Secret Treaties – Blue Öyster Cult

Secret Treaties

Blue Öyster Cult

1974

CBS Records

 Classic rock band Blue Öyster Cult’s third album, Secret Treaties, is one that I would love to say is an album, lost in obscurity.  However, that’s not entirely true.  Released in 1974, it spent weeks in the US charts, peaking at #53, and, in the early ’90’s, went Gold.  So, no, it’s not really an obscure album.  However, whenever people think B.Ö.C., they normally think: “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, “Godzilla”, “Burnin’ for You” – never “Career of Evil”, “Dominance and Submission”, or even “Flaming Telepaths.” 

With only eight songs, Secret Treaties is a quick album, although for the standards of the early ’70’s, probably not.  Even though none of the songs were huge hits, the album contains three well-known songs: “ME 262”, the aforementioned “Flaming Telepaths”, and “Astronomy”.  And with such a short play time (the album lasts about 38 minutes, and some current bands could use a lesson in such brevity.  Hint: Flaming Lips, maybe?), the band keeps any ramblings to a minimum resulting in a solid, though not amazing, album.

“Career of Evil” starts off the album.  Co-written by keyboardist and guitarist Allen Lanier’s then-girlfriend Patti Smith (the Patti Smith), the lyrics can be a little meandering, and the topic seems a little cliché, but it’s a fun song, and it’s not claiming to be anything else.  The verses are based around a cool guitar riff, with keyboards accentuating it.  The bridge shows a nice arrangement as the band drops out (besides drums) and Eric Bloom cries out “I will not, apologi-hize!”  The chorus, which is nothing more than “I’m making a career of evil” repeated, will get stuck in your head, making you question yourself throughout the day (and maybe others to question you, if you’re prone to singing out loud).  One problem, as on most of the album, is that the lead guitar is mixed too softly in the background.  However, I have the original and not the remastered version, so for all I know, this problem could’ve been solved already.  Oh, and one of the coolest lyrics by B.Ö.C. ever: “I’d like to do it to your daughter on a dirt road.”

Next is “Subhuman” a mid-tempo rocker.  The guitars and vocals follow simple lines, but the main focus is the pounding, steady bass line by Joe Bouchard.  The song doesn’t really have any distinguishable chorus, and the extended guitar solo is alright, but it’s, again, buried in the mix.  While the song isn’t really boring, it just won’t hold the audience’s interest for numerous listens.

This is not so for the next song, the unhonored “Dominance and Submission.”  This song is one of the coolest songs by the band, and one of the most unknown as well.  The guitar may just be six or so power chords during the entire song (I learned it on guitar a while ago, but don’t remember the exact number), but it’s an interesting riff, and the chord changes are valuable to the song’s mood (which is to say half dark, half jocular).  Albert Bouchard sounds like he’s having fun with the vocals, going from screeching “Oh yeah!” at certain parts, to going as deep as possible.  The song doesn’t follow the norm for what’s acceptable by a classic rock band (one reason I like it so much), with deep voices interspersed: “Too much revolution”.  Again, the solo is buried, but it’s still cool, for a pentatonic scale that doesn’t do much.  The entire last half of the song afterwards grows even more strange (and probably is a precursor to the end of “Godzilla”) as the lyrics repeat, and grow more aggressive, “Dominance, Submission, Radios Appear.”  It’s an awesome song, that deserves more recognition that it has gotten.

“ME 262” is one of the more well-known songs, and for good reason.  It shows Blue Öyster Cult doing what they do best, turning a blues-based rock into their own type of song.  While it’s not as strange as others, the background vocals and the interrupting guitar riff at least create the B.Ö.C. sound that we know so well.  And hell, if those don’t throw you off, the sound effects that come in out of nowhere halfway through will.

“Cagey Cretins” is probably the weakest song on the album.  It’s riff is again a blues-based guitar, but it just doesn’t work this time, being too repetitive.  The background falsetto vocals are horrendous, and the lyrics should never have been written (“Got an awful tummy, Oh no, It’s inflamed” could be up there with the worst I’ve ever heard.  Right next to everything on Kiss’ Dressed to Kill album).  The singing sounds enthused, at least, and almost makes up for the horrible lyrics because you can barely understand them.

The sixth song is “Harvester of Eyes”, and it follows the pattern set by “Me 262.”  Another blues-based romp, the band sounds much tighter than on the last song.  For it’s creepy title, the song refrains ironically from heading down that path, instead being an almost straight-forward rocker devoid of too many intricate complexities and strangeness.  This surprisingly is the song that has the best guitar sound, which shows off an awesomely raw solo.

Next is the best two songs, “Flaming Telepaths” and “Astronomy.”  The first comes in with a segue from the last song with a toy piano.  This accentuates the hard rocking, sharp drum fill that starts off the song.  This is the heaviest song on the album, with a great guitar riff, and great piano.  The lyrics are relatively dark as well (“Poison’s in my blood stream, Poison’s in my pride”).  Also, the next lyrics come in close for coolest lyrics, too: “I’m after rebellion, I’ll settle for lies.”  The chorus is really catchy, with the “The joke’s on you” line coming back throughout the song.  The background vocals are great also, set apart only from the lead guitar lines.  However, this song shows Albert Bouchard going wild on the drums, finally.  After a synth solo, a piano solo, a guitar solo, and one more verse, the end of the song comes in.  The repetition of “And the joke’s on you” is done amazingly, and the cutting out randomly (“And the joke’s on-“) throws the listener off, really making this line performed so perfectly.

As soon as “Flaming Telepaths” ends, “Astronomy” starts, a strange pairing.  Whereas the former was a hard-rocking song, the latter starts slowly, focusing mainly on piano and refined drums.  The vocals during the verse sound alluringly rapturous, before the song jumps.  The listener becomes so accustomed to the soothing piano sounds, that the heavier guitar line that comes in, again throws one off, making you really pay attention to the music.  With the abrupt changes, the song is meticulously constructed (really, the last two songs are), and it is one of the best in Blue Öyster Cult’s entire songbook.  With these two songs last, the band has chosen the perfect ending for an already decent album.

In effect, Blue Öyster Cult have always been a band turning rock and roll into a strange fantasy.  They’ve sung songs about Godzilla, have had the band name “Soft White Underbelly”, and have had the lyrics “Joan Crawford is risen from the grave.”  Secret Treaties brings them even further into their strangeness, while still creating a really good classic rock (well at the time it wasn’t classic now was it?  Should I keep calling it that?  Does it really matter now that the review is over?) album.  It’s a solid piece of their history, that, succinctly, is a great listen.

Buy This Album

Official Site

Last.fm Page

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