(All Album Reviews by JJ)
Vanilla Fudge are best known, if at all, for their souped-up, melodramatic cover versions of soul and pop hits of the day. Their elongated cover of The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" is perhaps the most famous of these. However, they are often overlooked when the pioneers of progressive rock are being discussed, but as their third album Renaissance proves, they were in fact up there with more famous acts like The Moody Blues and Procol Harum who get more credit today.
Renaissance is perhaps their most innovative album. The reason for this is that is predominantly made up of songs that the band composed themselves as opposed to the cover versions that dominated their previous releases. The notable exception is their cover of Donovan's "Season Of The Witch", which was apparently a left-over from their debut album and indeed, though it's an interesting interpretation, it's slightly out of place here. I could also do without the hammed-up narrated bits in this cover version too...
Still, any fan of progressive rock will be able to hear some of the standardised tropes of the genre on the album's other tracks. The album's multi-sectioned first track "The Sky Cried- When I Was A Boy" is a suitable enough example of this, beginning with a swelling guitar and Hammond organ refrain that steadily increases in tension to full-on heavy bombast with suitably melodramatic vocals. "Paradise" is even more explicit, however, with its suitably portentous and spaced-out Hammond organ refrains and haunting backing vocal sections. "The Spell That Came After" is the only other cover version yet was far from well known (the original was by a songwriter called Essra Mohawk) so fits in somewhat better than the Donovan cover, and its stop-start rhythms arguably hint at what Yes would soon be attempting with classics like "Heart Of The Sunrise" or the earlier "Then".
Their influence on the soon-to-emerge heavy rock genre is also evident. Lest we forget, Led Zeppelin were infamously sent off to support Vanilla Fudge on an American tour. History has shown the fallacy of that idea as it broke Zeppelin in America and the Fudge's popularity declined thereafter, but the falsetto backing vocals all over this album yet particularly prominent on "Thoughts" surely had a huge influence on Uriah Heep. Uriah Heep themselves were often unfavourably compared to Deep Purple, but it's hard to imagine Deep Purple sounding like they did without Vanilla Fudge- see the fact that Deep Purple started out doing elaborate, drawn-out cover versions of pop standards...sound familiar? If that doesn't ring a bell, check out the crunching, almost Nice-esque heavy Hammond introduction to "That's What Makes A Man" for it to really hammer the point home, or the crunch of "Faceless People".
Though history has so far deemed them little more than a footnote, the influence they had on the course rock music was to follow into the 1970s will be audible to anybody that gives this album a listen. It's a little rough-around-the-edges in parts, and it's not exactly brimming with Top 40 hit potential either, but it's a historically important release.