A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows Reviews
With A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows, songwriter/guitarist Michael Roe returns with yet another incarnation of his 77's to once again examine the reality of flawed relationships. His more-Doors-than-Beach-Boys California pop has rarely sounded better than on cuts like "One More Time," "Mr. Magoo," and "U R Trippin'." The sharp arrangements of "Related," the soulful groove of "I've Got," and the subtly stellar percussion and bass work on "There Forever" combine to make Golden Field one of the summer's best open highway records.
Roe has a knack for combining a sharply down-to-earth worldview with just enough hope to keep from sliding into cynicism. In "U R Trippin'" he acknowledges how foolish it is "when you think you rise above yourself all by yourself." He offers similar sentiments in "Mean Green Season," "One More Time," and "Leavin'."
All is not bitterness, however, for the 77's. There are glimmers of hope in "I've Got," and "Rise" and an abundance of hope as Roe searches for love in "There Forever." But nowhere on Golden Field is Roe more encouraging than on the final (and best) track. The optimistically titled "Begin" finds Roe putting his angst in a perspective that many would do well to adopt: "I say whatever took away your hope and courage seems to pale when put against your own rich inheritance."
--Derek Wesley Selby
Christian Musician May 2001
In a better world, the tasty blues licks and challenging theme of "Related," the first single off of the latest 77's platter, would be playing every two hours on your favorite radio station. A challenging treatise on the role of accountability in the lives of believers, this track is just too honest to be given much play on mainstream Christian airwaves, which, of course, pretty much describes the 77's 18 year relationship with the Christian music industry at large. While AGFORC contains some of the most CCM friendly lyrics on any 77's disc, it certainly does so without compromising the blatant angst, conflict and challenge and resolve that have become a Mike Roe trademark. The music is a scintillating blend of the poppier elements of Pray Naked and the rougher blues textures of tom tom Blues, and ends up sounding like the most accessible music of the Sevens' long career. Encompassing everything from jazz to gritty, blues-rock to majestic, chiming pop, A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows delivers everything a devoted fan of Roe and company expects from a 77's record and should appeal to anyone who just needs a shot of good ol' faith based Rock & Roll.
There’s a song on the latest 77s record that is one of the best tracks they have ever done. It’s called “One More Time,” and while this somewhat controversial and boundary pushing band has always managed to deliver album-after-album of great songs, this one rises above the rest. For one thing, the song just rocks – a return to their early days of their pounding punk rock with a chorus that explodes on you without much warning. Also, the chorus has a challenging statement of faith that asks the question:
“Tell me one more time
What you meant when you said
Love is blind
With open eyes.”
Lately, the 77s have struggled to recapture a wider audience (although they have never really been close to a mainstream act). Recent albums have ended up sounding a bit too generic, but “A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows” stands up against classics like “All Fall Down” and their self-titled release. One surprise is that Mike Roe doesn’t seem to have done as much of the songwriting and splits duties evenly with the band. Actually, drummer Bruce Spencer wrote a lot for the music for this record, which is a welcome change.
One highlight in the middle of the record is “Mr Magoo,” a 60s redux with cool fuzz guitar in the background and lots of “oohs” and “ahhs.” Mike Roe hits his characteristic high range in the chorus, and a quickly rendered bass line holds the whole thing together.
The album does seem to be frontloaded with good songs. Later on, some of the tracks are slow to get started. For example, “Related” tries to be a hip-hop rap session at first, but you’re never really sure where the song is headed. “I’ve Got” and “There Forever” spend too much time trying to set their tones, and by the time the songs hit full stride you might not be paying attention anymore. “Mean Green Season” is worth waiting around for though with its country rock shuffle – not a huge surprise considering that Roe sidelights in the “supergroup” country outfit Lost Dogs. “Begin” is a fitting lazy-day ending with some sweet mandolin and Carlos Santana-inspired guitar parts. All in all, a great record and return to form for the band.
The 77s have long been the underground heroes of bluesy, gritty, jangly rock. They're that band that everyone has heard of but few have actually heard.
Judging by their latest album, the curiously-titled A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows, ignoring this band should be considered a felony. Crows takes the trio of Michael Roe, Mark Harmon, and Bruce Spenser into perhaps the most pop-accessible territory of their remarkable career. Their unique brand of melodic rock music has always had that "classic rock" vibe, but it now has a stronger "fun to listen to," pop quality.
Listening to Crows, one is struck by two things: the unconventional, refusal to cater to listener expectations in the songwriting, and the awe-inspiring musicianship that these three guys display. The phenomenal guitar work alone is worth the price of the disc. As the first release on the new Galaxy 21 Music label, which purports to be an artist-friendly label, leaving each artist alone to do the work that they want to do, A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows is ample evidence of what a talented artist can come up with when there's no heavy-handed record label tinkering. This is rock-and-roll artistry at its rough-around-the-edges finest.
Top Picks: "U R Trippin'," "Leaving," "Related," "I've Got," and "Mean Green Season."
Pros: Truly original music that defies all expectations. It only gets better with repeated listenings.
The Verdict: Like fine wine, The 77s seem to get better with age. At the very least, The 77s should be required listening for any student of Christian Music. You won't get much better curriculum than Crows. This is an awesome album.
My Score: 5 stars.
The Phantom Tollbooth
Michial Farmer 4/8/2001
It usually takes me a few weeks to really get into a new 77s release, so I approach this review (and its deadline) with some trepidation. To add to my cautiousness, A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows is the band’s first full-length album since 1995’s disappointing Tom Tom Blues and, by all reports, is the poppiest, sunniest album they’ve ever done. This is a good thing, as I’ve always preferred their pop songs to their blues and rock material. The 77s’ last pop record was 1992’s Pray Naked. Crows doesn’t have much in common with that record, other than that lead singer Mike Roe balances out his Robert Plant/Billy Corgan growl with his Brian Wilson croon. Pray Naked was a definite winter record, with the big pop hooks in songs like "The Rain Kept Falling in Love" and "Look" drenching the record in cold air and melancholy. The logical progression from that, of course, was 1994’s Drowning With Land in Sight, an album with all the pessimism of its predecessor but not half as many hooks. So we come to A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows, bound to go down in history as "The 77s’ summer album." 2001 finds Roe happier, though apparently in no fewer dysfunctional relationships than in years past ("You’re the last blast baby in a long line / Of ones who tried to change me," he wails in "You Are Trippin’"). Indeed, Crows has a definite 1960s pop sheen to it, although many of it songs are filtered through the same 1970s screen that did a number on Tom Tom Blues.
"Mr. Magoo" appears here in the same form as it did on last summer’s preview disc, although its companion piece, "Related" is changed drastically, with the album version incorporating various aspects of trendy production, including turntables and samples (I vastly prefer the versions on the single).
It is ironic that an album with so much musical sunshine would be so focused on death, but apparently the death of close friend Gene Eugene last year has left quite an impression on Roe. "Related" in particular finds Roe in grief, ululating in the chorus about not being able to "keep the box that we came in," then finding comfort in the next verse and understanding "the reason for the undertow." On "Genuine," meanwhile, he admonishes the listener to live life to the fullest, because "overnight, everything can be so undone."
Is this the 77s’ best album? No. I’ve always found Roe’s sad songs to be his best. It is, however, the happiest thing they’ve put out in years, and with Spring having arrived and Summer on its way, that’s just what we need.
Sechs Jahre liegen zwischen “Tom Tom Blues” und dem neuesten Album der 77´s. Auch wenn ausnahmsweise die selben Mitglieder bei den Aufnahmen anwesend waren, so sind die beiden Scheiben nicht miteinander vergleichbar. Der experimentelle Jazz aus dem Jahr 1995 hat nichts mehr auf AGFORC verloren. Zugänglich sind Bruce Spencer (dr), Mark Harmon (bs) und Sängergitarrist Mike Roe geworden. Deswegen könnten beispielsweise die Songs #1 bis #3 allesamt Singles werden. Auch wenn #2 “down from you” sogar punkangelehnte Gitarrenriffs enthält, klingt auch dieser Titel weichgespült, weil Mike Roe seinen Ausbruch dann doch wieder glatt bügelt. Sind die 77´s wirklich die Rolling Stones der christlichen Szene geworden? Mal hier Konzerte ob solo mit Band oder als Lost Dogs, ein Best-Of und ein Live-Album nachgeschoben und die Kasse klingelt. Die ganze Wut der frühen Jahre scheint weg gewischt zu sein. Wo sind die vertrakten Tracks wie auf “Pray Naked” oder von “all fall down” als bei “Mercy Mercy” oder “You don´t scare me” dem Zuhörer das Blut in den Adern gefror? Futsch aus. Jetzt wird Kasse gemacht. Sicherlich hat 77´s viel für die christliche Musik getan, aber jetzt ist auch mal wieder gut. Die EP aus dem Jahr 1999 wäre ein würdevoller Abgang gewesen.
77s - "Related"
The 77's return to thrill those of us who remember their classic discs from a decade (or more) ago. Taking a bit from the past and some samples from the present, Mike Roe and Co. infuse "Related" into a very fun and enjoyable experience. The words of this song take the listener into a state of consciousness, slipping into a time of loss and reminding us all that we are in this thing called "life" together. Lean on your brother when you need to. For most of us, that comes on a daily basis. Classic rockers will play this one because of the 77's legacy, while new programmers should add it from its pure eloquence and simplicity. -the PAJ