Rolling Stone, #137 – By Bud Scoppa.
During the last two years, Boston’s J. Geils Band has built itself a national reputation as a tight, energetic, popular and extremely good-humored touring band. But, as so often happens with great live bands, the recording studio took the edge off the group’s chief virtues: drive, momentum and self-assurance. While The J. Geils Band and The Morning After, the first two albums, stack up well next to other rock LPs of the last couple years, they are below the standard set by the band onstage. They weren’t just losing the spirit of things in the studio, they were also trying to be an electric blues band, an old-school R&B group and a Stones-style rock & roll band all at the same time. As a result, their energies were being diffused by the differing demands of each idiom. They hit all three musical forms in live performance, too, but the constant dynamic level maintained by the group onstage tends to obscure idiomatic distinctions.
The Geils Band had several alternatives after their second album: raise the energy level in their studio work, make a choice among the forms of music they loved, or simply record a typical live performance. The group opted for the latter, and put out a live album consisting entirely of material from their two earlier albums. Result: another acceptable album at face value, but, like so many live albums, more of a document than an accurate reproduction of the live experience. Full House, the live album, was a sore disappointment for those fans who were itching for something fresh. A live album wasn’t the answer.
Bloodshot is the answer. The fourth LP is what the band should’ve done instead of Full House. It’s a complete break-through because it attacks all their old problems at once and solves each with a vengeance. Bloodshot disproves the theory bandied around after Full House that the band was already stagnating; it adds a half-dozen good tunes to their repertoire; it seals the excellent studio relationship between the band and producer Bill Szymczyk (he did the second album, but not nearly as well), and it indicates the group has decided to put aside their preoccupation with big city blues to concentrate fully on the strongly R&B-based style of rock & roll they’ve been developing.
This style is characterized by authoritatively hard-hitting and deceptively simple bass and drum patterns (Szymczyk gets the punch of the Danny Klein-Stephen J. Bladd rhythm section into the grooves miraculously well), the equally full and simple organ and piano of Seth Justman (whose role in the band has noticeably expanded), the interlaced riffing and lead work of guitarist Geils and harpman Magic Dick (who gives the band the equivalent of a second lead guitar and a sax section with his extraordinary playing), all of it topped by the expansive vocals of Peter Wolf. They don’t sound significantly different than in the past, just fuller, more fiery and more sure of themselves.
The band still has plenty of that cocky and crude early-Stones feeling throughout the album (although the sense of crudeness is now nothing more than a sense this is an extremely well-played, carefully engineered and produced album). But, as a friend pointed out, on their marvelous full-tilt rendition, of the Showstoppers’ “(Ain’t Nothin’ But a) House Party,” the tone is much more like what you’d expect from the Rascals if they were still rocking today. Justman’s organ and Bladd’s cowbell make the difference here; they transform their band into a rigorously East Coast, unself-consciously white hard rock group.
There are no instrumental fillers this time, and there’s none of that reverent-tribute stuff like the endless rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Serves You Right to Suffer” that pulled down both the first and the live LPs. Bloodshot is an album of just-plain songs like the first song says, this one is nothing but a party. The Geils Band has finally come to terms with itself as a bona fide pop group, which it has always been really, but never fully admitted to before. And, as befits an out ‘n’ out pop group, it’s good to see the guys sneak in a cop here and there without their usual acknowledgment or dedication, as they do to James Brown on “Back to Get You,” Joe Tex on Titus Turner’s “Hold Your Loving,” and the island of Jamaica on “Give It to Me.”
Wolf and Justman have tapped a really promising vein as writers. They’ve co-written all seven original songs on the album, and notable among these are a pair of dance tunes, “Southside Shuffle” and the aforementioned “Struttin’ with My Baby,” and a pair of fine ballads, “Make Up Your Mind” and “Start All Over Again.” The two fast numbers, along with the Turner song, capture Wolf’s jiving, rhyming, mock soulful, machine gunning stage persona better than anything they’ve put on record, the fast-flying, usually hilarious Wolfisms (”Move ‘n’ groove ‘n’ slip ‘n’ slide/C’mon Baby, don’t try to hide … Wear your tight dress, I’ll shine my shoes/I got all the money, Baby, I need to use … You’re makin’ me hard. I’m gettin’ all wet….”) integrate themselves perfectly into the songs, any of which would be a great treat on AM radio. The two slow ones are even better: They show off a side of Wolf that’s been all but hidden up to now. In these songs he forgets about his con man’s honk and goes into an unforced, sincere and surprisingly affecting delivery.
The J. Geils Band has finally hit on the right state of mind with the right producer to start making that long string of good records their old fans thought they’d be making from the start. The band is now able to either duplicate in artificial surroundings what it does onstage or as in the case of Wolf’s new vocal approach create something apart from the live band’s stockpile that’s just as effective. With Bloodshot, the J. Geils studio ensemble has gone into a dead heat with the J. Geils live wrecking crew. On the next album, the studio band may well pass their other half. And that, as another friend remarked, is what almost always happens to the best rock groups.