Saturday, December 17, 2011
Dark - Round the Edges
Time for another installment of Know Your Enemy--this time it's not the band or the music, but the consumer attitude surrounding the album--excessive hype. One of the interesting facets of underground and obscure music hunting is that hype is often as common and potent in its ability to mislead as it is when it's found in relation to mainstream music. Dark's sole 70's release Round the Edges is in my opinion the perfect example of this phenomenon. It's not that Round the Edges is a bad album, it's just not worth the thousands of dollars that record collectors are apparently willing to pay for the original vinyl run. There's something about the power of rarity that will always make people certain people say "this is great" or make other people say "I know somebody told me this wasn't that good, but people are paying thousands of dollars so maybe it actually is."
When you actually get your hands on a copy (probably digital or CD reissue), you'll find that this album isn't some sort of mold-breaking visionary masterpiece, but rather something very much of its time. Its six tracks are relatively long and the focus is on dual guitar interplay with plenty of fuzzy distortion and the occasional wah solo. While the songwriting isn't particularly developed or notable in its creativity, the long songs have their moments--my favorite is probably the opener, "Darkside," which boasts a few interesting and distinctive sections including a tom-and-guitar intro, a spacious jazzy section that pits the left channel's open riffs against the right channel's reverbed lead lines, and some faster riffing that morphs into a beautifully crunchy bending lead line. It's also one of the songs where the vocalist's dour-but-sort-of-jazzy-at-their-best vocals seem to mesh well with the music. At most other times the singer's smooth, emotionless Eric Clapton delivery seems at odds with the guitars' grit, or at best the vocals just fall behind the much more interesting guitar sounds.
The drum/guitar interplay of "Darkside" returns quite satisfyingly on "R.C.8." but its impact is dulled by some less impressive song construction and shudder-inducing lyrics ("everybody loves a little baby/don't you tell me now that that's a lie") that are even worse than the ones that mar the otherwise dreamy soundscape of "Maypole" with confused attempts at cleverness by likening some chick's appearance to Michael Caine's...yikes. Fortunately, the album ends pretty strongly; "The Cat" represents a common occurrence with early 70's bands like Dark--when they run out of weird, proto-progressive ideas they always seem to fall back on their late-60's blues roots. Luckily in this case it's one of the most energetic tracks for the ensemble, giving the drummer a chance to channel Mitch Mitchell and it's even got a spacey middle section so it's not too different from the rest of the album's vibe. The closer, "Zero Time," is also one of the album's strongest tracks--though there isn't a particularly large amount of intricate guitar work, the main riff makes for a sense of drama and spaciousness that doesn't quite come together in the rest of the album, and the way the vocal melodic refrain bleeds across the beginning of the riff is an awesome idea.
It's clear that Dark was onto something here--there are bits and pieces of good ideas in all the right areas (atmosphere, playing, songwriting) but the common Achilles heel of an insufficient vocalist combined with the album's distant, garagey production hold this one down firmly in the second tier, for me at least. Not that that's a fatal flaw--a lot of great early 70's hard rock bands required a few years and so-so albums to shed their origins and blossom creatively--but unfortunately Round the Edges is the only Dark memento we've got and the band wasn't able to continue in its promising direction. In my opinion as a moderate fan of this kind of music, it's good enough to seek out if you're a big fan, but there are quite a few similar albums I'd recommend first that don't require nearly as much barrel scraping for those with a casual interest. Excessive hype, you are not our friend!
Get it here.