Nazareth 2XS/Sound elixir as reviewed by phantom tollboothIt’s Nazareth, Jim, but not as we know it…


Label: Salvo
Time: 21 Tracks / 82 minutes


As the ‘70s became the ‘80s, things were going in the direction of synth-based music and/or big hair and polished sound. What was a guitar band with no keyboard player to do? Get one – and another guitarist, too. Apart from that – pushed doubtlessly by their corporate overlords – in 1982 Nazareth’s answer was to try several directions simultaneously.

The first few tracks of 2XS bear this out. “Love Leads to Madness” is a nicely polished opener that would have made a decent filler on the Rampant album. If the sun is out, swallows and bluebirds are pirouetting in the sky and it’s too hot to even jog to the fridge for a beer, this is a good sound to hear. Next comes a frantic rock pastiche “Boys in the Band,”, followed by “You Love Another,” a slow, reggae-fied piece with tinny, programmed drums and resonant bass. After this is an acoustic guitar-and-piano-based slice of country boogie. It is all performed well (although the guts have been produced out) but is it really Nazareth?

Remove the preconceptions and there really are some worthwhile tracks here, including the singles “Love Leads to Madness” and second guitarist Billy Rankin’s “Dream On.” Though not as powerfully slow-building as it could be, the Caledonian “Games” shows that they could play the ‘80s style and give acts like John Farnham a run for their money. “Lonely in the Night,” like “Preservation,” also wears its age on its sleeve, showing the advantages this line-up had in featuring synth riffs alongside Charlton’s chugging guitar lines.

Different again, “Mexico” has enough character to fill a dozen huge sombreros. It’s layered Spanish guitar and keyboard lines may be intended to reflect the eponymous sound, but it has more of a medieval harpsichord feel. Wherever it’s from, this two minutes and fifty seconds are a unique part of the band’s canon.

Those who want a return to the ‘70s can take heart in the funked up rifferama of “Back to the Trenches,” but even with the extra thickness of an augmented band, this lacks the urgency of old, on-fire Nazareth.

The inconsistency continues into the follow-up Sound Elixir, which was not properly released in the UK. “If you don’t know where to go, try to do what you did last time” seems to be the motto. This time the atmospherics and guitar effects appear in the single “All Nite-Radio;” FM radio fodder comes courtesy of “Rain on the Window;” and, although this release has less sparkle than 2XS, across all 21 tracks “Whipping Boy” is the nearest they come to their musical home.

In their search for a sound they seem to have adopted other artists’ identities. The rather special “I Ran” has the clean, bluesy funk of Climax Blues band; “Rags to Riches” has a touch of ‘80s Rainbow (so Nazareth aren’t the only ‘70s guitar band looking around); “Local Still” has nicked Quo’s “Gerdundula” riff and “Backroom Boys” is the nearest that I have ever heard anyone come to Clapton’s version of “Willie and the Hand-Jive” – a reminder that, unusually, there is not one cover on either of these albums.

Is this the sound of a band being pushed where they do not want to go, either because their label wanted them to jump on the REO-Speed-Bandwagon or because they sensed that the gutsy, blues-based rock that brought them to fame had had its day? I’m not convinced by this stage in their development and I don't think they were. No, it’s not really Nazareth, but if you like AOR, there is actually quite a lot to enjoy here.

Derek Walker