[Review] John Lodge: Natural Avenue (1977)

Half of Blue Jays with thrice the orchestra equals a surprisingly good album.

Kronomyth 2.0: Rhapsody in blue jays.

What is it with bass guitarists and orchestras? I’m referring to Chris Squire, of course, whose Fish Out of Water was also a heavily orchestrated affair. Not that Brian Rogers doesn’t do a splendid job of inflating John Lodge’s sometimes very simple ballads. (You can hear more of his splendicity on Joan Armatrading’s early classics). I just wonder how anybody could greenlight these projects after hearing the words “how much would an orchestra cost?” come from someone whose instrument of choice consisted of four whole strings. (I’m kidding, of course, since a violin has four strings and I’ve heard some pretty good music come out of those things.)

Now that I’ve introduced the Squire analogy (and you’ve been eyeing that Roger Dean cover suspiciously from the very beginning), you might be thinking that Lodge’s first solo album is a missing link in your progressive rock chain. Well, stop thinking such silly thoughts. These are simple, tuneful ballads given an orchestral gilding that in some cases (Who Could Change, Say You Love) outweighs the original idea. The Moody Blues are the obvious reference point, Blue Jays in particular, and Lodge emerges every bit as talented and charming as he did on his last album with Justin Hayward.

Natural Avenue is a lavish affair from a packaging perspective. The gatefold cover opens to reveal Lodge looking like Peter Frampton’s older, plainer brother, while inside was found a four-page lyric insert that revealed some familiar names from the UK rock scene including Steve Simpson, Kenney Jones, Mick Weaver and Chris Spedding. No expense spared, no sirree.

Truthfully, this album gives me chills… for about the first twenty minutes. After a short dive into chill-inducing (roger) waters and an ill-advised oldie a la ELO (if you’re using text-to-voice for this, your computer is not broken), Lodge delivers three beautiful ballads: Summer Breeze (which finds a dreamy middle ground between the Moodies and The Kinks), Carry Me and “Who Could Change” (where John Lodge sounds like John Lennon).

The second half of the record doesn’t quite hit those highs, although Piece of My Heart is awfully catchy. Later on, Children of Rock ‘n’ Roll is a lively way to end things. But cracks begin to emerge in Lodge’s lovely façade. Spedding, for example, has several chances to leave a short, snappy guitar solo and seizes none of them. The mix is also merely “meh” (again, do not adjust your computer). What you’re left with is half of a really good album with some breathtaking ballads; more or less the same thing that Lodge contributed to Blue Jays, minus the music from a certain knight.

Original elpee version

A1. Intro to Children of Rock ‘n’ Roll (1:05)
A2. Natural Avenue (3:55)
A3. Summer Breeze (5:22)
A4. Carry Me (5:45)
A5. Who Could Change (6:19)
B1. Broken Dreams, Hard Road (4:32)
B2. Piece of My Heart (3:55)
B3. Rainbow (3:51)
B4. Say You Love Me (6:30)
B5. Children of Rock ‘n’ Roll (4:30)

All titles composed by John Lodge.

The Players

John Lodge (vocals, 6 & 12-string acoustic guitars, bass, harmonica, vocal harmonies), Kenney Jones (drums & percussion), Brian Rogers (orchestra arrangements, conductor), Steve Simpson (Spanish & 6-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocal harmonies), Chris Spedding (electric guitar), Mick Weaver (piano, organ, celeste) with Mel Collins (soprano sax on A2), Martin Dobson (alto sax on A2), Jimmy Jewel (sax on A3/B1), Billy Lawrie (vocal harmonies), Denis Lopez (percussion on A5), Gary Osborne (vocal harmonies), Joan Richardson (vocal harmonies), Alan Williams (vocal harmonies). Produced and engineered by Tony Clarke; recording engineered by Derek Varnals, Dave Baker; mix engineered by Tim Sadler.

The Pictures

Album cover produced by Martyn & Roger Dean.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in February 1977* in the UK (Decca, TXS 120), the US (London, PS/PS8 683) and Japan (London, GP-1077) with gatefold cover and lyrics booklet. Reached #38 on the UK charts. (*First advertised in 2/5/77 issue of Sounds.)

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the UK (London, 820 464-2).
  2. Re-issued on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2014 in the UK (Esoteric, ECLECLP 2437).

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