Cockney Rebel were part of that wonderful glam period, but rather than adopt the ‘Bricklayers in drag’ look, they took the more artier route in their approach to the glam movement.
Written by: Explorer
ARTIST: Cockney Rebel
ALBUM: The Human Menagerie
SERIAL: EMA 759
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: Steve Harley – vocals * Paul Jeffreys – bass * Milton Reame-James – keyboards * Stuart Elliott – percussion * Jean-Paul Crocker – strings, guitar
TRACK LISTING: 01 Hideaway * 02 What Ruthy Said * 03 Loretta’s Tale * 04 Crazy Raver * 05 Sebastian * 06 Mirror Freak * 07 My Only Vice * 08 Muriel The Actor * 09 Chameleon * 10 Death Trip
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Aahh, the early ’70’s, these really were MY glory days. I was virtually a sponge back then soaking up anything and everything.. musically may I add! There didn’t seem to be a week go by when I didn’t discover a new band or revel in the delights that ‘Top Of The Pops’ would bring to my TV screen.
Be it Mott the Hoople, Sparks, Queen, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music, Be Bop Deluxe.. do I need to go on?
Cockney Rebel were part of that wonderful glam period, but rather than adopt the ‘Bricklayers in drag’ look, the band took the more artier route in their approach to the glam movement, and with former journalist Steve Harley as their front man and a look like they’d just fallen out of a 1930’s Berlin nightclub, they really were something quite different.
Back in ’73, as a debut album this was indeed a very grand affair, with Harley as very much the focal point and with a sound like no other. Harley’s songs were liberally sprinkled with girls names from Ruthy to Muriel and Loretta back to Louise, giving the album a quite exotic almost European feel.
But what really did make this album so unusual was that there was no lead electric guitar to be found anywhere and instead its place was taken by the electric violin which really did confuse critics (of which there were plenty) at the time.
The album’s stand out tracks ‘Sebastian’ and ‘Death Trip’ are both extraordinary in that they employ an almost baroque approach, and with both having grandiose orchestral arrangements these were at the time quite stunning to hear.
Harley has always for me anyways, come across a little like Ray Davies of The Kinks, with both his delivery and lyrical content, and although at times he does trip himself up with being slightly ‘too wordy’, that doesn’t deter from the enjoyment and is only a minor quibble.
Other highlights include the funky, for the time ‘Muriel The Actor’ and the smouldering ‘Mirror Freak’, but there are really no missteps at all anywhere to be found here. Production wise the album still stands the test of time being full and lush one moment and then fragile almost claustrophobic at others.
With the equally pleasurable follow up ‘The Psychomodo’, Steve Harley would, to my mind never reach these artistic heights again, although he did hit the big time with the ubiquitous ‘Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)’, which has no doubt left him very comfortably off thank you. The first two Cockney Rebel albums still stand as a testament to ambition and overt arrogance, such was Harley’s self belief back then.
Harley in recent years has once more taken to the road and performed both albums complete with full orchestra, which I did find slightly disappointing, as his vocal range, even back in the ’70’s being somewhat limited really did struggle, which is a shame as ‘The Human Menagerie’ even today is a unique record and still evokes some very precious memories for me. Essential.