The Groundhogs

Split (BGO '71, Akarma '03) Rating: B+
Led by singer-guitarist T.S. (Tony) McPhee, The Groundhogs were pretty big in the U.K. in the early '70s, scoring 3 top 10 albums, and the consensus seems to be that the best of the bunch was 1971's Split (though their previous album, Thank Christ For The Bomb, seems to be a lot of people's favorite as well, including Mr. McPhee himself). With Ken Pustelnik (drums) and Pete Cruickshank (bass) rounding out their power trio lineup, the comparisons to Cream are inevitable, especially since McPhee's voice bears more than a slight resemblance to Jack Bruce. Fortunately, I like Bruce's (and McPhee's) voice, and McPhee is fond of using the wah wah pedals that Eric Clapton put away post-Cream, which I also heartily approve of. He's not a great songwriter, at least based on the evidence here, and the band is at times all over the place; tight they are not. Still, McPhee is a good songwriter, and there's something about these guys, as their overall energy and reckless sense of abandon makes heavy yet trippy blues-based songs such as "Split (Part 1)," "Split (Part 2)," "Split (Part 4") (not the most imaginative of song titles, admittedly), and "Cherry Red" (the albumís most easily accessible and well-known song) genuinely exciting and powerful. The band's sloppiness and the grungy overall sound is actually a plus when these riff-heavy songs inevitably evolve into improvised jams, though most of the songs manage to clock in at around a reasonable five minutes. The overriding lyrical theme concerns schizophrenia (in which case the song titles on side one, which forms a mini-concept album, make sense), but it's the band's playing that really counts, though song-wise I'll note that "Junkman" is particularly unstructured and "out there," while "Ground Hog" sounds the most like a straight up blues song (fittingly as itís a tribute to John Lee Hooker). Although the band's sloppy-yet-explosive chemistry is undeniable and McPhee is certainly an impressive and imaginative guitar player (I'm pretty sure that even Jimi would have nodded along approvingly to the machine gun sounds on "Pt. 4"), there's nothing especially extraordinary or groundbreaking about The Groundhogs. However, if you want to dig up a semi-obscure, ass kicking psychedelic hard rock album, Split will certainly fit the bill.

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