As I continue to fight a nasty case of writer’s block — or, more accurately, a nasty case of having nothing to say — I have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration.
I am neither on the mountain, nor in the valley; but instead stand confronted by a vast, sere plain.
This is Uriah Heep’s Wonderworld. I am not sure why I was ever here, nor why I have come back.
Some albums, we all know, are rousing artistic triumphs. Others are misbegotten failures, attracting the odd contrarian defender here and there, but largely rejected.
And then there’s the vast gray pile of albums stuck somewhere in the middle … records made not because the performers had anything to say, but because they were obliged to honor a contract that required them to turn in 40 minutes of original music at specified intervals.
Wonderworld feels like one of those albums.
Nay, it is one of those albums. It is shot through to the core with Obligation and Artistic Stagnation and More Of The Same.
Its song titles (“Suicidal Man,” “The Shadows and The Wind,” “So Tired”) bespeak burnout. Its cover shows the band stuck as statues, mired in poses, stationary.
I used to own a copy of Wonderworld as a teenager. I couldn’t tell you why now, except maybe that I sniffed out the scent of teeth-grinding mediocrity just by looking at it, and thought there might be fun in the pursuit.
That, and it was $1.
Similarly, I could not describe the urge that inspired me to go find it on YouTube (my vinyl copy is long gone) and listen to it again tonight. I did not expect to find inspiration, nor so-bad-it’s-good cheesiness, nor lost-classic defiance. And I didn’t.
Heep peddles the usual Seventies hard-rock trappings on Wonderworld — some clavinet-driven not-really-funk; a ballad with strings; some Big Riffs; a “stirring” anthem with military march overtones; some steely, bluesy stomp. The last of these almost works.
But, at root, there is … nothing.
No particular substance or distinctive style or creativity.
No hooks to stick in your head longer than five minutes; no lyrics that capture the essence of life in a single verbal twist.
Just a deadline met and a new slab of plastic for the shops.
As song after song rolls by on YouTube, I stand confronted by a vast, sere plain.
I have nothing to say. Uriah Heep has nothing to say.
Perhaps, after all these years, we deserve each other.
Coda: The invaluable ARSA database of local radio play charts indicates that Wonderworld attained its only U.S. sales notices 40 years ago this month. I did not know this when I set out to write.