Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Valleys of Neptune: Reviewed

It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album about which I simply cannot make up my mind, but Valleys of Neptune is just that. Upon hearing that a disc-full of previously unheard Hendrix material was on the horizon I placed a pre-order without a second thought. What I received, however, was not as straightforward as simply another dip in the glorious waters I knew so well.

On face value VON is incredible. I have been a fan of Hendrix for a long time and had not heard many of the tracks on the album. On my initial play-through I felt the familiar buzz I got on my first hearing of ‘Are You Experienced’ here was the great man delving into yet more strange and unusual territory and giving his very unique take on the blues, it took awhile to get over my own prejudice: as far as I was aware Jimi had a midas touch when it came to music. I don't believe this album is an instant classic by any means but it does have a few gems.

It is hard to be critical of an album made up of what are essentially bootlegs, outtakes and jams but......it's Hendrix! so the gloves came off.

There are some highlights to be heard: the instrumental cover of Cream’s ’Sunshine of your Love’ is breathtaking and I defy anyone to listen to ‘Mr Bad Luck’ or 'Hear My Train A Comin' without a smile on their face. The re-workings of classics such as ‘Red House’ and ‘Fire' simply pale in comparison to the originals, however and there just seems little point in including them. The opening track of the album is another reworking, an alternative rendition of 'Stone Free' which I believe is the only classic song on the album on a par to the original.

On the whole the album does offer a decent mix of songs, some of which are outstanding, some less so, but all convey the magic fans are familiar with. As long as the listener doesn't approach it as a 'new' album and takes it for exactly what it is: an small taste of where the man was going, what might have been. It can become quite a poignant reminder of a talent stolen far too early.

There will be obsessive Hendrix completionists out there who will undoubtedly want this album to take pride of place in their collections, however the majority of the new tracks have already been excavated by such people and those of us who have 'experienced' Hendrix (pun intended) will get some enjoyment from the album's highlights but will, i feel, ultimately return to the more established albums to quench that thirst when it arises. I therefore struggle to see where the target audience lies.

Should anyone who is new to the world of Hendrix be considering purchasing this album as an introduction I advise, nay, INSIST that they do not. Start with ‘Are You Experienced’, 'Electric Ladyland' or at the very least one of the Greatest Hits collections knocking about and fall in love as so many of us have in the past.

As I finish writing this 'Sunshine of Your Love' is playing again and I am reminded of just why this man's reputation has endured through the decades.

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