A gradual return to form after being adrift in the early '80s.
Time: 11 + 16 tracks / 51 + 71 mins.
The early ‘80s were a strange time for these Scottish rockers. On stage they were in their element: Snaz caught them on fire and drawing from a magnificent catalogue, but in the studio they were floundering in search of a direction, as 2XS/Sound Elixir demonstrated only too plainly.
Although it is pungent with the aroma of the decade, and guitarist Manny Charlton could have been playing several of these tracks in an armchair, 1984’s Catch sees the tentative start of a return to form.
“Moondance,” although it needs work, has a chiming guitar, as has “Love of Freedom,” which sounds like they were trying to emulate compatriots Big Country. Unfortunately, it only leaves the runway just before the fade-out.
The only strong clue to their adrenalized past is “This Month’s Messiah,” which resists the temptation to go the Foreigner route and puts some pace under Charlton’s grinding guitar.
Nazareth is again recognisable as Nazareth, having shut out some of the many options that they had previously been keeping wide open. The band also returns to the cover version - a proven strength as “This Flight Tonight,” “Love Hurts” and “Shapes of Things” testify. In this case it is a very decent account of “Ruby Tuesday” along with a so-so Goffin / King piece “Road to Nowhere.”
If Catch is Nazareth starting to turn a corner, they are clearly heading in the right direction eighteen months later with Cinema, which is definitely a rock album.
It speeds out of the traps with the title track, its pounding drums soaked in as much attitude as reverb and dressed with “Brass in Pocket” stabs. They make no secret of looking to the European singles market here. “Just Another Heartbreak” also sees the return of flagrant feeling into the music; and when the retro-flavoured and breakneck “Other Side of You” comes along, it adds up to three out of the first four tracks making a blatant statement. There are definite echoes of Loud ‘n’ Proud here and they might as well have called the album We’re Back at Last!
Unlike the adolescent “Salty, Salty,” there is a lyrical maturity to the closing section. “White Boy” berates the treatment of blacks, while the unusually ballad-like closer “Veteran’s Song” would not be out of place as the soundtrack to a later clip from Born on the Fourth of July.
Further making this the better of the two discs are seven bonus live tracks, recorded for Tommy Vance’s Friday Night Rock Show on BBC Radio 1.
The set list is a microcosm of their history, avoiding much of their recent material (except for “This Month’s Messiah”) and stretching back to the heady days of “Bad, Bad Boy.” It is as if they have a chance to show that when playing live, they are able to control the quality, rather than their management or record label.
The selection also shows the variety of their material: “Bad, Bad Boy” features bluesy slide guitar; John Cale’s “Cocaine” and their own “Party Down” both show a rare funky side to the band, the latter with programmed backing, and a conciseness and attack not found on the studio version; and of course they rock. “This Flight Tonight” loses none of its attack, despite years of use, and “Beggar’s Day” is one example of McCafferty singing through a bucket-load of gravel.
Unlike their early live performances, which could sound thin, here everyone makes their mark on the richness of the music. Agnew and Sweet lay down a muscular groove for Charlton’s assured guitar to fill and solo over.