Esoteric Recordings, a Cherry Red Records label, have recently released a box set devoted to the work of English hard rock band Atomic Rooster. The set, Sleeping for Years, contains all five studio albums the band released during their original run- presented here on four discs. The set also includes several bonus tracks in the form of singles and rarities. Along with the tracks being newly remastered, Sleeping for Years makes for the complete Atomic Rooster experience.
A bit of Atomic Rooster history…
Like many of the artists on Cherry Red, Atomic Rooster are a cult favorite amongst die-hard rock music listeners. The band were formed in 1969 by keyboardist Vincent Crane and future ELP drummer Carl Palmer after they left singer Arthur Brown. Throughout their career, the band went through many changes in their line up- with Crane remaining the sole original member. With that, it’s safe to say that Atomic Rooster was Crane’s band. In their time together, the band had some success in the UK with hit singles such as “Tomorrow Night” and “Devil’s Answer.” The band were fairly successful else where but were never able to make a name for themselves in the US. Despite this, Atomic Rooster were still able to release some great music.
Given that this set features five proper studio albums, I will give a brief overview of each one.
Atomic Roooster (1970)
The band’s semi self-titled debut album is a solid start to the band’s career. For this album, the band consisted of Crane, Palmer and bassist/singer Nick Graham. Listening to this album, it’s impressive as to how hard rocking this album is considering the band didn’t have a guitarist. Crane shines with his keyboard playing while Graham’s gruff vocal delivery fits in with the music nicely.
Highlights: Friday the 13th, S.L.Y., And So To Bed, Before Tomorrow
Album rating: 7/10
Death Walks Behind You (1970)
Released just months after the band’s debut, Death Walks Behind You is considered by many to be their best. For this album, Crane is joined by guitarist/singer John Du Cann and drummer Paul Hammond. Given the addition of Du Cann, Death Walks Behind You is heavier than its predecessor. This album is a wonderful mix of progressive and hard rock. It nears heavy metal territory.
Highlights: Death Walks Behind You, Tomorrow Night, Sleeping For Years, I Can’t Take No More
Album rating: 8/10
In Hearing of Atomic Rooster (1971)
Following up Death Walks Behind You wasn’t an easy task but Crane and company managed to pull it off here on In Hearing of Atomic Rooster. The only change to the line-up for this album was the addition of former Leaf Hound singer Pete French. With French singing, Du Cann now only served as the guitarist. Whereas Death leaned more towards heavy metal, In Hearing leans more toward hard rock. The production isn’t the best but overall, this is a good album.
Highlights: Break the Ice, Black Snake, A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down, Breakthrough
Album rating: 7/10
Made in England (1972)
For the band’s next album, Crane did a 180 and drastically changed the band’s sound. Released in 1972, Made in England is very different from the band’s previous work as this is a soul and funk rock album. In terms of the line-up, Crane was joined by singer Chris Farlowe, guitarist Steve Bolton and drummer Rick Parnell. As an album, Made in England is just okay. The sound change feels too weird. Still, this doesn’t stop the album from featuring some good songs.
Highlights: Don’t Know What Went Wrong, Breathless, All in Satan’s Name
Album rating: 6/10
Nice N Greasy (1973)
Unlike previous singers, Chris Farlowe stayed on for another album. Nice N Greasy picks up where Made in England left off musically. Line up wise, Bolton had been replaced by guitarist John Goodsal- who is credited as Johnny Mandala for the album. While it isn’t a bad album, Nice N Greasy is weaker compared to Made in England. Still, there are a few good songs here.
Highlights: All Across the Country, Voodoo in You, Can’t Find a Reason
Album rating: 6/10
The bonus tracks presented here are all good. Some of these songs have been released before while the bonus tracks from the previous reissues are missing- such as live recordings. However, this box set is covering only the studio recordings so it makes sense as to why they aren’t on here. As far was the remastering goes, it sounds pretty good. Comparing them to the older reissues, the ones here are a little louder- which could be a good and/or bad thing. Personally, I think they just sound good. The box set also comes with a 32 page booklet with liner notes written by journalist Malcolm Dome. Dome’s write up is very good, as he was able to get quotes from some of the surviving members of the band.
Overall, Sleeping for Years is an impressive release. If you’re someone who used to own any music by the band back in the day, this is the set for you: you’re getting everything the band recorded in their original run. If you’re new to the band’s music, this might be a lot to take in. When it comes to Atomic Rooster, you’re not going to find too many “Best Of” releases from them. This is probably the closest you’re going to get. At some $30, I’d say this is worth purchasing.