Phoenix

Grand Funk

Captiol, 1972

http://www.grandfunkrailroad.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/28/2018

The moribund Survival, Grand Funk’s weakest album up to that point, was an end of the road of sorts for the original Grand Funk Railroad. The Michigan trio had worked with manager and producer Terry Knight since before they were a band – touring as Terry Knight & The Pack at the time – but after an acrimonious split with Knight they were left somewhat rudderless. Although they had several hits and were quite popular at the time and they were selling out stadiums, it didn’t help that Survival and E Pluribus Funk were not really great albums. The plodding GFR formula was starting to sound stale.

So, the trio picked up the pieces and started making some changes. First, they hired Craig Frost on keyboards, adding a necessary dimension to the sound (he is credited here as a sideman, but he quickly became the fourth member). Second, “Railroad” was dropped from the band name. Third, the songwriting became a little leaner and nimbler, with slightly more emphasis on texture than on crude rhythms that translated far better in concert.

The end result was an album that, while still far from the band’s best, was an important step in their evolution. Going from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Survival to We’re An American Band seems like listening to a different band, but with this stepping stone inserted, the transition makes more sense. Problem is, transitional albums are rarely career highlights. While Phoenix is of interest to fans, there’s little to keep the listener coming back for more.

The decision to self-produce means the disc is still somewhat waterlogged in sound, and remastering doesn’t help the issue. But the bigger issue is the lack of great songs or ambitious epics. Instead, we get songs that spin their wheels (the repetitive “Rain Keeps Fallin’,” the mediocre “Someone,”) and songs that seem content to rewrite standard GFR but Now With Keyboard! (“I Just Gotta Know,” “Trying To Get Away,” “She Got To Move Me”). And while Mark Farner had not shied away from social concerns on previous discs, he goes all-out here on his favorite theme of overpopulation, even stating on the schizophrenic and embarrassing “So You Won’t Have To Die” that Jesus told him how much of a problem overpopulation was. Yes, Jesus used to talk to rock stars from Flint, okay? Just go with it. Oh, and there’s “Freedom Is For Children,” six minutes of Farner nonsense that makes “Loneliness” look like the picture of subtlety. Skip both of these songs, please.

Opening instrumental “Flight Of The Phoenix” is more compelling, eschewing Farner’s wailing vocals and showing that this now-quartet could be nimble but still rock. The song fades out just as the “woo-hoo” vocals from “Footstompin’ Music” come in, making one wonder if “Flight” was written as a warmup for that latter track and discarded for time reasons. Regardless, when the first thing you hear on a Grand Funk album is a keyboard, you know something’s up.

The final two songs are the best on the disc: “Gotta Find Me A Better Day” and the minor hit single “Rock And Roll Soul,” which dispenses with the bullshit and just boogies. More than any other, it’s the one that paves the way for We’re An American Band, and it’s the only track most people remember from this disc. Not that this is entirely unfounded – there are some interesting passages scattered around – but Phoenix ultimately is more interesting for what is signified and what it attempted than in what it actually is. And while that makes it of interest to fans, it’s nowhere near one of the band’s better albums.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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