At Home

Shocking Blue

Red Bullet, 1969

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


All Shocking Blue ever wanted was to be the Dutch answer to Jefferson Airplane.

And they succeeded, for a minute. At Home, their second album, introduced new singer Mariska Veres and scored a huge hit with “Venus.” A mix of Who-style acoustic guitars, a bouncy beat and several catchy licks (musical and vocal), it was a deserved hit; it would later be covered in the ’80s by Stars on 45 and Bananarama, and then make an appearance in the 2016 animated movie Sing!. (Note: For all three Billboard appearances, the song was a #1 hit).

It’s also not quite indicative of the rest of the album, which indeed sounds like a takeoff on the San Francisco sound of the late ’60s and the Airplane in particular (due in no small part to Veres as frontwoman). Singer and songwriter Robby Van Leeuwen had a clear affinity for the Bay Area scene as well as American folk/country and even the sitar movement of the era, so the songs on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 At Home blend these influences into an interesting, if not terribly catchy, whole.

The second side/half of the album is far better; if you listen on Spotify, start at Track 6 (“Venus”) and work your way forward. “California Here I Come” is a sort of love letter to the era and a plain statement of purpose, backed by an indelible guitar riff. “Poor Boy” is two songs in one, the first half a guitar jam that loses some steam when the vocals come in about halfway through, while “Long and Lonesome Road” is a minor country-influenced gem.

Most of the rest, though, is lesser and derivative psychedelic rock, sounding very dated and failing to leave much of a mark. The sitar, though not overused, gets tiresome after a while, and the songwriting doesn’t have much in the way of dynamics; van Leeuwen tends to favor grooves and awkward pauses, and the lack of a cohesive style doesn’t help the lesser songs (read: the first five and closer “The Butterfly and I.” The bonus tracks (B-sides) aren’t any better.

One other song of note, though, is “Love Buzz,” which is tucked away on the second side. A sparse drum beat, occasional sitar blast and restrained guitar underscore Veres’ gypsy vocals, which then pause for a weird sitar and rapid-fire drum break before returning to the slow drone of the main piece. It’s fascinating, if obscure, and likely the reason Nirvana picked it to cover on their debut Bleach, adding muscle and sarcasm where Veres added mystery and uncertainty.

Shocking Blue would release a few more albums that made no impact stateside and then disband forever, leaving behind their inconsistent second album as their best. When it works, which is only sporadically, it’s worth seeking out for fans of the ’60s psychedelic rock scene or those who always liked “Venus” and wanted to see what else the band had to offer.

Rating: C-

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