Friday, August 10, 2012

Jimi Hendrix 3: Electric Ladyland

Jimi had become fascinated with studio recording, spending much of his time there when he wasn’t touring incessantly. And given his magnetic personality, it was easy for hangers-on to access him in the studio, where jam sessions would inevitably take place. He was teeming with ideas, and wanted to get them all out.
Electric Ladyland was a double album in a time when the concept was evolving from an indulgence to elite artistic expression. Unlike Cream, who put out a half-studio/half-live set that year, or the Beatles, who had three very prolific writers vying for space, Electric Ladyland is all Jimi, credited as “producer” and “director”, with barely any filler.
Similarly to the last album, a fanfare of sorts begins the proceedings. But while “EXP” assaults the listener, “…And The Gods Made Love” is a sound painting of phased effects and slowed-down tapes. After it whooshes by, “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” provides a breath of Curtis Mayfield in an almost one-man band. “Crosstown Traffic” careens from speaker to speaker, with a pounding piano, wacky kazoo and infectious chorus. Just when you think pop it taking over, up bubbles the opening notes of “Voodoo Chile”. Not to be confused with the track of a similar title, this is a 15-minute blues exploration backed by Mitch, Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane on bass, and Steve Winwood on organ. Jimi and Stevie play off each other amazingly, and the only distraction is the nightclub ambience added after the fact.
Things get a little more conventional on side two, beginning with Noel Redding’s “Little Miss Strange”, nicely decorated by Jimi. “Long Hot Summer Night” is more complicated, but the straight-ahead R&B of “Come On (Part I)” picks up the pace. On “Gypsy Eyes”, another forecast of his funk style, he matches the vocal with guitar, while another guitar stutters a rhythm and a third slides. The previous summer’s UK single “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” is one of the best examples of psychedelia, with the wah-wah doubled on harpsichord and heavenly harmonies aah-ing over the lyrics.
Side three is as misleading as side one, given the number of curveballs throughout. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” begins as a jazz groove, while a couple of stoned individuals bemoan then embrace having to stay inside. A few hits off a joint bring in the vocal, which shifts gears a few times before another groove establishes itself, only to fade away into the underwater journey of “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)”. This epic begins with a simple riff over three chords while Mitch plays a martial beat. The verse simply follows a descending chromatic sequence into the riff. The bridge, if it can be called that, gets a bit more intense, the vocals phased and echoed, and punctuated by his trademark asides. The intensity elevates until it stops for another verse and riff. Mitch plays with his cymbals for seven minutes while Jimi explores his neck, adding bubbly bass parts and Chris Wood from Traffic on flute, all swirling around the spectrum. The song reaches another apex to usher in a final verse, fading into a final phased sound painting indexed as “Moon, Turn The Tides… Gently Gently Away”.
The suite concludes at the start of side four, with “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” picking up where “Rainy Day” left off on side three, continuing for a three-minute jam featuring Buddy Miles on drums, in something of a premonition. “House Burning Down” is something of a political commentary about urban unrest in a dangerous year. His guitar parts manage to emulate the sound of fire and chaos brilliantly. Speaking of brilliant, his version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” transformed that simple tune into an anthem of sorts, to the point where Dylan’s been doing it the Hendrix way ever since. And finally, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” takes up the gauntlet from side one to present a more compact, hypnotic variation.
Many call Electric Ladyland Hendrix’s best album, and we’d have to agree. It works best as a whole, or even as individual sides. It also represents the final statement by the original Experience, while clearly showing that Jimi would be taking his music other places, even if the destination or even the pit stops weren’t clear.
While the contents of the album were uniform worldwide, the cover was not. Although the American version has become a classic image, it wasn’t what Jimi had in mind at all, preferring a photo of the band surrounded by children on the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, taken by the future Linda McCartney. The UK spread a photo of 19 nude women across the front and back, which Jimi himself hated.
The variations continued in the digital era, naturally. The first CD had the album on two discs, reduced to one once the industry standard for CD lengths was increased, albeit with a noise. The 1993 CD version used yet another unrelated photo for the cover, which was thankfully restored to the American original in 1997, with shots from the Alice session and even a letter from Jimi about his ideas for the cover inside the booklet.
Since every other album released in 1968 seemed to get one, Electric Ladyland underwent the 50th anniversary treatment with an upgraded mastering, a disc of home demos and outtakes, a decent (but distorted near the point of discomfort) Hollywood Bowl show from that September on another, plus the requisite Blu-ray with surround mixes and a previously released documentary. Some of the demos have made the rounds before, and will make many itchy to hear Jimi plugged in and wailing. Eventually we get a couple of variations on “1983” and a few jams. Noel Redding gets some love on an instrumental bash through “Little Miss Strange”, with him on electric 12-string and Buddy Miles and Stephen Stills as his rhythm section. Al Kooper fans will love the two stabs at “Long Hot Summer Night”. It would have been nice to have more “making-of” takes—the complete “Rainy Day” sequence, anyone?—but at least the family used the cover he wanted.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland (1968)—
50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: same as 1968, plus 31 extra tracks

2 comments:

  1. I always thought it was coke, not pot, being inhaled at the beginning of "Rainy Day, Dream Away". I'll have to take my 10,000th listen to find out....

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