Gamma 3


Wounded Bird, 1982

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


As fine an album as Gamma 2 was musically, no one involved -- not Gamma's guitarist/bandleader Ronnie Montrose, nor the rest of the group, nor the band's label, Elektra -- could be satisfied with the results it achieved in the marketplace. Despite playing a dynamic brand of heavy-guitar-and-synthesizer hard rock, after two albums, the band hadn't yet cut a single that radio liked, and the label was getting impatient. The band's next effort, Gamma 3, would make or break them -- maybe even both at the same time.

Having already changed out the rhythm section between Gammas 1 and 2, Montrose decided another evolution in the band's sound was needed to take Gamma to the next level. First, he parted ways with longtime keyboard foil Jim Alcivar and brought in Mitchell Froom. Ironically, Froom would later become an all-star producer sought after for his quirky organic production touches. In 1981, however, Montrose invited the young synthesizer whiz into Gamma as part of an effort to commit the band fully to an edgy, heavily electronic sound.

The other big change was designed to ensure that the crisp, sheeny sound Montrose had in mind would be realized without compromise -- there would be no guest producer or even co-producer; my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Gamma 3 would be produced by Ronnie Montrose himself.

The end result is an album that takes the band's futuristic edge to its logical extreme. While Montrose's guitar work is always prominent, Froom is the one who dominates the album, wielding an arsenal of exotic electronic effects in support of the often-bizarre, sci-fi-tinged lyrics of Jerry Stahl, an old schoolmate of Froom's.

The album kicks off strong with "What's Gone Is Gone," a driving track with startling synth textures and dynamic guitar work that got some attention from radio, but not enough. Davey Pattison's expressive vocals and Denny Carmassi's powerful drumming are both a little down in the somewhat trebly mix, but punch through effectively on this track in particular.

Another highlight is "Condition Yellow," an evocative instrumental featuring a chorus of eerie, otherworldly synth tones blown wide open by a laser-beam of a solo from Montrose. (It's ironic that, with a vocalist as talented as Pattison, two of Gamma's all-time best tracks were their only two instrumentals…)

Several other tracks here feature strong guitar-keyboard interplay and interesting textures. The lyrics sometimes get a little goofy (e.g. "I'm a moving violation, I'm love on the run"), but when the music works -- as it does on both heavy tracks like "No Way Out" and sleeker tunes like "Right The First Time" -- the magic is there. What's disconcerting is to hear this band straining as hard as they clearly are on a track like the surprisingly poppy "Modern Girl" to find a way to satisfy both creative and commercial desires. Ultimately, they couldn't, and the band imploded under the weight of label pressure.

I admit I've always struggled with this album precisely because I so enjoy Gamma 2. Many Gamma/Montrose fans -- and Mr. Montrose himself -- regard Gamma 3 as the band's finest hour. It was a grand experiment; the production is as crisp as they come, the textures achieved were cutting-edge for their day, and the players all turn in very strong performances.

What Gamma 2 has over it -- to these ears -- is a warmth and rawness that I think better suits this band. Of course, that probably tells you more about my personal tastes (i.e. the first, very raw self-titled Montrose album is an all-time fave) than it does about this album. Gamma 3 remains a memorable disc filled with exotic tones and, as always, a hearty helping of Ronnie Montrose's terrific guitar work.

Rating: B

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