I think I’d be acting fairly if I made the assumption that most people this side of the Atlantic have never heard of the band Radio Moscow. Well, allow me to introduce you to them. Essentially it’s a couple of dudes who really enjoyed the psychedelic blues rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and just want to play that kind of music for the modern audience. Not exactly revolutionary, I’d agree, but if you’re like me and you don’t care much for ‘trends’ or what’s ‘in’, and you just want to stick to listening to what you have always enjoyed, then you’ll approach the band with the correct mindset. The clichéd method of describing Radio Moscow is to name such artists as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer and Cream, and tell people to imagine some sort of mix of the three: it’s essentially guitar-based hard rock with phasing on the vocals and instrumental solos all over the place. It’s the kind of music you can imagine providing the soundtrack for the most drug-phased and laid back of Woodstock montage videos in years gone by. Truly, they are a band out of time.
The incredibly psychedelically-titled The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz, Radio Moscow’s third album after 2007’s Radio Moscow (check out ‘Frustrating Sound‘) and 2009’s Brain Cycles (check out ‘Broke Down‘), features the now-standard two-man lineup of Parker Griggs (vocals, guitars, drums, percussion, harmonica, songwriting, production, mixing and artwork) and Zach Anderson (bass), and is more of the same really. Psychedelic blues guitar jams mix with ad hoc drum solos, acid-laden vocals and 60s recording trickery to create a collection of songs brimming with confidence, swagger, and a strong element of nostalgia (if you’re old enough). It’s a no-holds-barred thrill ride through time, and provides a perfect third chapter in the relatively new story of Radio Moscow.
Leslie Magnafuzz kicks off straight away in top gear with the super fast wah-strangled ‘Little Eyes’, one of two songs on the record with writing input from bassist Zach Anderson. Standard heavy blues riffs and licks scream at you with the backing of Griggs’s surprisingly impressive percussive skills. As usual, vocals are at a minimum, with a couple of four-line verses plonked in between bars and bars of jamming. There’s a really cool part in the middle where a solo is played at a different speed to the rest of the song, and it really fits in well despite the blatant and non-subtle change of pace. What I really like about Radio Moscow’s music — and it’s really clear in this track — is that Griggs is clearly more interested in soloing all day than singing a song, and because the band’s creativity is not oppressed by a massive record company he just does it. A few more lyrics at the end, and ‘Little Eyes’ ends the opening statement of intent of the album with some phased feedback: juicy.
Most of the album actually feels like the LSD-induced blur which typifies the era it is trying to emulate. Guitar riffs blur into one another, vocals are definitely interchangeable, and you find yourself at the end of the 12 songs wondering what to do with yourself. ‘No Time’ has even less vocals — another showcase of Griggs’s fun guitar layering practices shown on previous albums. In most ‘conventional’ rock songs, you might be able to distinguish a ‘guitar solo’ from a ‘guitar riff’ or even a ‘breakdown’, but in ‘No Time’ the three all merge into one wall of sound, designed to be played at the top volume. ‘Speed Freak’ is slightly more funky, but does remind one of some of the most forgettable 70s rock bands that released one hit song and then disappeared in a mist of marijuana smoke and their own vomit. The riff’s really cool, though; and with slightly more vocals, it might appeal more to the untrained ear than some of the other tracks.
‘Creepin” is the first of the more alternative tracks on the album. Basically, for both Radio Moscow and Brain Cycles, Griggs and co. have recorded a couple of country-sounding tracks with slide guitar, harmonica and the like. Check out ‘Lickskillet‘ from the former and ‘Black Boot‘ from the latter for examples. ‘Creepin” follows this trend, and provides a really nice break from the electric onslaught of the first three songs. With a slower speed and a much more structured layout, the song is much more relatable and digestable, and even features a decent amount of vocals (even if they are backed by Hendrix-esque guitar solos). ‘Turtle Back Rider’ is a really interesting song. The riff is slightly more subdued, but still features a good amount of breakout licks. There is also a recurring section of muted guitar strumming, which adds another element to the song which is pretty desperately needed, to be honest. The changing music sounds confused and ill-fitting, and the vocals are pretty boring in the mix. There’s also a breakdown which is led by a poor-sounding bassline and features way too many layers of guitars. The first weak song of the album, arguably.
‘Densaflorativa’, a title I don’t think I’ll ever remember, is an even stranger song. It features some really odd tribal drumming, and the main guitar licks are equally alien. Radio Moscow have always been really good at instrumental songs (see ‘Introduction‘ and ‘Brain Cycles‘), but this one is just plain weird. Leading… seemlessly… into ‘I Don’t Need Nobody’, Radio Moscow add another song to their rebellion-come-independence collection, joining such tracks as ‘Mistreating Queen‘ and ‘No Good Woman‘. It’s really not as good as those songs though, and it fails to really make any kind of impact among its dragging solos and distracting sound effects. The tone of message continues with ‘Misleading Me’, which is another song I could easily skip over. Unnecessity is king again, with weirdly layered vocals and another drum solo in the middle which completely breaks up the song. As another largely instrumental guitar jam it’s alright, so I won’t completely dismiss it straight away. ‘Summer of 1942’ is the other song co-written by Anderson, and is one of the later highlights of the album. The guitar licks at the beginning are kickass, and continue throughout the track with the continuous screams of “Don’t leave me hanging/Don’t you leave me hanging” ringing in your ears. More guitar action brings the song to a natural conclusion.
If any evidence was needed of Blue Cheer’s influence on Radio Moscow, it can be found in the title of the tenth track: ‘Insideout’ sounds a hell of a lot like Outsideinside, does it not? The song itself also sounds a lot like Blue Cheer, with the licks and solos pretty much in a different key to the main riffs, and the guitar sounding like a super old £100 cheap axe. ‘Insideout’ is actually a decent song though, and were it not for its five minutes and twelve seconds running time it might potentially be one of the stronger numbers on the album: the ending solo is over a minute and a half! ‘Deep Down Below’ is another of the country-influenced Moscow tracks, starting off with some eerie Wild West reminiscent harmonica stylings, complete with sound effects of barn doors and tumbleweed for effect. Griggs matches his vocals with his slide guitar riffs, and occasionally drops into a mad guitar-and-harmonica solo section which sounds, frankly, terrible. The whole song sounds distant, and the drums wait until the fourth minute of the five-minute opera to come in, amongst repeating cries of “Baby take me down/Baby take me down”. To be fair, Griggs and Anderson at least got the ending of the album right. Closing track ‘Open Your Eyes’ is a reminder that Radio Moscow really are a talented couple of guys, and the crazy guitar jams are toned down a bit for this final song. A quick drum beat is accompanied by heavy rock melodies and the obligatory vocal effects to make a fast-paced, almost frightening showcase of Radio Moscow’s current stylistic base. The ending riff is really interesting, and sounds almost Indian in its origin. But overall, it provides a decent ending to a mixed album.
The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz is definitely a much weaker record than Radio Moscow and, especially, Brain Cycles, but isn’t a terrible album in its own right. There are a few songs that one would really hope to see in a live set list from the band, but there are unfortunately a lot that one would hope to miss. It seems that Parker Griggs may need to focus more on the writing of decent rock songs, and possibly do a little bit less of the random blues jamming on his Stratocaster: these could easily be put into a long instrumental of some description, and be enjoyed in their own right. Radio Moscow have produced the natural climax of years of jamming and writing, but unfortunately it is a bit of a disappointment. Hopefully on the next album they will have calmed down, and can return to writing the incredible hard rock songs I know they can.
Rating: 6/10 (Radio Moscow: 7/10, Brain Cycles: 8/10)
Good: Fans of Parker Griggs’s guitar and drum abilities will enjoy this album, and anyone who wants to consume illegal drugs now has the perfect soundtrack
Bad: This is in no way as good as either of the band’s first two albums, and most of the songs feel disjointed and confused among layers of guitars