The Sea Shanties - High Tide (1969)

Posted by Amelia Swhizzagers On 2:34 AM

I wouldn't want to join the - no doubt existent - bunch of fans who'd claim Sea Shanties to be the true epitome of heaviness and that one best heavy album in the world so unjustly forgotten by future (and neglected by contemporary) generations. Rather, it falls into that category of important and innovative records that prove things we "wouldn't like to know". Think the Pretty Things' S. F. Sorrow as the first example of 'rock opera' rather than the world-famous Tommy, think the Silver Apples as pioneers of synthesizers rather than Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Stevie Wonder, think numerous faceless garage bands as the first real punks before you-know-who, etc., etc. All these albums and bands have one thing in common - they were all innovative, but they didn't manage to balance their inventiveness and innovation with solid songwriting craft and 'mass appeal' (the latter understood in the positive sense here). Thus, it's only natural, if certainly unjust and a bit sad, that they were forgotten and replaced by their more witty colleagues who were able to make their achievements produce a real revolution in mass conscience.

Same goes for High Tide's debut album. Much as I love Stand Up and, to a lesser extent, Led Zeppelin II, Sea Shanties has definitely gotta occupy the title of heaviest album in 1969. Guitarist Tony Hill had apparently been paying close attention to Hendrix, as the distorted, scorching tones he employs on the record are certainly borrowed off Jimi's experimental noisemaking off Are You Experienced, except that Tony doesn't use them for noisemaking, he uses them as the base for the actual melodies. However, the style of his playing is anything but Hendrix - this is not a bluesy album by any means, and Tony's grumbling wall-rattling riffs can only be compared to what that other Tony would start doing in about a year. In other words, think Black Sabbath playing style crossed with the dirtiest of Hendrix guitar tones. But that's only one element; Simon House's driving electric violin throws in a certain degree of 'artsiness', even "proggishness", as the man battles with Tony's guitars, and Tony's vocals are so close to Jim Morrison's that some of the 'softer' parts on the album could easily be mistaken for lost Doors' outtakes. Er, "Outtakes From The Forgotten Doors" - I think that sounds pretty nifty, doesn't it?

Anyway, the first song, 'Futilist's Lament', would be enough to bawl over anybody. A smashing, mastodontic, grunge-and-everything-else-predicting riff almost rips out of your left speaker, and as you screaming run for cover into the shelter of the right speaker, another, an even heavier and poisonous riff rips out of it, too, throwing you back to the wall where your family will be gathered to scrape you off with a toothbrush. (That's what happened to me, don't ask me how I got my poor remains together). Then, however, the second riff goes away, replaced by House's twiddling violin, and as Tony starts to sing in his devastating, Morrison influenced tone about the perils and dangers of life, you can easily understand why this album didn't make much of an impact in 1969: for that period, it was so unbelievably hardcore and radical that promoting such a thing might have caused one serious problems.

How, in fact, can you promote a record that has 'Death Warmed Up' as its second track? It's a sprawling nine-minute jam that only gets heavier and heavier and heavier as it progresses, until you get the feeling that all the room is burning up in flames and start getting visions of Mr Hill with scorched, charred fingers and thick black smoke coming out of the amplifiers. It also gets rather boring once you got used to it, OR it gets totally unlistenable once you find out you can't get used to it. Either way, it's not a chef-d'oeuvre of music-making, but it is melodic, in the long run, and you can headbang to it like no other composition from 1969...

It's all quite typical of the other four songs as well. Classically-influenced, medievalistic compositions (the classical influence is especially well seen on the quieter moments, such as the first section of 'Pushed But Not Forgotten') with well-constructed, but not instantly memorable vocal melodies that all eventually transform into this dirty, stinkin', rotten, exciting sludge. Some, like 'Walking Down Their Outlook', are a bit 'uptempo', but the other ones are normally and predictably slow, just like any selected classic Black Sabbath song would sound. If anything, the album suffers from a total lack of diversity: I like the sound in general, but it's a bit too much bleeding on the ears for me to be able to take all of it in one go, and a more 'lightweight' interlude or two would have certainly benefited the general look of the thing, especially since Hill and House can do 'lightweight' interludes, as 'Pushed' proves.

But then again, it's the very point of the record to be consistently HEAVY. In terms of 'musical purpose', this is a radical opposite to something like the Stooges' Funhouse - that album was defiantly 'anti-artsy' (which made it artsy by definition, but that's another matter), while Hill, House and company certainly pretend this to qualify as an art-rock, in parts even prog-rock experience, but that doesn't mean I gotta enjoy it any less than the Stooges' masterpiece. I probably enjoy it even more, although it depends on the mood: if you're in for a bit of 'caveman' heaviness, go for the Stooges, if you're more inclined towards this leaden Goth heaviness, High Tide's your bet. In fact, while not too many songs on here relate to 'sea' thematics, the sound, at times, is so apocalyptic and thunderstormy that it fits right in with the album cover. But I bet you anything you don't hear that kind of 'sea shanties' at sea. Not often, at least. Review from HERE.
1. Futilist's Lament
2. Death Warmed Up
3. Pushed But Not Forgotten
4. Walking Down Their Outlook
5. Missing Out
6. Nowhere.

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