NAZARETH — No Mean City (review)

NAZARETH — No Mean City album cover Album · 1978 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Having been on top of the game for good hard rocking music in the mid-seventies, Nazareth were looking for new direction as they removed some of the heaviness and went more for a blues sound with more feeling. By "Expect No Mercy" there was little left of the hard and heavy sound that had reached its apogee with 1975's "Hair of the Dog".

Then a curious development occurred. The four-piece Scottish band added a fifth member, guitarist Zal Cleminson. With an extra six strings and ten fingers on board, Nazareth went and recorded one of their hardest rockers and perhaps their grittiest album in their catalogue. The fantasy cover, a muscle-bound, green-skinned, skull-faced creature in armour, clutching sinister razor knives walking among stone ruins, certainly looks metal. The previous album also featured a fantasy-type scene of warriors in battle but was lighter and more diverse in sound. "No Mean City", while including the catchy country rock "May the Sun Shine" and the ballad "Star" as well as the melodic yet cantering "Whatever You Want Babe", is about 60% sneering, growling, nail-chewing, and rusty saw vocals with some solid heavy rock guitar and fast-paced, hard boogie rock.

One of my personal favourites has always been the medium tempo, slightly heavy prog track "Simple Solution". The song is mean and has groove. Catch the harmonized guitars before the song title is barked out in Dan McCafferty's trademark raw-throated vocal. The opening track, "Just to Get into It" is a gravelly and abrasive, speedy rocker. And while "Star" may not match "Love Hurts", it's a soothing ballad that doesn't seem out of place on the otherwise phlegm-spitting album.

After the soothing ballad, side two knocks us awake with the heavy-pounding rhythm of "Claim to Fame". "What gives ya this crazy thought that you can talk to mah womaaaahn?" challenges McCafferty. The guitar solo is a simple and melodic one as in "Love Hurts" but this time has an ominous feel to it as if McCafferty's mind is about to snap with rage.

Though very melodious and catchy, a great sing-a-long song, "Whatever You Want Babe" has some enjoyable guitar work. Then it's time to get back to business with another clenched-fist number, "What's in It for Me?" The drums have an almost tribal feel to them, and Manny Charlton delivers lots of slide guitar.

The album closer is the two-part title track, which I'll admit has never been a favourite of mine, though I can see the band working once more in slightly progressive territory, going beyond the standard hard rock number. It begins with a fairly standard hard/heavy rock style, one guitar delivering the simple riff while the second provides lots of background soloing. In the middle is where the band develop the darker image of the story. "Call off your dogs cuz I am no fox," McCafferty demands with a shredding vocal that surely must have inspired Brian Johnson. Coming back to this song after a long time, I appreciate it much more now.

In my grade ten year, the year that "Cinema" was released, Nazareth was my favourite band and I had all 16 studio albums (as of 1986) on cassette. When I began buying Nazareth CDs, "No Mean City" was one of the first albums to add to my collection, and to date only a few Nazareth albums have made it. Not that I don't want most of the others, but there is simply too much good music out there to track down.

One of Nazareth's harder/heavier albums and a surprise album in their late seventies / early eighties catalogue as they did little else as heavy during this time. And an awesome album cover!
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