Named for a Sonny Boy Williamson song, London’s underrated Nine Below Zero started out as a cautious but promising R&B cover band but progressed to playing fresh, confident originals by the time of the band’s 1982 breakup. Releasing a live album as a debut is a mite unusual, but Live at the Marquee clearly captures NBZ’s early tightness and enthusiasm. The material — mostly such old tunes as the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” and Sam the Sham’s “Woolly Bully” — get powerful readings here. Don’t Point Your Finger, produced by old pro Glyn Johns, is a transitional album. Though the majority of songs are originals, most written by singer/guitarist Dennis Greaves, they sound authentically old.
Nine Below Zero updated its sound on Third Degree with wonderful results. Greaves successfully cross-cuts his beloved R&B roots with elements of traditional rock’n’roll, pop and even a touch of reggae (“Easy Street SE 17”), all infused with a healthy shot of punky energy (“Eleven Plus Eleven,” “Tearful Eye,” “True Love Is a Crime” and the terrific “Wipe Away Your Kiss”).
The second live album, released nearly a decade after it was recorded, is fast, hard and taut, with Mark Feltham’s harp playing providing a strong blast of Chicago blues in the band’s originals and solid covers of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working,” “Keep on Knocking,” “Homework” and “Just a Little Bit.” The set isn’t very different from the one on the first album, but this music is more than durable enough to withstand repeated use. Hot Music for a Cold Night is a posthumous compilation.
Escaping the constricted scope of Nine Below Zero’s skinny-tie revivalism, Greaves formed the Truth and proceeded to follow the Style Council’s lead in updating ’60s soul (Hammond organ, doo-wop backing vocals, shingaling rhythms) for an audience unlikely to know or care that much about the originals. After the introductory Five Live EP, Playground is a fine album of intelligent, tasteful originals played with real character and a minimum of selfconsciousness. Of special note: “Exception of Love,” “I’m in Tune” (an exciting raveup) and the title track, a straight rocker.
Weapons of Love finds Greaves suffering from burgeoning Robert Palmer delusions and transparent commercial aspirations. The bombastic album veers wildly from one dodgy style (INXS, U2, etc.) to another, with nary a glimmer of originality or dignity. This is the Truth, eh?
If you can get past the spot-on Bryan Adams imitation and the cliché-addled lyrics, Jump isn’t that bad an exemplar of easy listening commercial rock. Though the bombastic version of Argent’s “God Gave Rock & Roll to You” (wasn’t ’70s radio great?) is a must to avoid, most of Greaves’ originals would sound fine coming out of a car radio.