Friday, April 06, 2007

Love - Girl On Fire (with Baby Lemonade)

After having been nearly silent for over a decade Arthur Lee started making a halting comeback in the early 90s. In 1992 he released the album Arthur Lee and Love (aka Five String Serenade) on the French New Rose label. He started gigging with various indie-rock conglomerations, featuring members of Das Damen, Uncle Wiggly and others, and played his first shows in New York City and England in over 20 years. The shows were reportedly very uneven in quality, and stories of near-schizophrenic behavior spread among the indie-rock pick-up bands he rarely rehearsed with.

Arthur Lee was back, but it wasn't clear how much music he had left in him. "Five String Serenade" was a wonderful song, and Mazzy Star's cover of it actually made him some money for the first time in a long time. But the rest of the album featured some of the worst music ever recorded by a high-profile 60s rocker (and yes, that includes Starship and Eric Burdon). "You're The Prettiest Song" sounds like "The Lady In Red" only sappier, and that's one of the better tracks. And how did the man who once limited Brian McLean to one song per album allow something as awful as Keith Farrish's "The Watcher" to slip onto one of his albums? Taken as a whole, the album is shockingly bad.

All of which makes this 1994 single all the more interesting. Sometime around 1993 Lee hooked up with the L.A. band Baby Lemonade, gigged with them regularly, and in essence they became his new version of Love. Unlike some of the pick-up bands Lee had been playing with, Baby Lemonade was talented and professional, and the music sounded well rehearsed and organized. It no doubt helped that this much younger group of musicians worshiped Lee enough to put up with him.

"Girl On Fire" is the closest thing to punk Lee had recorded since "7 & 7 Is," and "Midnight Sun" sounds like Hendrix-era Love, only better. Most surprisingly, in 1994 Lee's voice was still a remarkably supple instrument. Lee had finally found a group of musicians who understood him, were sympathetic to his vision, and apparently capable of instilling some discipline in him (or at least the appearance of it).

But all was not as well as it might have seemed. It wasn't clear if Lee's songwriting chops were coming back or not. "Midnight Sun" actually dated back to the lost album Lee recorded with Hendrix in 1970. And "Girl On Fire" recalls "7 & 7 Is" a little too closely to be of any real consequence. Worse, Lee would soon be repeating the lyrics to the song ("I don't want to set that girl on fire, I just want to put a flame in her heart") to a judge after he was arrested in 1995 for allegedly trying to torch a former girlfriend's apartment. This was quickly followed by another arrest on a weapons charge that got him sentenced to 12 years in prison under California's "three strikes" law. Most people figured that was where the story would end...but of course it wasn't.

This single probably sums up Lee's frustrating mix of talent and penchant for self-destruction as well as anything in his catalog.


Peter Hennig said...

Lee's post-Elektra releases are, in a word, frustrating.

Not that there isn't ample material to enjoy here if you choose to leave expectations behind. To mention a few highlights there's some good smooth 70's soul on 'Reel to Real', the guitar heavy sound of 'Vindicator', the gentle psychedelic tinge of the title track from 'Five String Serenade' and the snarling punk of this 'Girl on Fire' single.

But you're left wondering why there wasn't that 'great lost Lee album' in the 30 years since "Forever Changes" -- couldn't he muster a batch of great songs in that time span?

For me the saddest chapter in these post-Love releases has to be 'Vindicator'. I just can't help but picture this album making it's rounds between high school friends looking for their Hendrix fix. "Hey man you gotta check out this lp -- sounds just like Hendrix!" But this wasn't the reincarnation of Jimi(since we all know that occured with Mahogony Rush's Frank Marino)it was Arthur Lee! Just sad.

Pete Bilderback said...

I'm gonna post some more post-FC Lee, and then do a kind of retrospective post going over this stuff. But yeah, frustrating about covers it.

He was clearly still capable of some great music, but usually not focused enough to sustain anything really great over a whole album.

I totally agree with you about 'Vindicator.' It is kind of sad to hear him ape Hendrix so closely.

Then there are the records like "Out Here." It has some really great songs, and some horrible stuff. But it seems almost like the record was designed to get him off on the wrong foot with his new record company. Lee's career is full of examples that point to an almost perverse desire to sabotage his chances for success.

I never figured out how someone born 16 years before his death could be the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix, but then I never took as much acid as Frank Marino.

marsIANin said...

Can you upload this please? can't find it anywhere(((

Jay Mucci said...

Is there any mp3's of Girl on Fire floating around? I have searched high and low on the internet and can't find anything. I thought for sure I would at least find it on youtube but nothing.