I’ve always seen the MC5 as the best kind of vintage rock. The kind of no messing around, to the point, loud gear that I love most about the 70s. The kind of music that had a big influence on a lot bands I love today. The kind of music that has direct links to the best loud and fast bands who have come and gone since. So why have I never listened to them all that much? To paraphrase Al Swearingen, I’d sooner try touchin’ the moon than figure out the answer to that. But now, I don’t need an answer, because now I have listened to High Time.
Straight up blues with a white boy rock and roll edge, Sister Anne kicks things off on a great note. Complete with harmonica solo, it’s an homage to what inspired it, while creating its own new sound.
Next up is Baby Won’t Ya?, which sounds like the best song The Rolling Stones never wrote. I’m a living, breathing person, so I have certain appreciation for the Stones. But it’s always been more about Keith, Brian and Ronnie’s guitar playing than Mick’s vocals. The Wikipedia credits for who sings what on High Time are a bit all over the shop, so I’m not sure exactly which of the MC5 laid them down, but they’re great and only make me even less impressed with how Jagger contributes to what his band backs him up with.
Miss X is a real departure from the earlier rock, going for an almost soul feel. What’s more, MC5 actually pulls it off. It’s followed by Gotta Keep Movin’, which combines the blues influence of Sister Anne, but also shows a little more the British influence heard in Baby Won’t Ya. Only this time, it sounds less like the Stones and more than just a little like The Who. And like the earlier tracks, once again MC5 manages to wear their musical inspiration on their sleeves, while forging their own path.
The second half of High Time gets a little more experimental, giving individual songs their own arcs, tempo ups and downs, and real contrast. While this approach is tedious and aimless on Past/Future, it really pays off on Poison. It still has that stripped down side of everything else I like about this album, but it almost hints at an epic, mythical tale variety of song writing Iron Maiden would indulge in a decade later.
I know I spent a lot of this album comparing MC5 to other bands, but none of that is meant to sound like I found the band or High Time derivative. If anything, every example is based on me thinking the MC5 version sounded better than whatever I was comparing them too.
For an album of such no messing around, to the point, loud rock, the running times are surprisingly long. Six of the eight tracks crack the five minute barrier. And while that would usually be a liability as far as I’m concerned, there’s enough energy and cock swinging rock hubris on High Time to make sure none of these songs ever outstay their welcome.