from Rock Albums of the 70’s by Robert Christgau
(Da Capo Press Inc., New York, 1990)
Family: Anyway (United Artists ’71)
Back before Rik Grech deserted them for (and on) Blind Faith they were a slightly demented hard rock band that made arty with a violin. Now they’re a slightly demented hard rock band tha makes arty with unidentifiable percussion and various croons and mumbles – at least on the studio side. On the live side they make shift.
Family: Fearless (United Artists ’71)
This hooks in on “Sat’d’y Barfly,” which sets Roger Chapman to bellowing drunken boasts over dissonant piano chords. The rest is equally abrasive and eccentric, but not always so good-humored, which when it doesn’t hook in can be a problem.
Family: Bandstand (United Artists ’72)
When they kick ass on “Burlesque” or “Glove” or “Broken Nose” they sound raw and abrasive in the great English hard rock tradition, but discords are altogether more cunning, and on this album their stuborn lyricism finally finds suitable melodies on “Coronation” and “My Friend the Sun” and the bittersweet “Dark Eyes”. Their sexual anger is class-conscious, always a plus, and their sadness usually a matter of time, which they get away with when the melodie is very suitable. And just as they begin to get it together they break up.
Family: It’s Only a Movie (United Artists ’73)
So they didn’t break up after all, but the close call seems to have mellowed them – this is their funniest, funkiest, most relaxed album. I know an autumnal Roger Chapman is little hard to imagine, but this is a man of many guises – back in the beginning he sometimes came on like an opera singer. Pick: “Leroy”, inspired by “No Money Down”.
- DOLL’S HOUSE – Good introduction to early Family, one of England’s favorite rock bands during the ’70s.
- ENTERTAINMENT – Not as uniquely Family as the first album, but still worth the listen.
- FEARLESS – One of the best. Get it!
- BANDSTAND – The best Family album, for me. Nice melodies.
Another of Family’s best.
- IT’S ONLY A MOVIE – In fact, a classic. Family is not for all, just for those who know.
Good, but somewhat uneven later work.
Family backed Mason for this B-side to “Just For You” (Feb. 1968, Island WIP 6032). This is in a waltzing rhythm, and features exotic percussion (bells, etc.) along with prominent 12-string. Violin, flute and cello are also featured, and there is a reverbed violin solo, in an Indian style (sliding notes). Overall sounds a bit like “Scene Through the Eye of a Lens”, even though Mason did not produce that one.
An English group on an American label who are highly confident of their creative powers, which they prove with a Dave Mason-produced selection of toyland ‘n’ soul compositions – as near a label as you can get with such an original team.
Unless you are irritated by one of the singers who has a vibrato like an ewe in the lambing season, this should delight everyone who likes intelligent underground pop. It’s all well played, lyrics are both meaningful and witty and the material is all original. A great deal of thought has obviously gone into this production and it has paid off. Tracks include “The Weaver’s Answer”, “How-Hi-The-Li”, “Dim”, and “Emotions”.
The band gets back from the States soon – they might even have arrived by the time you read this, and they will be around to plug this group composition. Very subdued record with Roger Chapman’s vocal hardly over a whisper and some intricate phrasing in the instrumental track. Main feature sounds like slide guitar giving a sitar effect. The band cannot be accused of “selling out” by even the most cynical critics. This is a very subtle single with a lot of charm. I think this is one of those records that will be enormous or ignored because it is so different. Even if it fails in the chart sense it must still rate as one of the most lyrical and beautiful examples of Family’s music to date.
Idiot Dancer supreme Roger Chapman takes us on a new version of the Family classic on a “value for money” maxi-single. With prices going up all the time, wot I sez is, the public deserves a square deal. Roger bleats and brays with winning skill and the band bounces along with cunning dexterity. There are also the delights of “Hung up down” and”Strange Band”. Brilliant performances – it would be a wheeze to see them in the maxi-singles chart.
FEARLESS: Abrasive, eccentric, good-humoured English hard rock. B+
Bandstand: This is the album which will, without any doubt, break Family in America. From that point of view, ladies and gentlemen and assorted freaks, this is the album of the year. Yes, but it’s good to listen to as well. From the way the band talk, rehearse and then play on stage, you’d never believe that recording it such a perfection … There’s no slap-dash … And Chapman does seem to become rock’s finest vocalists.
There is just no stopping a good rock band, as the latest albums by Family and the Doors show. We were all beginning to think Family had faded when BANG, back they come with their first offerings in over a year – the smash single “Burlesque” and the album Bandstand. Bandstand grabs you from the start with its clever package cut out like an old TV set, complete with perspex screen. And the music inside is just gripping. You all already know the moodily musky “Burlesque” but there is much more on offer, from the supersonic freaky sound of “Bolero Babe”, through the strangely gentle “My Friend The Sun” to the veritable hurricane that is “Broken Nose”. Musically, Family are brilliant, nobody could argue with that, it is the strangely strangulated vocals of Roger Chapman that take some getting used to. And yet like many unmusical voices (technical that is) it is vividly effective and often poignant as he reaches up into a near screech for the right note. A super album this (Reprise LP).
I remember clearly that I always loathed Family at school, but this re-release makes me wonder why. Both this and “In My Own Time” (on the flip) show exactly the right balance of imaginative intricacy and brawny power.
by C. W.
Already fans are hailing this as Family’s best, and the dawn of a new era of creativity. But it takes time to warm up to this latest collection of songs. There is something about the sound quality, the general atmosphere that lacks the spark of immediacy. It may be the fault of the drum sound, which is rather “studio”. No reflection on Rob Townsend’s playing, but it raises visions of blankets inside headless bass-drums.
The opener “Burlesque” tends to drag its feet, but gradually the overall feel and direction of the programme draws in the listener, and ethereal quality of songs like “Bolero Babe” takes effect. And in rock terms too “Broken Nose” more than makes up for the absence of surge on “Burlesque”. Roger Chapman, one of the most unique recognisable vocal stylists in rock, is presented in an extraordinary variety of moods that proves his professionalism is not confined to hurling mike stands. He takes within his stride the delicate but frequently tortured moments of “Coronation”. A pity the lyrics are not more readily identifiable. And they have a frustrating habit of slipping away into the accompaniment. I’m sure that “Coronation” for example is trying to tell us something. My interpretation is one of romantic nostalgia. This is reinforced by the brilliantly designed album cover, which depicts an early TV receiver, complete with see-through screen. “My Friend the Sun” is a particularly nice song, with a gentle acoustic guitar and nostalgic return to the laziness of “Glove”. A string section is tastefully used to enhance the sound, but the guitars and drums on the whole needed more bite. My main criticism is there are not enough surprises in the playing. The spaced-out moments of “Top of the Hill” for example could have been made much more effective, with greater attack employed. Nevertheless, there is much to commend Family’s return to the album fray, and it is obviously destined to become a much requested item in coming weeks.
No single track stands out as memorable on the new Family album, Bandstand (United Artists UAS 29374), and atypical for a late ’72 record, one cannot perceive any attempt to tie the work to a period, style or model of rock history. I am reminded, however, of “Abbey Road” in the gusto with which they wheel and form around the parade ground beat. There is an Indian whine about “Bolero Babe” which smacks of “Revolver” and surely George Harrison stands in loco parentis to “My Friend the Sun”.
But two charms distinguish this album. Family can command the pace of an individual song, such as the superb track “Glove”, with the subtle sprints and maintained stamina of a long distance runner. And the vocalist, Roger Chapman, resembles Rod Stewart in that he has the modesty to permit a magnificent voice to merge into the music and become more instrument than dominant. The band is now touring the US bearing this album proudly like a banner before them. And if occasionally they try too hard, as on “Ready to Go”, and fail to resolve a thematic progression which cries out for a decision, they remain one of the most promising of British bands.
The farewell shot – although there seems to be an unspoken assumption that this is just an au revoir and not a goodbye. The songs are strongly narrative, much like the old Coasters’ hits which Roger Chapman is so fond of. In fact, the album is strongly American in feel and lyric content: the title track tells of a mild Tom Mix making a Western. If Family are going out, then it’s with a bang.
On October 13, 1973, Family disbanded on completion of their most successful British tour. Personally speaking, I found the day after was bloody awful, when I fully appreciated they’d probably never play again, and the memory of a truly excellent farewell concert was beginning to fade.
Family were original, and its extremely regrettable the mechanics of the business dictated their demise. During their seven year existence they had created an almost unequalled standard of music and musicianship (with at least six of their eight albums) through five significant personnel changes. Quite rightly they were acclaimed by critics, and a large proportion of the public, as one of Britain’s greatest bands.
Now, to celebrate the first anniversary of their death, we’re offered “Best of Family”. How, though, can one select an album’s worth of tracks from such a prolific repertoire and please everybody? Quite simply, you can’t. However, this album does undoubtedly represent some the band’s best moments.
It goes right back to “Music in a Doll’s House” with “The Chase” (listen carefully and you’ll hear at the end part of the opening bar to “Mellowing Grey”) and “Old Songs New Songs”, and then through the years with such musical landmarks as “No Mule’s Fool”, “The Weaver’s Answer”, “Part of the Load”, “In My Own Time”, “Burlesque”, and the classic “My Friend the Sun”, to their last recordings together, “It’s Only a Movie” and “Sweet Desiree”.
Not everything they did was magnificent of course, and evidence of this can be heard on the two other tracks included in the set, “Sat’d’y Barfly” and “Children” from the “Fearless” album. Even though many of the cuts on this compendium are obvious choices (so why didn’t they include “Top of the Hill” as well?) all but the two I’ve mentioned stand up to what is commonly known as the test of time.
But even more importantly each number clearly represents the progression of the band from the psychedelically inclined production of “Doll’s House”, through the ragged edges of “Part of the Load” to the track which reflects their improvisationary senses, “Burlesque”. There are some informative sleeve notes (by Al Clark), a Family tree on the inner sleeve, and lyrics to all of the cuts. A good buy for those of you who haven’t previously been introduced to the band, and any Family devotees who’re too lazy to seek out the individual tracks from the original albums.
Leicester’s Family were one of Britian’s better progressive bands, offering energy and interesting ideas without pomposity or self-indulgence. Their most laid back album, Fearless (**), saw John Weider replaced by John Wetton on bass and the sound became decidedly more orthodox: Wetton even attempting to harmonize with Roger Chapman’s throaty vibrato roar. It has creative touches and experimental leanings, but – “Spanish Tide” and the joky “Sat’dy Barfly” aside – is desperately short on decent songs. The addition of the contemporary “In My Own Time”, their biggest hit (UK #4) and it’s B-side “Seasons” provides at least one memorable melody.
Bandstand (****) is stronger, harder, tighter and more tuneful, with a nod to Family’s R & B roots. There were still ambitious ideas – the strings on “Bolero Babe” – while Chapman offered his most personal and contemplative lyrics, providing moody longing and wistful reflections along with articulate social comment and laddish lust. The rousing “Burlesque” was another hit (#13) and its respected B-side (“The Rockin’ R’s) is the extra track here.
It’s Only a Movie (1973 – **) was the seventh and final album. Wetton had departed for King Crimson and keys/vibes player Poli Palmer had also gone, replaced by guitarist Jim Cregan and the redoubtable Tony Ashton. There are cleverly constructed songs (notably the title track) and nice instrumental touches, but many tracks are earlier ideas revisited. The old edge had gone and the band decided to split within a month of its release. Two B-sides – “Stop This Car”, with it’s country tinges and accordion showing creativity was not entirely spent, and “Drink To You” – are bait for collectors here.