Fearless is the group’s sixth album and their first on United Artists. It is, in short, nothing less than brilliant. The band is a blast of energy right when rock can use it. Family is fronted by madman Chapman and it derives much of its direction from his highly frenetic style and his crazed delivery. When I saw the group live in England I was totally knocked out. On three occasions they generated excitement approaching The Who on a very good night and they recreated these levels each time. Chapman gets into a performance slowly until the music and he are both swirling about the stage, ricocheting off amplifiers, musicians, walls and anything else that crosses their maniacal paths. The vocalist, with his arms flailing in all directions, pushes the band to unknown heights and uncharted regions. It is always a cathartic experience.
Fearless captures the band’s power and its art. The album is an extraordinary collection that mixes countless styles of music, always sounding distinctively like Family. Shades of Tony Williams, Miles Davis and the Soft Machine can be heard in the jazz tinged numbers while Family delivers equally with the power of Rod Stewart or Jethro Tull. The Mothers of Invention and classical composer Charles Ives (from whom Frank Zappa learned so much) both influence the mix, and harmonies drift in and out that recall CSN & Y and the Beach Boys. The studio work brings back the refreshing inventiveness of the Beatles and, as a final touch, the vocal and instrumental nuances of Traffic and even the Grateful Dead are present. Now, doesn’t that give you a clear idea of what Family sounds like?
Side one is remarkable, being the catchiest album side I’ve heard in a very long time. One listening was all I needed to get caught up completely in the music. “Between Blue And Me” opens the album and goes from folk acoustical to heavy rock in a blink of an eye. “Sat’d’y Barfly” with its double pianos sounding like inebriated Randy Newman, and its insanely correct tubas, is thedrinking song of the ’70s. Following is “Larf and Sing” which deserves to be the most listened-to cut because it catches in its two minutes and forty-five seconds the totally lovable idiocy that is Family. “Spanish Tide” and “Save Some for Thee” close out the side with wild studio flourishes within some super-fine electric music.
Although side two might not be as memorable as side one it is still full of great moments. “Take Your Partners,” “Blind” and “Burning Bridges” are overpowering compositions despite their lack of incisive lyrics. “Children” is a very pretty song that allows the band to stretch out vocally and “Crinkly Grin” could have been a dynamite instrumental but they choose to fade it out after a mere one minute and five seconds. The multi-instrumentality of the band members account for much of the album’s strength. The range is wide but al1 areas explored are seemingly familiar territory and no one gets hung up in a bunch of musical pretensions.
Family captures the sound of the machine age which fairly represents their working class backgrounds. Although some people might not be attracted by their eclectic approach, all rock fans should be turned on by their skills. Family deserves to be heard and Fearless should be their passport back to America. This time, hopefully, we’ll show the good sense to welcome them with open arms. We’ve heard a lot of bands that have been influenced by Family and now we deserve to hear the real article.