Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mars Bonfire - Faster Than the Speed of Life(1968)

Mars Bonfire's late-'60s material occasionally bears some resemblance to Steppenwolf, particularly in the use of heavy organs. But in fact this is certainly on the lighter and more pop-flecked side than Steppenwolf, which might both disappointment Steppenwolf fans who seek this out on the basis of the "Born to Be Wild" connection, and make this LP a rather pleasant surprise to those fearing bombastic late-'60s hard rock on the order of Steppenwolf's less impressive aspects. There is a version of "Born to Be Wild" here that is far tamer and less effective than Steppenwolf's hit cover. Yet on about half the album Bonfire favors a pretty airy pop-psychedelic approach (reminiscent of his "Tomorrow's Ship" composition on the single for pre-Steppenwolf outfit the Sparrow, written under his real name of Dennis Edmonton) to both his songwriting and arrangements. Bonfire has a thin, crackly voice that lacks force and precluded any significant success as a solo singer and band frontman, but does have a sincere and likable quality in spite of its limitations. "Lady Moon Walker" in particular is an overlooked psych-pop gem, with Bonfire's best deployment of attractive melodies, spacy lyrics, and pleasing keyboard textures. "In Christina's Arms" and "Sad Eyes" are also neat-o tender love songs with just enough unexpected melodic changes and oh-so-slightly trippy lyrics to make them more intriguing than the usual decent late-'60s pop/rock tune. When Bonfire tries to rock harder and get a little bluesy, the music becomes undistinguished, and sometimes downright boring. The good half of the album make this a worthwhile find, though, and it's worthy of CD reissue (along with "Little Girl Lost" and "Time to Fly," non-LP cuts from the era). Sure it's obscure, but that hasn't stopped Columbia from reissuing lots of other commercially unsuccessful '60s stiffs from its vaults.

1. Faster Than The Speed Of Life
2. Born To Be Wild
3. Sad Eyes
4. Lady Mood Walker
5. Tenderness
6. She
7. Ride With Me, Baby
8. How Much Older Will We Grow?
9. So Alive With Love
10. In Chrisina's Arms
11. Night Time's For You

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