Well, the great name of Quicksilver Messenger Service is resurrected yet again, this time with perhaps more credibility than on previous occasions. A sticker on the cover of this new album proclaims "A brand new recording by the original Quicksilver Messenger Service" which isn't exactly true. If you consult the family tree in your copy of ZigZag 26 you'll see that this particular line-up (Gary Duncan, John Cipollina, David Freiberg, Greg Elmore and Dino Valente) was in fact the fourth version of the band, and even then Nicky Hopkins was more or less a full-time member. Also to further invalidate their credentials, the only other albums that this line-up recorded were Just For Love and What About Me ... not, i suspect, the two albums that most Quicksilver freaks would pick as their favourites.
To be perfectly honest, I stopped taking an interest in the band as soon as Dino Valente joined them. I can't think of any other personality so gross and overpowering as his, that could transform a band of Quicksilver's initial quality into such a seething morass of sickly nondescript tunes and putrid lyrics with such an almighty fell swoop. I always make it my business to try and hear every new Quicksilver album in the same way that I go to Arsenal every fortnight in the hope of seeing some good football, but invariably I'm disappointed. The only Quicksilver albums I own are the first two, and this latest one which I would have undoubtedly been brought down by if I didn't already have a rough idea of what to expect.
It's a patchy album to say the least, with moments of brilliance, patches of tedium, and portions of dreck. The most noticeable aspect of the whole thing though is that listening to it all way through, it doesn't even sound like a band. The fairly evenly distributed songwriting credits and the order in which the tracks are sequenced give it the character of sonic sort of sampler by the ex-members of a once-great band who are all now involved in their own solo projects and are using each other to play on their songs. I suppose we should be thankful that Valente no longer claims it to be his band, but the trouble is it appears to be nobody's band... all five members are together but not part of Quicksilver if you see my meaning.
Valente has written four of the ten tracks and co-written another two with Gary Duncan and John Cipollina, and fortunately none of them exist on the same level as some of his previous efforts. In fact two of them, 'Cowboy On The Run' and 'The Letter' are quite good and register abnormally low on the old winceometer. Of his other songs, 'Worryin' Shoes' illustrates the worst traits in Valente's vocals (perhaps his main attribute), 'Witches' Moon' is nothing but a boring, stereotyped instrumental which exhibits precious little of the band's considerable instrumental prowess, 'Flames' which happily sees Cipollina as the main influence ... lots of tasty licks, and 'Bittersweet Love' which portends to be something of a rocker but somehow stumbles along rather halfheartedly. It's saving grace is the guitar work of Gary Duncan who it could be said is also the saving grace of the album itself as he has written what is undoubtedly the best track and, to my ecstatic joy, one of the best thing I've heard from any West Coast band this year. The song in question opens the album and it's called 'Gypsy Lights' ... when I first played it I thought that my dreams had come true and Quicksilver were about to scale the heights again, such is the exuberance it generates. But Duncan's other composition, 'They Don't Know', and the rest of the album pale in comparison.
And what of our old friend John Cipollina? Well his guitar work is everything you'd expect it to be and as his songwriting contribution is primarily designed to display that particular skill, I don't think we can complain too much on that count. David Freiberg, the only member who's been anywhere near active in the recording studio since originally leaving the band, has come forward with one song, co-written with Robert Hunter, called 'I Heard You Singing' which is as messy and undistinguished as most of the other songs he's ever written, but his bass playing is beyond reproach - a feature that was strangely neglected amongst the plethora of superlatives surrounding those first two albums.
So what does it all add up to? Well nothing to get too excited about I'm afraid, and nothing I suspect that will last too long. This album emanates a feeling of nonpermanence in the way that most of these 'reunions' do. They seem to be done with no eye to the future and very little respect for the past, and the results are more often than not inadequate to fulfil everybody's rather optimistic expectations. And so it is with Solid Silver. I can't honestly claim to know the answers to their failings ... I'm not even sure that kicking Valente out would make much difference now. I think we'll just have to admit that although they're the same people with the same talents, they're not the same kind as the one we all loved and the one we wish would descend upon us again. Quicksilver 1975 is an average-to-good American rock band with the potential to be a very good one. Only time will tell if they've got the inclination to realise that potential.
ZigZag 57, December 1975, Volume 6, Number 7