Gary Moore - After the War Cassette

Sunday 4 October 2020
Bob Leggitt
"It's likely that had Moore and Virgin known how successful the subsequent shift into the field of blues would prove, this album, After the War, would never have surfaced."
Gary Moore - After the War cassette

Life is full of mystery. How did the Universe form, and what was there before the Universe?… Is there intelligent life out on some distant planet?… Why did heavy metal's life not expire on the day This is Spinal Tap was released?

By the standards of all reason and logic, the hapless spoof metal band Spinal Tap, and their pant-wettingly hilarious mockery of the genre, should have consigned '80s metal to history's great waste basket in early 1984. I mean, how much more embarrassing could one movie be for a genre of music?… And the answer is: none. None more embarrassing. If that reference doesn't make any sense to you, by the way, you need to watch the movie.

And yet, far from laughing itself off and moving on, '80s metal appeared to interpret Spinal Tap not as an insult, but as a template. Through the rest of the decade, the spandex got tighter, the axes got brighter, the hair got St-Hubbins-ier, the armadillos got more fearsome, and pretty much every stereotype Spinal Tap turned into a joke, heavy metal turned back into a marketing tool.

And five years on, even artists with the versatility of Gary Moore were still churning out fodder for the leather-clad faithful. Here's the proof. Moore's 1989 album After the War. The heavily genre-stylised artist name on the cassette cover forewarns that there is gratuitous guitar riffery, widdlery, and squealery to be found on this genuine chromium dioxide audio tape.

But the album is a lot more interesting than one might at first fear. True, there are regular, cynically calculated genre paradigms, designed to connect with a very narrow field of musical interest. Both sides kick off with highly formulaic ventures down an almost endlessly trodden path. And the lyrics on occasion get dangerously close to what a Tap review might have described as "treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality".

But soon enough, hints begin to creep in that Moore might be just a tad fed up with all of this. Despite its predicatble words, Livin' on Dreams does start to shift away from the headbangin' script. It's very catchy actually. A good party song.

And the following track - Led Clones - demonstrates that the metal genre of the day was far from one big happy family. It's sung by one of metal's widely acknowledged pioneers - Ozzy Osbourne - and it pours about a gallon of acidic scorn onto the period's hot trend of cashing in on demand for the Led Zeppelin sound.

Led Clones is one of the most listenable numbers on the album - even if it does precisely what it's complaining about other bands doing, and borrows just about every Led Zep characteristic in the book. Despite its musical backing being almost entirely modelled from Zep cliches, you're still more inclined to think Black Sabbath, such is the distinctiveness of Ozzy's voice. You end up not caring that it's hypocritical in the extreme, and just digging it. It's a great track.

And after that? Roy Buchanan's The Messiah Will Come Again - a guitar instrumental that wouldn't have been at all out of place on Moore's Still Got the Blues album - his next long-playing release. By the end of Side 1 you can feel the Irish guitar virtuoso bustin' to break free from the prison of heavy metal. And after some strong Celtic stuff it ends Side 2 in similar fashion.

But After the War serves as an indication of how contrived popular music can be. Although half of it ranks as quality, diverse rock, the other half is almost like a selection of recipes. This track has the sawtooth power synth, this one has the opening, palm-damped guitar chug, this one has the 600mph widdly-widdly solo, this one has the harmonic pick-squeals, this one has the 'verb-drenched Cozy Powell drum break… In fairness, the drummer actually is Cozy Powell, so you kind of have to let that one go. But there's a great deal of cliche-stuffing.

Forward from his next release, Gary Moore completely dropped all association with the heavy metal genre and joined the exploding blues resurgence. He remained with the same record label - Virgin - and the two cassettes (After the War and Still Got the Blues) were almost identical visually.

It's likely that had Moore and Virgin known how successful the subsequent shift into the field of blues would prove, this album, After the War, would never have surfaced. But I'm glad it did, because there are some points of interest, and it would genuinely have been a loss to the world had Led Clones not found its way into the public domain.

More an interesting cassette than an inspirational one. But palatable to the non-metal fan in a way that most late '80s heavy rock definitely was not.