REVIEW: Blue Murder – Blue Murder (1989)

BLUE MURDER – Blue Murder (1989 Geffen)

For some, expectations were high.

On paper, it was genius.   Teaming up the legendary drummer Carmine Appice with anyone will turn heads, but John Sykes, the ex-Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake guitar genius?  Sign us up.  Add in ex-Black Sabbath singer Ray Gillen, and the Firm’s Tony Franklin on bass, and that right there is an interesting combo.  Two words were buzzing around the camp, and they were “blues” and “jams”.  When the band did start jamming the blues, they realized that Ray Gillen didn’t have much to do during the long instrumental breaks they were producing.  The decision was made to cut Ray and trim the band down to a classic power trio, with Sykes singing lead.  The trio format was fairly unique among rock bands in the late 80’s.  (Ray hooked up with another new blues-rock band, Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.)

Adding to the hype machine behind the new christened Blue Murder was the tapping of up and coming producer Bob Rock.  Coming off of some hit albums by Kingdom Come and The Cult, it was assumed Rock would do the same for Blue Murder.  They hiked up to Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver and recorded the album, dedicating it to Phil Lynott.

Unfortunately it was pretty clear after a few listens that despite the hype and big names, Blue Murder was not the supergroup debut that it should have been.  Indeed, the lineup expired after one record.

Sykes’ singing was not the issue.  His vocals on songs such as “Riot” and “Ptolemy” are more than adequate.  Power and range were not an issue for Sykes.  Perhaps his unique guitar stylings were too associated with the mega-selling Whitesnake 1987, because the sonic connections are obvious.  Too much ‘Snake, not enough Lizzy.  The songs are not all bad either, though many could use some minutes trimmed from them.  At nine songs and 52 minutes, Blue Murder does have the instrumental chills that Sykes wanted to get across, but at the cost of diluting the impact with meandering rock songs.  Other issues must fall at the feet of Bob Rock.  Though Blue Murder earned the producer a nomination at the Juno awards in 1990, the muddy sound is very far indeed from what Rock can do.  “Sex Child” is a perfect example of this. Rock strove to give Carmine a big drum sound, but there are also excessive keyboards and layers of vocals all occupying the same sonic space. This robs it of the groove.  It’s a chore to finish the whole album in a sitting, due to some of these problems.

There are three album highlights that are possibly worth the expense to rock historians.  They are the singles “Valley of the Kings” and “Jelly Roll”, and the epic “Ptolemy”.  At 7:50, “Valley of the Kings” had to be severely edited down for a single/video. It has all the progressive rock qualities that you know these guys are capable of, and who isn’t a sucker for lyrics about pharoahs and pyramids? Must credit must also be given to Tony Franklin, who makes it sound as if the fretless bass is easy to play! You don’t hear enough fretless in hard rock, and Franklin is one of the world’s very best. Period.

Interestingly, “Valley of the Kings” was co-written by then-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin. You can absolutely hear parallels to Sabbath’s Headless Cross released the same year – an album that also had some fretless bass on it thanks to Lawrence Cottle!

“Jelly Roll” was a music video, fitting the slot for some good time summer acoustic rock.  Instead of going ballad, Blue Murder went to the bayou.  The tricky slide licks recall Whitesnake, but unfortunately towards the end, the song sinks into typical ballad territory.  It sounds like two songs melded together, but I like the first part best.

The final keeper is the progressive epic “Ptolemy”.  Unfortunately the lyrics don’t have much to do with the actual mathematician and astronomer who lived almost 2000 years ago.  Instead the song is about tomb robbing; unrelated to Ptolemy of Alexandria.  This is a shame since they could have written about Ptolemy’s musical studies (Harmonics), or his influence on the concept of the universe of a series of spheres that create music.  Fortunately the musical qualities of the song enable us to overlook the words.

There are also-rans worth checking out:  particularly a track called “Billy” which is the most Thin Lizzy of all the tunes.  You could imagine, if Phil had lived, that he could have recorded “Billy” for a mid-80’s Thin Lizzy album.  Unfortunately most of the material resides in Whitesnake territory, especially the carbon-copy ballad “Out of Love”, and the closer “Black-Hearted Woman” which recycles Whitesnake riffs.

Too bad.  Loads of potential, but blown in the delivery.

2.5/5 stars

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40 comments

        1. Yes, that’s totally true. But I wouldn’t criticise this album because of what might have been… it’s a great album in its own right. And, by all accounts, it’s Coverdale that fired Sykes so it’s hardly Sykes’ fault this stuff didn’t end up on a Whitesnake sequel either. Sykes does reckon this album was buried in an attempt to force him back into Whitesnake though.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. No, I can’t either. But I imagine (if it’s true) that there was a bunch of suits trying to engineer them back together for the big bucks!

          I’ve still got the second one, Nothin’ But Trouble. Actually, I had it before I got this one. I like it… it’s a bit more poppy and some even more obvious Whitesnake recycling too! Cry For Love was Still of the Night II and Save My Love was Is This Love II. Good stuff on it though, but nothing that would change your mind if you’re not into the S/T.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. A buddy always told me how good the second album was, and that I should pick it up. I’m actually curious about the live album. From what I can tell, that kind of lead back into Thin Lizzy — Marco Mendoza was in Blue Murder at the end and they were doing a bunch of Lizzy live.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Not heard the live one. Glad to know someone else liked the second one though! Definitely better production than the first but, if I’m being picky, some of the material is a shade too cheesy. If a coupla songs had been whittled out it would be perfect though. It’s an overlooked one. A batch of songs on it that are still absolute faves.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Love the Swashbuckler look they we’re fashioning out over! Haha…I bought this on cassette tape but never fully wrapped my head around it…dunno why perhaps one reason woud be there was so much music out at the time and some stuff even when purchased wouldn’t get the time……
    Maybe this was one of those type records…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. All those I bought that you mentioned and we must mention out of the bunch of those albums not mentioned is the very underrated yet 100% DeKEs approved Billy Squiers Hear & Now!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The Cult had Sonic Temple that summer too. And people were still buying Bon Jovi New Jersey, they still had new singles coming out at that time!

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  2. I’m actually much more favorably disposed toward this album than you are. Re the Whitesnakeisms, I think that’s more Sykes’ influence on that ‘Snake version than Coverdale’s on Sykes. I do concur on the production though, wishing it were more raw. Many of those riffs, acoustic strumming, and solos would be a lot more memorable if they had a more edge to ’em and/or weren’t buried in walls of sound (see especially Jelly Roll above).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh fully agree, and I didn’t want to make it sound like Sykes was ripping off Coverdale. More just — I hear the similarities and it hinders my enjoyment.

      I think Bob Rock muffed this one up but he redeemed himself later with other bands.

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    1. Hahahah, meanwhile, in Shit LeBrain’s Dad Says…

      Watching the Juno awards that night, they announced Bob Rock’s nomination for Blue Murder. My dad says sarcastically, “Blue Murder, well that sounds like good music to me.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. I must say I’m a surprised by the low rating you gave the album, I would have thought this record was right up your alley. So we have to agree to disagree here because I love this record. I can’t find one bad song on it and I’d give it 9/10 in a heartbeat.
    Btw, the reason Tony Martin has a credit on Valley of The Kings is that he was Blue Murder’s first singer, but things didn’t work out and they went with Gillen instead. or maybe it was the other way…

    Nothin’ But Trouble is also a very good record, but it couldn’t hold a candle to this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry Jon. I’ve been trying hard to like this one for a long time! I knew I would catch some flak for it.

      So was Tony Martin in or out of Black Sabbath at that time?

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      1. I’m not Sure. Valley Of The Kings was written in 1988 and I think Martin didn’t know whether there was a Sabbath at all at the time. The Eternal Idol was a success for Sabbath but there wasn’t a band as such in those days. Sabbath was resurrected for real with Headless Cross in 1989 and by then, Martin had already left Sykes. I don’t think Martin was in Blue Murder for that long anyway.

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  4. Somehow I missed this post. WTF.

    Anyway, wow! How in hell did THAT line-up get a Lebrain 2.5/5? Hahaha that’s insane.

    I didn’t know about this at all, and now here I am in 2016 learning about it. What a world.

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