MAX WEBSTER – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977 Anthem)
It’s only the second Max Webster album, but the band were so tight and perfect that they got three radio classics off it. “Diamonds Diamonds”, “Gravity” and the title track are all three radio staples, and “On the Road” a live classic that Kim Mitchell occasionally plays unplugged. Every fan has a favourite Max album, and I think I probably know a couple who would put High Class in Borrowed Shoes as numero uno.
The album opens with the impressive “High Class in Borrowed Shoes”, a blaster that sounds to me like a Canadian Van Halen! Max had tamed some of their wackier tendencies (“Toronto Tontos”, anyone?) and focussed their chops. Not that the new Max (now featuring legendary drummer Gary McCracken) was normal by any definition. Just listen to the lullaby-like “Diamonds Diamonds”. Great song, but very different for a rock band. Its dreamlike mood is heightened by the surreal lyrics by Pye Dubois. Not to mention there are only six lines to the words!
“Gravity” would make my top five Max tracks in a heartbeat. “What do I know? I sat under a cloud. I looked up, afraid to look down.” Kim sounds like a little boy speaking the words, to great effect. The chorus is a big one, backed by a Kim’s riffing. I have no idea what this song is about, but to me the line “Forget that fear of gravity, get a little savagery in your life,” says everything. Don’t be afraid to take chances. As Pye’s friend Neil Peart once said, just roll the bones. That’s what it means to me, anyway.
Proving he has always been capable of tender ballads, “Words to Words” is one of Kim Mitchell’s first. The keyboards of Terry Watkinson keep it just a little left of center, but Kim’s acoustic work is impeccable and excellent. Pye Dubois’ lyrics are magical and stirring. It’s hard to overstate just how quality this song is. However ballads are usually best followed by scorchers, and that’s “America’s Veins”. Killer solos, smoking drums, and a chorus built for the concert stage: it’s here in one complete package.
“Oh War!” is an incredible monument of rock. AC/DC did a song with a similar vibe called “Little Lover”, but “Oh War!” is a completely different animal. The gonzo solos are more in the “Z” section of the rock aisle, as in “Zappa”. And check out the words! “‘Cause I say fuck you instead of thank you, your choice under your breath.” Yes, that’s what Uncle Kim, Canada’s favourite king of the summertime, just said! OK, so it wasn’t going to get on the radio with those words…but damn, it should have been. This song could have been almost as big as “Battle Scar” had it been.
I have a tape here of Kim Mitchell doing “On the Road” live in the MuchMusic studios, acoustically, on their Intimate and Interactive show. This is what you might call “campfire rock”, but that sells it far too short. “On the Road” is more than a song that would sound good played live around a fire, it has genuine soul that you can feel. It’s an incredible song, and once again, I wonder why Max Webster wasn’t friggin’ huge. “Rain Child” is next in line, which I would describe as a slow burner. Terry Watkinson’s keys take center stage, never intruding. “Rain Child” is a classic album track, and perfect for winding down the album.
Max Webster went mad on the last track, “In Context of the Moon”. This is the second of four “Moon” songs on the first four records: “Coming Off the Moon”, “Beyond the Moon”, and “Moon Voices” are the others. “In Context” can’t be described easily, because it spans many styles and tempos in just five measly minutes! How?! You have to play this one a few times just to get everything that is happening. It’s certainly one of the most challenging pieces of music Max have recorded. The four musicians must have rehearsed the shit out of this one. Anyway, at all times, it smokes. Whether it’s the bright intro guitars, or the metal riffs that follow them, or the sheer madness (including bass solo) that ensues, “In Context of the Moon” is always riveting. It’s just non-stop even though by the time you get to the end of it, you’ll wonder how you got there!
Final note: My good buddy T-Rev, who has guest written here a couple times before, met Gary McCracken after he moved to Sarnia. He was working at Fastenal when in came a guy to pick up an “order for Gary McCracken.” T-Rev pondered a bit before enquiring, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but were in a band called Max Webster?” Yes, he had. It was that Gary McCracken, and he was cool. I love little stories like that. Gary McCracken was Trevor’s biggest influence as a young drummer!
Popoff’s awesome book
There is nothing more to be said in just a single review. For the whole enchilada, get the book from martinpopoff.com! And be sure to get High Class in Borrowed Shoes for your collection.