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Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties (1974)

 BOC Secret Treaties cover

BLUE OYSTER CULT: Secret Treaties (1974)

Okay, I openly admit it. I wasn’t there the first time around. In fact, I was approximately negative-two years old when the proto-metal classic Secret Treaties quietly hit the unassuming streets of the ‘70s hard rock scene. My first memories of hearing the name Blue Oyster Cult might have stemmed from a reference in the film Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which I probably first saw in the early ‘90s. But most assuredly my first serious exposure to the mysterious-sounding group came via some compilation tapes from an online friend out in California (Chuck Rosenberg, if you’re out there, you rock bro!), who also introduced me to the likes of Heep, Budgie, Bloodrock, Atomic Rooster, Purple, Cactus and Hawkwind (the latter band I never grew to care much for, despite the affiliation with the almighty Lemmy Kilmister). Those tapes helped to sow the seeds of my newfound passion for ‘70s bands like Lizzy and B.O.C., and I cemented that fandom by purchasing the On Your Feet, Or On Your Knees LP from my friend Chuck. The rest, as the trite cliché goes, is history, and it’s safe to assume I ended up picking up Secret Treaties on cheap vinyl shortly thereafter.

The Long Island-N.Y. band’s third LP, Secret Treaties is generally regarded as the monstrous conclusion to a loosely-aligned trilogy of its first three albums: the black-and-white period, if you will. It was with this record that the talented quintet honed its dynamic, ever-expansive sound into a record near-perfect in their level of songwriting and execution. B.O.C.’s amalgamation of odd, quirky hard rock riffs, a striking sense of light-and-shade and intriguingly esoteric lyrics reached a pinnacle on this early masterpiece, an album that marked the end of a distinctive period of metallic balance for the band. On Secret Treaties you have a band that reached the apex of its sonic heaviness, which compared to bands such as Sabbath and Budgie, was not the band’s main strength to begin with. But B.O.C. more than compensates for their relatively softer attack with hard rock songs that are as beautiful as they are ominous.

Of course, one intriguing aspect of all B.O.C. records is the lyrics. As with much of their material, manager and part-time poet Sandy Pearlman had a hand in concocting some of their bizarre, wildly poetic ramblings that work to inspire as much as they perplex. Patti Smith and writer Richard Meltzer also had a hand in writing the words to many of these tracks, which boast some of the band’s strangest to that point. Now, according to the liner notes to the Columbia Legacy remastered version, the words to “Astronomy” are based off Pearlman’s “Imaginos” epic poem, which he had originally composed in the 1960s. The band would later delve deeper into the “Imaginos” concept in a full-length album of the same name, but “Astronomy” brilliantly culls some key excerpts from that larger work. Dealing subtly with such mystical themes as time travel, immortality, apocalypse (occultist origins of World War 1) and a mirror that allows one to converse with spirits, the words are as beautiful as they are cryptic.

“Come Susie dear, let’s take a walk/Just out there upon the beach/I know you’ll soon be married/ And you’ll want to know where winds come from/Well it’s never said at all/On that map that Carrie reads/ Behind the clock back there you know at the Four Winds Bar.”

I’m merely a novice on the story myself, but these words makes me want to learn more. Moreover, the knowledge that the album is a sort of lyrical prequel to the Imaginos saga renders more interest to seemingly non-sequitur lines such as “I plot your rubric scarab/I steal your satellite/I want your wife to be my/Baby tonight, baby tonight,” from “Career of Evil,” or “I’m the eyeman of TV/With my ocular TB/I need all the peepers I can find/Inside the barn where you find the hay/Just last week I took a ride/So high on eyes I almost lost my way” from “Harvester of Eyes.” The average person may not know what in the Hades Eric Bloom is actually singing about here, but it sure as heck sounds cool.

And what of the music on Secret Treaties? What I’m talking about here is nothing short of the superb melding of elegance, atmosphere and power that makes this record a B.O.C. classic. Okay, it also rocks our collective buttocks off! Crystal-throated singer Eric Bloom sounds perfectly sublime throughout, while the rhythm section of brothers Albert (drummer) and Joe (bassist) Bouchard pulsates and sways without ever losing the groove. The lead guitarwork of Buck Dharma is as melodic as it is fast and fluid, with Bloom and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Allen Lanier providing a crunchy and resonant harmonic foundation. Lanier’s organ and piano work take more of a central role here than on the band’s two previous records, beginning with the rollicking up-tempo rocker “Career of Evil.” Immediately displaying the band’s versatility, the atmospheric “Subhuman” begins with a clean, jazzy guitar intro before launching into a brisk, galloping main riff. The song is laid-back and haunting, featuring soaring lead work from Dharma. “Dominance and Submission” and “ME 262” are both raucous up-tempo tunes that owe more than a little depth to late 50s/early ‘60s rock’n’roll.

“Cagey Cretins” kicks off Side Two with another rocking tune, this time built upon a quirky, syncopated main riff and a swirling tempest of a chorus. On “Harvester of Eyes,” B.O.C. slows down the tempo just a bit but rides crisp guitar rhythms and a raucous solo section to a dramatic conclusion. The textural, piano-driven “Flaming Telepaths” is another mid-tempo gem, with Bloom contributing some of his most memorable and stirring vocal lines of the album. This song is simply brilliant, and Lanier’s Moog and piano work in the solo section leads to an exhilarating solo from Dharma. The track accelerates and crescendos before it ultimately culminates in the moody masterpiece, “Astronomy.” Not enough can be written to adequately describe the sheer beauty of this unique ballad. So the best I can do is this: go listen to the record already!

The Columbia Legacy CD also features five bonus tracks, the first three being essential listens. I think it is safe to say that I’ve written enough about this 1974 masterwork. So go listen to it again or for the very first time. Enjoy it; just don’t keep it a Secret.

 

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on September 27, 2009.

One Response to “Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties (1974)”

  1. I have some fond memories of BOC. Sitting in front of my brothers HUGE stereo..looking at the album art..and my dad seeing the name and asking very concerned…”why are they called CULT? are they are cult? should you be listening to this stuff?’ lol
    thanks for the great review 🙂

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