Being a bit fed up with music as “reactive noise” (“God man, the world’s a drag, let’s play loud and drown it out”), I was sort of set not to dig this LP, but I had to. Hendrix is a good musician and his science fiction concepts surmount noise. There isn’t really a concept (no Sgt. Pepper trips here) — instead there’s a unity, an energy flow. The LP opens with an electronic track using tape loops and phasing (think of “Itchy Coo Park” by the Small Faces for an example of phasing) called “And the Gods Made Love.” Hendrix said in an interview, “We knew this was the track that most people will jump on to criticize, so I put it first to get it over with.”
The “I” in that sentence is true — Hendrix produced and directed these sides himself. Following is “Electric Ladyland,” a fairytale trip that serves as introduction to the rest on the LP; “I want to show you the angels spread their wings.” Next is “Crosstown Traffic,” a stomp under with a heavy beat. “90 miles an hour is the speed I drive, girl,” sings Hendrix as he compares the woman with a traffic jam — “It’s so hard to get through you.”
Then a live cut, which sounds as though it was recorded late at night in a small club, at one of the jamming sessions Hendrix is known for. It features Stevie Winwood on organ and Jack Casady on bass, and is called “Voodoo Chile.” It begins with a very John Lee Hooker-like guitar intro, and keeps a blues feeling all the way through, although Hendrix’s lyrics (“My arrows are made of desire/From as far away as Jupiter’s sulphur mines”) are a far cry from “Rolling Stone” (the Muddy Waters song that’s an ancestor to this track, as well as a lot of other things). After some feedback screech, a listener says “Turn that damn guitar down!” and the track ends with Hendrix and a chick discovering that the bar in the club is closed. “The bar is closed?” she says unbelievingly.
But yes it is. Side B opens with a song by bassist Noel Redding, “Little Miss Strange,” probably the most commercial of the numbers included. Basically hard rock, the best thing about it is some nice unison guitar lines, probably an overdub, unless Hendrix has grown another couple of arms. “Long Hot Summer Night” is next, a song set in the “Visions Of Johanna” scene, although Hendrix has a way out — “my baby’s coming to rescue me.” An Earl King number, “Come On,” follows. Mostly rock/soul, the guitar break in the middle is one of the nicest things Hendrix has done.
“Gypsy Eyes” begins with a drum thumping, a simple bass line and a compelling guitar line, it’s a light groovy tune that really sticks to your synapses. (If it was possible to hum or whistle Hendrix, this would be the tune you’d most likely do.)
The side ends with “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” which was Hendrix’s last single in England, released a year ago this summer. It’s a freaky ballad, with particularly nothing lyrics and on the whole a drag . . . it goes nowhere. Side C is the sea or water side. It opens with “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” using a small group that includes Buddy Miles from the Flag on drums. In it Hendrix does a lot to restore the grooviness of rainy days, previously much maligned in many songs.
This fades to “1983: A Merman I Should Be” (a merman is a mermaid’s mate, of course). Hendrix’s vision of the future shows a world torn by war, on the verge of destruction as he and his lady go for a walk by the sea, and dream of living in the water. With tape loops, melancholy guitar and the flute of Chris Wood (also from Traffic) Hendrix structures a beautiful undersea mood — only to destroy it with some heavy handed guitar. My first reaction was, why did he have to do that? Then I thought that he created a beautiful thing, but lost faith it, and so destroyed it before anybody else could — in several ways, a bummer.
Another electronic track, “Moon Turn the Tides Gently Gently Away,” heals some of the rent in your head, and the side ends peacefully. Side D opens with a continuation of “Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” only heavier and funkier — maybe just a bit too much so (iron raindrops hurt, man.) “House Burning Down” could be taken as Hendrix’s first socially conscious statement, but it ends in typical Hendrix fashion; “an eerie man from space . . . come down and take the dead away.”
Then comes the new single, Dylan‘s “All Along the Watchtower” — in many ways one of the most interesting cuts here. On Hendrix’s original numbers, it’s sometimes hard to see the structure at first; the rhythm starts and stops, the changes are a bit hard to follow sometimes. But here, if you listen to the rhythm guitar track, and keep the original song in your mind, you can see the way Hendrix overlays his beautifully freaky sound on the already established framework of the song. He is true to its mood and really illustrates the line “the wind began to howl.” Last is “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” done this time with his usual backup men in a studio cut, heavier and more driving.
In other words, an extended look into Hendrix’s head, and mostly it seems to have some pretty good things in it (who among us is totally free of mental garbage?) A few random thoughts to sum up; Hendrix is the Robert Johnson of the Sixties, and really the first cat to ever totally play electric guitar. Remember, he used the wah-wah pedal before “Brave Ulysses,” and he’s still the boss. And it’s nice to see that he is confident enough so he can play some blues again — I’d like to hear more.
Hendrix, psychedelic superspade??? Or just a damn good musician/producer? Depends on whether you want to believe the image or your ears. (And if you wanna flow, dig this on earphones, and watch the guitar swoop back and forth through your head.) Hendrix is amazing, and I hope he gets to the moon first. If he keeps up the way he’s going here, he will.