Electric Ladyland

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Reprise Records, 1969


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Believe it or not, it took me about ten years to really appreciate Electric Ladyland, the third album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience that is considered their finest.

When I first listened to it, I thought it was far too cosmic and bloated with self-indulgent pieces, and I filed it away deep in the Pierce Memorial Archives. Every once in a while, I pulled it out for curiosity, dusted it off, listened to it - and found that my opinion hadn't changed that much.

Finally, I decided recently to give thing a knock-down, drag-em-out listen, in order to try and find out just why some people hold this album in such high regard. And after the smoke cleared, my verdict was... nah, we'll wait 'till later for that. (C'mon, you don't expect me to build up the tension and give the ending away this early in the review, do you?)

Hendrix had been slowly moving away from the rock motif that he created on Are You Experienced (one of these days, we'll get to that album here), and began a more cosmic look at music and tonality on Axis: Bold As Love. Although there were still enough catchy rock riffs on that one, it spelled the beginning of a constant pattern with Hendrix: not being satisfied with what he had created before. Up until his death in 1970, it seemed like Hendrix wanted to conquer new boundaries in music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Electric Ladyland symbolized the knocking over of several of those boundaries. There was enough rock music on this one to please the early fans ("Crosstown Traffic," "All Along The Watchtower," "Little Miss Strange"), all of which hit the mark pretty well. There was also the further signs of Hendrix's wish to return to a more bluesy side of his music. Following a pattern he started with "Red House," Hendrix gets into both a more rootsy blues sound ("Voodoo Chile") as well as a bit of r&b ("Come On (Part I)"), all of which really works for Hendrix. Especially interesting are the jams that Hendrix gets into on "Voodoo Chile," where it sounds like he's pouring his whole being into the guitar.

Not everything works as well on Electric Ladyland, though. The more cosmic portions of the album - "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)" and "Moon, Turn The Tides... Gently, Gently Away" - are just too far out and unstructured to hold any hope of a promise. Maybe these pieces were really the birth cry that would become the infmaous performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, but in this context, it sounds like so much studio noodling. I also question why two different movements of "Rainy Day, Dream Away" were included when one would have been just fine (the latter one is titled "Still Raining, Still Dreaming").

But there are pleasant surprises on Electric Ladyland, in the form of "Gypsy Eyes" and "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp," two songs that could well be the undiscovered jewels of Hendrix's career. Both capture different sides of Hendrix the songwriter and the musician, but they both show how interrelated the sides were.

And then, there's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)", which any diehard Hendrix fan knows probably note-for-note. It is a great performance that is the ultimate climax to this album, and it shows why it's considered one of Hendrix's best performances ever.

Still, I'm not completely convinced that Electric Ladyland is Hendrix's finest hour. I'm not denying that there are some great performances on this album - cripes, there are more highlights on this one 60-minute album than some bands ever have in their careers. But the album does show Hendrix the artist in a state of flux, not quite sure which direction he wanted to go with his music. So, when in doubt, take all the roads, and hope you don't hit too many dead-ends. Fortunately for Hendrix, he hit only one in this journey.

Electric Ladyland is an album that has to grow on you over time, and the more you listen to it, the more you tend to appreciate some of the unheralded performances. It's good - but it's not Hendrix's best, at least to my ears. So what is his best, according to me? Well, that's another review for another day...

Rating: B

User Rating: A-



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.