SLEEPER (n); a record that has not achieved commercial success commensurate with its musical worth. It is such records, rather than ones that everybody has heard anyway or owns, that a reviewer should bring to his reader's attention.
Philadelphia's American Dream recently released an untitled debut LP though it features brilliant writing, playing, and arranging, I have yet to see a copy in a store outside the Philadelphia area.
Side one opens with a sickening buzz that sends you to your knees praying for the health of your stereo, but it's only the beginning of an uncomfortable telephone conversation with someone's senile grandmother. This introduces "The Good News," which typifies the side. Throughout the side, melodies and lyrics are good but not superlative (a striking exception being one insightful line from the Orwellian "Big Brother:" "go with him and he'll show you how to break the chains of freedom"). The harmony is perfectly executed but in arrangements that are "merely" well above average; the guitar solos are acceptable but not memorable. On the other hand, everything is coordinated perfectly; the drumming is well thoughtout and the rhythm guitars provide a dense, interesting background.
Most important, a close listen to any few cuts will show that Don Ferris is one of the best bassists around. His style is similar to that of John Paul (Led Zeppelin) Jones, but Ferris concentrates more on maintaining a strong beat and solid backing than on the melodic value of his own lines. He's also extremely versatile, and I'd have a hard time naming half a dozen bassists as good.
If side one is more than adequate, side two is one of the finest continuous performances available from any group. Guitarist Nick Jameson leads off with a catchy riff and sails into a rocking solo on the infectious rhythm 'n blues number "My Baby." Pretty harmony and plenty of beat add up to a happy old sound on the only song not written by the group.
"I Ain't Searchin'" is musically very strong, and the admirable personal philosophy it expresses comes out in good, unusual lyrics. In an album full of good arrangements, this one stands out: the brilliant highlight is an electric guitar that takes over very smoothly from an excellent acoustic guitar solo to play its own break, then recedes into the background and finishes the song like an incendiary string section. Ordeals of a struggling musical are clicheed by now, but "Future's Folly" finds an effective way to present them.
The next cut is the song. Entitled
"I am You," it is a love song with an unconventional and thoroughly believable theme. The arrangement starts out very sparse, subtly adding instruments and voices until it is forceful as well as beautiful. Lots of groups have sung 'I Love You," but when the Dream puts it in rich harmony, the line is like the sun coming out-a perfect contrast to the low-keyed body of the song.
At the very least, "I Am You" will put a lump in your throat; if you've been in love and aren't now, it'll tear you up. Thus it's a good thing that the next cut is the joyously idiotic "Frankford El," an energetic country tune with inane lyrics. "Raspberries," which finishes the album, sounds at first like a lot of wasted energy, but proves, when you're used to it, to be quite interesting.
And that's it. Todd Rundgren, formerly guitarist of the Nazz, has given the LP production it deserves, and his engineering allows each wellplayed instrument (not to mention the voices) to come through with perfect clarity. If you can find "American Dream," buy it.