I sat down in my kitchen with a nice piping hot cup of tea in order to write my review of Blue Album. After all, that's how I came to love Blue—in an 11th floor Moscow apartment, drinking tea and talking about life. If we (my host-sister Sveta and I) were the only ones home, we'd break out a pack of cigarettes and болтали while BG crooned in the background about running naked in the snow. Or if our talk was on the serious side—BG would remind us that "Джа даст нам всё." Somehow, on this twenty year old album, there is a song for every occasion, something to fit every mood. In most instances, that means a sloppy album. But in the case of the glorious Синий альбом, it creates one of the finest albums Akvarium ever made. Got your чай ready? Don't forget some конфеты—we're going to savor the songs ahead of us, like that piping hot cup on a snowy winter morning.
Railroad Water—starts off the album in a train station. Are you ready? Because BG and his troupe are about to take you on a great musical journey from the comforts of home to the flat plains to the rivers and mountains and back home again. Maybe you think I should mention here that this is the song, if you had to pick one, that sounds like and draws comparison to Bob Dylan. There, I mentioned it. Let's move on.
Rock 'n' Roll Hero—a rock 'n' roll anthem in any language. "To live fast, to die young." Flick your bics and wave them high. This is one song that will follow Boris Grebenshikov the rest of his life. No matter if he plays St. Petersburg or Moscow, New York City or San Francisco, there's always going to be one drunk guy in the crowd shouting out for this song. He must sit up there on stage and sigh, thinking to himself "Don't they realize I'm pretty much making fun of them with this song?" Apparently not, BG. Or maybe we don't really care—rock on! (Just an aside: øïàíà is one of my favorite words in Russian. When I first learned it, I would slip it into any conversation I could, and was always pleased as punch for doing so. Let's just say I had a patient host family.)
Guest—BG takes us from the grand world of rock 'n' roll to the quiet seclusion of ourselves. Take a deep sip of that чай and a long drag of your cigarette, and listen to this beautiful, simple song. He gets downright introspective on us already—"Why are we ourselves?" A great question to ponder while the snow falls outside and you don't feel like going anywhere....Puff Puff.....
Strange Objects Between Light and Sound—An instrumental ditty. BG calls it "the song which turned the album from a collection of songs into an independent living being." And it sounds like it's hard to play, too.
Electric Dog—Yet another classic Akvarium tune (see notes about flicking the bic, etc, above) From its very first words "A long memory is worse than syphilis," you know you're in for a good song. Ï¸ñ was yet another word I was tickled to death to learn. Sit down with a Russian friend and chat about this song. You'll have to put the kettle on again, and bring out the cookies—your conversation could last for hours, just on this one song. There are lots of words to learn, and phrases to debate. But really, the final lines sum it all up:
My friends ask me, what is this song about?
And I answer mysteriously, "Ah, if only I knew that myself..."
All That I Want—Contrary to what some of my comrade Bodhisattvi think, I maintain that this is actually one of BG's most romantic songs. And when I say romantic, I mean both the upper and lower case sense. "All that I want, is you." Really, who hasn't wished those words uttered to them, whispered, sung? Believe it or not, I know very little about Boris' personal life. I know he's been married twice, but I couldn't tell you their names (Am I in denial or what?). Is he speaking of personal experience in this song? Probably.
Waking up this morning, it was strange to know,
That we lie separate, like friends
He sings with regret:
I don't remember, who I was then
He sings with wisdom:
I said love when they wouldn't tell me no
I may know nothing about how it feels to be a rock star, but I do know what it's like to wake up and realize that my relationship has gotten away from me. To have that twang of regret. To realize that I could have done better. Open up a fresh pack of cigarettes and finish one before moving on....
Tea —I love this song. So does everyone. Why? It's simple. It's lovely. It's simply lovely. When they play it at a concert, everyone lets out a sigh of delight.
The harmony of the world knows no borders
Let's drink tea
How many a happy day I lived those very words, I could never count. I was living with complete strangers, in a foreign country, whose language I could barely speak. Yet we would sit down, sip some tea and everything would be immediately better. Learn the words by heart, it will do you good someday, I promise.
The Plain—BG takes us to the top of a hill, on an open plain. He sits us down with guitar, some bongos and a cello, and asks us to reflect on life. Those voices are calling you—can't you hear them, man? Look out onto the great wide open. Think. Be one with the music. Sip some tea and look out your kitchen window into the falling snow.
Rutman—I've always imagined this as one of those songs that was born impromptu in the studio. It has but 2 official lines-
—Rutman, where is your head?
—My head is with God
Simple. Pure. Poetic. Magic. I'm a Rastafarian!!
On a Similar Night—Back to some lighthearted lyrics melody again, with some lyrics that I think are just great:
I drink - I like the taste of wine
I smoke—I like smoke
My Only Home (God gives us everything)—Is one of the sweetest love songs, in any language. Simple. Lovely. (I keep saying those words!) I don't know who Boris was with at the time, but she was one lucky woman.
When I'm with you,
You are my only home...
What else can I do?
This is the point in the album where Sveta and I would crack out the hard core chocolate and sigh a lot. Sigh. Sip. Puff.
River—This is where you suddenly realize—hey man, we need our groove back! Have a sip of that tea (or maybe it's wine by now) and catch the tune, especially once Dyusha gets the flute solo gets going. No need to be overwhelmed with the lyrics. (This from the girl who is always saying to herself "Just what is Boris trying to say with this one?") None of that is necessary with this song:
River. Mountain. Grass. Hand.
Is that the kettle whistling again? Let me repeat what I started at the beginning of this review: this is one of Akvarium's finest albums. It's beautiful from head to toe, whether it's being silly, solemn, or spiritual. There's something each of us can connect with: love, hate, satisfaction, regret, confusion. The vocabulary isn't as intricate as say, Navigator, but the themes run just as deep. It's the best album to start off your love affair with Akvarium. That's how mine started. In a Moscow kitchen, dictionary in hand, over tea and cigarettes. With a cherished friend. If you already own Blue Album, you know what I mean when I say all of this. Maybe it wasn't Moscow, or a kitchen, or cigarettes, or tea. But you know what I mean. If you don't own Blue Album, drop everything you're doing and RUN!-don't-walk until you reach a retail establishment that sells this treasure. If you're listening to me, perhaps it's not in vain....
Musically Blue Album is one of Akvarium's sparest: little more than guitar, bongos, harmonica, with an understated cello on some tracks, a flute or piano on others. Grebenschikov's early Dylan infatuation looms very large, especially on the Highway 61 Revisted-ish "Railroad Water" and "On Another Night"; but for all of that the album still mangages to cover a surprising amount of musical territory: from the gentle, lullabye-like "Guest" to the haunting, droning "Plain'" to the acoustic-boogie of "River" to the goofy pseudo-gamelon of "Rutman." And if you do know or study Russian, the lyrics on "Electric Dog" are nothing short of genius—unsurpassed and probably unsurpassable. Admittedly Akvarium's greatest albums were still to come (Acoustics, Russian Album, Tabu and Navigator are among my favorites in their enormous ouevre) but Elizaveta and Dzhrew are right: Blue Album, rough edges and all, is still thoroughly essential.
Track 4 by Romanov. Album recorded in Tropillo's studio. The Red-Headed devil (Dmitri Gusyev) plays harmonica on "Railroad Water" (rather than Boris) because in 1981 Boris couldn't play harmonica and sing at the same time. He first demonstrated that skill after the Radio Silence sessions, and said in an interview at the time that, "The Americans taught me how to talk out of both sides of my mouth—I just applied it to harmonica." The previous quotation was made up. This album also contains my candidate for the whiniest Akvarium song: "Всё, что я хочу" ("Everything I want"). It's just Boris being a baby about a bad relationship. I love the album, but I've been known to fast-forward through that song.
In the summer of 1980, a fairly distant friend named Andrei Tropillo came out of nowhere and said, "I'll help you." The first sign of this help was a homemade mixing board in a clumsy wooden box that he brought to Seva's [Gakkel's] apartment. This beginning was very promising—the board looked like a guerrilas's detonation device. Late autumn, Tropillo—having hypnotically convinced the old woman doorlady that we were Pioneers—led us into the Young Tekhnik Building [a place for budding young engineers] on Okhota, where he served as leader of the recording-studio club. Fanfares were played, a choir of illegal angels sang—and The New Epoch began. Having reached a studio, we tried to record "Marina" and "-30," but clearly the time for heavy electric Akvarium had passed. Our drummer from the Tblisi period, Zhenya Guberman, and the mystical avant-gardeist Sasha Aleksandrov (Phagot), somehow disappeared into thin air. Akvarium remained in it's original quartet form (Dyusha, Feinstein, Gakkel and me). We spat on "professionalism," sat down in the studio and set off to record what made us happiest—what was new and unknown. "Railroad Water" was written on the "Leningrad-Solnechnoye" train (in Solnechny we were able to rent a room with a stove for the whole winter—there was no place to live in the city).
During the migration back to Leningrad, the Red-headed Devil [Gusev] blew a harmonica and maintained a needed level of anarchy. Self-sacrificing Tropillo worked ten, (and when necessary, thirty) hours each day. Dyusha—I never expected this—played the role of an electric guitarist, recording the solo in "Doggie" and his own "Strange Objects" (the song which turned the album from a collection of songs into an independent living being). Mikhail seized on percussion and made it his thing (I think this was precisely the moment when he discovered that if you pour a mix of certain kinds of grain into an empty beer can and seal it with plaster, you get a shaker that doesn't sound bad and looks absolutely store-bought). Seva, though he was sick for most of the recording, was able to bring in a fair element of the psychadelic to "Plane." While he played, we fought for the right to turn the knobs on the only effect that was present in the studio (which will go on to play a sizeable role in our recordings and in Kino's first albums). Speaking for me, this was Russia's first organized underground album: the songs were recorded in a studio, placed in the necessary order; it had a photo album cover glued to the boxes by hand (with "Moment" [the pervasive Soviet/Russian "model airplane" glue]) and blue paper glued all over. From a group of weirdos with sufficiently idealistic tendencies, Akvarium became a reality—and that means a true myth.