Glasgow based String Driven Thing released their second album in 1972, it too was self-titled like their debut in 1970. This release marked personnel changes that would guarantee them a place in the hearts and minds of progressive rock fans around the world. Leaving the group was original guitarist John Mannoin who had been providing vocals, bass, and guitar. His departure left an opening on guitar which was divided between Chris Adams and Colin Wilson (who also marked a permanent bassist in the line-up). To my ears the most notable change (and the reason this group stands out so solidly against its peers) was the addition of violin and viola virtuoso Grahame Smith, who went on to work with Van Der Graaf Generator among others. Their “gimmick” was to use percussive instruments and some rather aggressive guitar strumming to avoid adding in a full-time drummer. This rather unique approach garnered them significant amounts of attention which lead to a signing with perhaps the most ambitious label of the day Charisma along with the likes of Genesis.
Anyone who has read my review on the follow-up for this album The Machine That Cried (1973, see review) knows that I am very impressed with that work and will not hesitate to recommend it to anyone willing to try out something unique. This of course begs the question, how does its predecessor rate? I wish I could say I jumped up and down with summersaults of glee, but it simply wasn't meant to be. This is an overall more mundane effort, perhaps best viewed as laying the groundwork for bigger things yet to come. As I listen to it I find myself constantly dividing it into two distinct groups, the Rolling Stones approach and the Lindisfarne school of folk-rock. As for the songs that are Stones-like, String Driven Thing raised the bar. The guitars are in tune, as are the vocals. There is no rhythmic sloppiness to be found here, and it's certainly true that the Stones made an amazing career from playing exactly that way. As long as any Stones fans aren't expecting that relaxed style then it's likely about half of this album will be a homerun for that group of listeners. As for the Lindisfarne school, I'd say that both groups are simply brilliant folk-rock masters with plenty of blissful tunes to their credit. One such song is the “standout” track here, Easy To Be Free. It caught my ear right away and has demanded many revisits; each one is as gratifying as the first. Also worthy of a special mention is the almost prophetic track one Airground. I have shared this song with friends and neighbors and without fail they all made the same comparison to Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. It's not only the vocals but the song writing style that really firm up the conclusion. Perhaps SDT inspired him during his formative years. The world may never know...
Once again Esoteric Records / Cherry Red Records has delivered another fine release and a much appreciated addition to the CD re-issues of so many great 70s prog-rock groups. I think this particular album is not an essential work, but it does have plenty to offer anyway, and certainly anyone who is a completest (like me) should have already picked up their own copy. Overall this album is a fun listen.
*** Thomas Rhymer
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