Rock & Roll Machine


RCA Records, 1977

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in the mid to late '80s, you couldn't say the name of the band Triumph without immediately conjuring up the name of Rush. After all, the bands had quite a bit in common: both were from Canada, both were power trios with guitarists who could run the gamut of styles in their playing, both groups wrote music that could make their listeners think - and both groups' first albums weren't the strongest efforts they would ever put out.

Of course, this is a Triumph review, not a Rush review... that will come later. For now, let's focus on Rock & Roll Machine, the full-length American debut that appears to be a compilation of two earlier Canadian albums. In retrospect, I'd rather have the two full-length Canadian releases, but I wasn't up to making music industry decisions in 1978.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If there were only two words one could use to describe the band at this time, they would be "in flux". The lead vocal duties were split between drummer Gil Moore and guitarist Rik Emmett, though on this release, it seems like Moore has the lion's share of the mike work. Rounding out the trio is bassist/keyboardist Mike Levine, who also was a co-producer of the record. (To Levine's credit, he doesn't try to mix his contributions to the forefront and hide the work of his bandmates.)

The group was in flux because they were caught between the more heady direction their music would eventually take and the bar-band mentality, singing about rock music and life on the road. Regrettably, it's the bar-band mentality that wins out on Rock & Roll Machine, and it gets real old, real quick. Songs like "24 Hours A Day" just fall flat, and their cover of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" - well, let's just say I was never a fan of the original work.

There is a sign of things to come musically on the song "Street Fighter" and the reprise which segues into the original song. Why the song wasn't just combined into one piece I don't know; it works well that way. It's not the strongest cut that Triumph ever wrote, but it's a decent start that deserves your attention.

Emmett also calls himself into the spotlight with his guitar work on "Blinding Light Show / Moonchild," a song which allows him the freedom to demonstrate his chops without becoming too showy. If only he had followed that on "Rock & Roll Machine," which is almost strictly a lead guitar device featuring some not-too-impressive riffing by Emmett.

As nice as it was for Triumph to have the availability of two strong lead vocalists, Moore just didn't seem to have what it took to really push the band into the forefront, while Emmett really isn't given a chance to show his power on this disc.

Rock & Roll Machine is a tentative first step from Triumph, and it doesn't quite hint at the greatness that was just ahead of the band - greatness which they would taste just one album later. But that's another story for another review.

Rating: C

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