The keen observer will ask, “Hey wait, didn’t Sony already release The Essential Blue Oyster Cult a couple years ago?” The answer is yes, but I suppose this is just more essential. It is replete with the essence. Where the original single CD version was the essential essence, this is essentailler. (I guess.)
The truth is that Sony has been packaging up these Essential collections for most of their artists for awhile now, and even in the stripped-back format as these tend to be, BOC’s edition was even more sparse; this is something the collection slated for April 17 should alleviate but regrettably doesn’t. For starters, the hand is played by Sony in that this is strictly the label’s material and is therefore all about asset recycling. There is no pre-BOC material (from Stalk-Forrest Group’s St. Cecilia) or post-Sony output (the Bad Channels soundtrack, Heaven Forbid or Curse of the Hidden Mirrors). There isn’t anything from Imaginos which actually was a Sony effort, so even as part of a previously established category of releases such as the Essential line is, this collection has a hard time living up to the headline.
And that is the big issue to deal with. The time for nice, comprehensive box sets seem to be behind us, and so efforts to cull a band’s full spectrum of work into one place now is best served by aggregation in iTunes rather than in a nice, complete package which is something BOC always deserved. At the very least it might have shown the goofier, slightly more thoughtful side of the band than what outsiders may have assumed — that they were just America’s answer to Black Sabbath.
Not true. Sure, the dire romance of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and the hell-bent “Burnin’ For You” has cast long shadows over the legacy of the band, but to take the music in full you find BOC to be mostly a bunch of amiable yarn spinners, from the daft “Joan Crawford” (“has risen from the grave”) to the band’s collaborations with Richard Meltzer, Patti Smith (“Fire of Unknown Origin“), Michael Moorcock and Eric Van Lustbader. If Sabbath was the musical equivalent of a particularly gory Hammer Film, then BOC was more often the Roger Corman “Beach Party From Hell” variant, they knew it, and they reveled in it.
The collection is underserved by what Sony had at their disposal, aside from the omission of Imaginos. There is only one song from Mirrors (“In Thee”) which could very well have been a hit on A.M. pop radio, and only one track from Club Ninja (“Dancin’ In The Ruins,” a personal favorite, even with the disco bridge smack in the middle of it). Where is “Madness To The Method,” I ask you? Then add in the losses from outside the label — Stalk-Forrest Group’s “Curse of the Hidden Mirrors” which would have nicely bookended “Dance On Stilts” from their currently-final studio album Curse of the Hidden Mirrors, or “Harvest Moon” from Heaven Forbid. Essential? Not likely.
What this 2-disc set is, however, is a decent culling of names you know, wrapped in an affordable package for curiosity seekers not invested enough to hunt down the albums, many of which are not in print on CD anyhow. Decent, in my mind, doesn’t scratch the surface enough though. BOC really does deserve the full-on retrospective befitting a band that, to a certain extent, still exists and still holds a place in the hearts of rock/hard rock fans. It might be too late for that now. As such, this edition will have to do, even though it has been issued in the most cynical manner imaginable.
The Essential Blue Oyster Cult (2-disc edition) is available from Amazon.com