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In rock ‘n’ roll subtlety is sometimes not necessary. Overrated. Pointless even.

In deeper songs expressing more complex emotions with varied perspectives and ambiguous meanings subtlety is often a writer’s best friend, allowing them to hint at certain questions while leaving the answer up to the listener, but in a lot of rock songs it only gets in the way.

You know the roll call of topics where this is the case… hedonistic party anthems, lustful come-ons and most anything that singers like H-Bomb Ferguson put out… it’s on records like that where being subtle in your presentation has about as much use as a snorkel on a sea bass.


Driving Me Out Of My Mind
On the surface this was the kind of composition that might’ve benefited from a more measured lyrical approach as it’s ostensibly a lament about a girl who did the singer wrong.

But songs with witty wordplay, plenty of pathos and dripping with heartache aren’t what H-Bomb Ferguson does best – or does at all for that matter – and certainly not what those who buy his records come to hear.

So it’s probably for the best that while the subject remains theoretically intact on Slowly Goin’ Crazy, the way it’s presented is straightforward enough where Ferguson doesn’t have to worry about hitting the precise emotional pitch required to sell a clever line or two.

Instead he just has to barrel ahead and wail in agony over the breakup of his relationship.

He’s got plenty of help with some great horns in the opening, the tenor sax in particular raising the dead with a tremendous lead-in that segues to a softer but durable riff that rises and falls with a predictable pattern suitable for whatever Ferguson wants to do on top of it.

What he wants to do, quite naturally, is be heard… his voice staring off loud and then swelling in volume even more each time he reaches the rhythmic peak of the lines that follow. You’d think he might want to keep the details of this doomed affair private, especially since he was the one left behind, but Ferguson has never been one for moderation and maybe he’s got a point here, hoping the girl in question might be so embarrassed by his airing their dirty laundry that she’d agree to reconcile just to stop him from shouting about it in public.

Yet no matter how effective it is in getting her to reconsider – and truthfully chances are she hopped a train for parts unknown as soon as she heard him coming from three blocks away – his distinctive bellow only has the ability to sell one aspect of the story, namely his indignation.

Everything else is merely implied… and largely left to our own interpretative abilities to fill in the blanks. Of course he’s sad, hurt and dismayed, but if we didn’t understand English and thus didn’t have the script to read about the plot he’s laying out, we might not have any idea what was going on inside.

The song as written doesn’t expound much on this either, the lines setting the scene without delving into the character motivations, rendering this a record that will succeed or fail almost entirely on the intrinsic appeal of a singer without a hint of self-control and a band inclined to follow him.

I Tried to Please You And Didn’t Do No Good
Because it starts off so well with the sax taking center stage and since the underlying rhythm that follows is so simple and timeless our hopes are the makeshift studio band will realize who is on the microphone and adjust accordingly to offset his weaknesses. Unfortunately while everything they play is well done, it’s hardly very adventurous or exciting after that invigorating intro.

In other words they defer back to Ferguson, something that probably seemed like the path of least resistance to them as frankly who in the world would want to compete with someone whose immense lung capacity and lead-lined throat seemed so indestructible?

But while the parts all fit on Slowly Goin’ Crazy, nothing about it stands out. The piano fills are suitable but hardly memorable. The steady beat created by Jack Parker’s drums and the slowly loping bassline may get you to unconsciously bob your head but you won’t feel compelled to do so.

The turnaround after the stop-time bridge works well enough but doesn’t take advantage of its moment in the spotlight to draw attention to itself. Furthermore there’s no solo for any of the instruments, no gradual build-up to a more rousing climax, nor any de-escalation to ease into a climax that finds Ferguson resigned to his fate.

Instead it’s a by-the-numbers backing track – well played for sure, but containing nothing surprising, no moments to grab you by the lapels and force you to listen closely because Ferguson, as is his want, is relegating them to a supporting role by pouring it on with all he’s got, hoping the sheer commitment he shows in getting his message across will be enough to win you over.

It almost is too. Not that he’s great or anything, but rather that when you’re working with such basic components as they have here, it’s hard to screw things up too badly. A good band mailing it in is still a good band. An intense singer with no real sense of direction but the ability to maintain his course throughout the song is still easy enough to appreciate on a shallow level. A tune that tackles its subject without subtlety, irony or ambiguity may not be worth a lot, but it isn’t worthless by any means.

This may be the minimum expected out of these guys, but it manages to reach that minimum fairly comfortably and so while you might have wanted more, you’ll settle for less because it doesn’t struggle to get there.


How Can You Be Unkind?
Let’s not get too carried away by the relative failure of this to really impress us. It’s a B-side that was submitted by an outside source for a singer with one basic approach even on his best day.

Anything more nuanced would likely be steamrolled by H-Bomb Ferguson’s delivery anyway, so we can’t act surprised that Slowly Goin’ Crazy is so one-dimensional, other than to question why the band didn’t try and convince them all to at least take a short pause from the sledgehammer pattern with an instrumental break that might’ve taken your mind off the monotony.

Even without that however, the shortcomings only become glaringly obvious the more closely you listen – and the more often you listen – as the first time through, especially in the right setting, where the buzz of the party is just as loud as the music being played, you might look upon it more favorably.

That’s probably all they were after to begin with, making the kind of record that will keep you from having to make small talk with whatever cross-eyed freak who thinks they have a shot at hooking up with you at that party.

With this blaring at full volume you can pretend you don’t hear them and use the clamor to slip off to another room so you don’t have to awkwardly dive out the second floor window and make a run for it.

Then again, maybe even that outcome would be typical for anything connected to H-Bomb Ferguson, because of course there’s sure to be nothing subtle about that kind of dramatic exit.


(Visit the Artist page of H-Bomb Ferguson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)