‘Electric Ladyland’ is without doubt my favourite Jimi Hendrix album.
‘Axis: Bold as Love’ is certainly a strong contender and a close second but I feel Hendrix’s third album with The Experience is more fully realized. This is the first time he had complete control as manager / producer Chas Chandler had split the scene having grown increasingly irritated with Hendrix’s perfectionist tendencies in the studio. Hendrix would spend an inordinate amount of time recording multiple takes until he felt had it right.
This method was also creating a lot of friction with bassist Noel Redding who became so disgruntled that he often skipped going to the studio altogether and Hendrix took up bass-playing duties on some of the songs. Jimi also brought in a load of guest musicians including drummer Buddy Miles of the Electric Flag, who would later join him in the Band of Gypsys. ‘Electric Ladyland’ would be Jimi’s last album with The Experience.
As much as I love this album, there’s a lot of inconsistency. It seems Hendrix was between two worlds. He had started this album with Chandler and The Experience but once he had fully taken the reins as producer, he brought in other musicians and with engineer Eddie Kramer, began to push the boundaries of the brand new Record Plant studio. While sides A and B have some stellar tracks including some of the biggies like “Crosstown Traffic” and “Voodoo Chile”, it doesn’t gel together in album terms and the Redding-penned “Little Miss Strange” is almost an obtrusion.
The second biscuit is much more cohesive, and while the final side is wonderful and includes the revelatory version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, for me Side C is the star of the show. The three songs that comprise the side are almost like a suite as the songs ebb and flow into one another (yes, my tidal reference) lending it the feel of a single piece. It also shows Hendrix at his experimental best.
It begins with the psychedelic blues of ‘Rainy Day, Dream Away’, an understated invitation to begin the journey into our subconscious setting up the epic ‘1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)’. This piece follows in the path of Sun Ra’s spiritual sci-fi space-jazz both lyrically and musically. Hendrix has a vision of an apocalypse and decides to leave mankind and return to the sea. Musically, it is more than deserving of the moniker ‘space-rock’ as when it was released 45 years ago, it was one of the most far-out musical excursions ever committed to vinyl. This song is an incredible piece of orchestration and arrangement and it is difficult to distinguish which parts were pre-written and which were improvised.
‘1983…’ features Mitch Mitchell on drums and Traffic’s Chris Wood on flute. Hendrix is on vocals, all guitars, percussion, and in the absence of Redding, Hendrix shows his aptitude on bass with some complex playing. The musicality is incredible and features timing changes and beautiful, lyrical instrumentation. This is complimented by some studio wizardry with Kramer flipping the tapes and producing otherworldly sounds from the backwards guitar and flute and getting the microphone feedback to sound like seagulls. They played around with the stereo and used panning to great effect and without too much novelty. The recording sounds sublime as the instruments sound distinct surrounded by space with the occasional clear ring of flexatone.
Then the band slides into the closing vignette, ‘Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away’, which does exactly as it prescribes, fading into oblivion and gently bringing the listener to the end of a true sonic journey. Happy 45th Anniversary ‘Electric Ladyland’.
Classic Album Sundays launches in Portland, Maine, Sunday, October 13 at The Empire also featuring Electric Ladyland on Bowers & Wilkins 802 speakers.
Musical Lead-Up Playlist: http://classicalbumsundays.com/the-jimi-hendrix-experience-electric-ladyland-musical-lead-up-playlist/