Blues 2) China Doll 3) Unbroken Chain 4) Loose Lucy
5) Scarlet Begonias 6) Pride of Cucamonga 7)
Money Money 8) Ship of
There are absolutely
no Grateful Dead studio albums (with the possible exception of “American Beauty”) that will stop you in
your tracks after your first listen and let you see why the Dead are so renown. In
fact, the first time I heard “Wake of the Flood” I honestly did fall asleep. Only after persistent playing did that album reveal its charms. What
I’m trying to say is that if you really want to appreciate the Dead, you have got to give each album repeated listens
and “From The Mars Hotel” is no exception. This album at first
might sound like a bunch of half-baked filler surrounding one truly great song (“Unbroken Chain”), but
over the course of many listens it will slowly but surely prove to be one of the Dead’s most effective studio efforts.
The album is
kick-started with “U.S. Blues,” an anti-America song that many believe to be patriotic (like Springsteen’s
“Born in the USA”), which features Keith Godchaux on boogie piano.
This is a true highlight. The band has a lot of fun here and they prove
that even after the death of Pigpen, they can still play some faster-paced, piano-based rock-n-roll. “China Doll” follows and went on to become a concert favorite. On this album, it is undeniably beautiful, but very slow. It
sounds a lot like the Beatles “Because,” but the lyrics here are apparently about a suicide attempt. Much like “Stella Blues” on the previous album, you have to be
in the proper mood to fully appreciate it.
is next, and it is by far the most impressive song ever written by anyone in the band other than Garcia. This song is all Phil Lesh and it is awesome! He even sings
it, which might bring down the quality a little, but it’s always nice to hear the songwriter sing his own tune. “Unbroken Chain” goes on for 6 ½ minutes, but it should be 20! There are so many different time changes and so many different musical ideas here
it overwhelms you. And Lesh’s bass playing is brilliant! The only negative is the weird “Back in the U.S.S.R.” airplane noises that randomly
fade into the song. But still, I originally thought this tune was the only reason
to buy this album!
and “Scarlet Begonias” follow and each eventually showed me the error of my ways. “Loose Lucy” cooks, the lyrics are pretty funny, and it is harmless fun. Not a song for the ages, but it is without a doubt, a catchy, agreeable, and fun country-rock song. “Scarlet Begonias,” is another fun song with a bouncy rhythm and
attractive vocals. It’s a very charming and good song, especially the interplay
between Jerry’s guitar and Godchaux’s keyboards, and I especially like the kettle drum sounding coda!
Lesh takes another turn at
songwriting and vocals with “Pride of Cucamonga.” This song
features some nice steel pedal guitar work, but save for a cool blues break in the middle of this predictable country song,
this tune is not too memorable. Not completely horrible, but weak in comparison
to it’s company. Well not compared to Weir’s “Money Money.” This song stinks; it’s just generic rock-n-roll with a bad chorus: “She
wants money, what she wants, money, money, money, money, money.” It is
played and sung well, and is fast paced, but Bob’s best songs can be found elsewhere.
“Ship of Fools” closes the album and is a great slow, meandering Dead song. The bass and keyboards shine, and Hunter’s lyrics were apparently about Jerry himself, though Garcia
never realized it. Hunter was quoted after Jerry died as saying that Garcia too
often hung out with yes man that never challenged him, and that “ [Garcia] was too well loved for his own good.” A careful listening to the lyrics of “Ship of Fools”
will let you see that Hunter is talking about Jerry drifting towards these types of people and his inability to stop him:
“Went to see the captain [Garcia], strangest I could find, laid my proposition down, laid it on the line; I won’t
slave for beggar’s pay, likewise gold and jewels, but I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools.” Great tune and great lyric!
“From the Mars Hotel” should
not be skipped over and is truly a well-rounded album full of easily enjoyable tunes.
There are some misses, but overall, this album is very well done. And
for some, “From the Mars Hotel” is the last studio effort worth buying from the Grateful Dead. After this, the Dead somewhat abandon their progressive country approach and create a new musical style
represented on “Blues For Allah.”
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