MC5 – ” High Time “

Posted: January 22, 2021 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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The band’s masterpiece was undoubtedly 1971’s ‘High Time’ LP. Stung by the failure of ‘Back In The USA’ and with no viable commercial future, the MC5 made it on the verge of disintegration. It’s the only MC5 record to contain individual song writing credits, but it still manages to fuse together all the disparate elements of their sound. Its wired twin-guitar assault and riotous free-jazz detonations (check out the nervy repetition of the two Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith contributions – Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)’ and ‘Over And Over’) ensured it was the one true encapsulation of the MC5 aesthetic. 

“High Time” sounds like MC5’s relative equivalent to the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded”, their last and most accessible album, but still highly idiosyncratic and full of well-written, solidly played tunes. Fred Smith’s “Sister Anne” and “Skunk (Sonically Speaking)” bookend the album with a pair of smart, solidly performed hard rockers (bolstered by fine horn charts), and Wayne Kramer’s “Poison” ranks with the best songs he brought to the band (he later revived it for his solo album The Hard Stuff). For a group that was apparently on the verge of collapse, MC5 approach this material with no small amount of skill and enthusiasm, and Geoffrey Haslam’s production gives the band a big, punchy sound that suits them better than the lean, trebly tone of Back in the USA. It’s interesting to imagine what MC5’s history might have been like if High Time had been their first or second album rather than their last.

Unfortunately, ‘High Time’ was an even bigger commercial disaster than their previous two albums. The group’s espousal of left-wing political doctrines meant that they were not only treated with intense suspicion by corporate record labels, but that their righteous rock’n’roll energy was greeted with distaste by the prevalent flower-power movement of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane on America’s West Coast. Thirty years on, it’s only now apparent that this ultimate defeat was really victory. Unbeknown to them, they’d become one of the best rock’n’roll groups of all time.

Lenny Kaye, then writing for Rolling Stone, called the album “the first record that comes close to telling the tale of their legendary reputation and attendant charisma”. In his retrospective review, Mark Deming of AllMusic called it MC5’s most accessible album, but still highly idiosyncratic and full of well-written, solidly played tunes. While less stridently political than their other work, musically it’s as uncompromising as anything they ever put to wax and would have given them much greater opportunities to subvert America’s youth if the kids had ever had the chance to hear it.

Sadly, High Time’s 1971 release represented the end of the line for MC5. Hard drugs had entered the band members’ lives, and within a year they’d split up, drifting off into various other configurations. At least two members wound up in federal prison on drug charges, and they never did reunite before the untimely death of Rob Tyner in mid-summer 1992

  • Michael Davis – bass, vocals, 
  • Wayne Kramer – guitar, vocals, piano 
  • Fred “Sonic” Smith – guitar, vocals, harmonica
  • Dennis Thompson – drums, vocals 
  • Rob Tyner – vocals

Released July 6th, 1971

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