Album in Depth: Agents of Fortune by Blue Öyster Cult

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. When I decided on my schedule, I realized I was mostly doing albums that I enjoyed, so I jammed a lot of albums that I didn’t fancy: Sublime, Justin Bieber’s and St. Elsewhere. But, of course, I mixed some other albums that I somewhat enjoy. This is one of them.

Blue Öyster Cult is not famous here where I live, so, I grew up with classic like Floyd, Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, The Beatles, Jethro Tull… but Blue Öyster Cult was one of the large array of what I had to pursue by my own. Of course, as most people did, I got acknowledge of the band because of that segment on SNL: the famous “More Cowbell” sketch. I would later discover that the sketch lies to us with the whole “THE Bruce Dickinson” twice: one because it isn’t THE Bruce Dickinson (the singer) and the producer of the track isn’t even THE Bruce Dickinson (Producer). Oh, and Gene Frenkle, the cowbell player, doesn’t exist at all. But I’m really getting myself ahead. So… what is Blue Öyster Cult (BÖC for short)? A little background is required:

The year is 1976. Eagles would release there most famous album, Hotel California, later on, and AC/DC gets its International Debut with High Voltage. Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man is published (though I can’t really say it would be a fair fight: come on, Spider-man is awesome, but a flick of Superman’s finger would kill him) and Bullseye fights the Daredevil for the first time. The Twelve Tasks of Asterix is released in movie theatres being the first movie of the Asterix franchise to be completely original and Taxi Driver hits the big screen.

To say that BÖC already had success would be an understatement, although not a huge one. They were already a stable US rock band, with some successes overseas as well, three good to great albums and a live album that achieved gold certification by RIAA. With laser on the shows (something that never was seen before in concerts) and mind boggling rock and roll, the band that started out as Soft White Underbelly (by the way, the old names sucks: it should be Șǿft Whȋtǯ Ǚndeȑbȅɭɭƴ, now that’s a name I could respect) contains nowadays only two of their “original members”: Bloom that entered the band as Sound Engineer and replaced the Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar and Buck Dharma, with the lead guitars. However, at the time of the release of this album, it was at the time of the best know line-up, with the brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard on the Bass and Drums respectively and Allen Lanier on the Keyboards. In the cover, you can see another symbol of the band: the hook-and-cross. Although some believe it is just 3 exclamation marks and one interrogation mark bundled together, it is actually the Greek symbol of lead, the most heavy of the metals.

The Ö, of course, has to be referred as well. There are controversies to the first usage of the metal umlaut, being divided between the Öyster and the Sabbath, with some releases of Paranoid being written as Paranoïd, but BÖC is the first band whose name got a gratuitous umlaut because it sounded kewl. There were other examples (other German examples, mind you) like Yes’ “Würm”, before, but that is an alliteration of the word “wyrm”, that means dragon (although some D&D players would point out that wyrms don’t have arms without wings like most dragons do, dragons don’t exist, studying the biology of something fictional will always be pretty hard).

The album has a great cover art. With a dealer or fortune teller showing something that I thought were Tarot cards (and maybe they are, I’m no expert in that: if someone knows what cards that is, tell me. I’m guessing it’s something like Death, Queen, King and Sun), it’s well drawn and looks pretty ideal for the whole motif of the band, although I have to say, the paint on my press of it is starting to wear thin as I look at crisp new albums on Google images. The album clocks at 36:43, which is bullshit. I mean, seriously? I think it’s the shortest album I’ve ever reviewed. For a rock ‘n roll band of the seventies, I was not expecting this. The shortest tune is “This Ain’t The Summer of Love”, the intro track with 2:20, and the longest one runs for 5:08, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by the way.

The album already sold platinum, even though its highest position on the Billboards was a #29. It is their greatest success ever and has always been considered a staple of rock ‘n roll, almost always being stated in top rock ‘n roll albums. Intro done, let’s dig into the album: Agents of Fortune by Blue Öyster Cult.

1st track: “This Ain’t The Summer of Love” – A mild intro, but effective. Although a bit to calm for my taste, it reminds me of some Waters’ Floyd songs. The lyrics work on the theme of things that are deceptive pretty well, with some pretty cool references. The guitar solo is awesome, the chorus is good and the overall melody doesn’t get tiring till the end, although at the last seconds, it gets a little repetitive.

2nd track: “True Confessions” – This one starts with a feel of country mixed with early rock ‘n’ roll. Even with that, it isn’t exactly a fun song, with the piano and singing being the best parts of it, with even the sax solo falling short, even reminding that a sax was rare in a rock album in that time, so I’ll give it that. Near the ending, the songs takes on some chances and the song gets pretty interesting, being a song that ends with a feeling of “I want more”, but it falls short. I think it needs more cowbell.

3rd track: “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – I won’t stay in this song for long: it is plain awesomeness. With the exchange of the singer (that particularly, was getting sort of on my nerves), this song feels mild on the vocals but is an interesting piece of hard rock still in his youth. With lyrics that DON’T talk about couple suicide as more than normal people suppose, it instead talks about the need to love not thinking of other things: death included. The bridge at 2:40 sounds like it doesn’t belong in the song, giving a certain uneasy atmosphere that works with the whole song, with one of the greatest guitar solos ever. Near the ending of song, the “girl” of the lyrics starts minding other stuff, and goes away, giving a bittersweet ending to the whole affair (now as second glance, it may also signify that the girl died). It will be hard to top this song.

4th track: “Extra Terrestrial Intelligence” – With a riff that reminds me of the greater riffs of the seventy, this song strikes home at least with me, with unusual lyrics that are completely incomprehensible (but gives that feeling that you want to discover what the hell it wants), a broken chorus that give you the chills, some creepy effects on the guitar, a kick ass solo… in another album, this track would be a great standalone, but because of “The Reaper”, it gets a little overshadowed: but should be listened to.

5th track: “The Revenge of Vera Gemini” – A song that is very reminiscent of some heavy country song but with some creepy echo effect on it all. The chorus is boring and the song is, overall, pretty boring. The lyrics are interesting, but not enough to give that will to understand the background behind it. Again, the guitar solo, albeit short, is completely awesome. I’m pretty sure that it is one of the guys of the band that is singing as the female, possibly the Vera Gemini of the song. After two great songs, a not so good: it was bound to happen.

6th track: “Sinful Love” – I went into this album thinking that it would be “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and 9 filler songs, but this song, as Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, is great. Not as great as “Don’t Fear”, but great in his own merit. The singing seems a bit under enthusiastic, but it works with the excessiveness of the spirit of the guitars, back vocals and one of the greatest intros that I’ve heard in a while, with illusive keyboards and a kick ass riff, that keeps reminding me of one of the greatest times to be a rock and roll listener. This song wasn’t expressive in their career, but it should’ve been.

7th track: “Tattoo Vampire” – As I’m listening to the album, every song goes beyond my expectations by a mile. The intro is a little chaotic and cacophonic, but as the song starts, it is a heavily blues rock based song, with the construction being similar to Ac/Dc “Beating Around the Bush”, but it’s not as hard. The effects on the back vocals combines with the song to the point where it reminds me of some ’80 effects without sounded misplaced. The guitar riff should belong in a hall of fame and the solo is awesome. Again, I could see this song getting the fame of “Don’t Fear” if it had more cowbell. The ending is one of the best types of intro ever made, with the song ending after the line of the chorus (I could hear the applause, even being a studio song).

8th track: “Morning Final” – This song reminds me of the Who, but it’s the type of song that they could pull off and, well, BÖC can’t. The song is not bad, it’s just not the style of the band, being a type of keyboard based ballad. The guitar in it all works well, but the lack of the riffs that this album already presented bums me out. It lacks, also, a great guitar solo, depending on some keyboard based effects. Even the closing section, that could’ve been larger than life, is just mild keyboard and guitar playing with some guy talking out of the rhythm.

9th track: “Tenderloin” – The last track connects with this one so great that I wasn’t even aware that it changed tracks. I thought it was one single track for a long time. A strange not creepy song is what we get, with The Who feeling still floating upon it all. I prefer when BÖC is creepy than plain old strange. Well, at least the guitar solo is creepy, but the rest of the song is just tame rock and roll with some good decisions and a pretty well done drum beat, even making it seem like a drum machine, although, of course, I know it isn’t. At the 2:50 mark, the guitar gets a little happier and it also takes the song up a notch, but after it, the song goes back to the restraints, and then later, at the 3:20, the guitar gets great, and the music ends. If this song was just instrumental with the guitar being creative all the way, it would’ve been a way better song.

10th track: “Debbie Denise” – It sounds again, like The Who. To be fair, it’s too tame even for a The Who song. For what I could gather, the singer broke up with Debbie Denise, but she got all cuckoo on him, which is actually a decent idea: the song sounding like a typical love song done badly but talking about a crazy gal, but I wouldn’t listen to it on a daily basis. The guitar near the end works it pretty beautifully, but it is pretty uneven, being kept on the background, when it should’ve been let on the front yard of the song.

So, how does it hold up? It is a good album with some flaws. The best album I’ve ever reviewed is still Elf by Elf, but this could be in my top 10 albums I’ve reviewed, although it wouldn’t be on a top 10 best albums in my opinion. It’s not exactly a Hotel California album, where there is just a huge song and some minor songs, with some great songs behind the Reaper: especially, Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, Tattoo Vampire and Sinful Love. This album should be listened by all fans of classic rock as me even if just for a basis of comparison, since most classic rock bands are British ones. However, don’t go into this album expecting “best album of my life” or “ten (Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, because it is not either. I would recommend this to the most heavy metal listeners, as you can see in some tracks the start of the heavy metal genre.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

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5 Responses to Album in Depth: Agents of Fortune by Blue Öyster Cult

  1. Ted Garland says:

    Your review makes no sense…first you say Vera Gemini is boring but then in the review of the next song that every song surpassed your expectations by a mile….which is it?
    The fact that you can’t identify Patti Smith on
    that track sounds like you hacnt been listening to music very long nor have read the albun credits.

  2. Linda Klyne says:

    Hello love your review of this album just wanted to share with you that they are in fact tarot cards. on the tarot cards covering this album they are in order firstly we have the death card number 13 meaning transformation , new beginnings also representing scorpio secondly the high priestess meaning strong female intuition, thirdly we have the king of pentacles which represents a man of wealth, security , stability, a man born under the sign of capricorn, taurus, virgo that is mature in age and lastly we have the sun which means family love, contentment, optimism and fulfilment. the represents the source of life itself

  3. Francis Bye says:

    Your critique of Agents of Fortune is superficial and myopic at best. The depth of BOC’s lyrics, like a finely aged Port, must be savoured. This album has withstood the test of time and there are still legions of fans of the band and their music. Blue Oyster Cult has always been more about telling stories than selling hit singles. That isn’t a path to consistent fame, but they are true to their art.

    • JotaKa says:

      Thanks for the comment. I wouldn’t say my critique was superficial, as I listened to the album 10~12 times before writing it (and, 4 years having passed, listen to it still today), but first things first, lyrics does not a music make. I firmly believe that lyrics are about 5% of what a song must be. Since I don’t read lyrics if there isn’t a booklet within it (and this one didn’t have one) and I didn’t search for info in the internet, trying to stay close to my vision of the album as a integral piece, I didn’t get most of the stories that it may have. Sorry about that.

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