of Spirit’s sound while providing no further clarity as to the band’s position in rock music’s pantheon of greatness.
At the very least, the sixteen songs illustrate Spirit’s ability to incorporate a wide spectrum of influence into its art. From the jazz infused “Fresh Garbage” and “Dark Eyed Woman” to the Cream-like “I’m Truckin’”, virtually every track is identifiable with more prevalent band’s offerings from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s period. Evidence of Spirit’s skill to genre bounce? Or simply its inability to establish a signature sound? Both queries are open to debate.
The most striking element of Best of is the frustrating broadness of the songs. Compare the trippy Creation-esque psychedelia of “Uncle Jack” to the funkiness of “Mr. Skin”. Then listen to the James Taylor flavored intro for “Nothin’ to Hide” and gauge it against the stirring somberness of “Taurus”.
Not confounded enough? Focus on “Mechanical World” and attempt to decipher which it is closer to, Blood Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” or Jim Morrison searching for a whiskey bar. Then concentrate on the soaring grandiosity of “1984” and try not to evoke images of Procol Harem.
Although Spirit is extraordinarily difficult to label, that fact should not take away from the group’s finest efforts. “Nature’s Way” is a beautiful mix of acoustic and electric guitars, while “I’ve Got a Line on You” is a genuine FM radio staple. The latter was Spirit’s biggest commercial hit, and again hints at Spirit’s contemporaries; think Argent and BTO.
Ironically, the varied nature of Spirit’s music will garner equally varied opinions as to the band’s legacy. Fans will appreciate the chance to revisit Best of and assuredly fawn over the additional tracks, reveling in California’s underrated talents as a guitarist. Skeptics will greet the re-release with a shrug, believing Spirit to be nothing more than a group of directionless, albeit creative, doodlers.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between both sentiments. Obviously gifted as a musical unit, Spirit is certainly representative of the experimental time it existed in, as the group’s penchant for sonic ambiguity can be perceived as both blessing and curse. Comparing the band to Pink Floyd may be overly optimistic, but the Best of album does give an accurate portrait of the group’s eclectic stylings.
Never considered one of rock music’s elite, Spirit is more of an acquired taste. For those with a discerning musical palate however, Best of may be surprisingly satisfying.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/spirit-best/