Record #467: Blue Öyster Cult – Agents of Fortune (1976)

agents of fortune.jpgI have a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

Immortal comedy sketches aside, I’ve never been too terribly aware of Blue Öyster Cult. So my expectations for Agents of Fortune were a blank slate.

The two singles in their career that have caught my attention, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Godzilla,” couldn’t be more different. And the tracklisting here is similarly diverse.

There are dreamy guitar arpeggios (“Reaper”), insatiable hard rock riffs (“Tattoo Vampire”), shuffling funk (“Morning Final”), and brushes with glam rock (“The Revenge of Vera Gemini,” which features the immortal Patti Smith). Adding to the sonic schizophrenia, each of the five members has a turn providing lead vocals on at least one song.

But even through different voices and moods, it still sounds like the work of a single band. This is a testament to the collective strength of the group. Each member’s voice is strong enough to stay consistent through each of their bandmate’s songs. This is especially true of  Buck Dharma, whose unmistakable lead guitar work is one of the strongest connective tissues across the record.

The group also injects the songs with a sense of humor not often found in hard rock or heavy metal. While The Who was writing serious rock operas and Black Sabbath was digging for the pits of hell, Blue Öyster Cult had abandoned all sense of self-seriousness. Even “Reaper,” which has the most unironic mood, has that infamous cowbell bangin’ in the background.

In all, the record just barely passes the thirty-five-minute mark. But through all of the hard-hitting, fist-pumping, tongue-in-cheek rock and roll on the disc, it’s still a rewarding listen. It’s not a major work, by any estimation. But it never tried to be.

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