Jazz-rock, R&B, and a whole lot of LSD
If Are You Experienced was the explosive and dynamic Mount Olympus of debuts, then Jimi Hendrix’s sophomore effort was the more subdued, more reflective, Temple of Delphi follow up. Here you’ll find nothing akin to the psychedelic freak-out of “Purple Haze”, or the misogynist libido thrust of “Foxy Lady”. What you will discover however is a collection of finely crafted tunes where the lyrics are just as prominent and important as his guitar playing.
So what do we have? First up is unquestionably the strangest introduction to an LP I’ve ever heard. Jimi had been reading a lot of science fiction novels since his move to London, which goes a long way to explain “EXP”. Truth is it’s not even a song, more a collage of tape loops, feedback and other sound effects. I’ve always felt it was the weakest aspect of this, or any other Hendrix album. However you might feel differently. But no sooner have we been abducted by aliens, then we’re returned to Earth with “Up from the Skies”, a jazz/rock piece which sees Hendrix employ the wah-wah for the first time on record. Mitch Mitchell provides a solid base, and proves he was more than just your standard Neanderthal rock drummer.
Then we blast off again with “Spanish Castle Magic”, one of only a few songs from Axis he would continue to perform regularly. “Wait Until Tomorrow” is a nice little R&B number. One of the few songs which infuses a little humour in the lyrics.
“Ain’t No Telling” is a pleasant enough piece, yet one which reveals the pressure Hendrix was under to produce more product according to his record company contract, which stipulated that he release two albums within his first year of signing. A standard expectation in those days.
Next we have “Little Wing”, one of the finest love ballads Hendrix ever wrote, much less put to tape. The lyrics are imaginative, the guitar simply sparkles, and the whole song drifts like some blissful dream you wish would never end. It would be covered by Derek and the Dominoes a few years later, but the original is still the best.
“If 6 Was 9” found its way onto the soundtrack of the iconic counter-culture classic Easy Rider, and for good reason, the lyrics. Although not technically a hippie himself, Hendrix understood all too well what it felt like to be an outsider, and when he sings (or raps, depending on one’s interpretation) lines such as “Point on mister Businessman/You can’t dress like me”, and “They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die/But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high”, he was obviously speaking from experience. There’s some trippy flute in there, and also more of that jazzy drumming from Mitch, which we always love to hear.
“You Got Me Floating” opens with some backwards guitar, and really does induce a sense of floating in the listener (albeit for a few seconds). The main riff is quite inventive, but otherwise it’s a relatively straight forward rocker.
“Castles Made of Sand” begins with some lovely semi-oriental chords, before shifting into laid back R&B mode. The lyrics are undoubtedly autobiographical, or at least a good deal of them, and is another fine addition to the ever growing collection of Hendrix’s oeuvre at that time.
“She’s So Fine” is a Noel Redding tune, also sung by him, and sounds a little like The Who, where Mitch’s drumming shares a remarkable resemblance to Keith Moon.
“One Rainy Wish” points to some of the studio techniques he would employ and explore on his next album, Electric Ladyland.
“Little Miss Lover” begins with pounding drums, before Jimi weighs in with some heavy wah-wah. A sort of b-side to “Foxy Lady” I guess.
Manager/Producer Chas Chandler was always telling Hendrix to play less extended solos and concentrate more on constructing proper songs. But on “Bold as Love” Jimi plays like an eagle let loose from its cage. And boy does he fly. The opening chords to the song bare a strong resemblance to “Little Wing”, all soft and delicate, until we reach the point of solo, which is where things really take off. As a footnote this was the very first example of phasing having been re-produced in stereo. The technique had been around since the 1930’s, albeit in a more primitive form, but it was here that listeners were gifted with the experience for the first time, a sort of psychedelic version of technicolour for the ears.
Ultimately however one gets the feeling that some of the songs were a little rushed, and not really to Hendrix’s own satisfaction. But such were the times, and contracts had to be fulfilled. And while it contained no hit singles as such, the growing reputation of Hendrix alone guaranteed the album’s success. Thanks to his performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival, soon he would be touring America, and booking studio time to record what would prove to be his magnum opus the following year, Electric Ladyland. Overall, Axis: Bold As Love is, in contrast to its more menacing predecessor, an extremely sunny album, all light and vibrant colours. In other words, another superb, albeit flawed, masterpiece.