Music

Blaze: Found Love

Tim O'Neil

Blaze

Found Love

Label: Westend
US Release Date: 2004-06-22
UK Release Date: 2004-06-14
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Considering the endless stream of constantly shifting generic permutations that defines modern electronic music, it might seem almost quaint to reflect on a group such as Blaze. If there is such a thing as "orthodox" house music, it can probably be found on their turntable platters. With roots stretching all the way back to Larry Levan and the legendary Paradise Garage, Blaze play a style of house that could best be described as timeless.

Even during the music's infancy in the mid-and-late 1980s, house was very much a mongrel genre. The direct descendant of disco, it also incorporated sounds from just about every other genre active at the time. From post-punk new wave to early hip-hop, and from salsa and meringue to funk and soul, house music became one of the first truly integrated musical styles in the history of pop, openly embracing black, white, Hispanic and gay cultures in a positive atmosphere of communal celebration. Blaze hearken back to the early days, before acid house or drum & bass or Goa or trip-hop or electroclash, back when house music was the only music.

Listening to Found Love is definitely a flashback of sorts, and I mean that in the best possible way. It hearkens back to the "Golden Age" of house without being hopelessly stuck in the past -- as timeless in its own genre as the Beatles are in the context of rock and roll.

Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan, the two remaining members of Blaze, split the responsibilities equally throughout the disc, with Hedge blending the tracks and Milan playing live keyboards over the mix.

The disc begins with Peven Everett's "Can't Believe I Loved Her", a simmering soul-infused track with a classically broken half-stutter garage beat offset against slight piano and synthesizer highlights and a raw vocal from Everett. The following track, Ritmo De Rua's "Universal Love", is the first of a handful of Latin tracks on the disc, with a salsa beat and a classic old-school synth line provided by Milan.

After "Universal Love" is the Masters at Work remix of "Little" Louie Vega's "Brand New Day" (featuring Blaze), the lead single off of Vega's recent album of the same name. It's an endearing track, probably the best number off Vega's album and definitely one of the best tracks on this compilation. The Masters at Work (of which Vega is one-half, along with Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez) are perhaps the only other current production team who could match Blaze in terms of their fealty to the classic house idiom, and the team-up does not disappoint.

The unfortunately titled Jihad Muhammad contributes "Movement Blues", adorned with brief flourishes of funk guitar and a driving deep house beat. Milan's keyboard playing really shines on this track.

From the Latin flavors of the early tracks, the album progresses into more freestyle infused territory with Oji and Una's "No Body" and Arnold Jarvis' "Love of My Life." As smooth and sultry as deep house tracks typically are, the R&B infused vocals add yet another element of sensuality that would otherwise be missing. There's also a delicacy and restraint in these songs that is missing from most modern R&B make-out music, and it makes for a refreshing change from most modern, libidinously uncontrollable crooners such as Usher and R. Kelly.

The album ends with a pair of Blaze tracks: "How Deep Is Your Love" and the title track, "Found Love". The former is about as powerful a track as you could ever expect to hear without lapsing into self-parody. There's a strong male vocal, a chorus in the background, a muted jazz trumpet, some '70s-style synth noodling and even some quiet piano flourishes. If there was anything more going on, it would be silly, but as it is Blaze know just how much they can get away with, making the track irresistible without being overstuffed.

"Found Love" is a quieter track to end the album, a more subdued samba number with a spiritual theme, again touching on Blaze's longstanding devotion to the concept that house music remains "the path that leads to God" (to quote from their 2002 album Spiritually Speaking). It's an old fashioned, some might say corny idea, one that has definitely fallen out of favor with the masses in the years since, as cynicism and irony have come into fashion across the electronic music scene. But it's obvious, listening to Found Love, that Blaze still believe in the power of a mighty kick drum and a grooving bassline to inspire the soul. House music isn't just a job or a hobby, it's a calling and a devotion, and Blaze remain about as devoted as they come.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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