What does it sound like?:
I have to declare an interest. Electric Ladyland is one of my favourite albums of all time. I love every single moment of its sprawling four sides of vinyl. As far as I’m concerned, it is a pinnacle of artistic achievement, a joyful celebration of music by one of the most naturally gifted musicians that has ever lived. In it, Jimi displays an effortless mastery of many different musical styles and, sonically, it is sumptuous and brilliantly recorded using the latest technology of the time, produced by Jimi himself. It sounds like the future even today.
The sound of the album is achieved by the liberal use of flanging, echo, backmasking and chorus effect. These techniques bring together similar sounds, or replicates them or turns them backwards to create a rich, shimmering texture with sweeping flourishes. Jimi wasn’t an innovator with them but an early adopter. However, he deployed them brilliantly on Electric Ladyland. There is no other album on which Jimi’s guitar sounds so good. The first track, ….And The Gods Made Love, introduces us to the collage of sound he’d use in the rest of the album.
On track two, Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland), we hear Jimi’s singing voice for the first time. Jimi was not a confident singer but on this album, he coaxed from himself some of his finest vocal performances. This track is a brief, sweet, soulful song on which Jimi pulls off a very nice falsetto. With these first two tracks, it’s almost as though Jimi was saying, this is what the album sounds like, this is how I sing, now let’s shake our hair loose and get on with it.
In fact, Crosstown Traffic’s opening fluid guitar line crashes in impatiently. Crosstown Traffic is one of seven tight, explosive, crisp tracks scattered across the album that are masterclasses in Blues Rock, the other six being Long Hot Summer Night, Come On, Gypsy Eyes, House Burning Down, All Along The Watchtower and Voodoo Child. In addition, there is Noel Redding’s Little Miss Strange, a song much derided but a very English kind of pop, graced by Jimi’s scorching guitar and Mitch Mitchell’s great drumming. Plus, Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, a harpsichord-led psychedelia, awash with Jimi’s Wah-Wah peddle and featuring the marvellous Sweet Sensations on backing vocals bringing it to a pleasing crescendo. All these tracks are disciplined, focussed and perfected over many takes. They belie the claim Electric Ladyland is a disparate mess in the absence of Chas Chandler’s organisational skills.
Some people struggle with Voodoo Chile, a long blues jam from a long line of supernatural self-aggrandisement songs. Charles Shaar Murray described it best when he said it’s “virtually a chronological guided tour of blues styles” ranging from early Delta blues, through the electric blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, to the more sophisticated style of B.B. King, and the “cosmic blurt” of John Coltrane. Steve Winwood’s organ is superb, as is Jack Casady’s bass from Jefferson Airplane but Mitch almost steals the show from Jimi with his loose-limbed sense of drama.
Side three of the vinyl is a test of mettle for the Electric Ladyland believer. It’s laid back, jazzy and free floating. Some say it’s stoned and lazy. They miss the point. Rainy Day, Dream Away sets the tone for the side with it’s behind-the-beat groove, Mike Finnigan burning away on Hammond organ. This side is a dream sequence where normal rules don’t apply, its centrepiece a psychedelic Prog duet between Jimi and Mitch with some flute thrown in. Mitch’s cymbal work is especially colourful. 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) is a performance to be enjoyed lying down, shoes kicked off, allowing the imagination to meander where it will. No wonder Miles Davis’s ears were pricked.
Side four is possibly the greatest eighteen minutes in Rock, concluding with the two punch knock out of the darkness of All Along The Watchtower and the grandeur of Voodoo Child (Slight Return), both phenomenal hits in their own right. The guitar is, of course, astonishing but just listen to Jimi’s singing again. Brilliant. They decisively prove that Electric Ladyland represents Jimi Hendrix at his best, as a songwriter, a singer, a bassist (he plays most of it), a producer and an electric guitarist.
If I’m such a fan, then why is this 50th anniversary deluxe issue not for me? Bernie Grundman provides the remaster. To be frank, it isn’t any better than the previous one from 2007. The disc of early takes and demos are very raw, consisting, in the most part, of Jimi strumming chords on an acoustic guitar and mumbling along. The band does join in on later largely instrumental takes but there is very little chemistry. One listen is enough. Disc three is The Experience playing Live at The Hollywood Bowl a few weeks before Electric Ladyland was released. The recording quality is poor. The microphones are distorted and the drums sound like biscuit tins. They take three minutes to tune up and the first song is ten minutes of screeching. The set includes only Voodoo Child that is new, yet they play as though they are under-rehearsed. Either that or a little over-refreshed. It’s a painful reminder of how shambolic gigs often were forty to fifty years ago. The DVD or Blu-Ray does have a documentary and the main draw for the box, Eddie Kramer’s 5.1 Surroundsound mix. Unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment to enjoy it. The book looks excellent. The camera loved Jimi. The Linda Eastman photograph on the cover is definitely an improvement on previous efforts but I don’t think Jimi would have approved of the font in late 1968.
What does it all *mean*?
This is a missed opportunity.
A remix, rather than a remaster, front and centre would make it a more attractive purchase. Personally, I would fork out the full price if Kramer had a new stereo remix as disc one.
Goes well with…
Expensive Surroundsound equipment.
Might suit people who like…
Glossy boxes. A complete Jimi Hendrix collection (good luck to you!).