Sound: Blue Oyster Cult's lead guitarist Donald 'Buck Dharma' Roeser steps away from the cover of the BOC umbrella and delivers his first solo album fresh on the heels of BOC's very successful Fire of Unknown Origin (1981) featuring the hit single Burnin' for You, penned by Roeser and long-time BOC lyricist-associate Richard Meltzer.
Going back to the mid 1970's, Roeser had started to accumulate a back-log of quality songs that simply were not BOC-compatible. Already known as the member of the band with the softer side, many of his contributions to BOC tended to be less abrasive and more melodically suited to pop rock (Last Days of May, I Love the Night, Deadline). Even when Roeser first demo'd Don't Fear the Reaper to the band, some band members thought Reaper was too soft for BOC. Rumor has it that either lead singer-guitarist Eric Bloom or drummer Albert Bouchard threatened to quit if Reaper was included on their next album (Agents of Fortune). [BOC insiders joke - I wonder if the same threats were made with Debbie Denise or Let Go? ]
Riding the wave of Burnin' For You's success, Roeser was able to secure a deal with Portrait (a subsidiary of the label BOC was on) and allowed to showcase his more personal musical side without the hard rock-light metal expectation associated with BOC.
01.Born to Rock: an interesting hybrid of hard rock-surf guitar shows Roeser in fine form both vocally and instrumentally. Harmony vocals over an up-tempo beat and a whammy bar beat into submission had the BOC faithful's hope climbing high thinking this would be a sign of things for the rest of the album.
02.That Summer Night: a solid mid-tempo rocker heavy on background harmonies; lyrically one could see how BOC never would've done this.
03.Cold Wind: a soft-pop excursion featuring layered clean guitars, '80's synthesizer zooms and whoops, and layers of harmony vocals.
04.Your Loving Heart: roeser gets to showcases his epic side that had been featured before on Golden Age of Leather (Spectres, 1977) and The Vigil (Mirrors, 1979). A multi-section, heavily layered 7+ minute slab of soft, progressive rock (it's possible), featuring a twisted story line certainly fit the bill for the BOC-lyric faithful. Sections of melodic, soaring guitar, hospital sounds, and backing vocals galore create a suitably memorable performance.
05.Five Thirty-Five: an uptempo pop-rocker with an uplifting vocal; Roeser creates an interesting atmosphere where he seems to combine the innocence of '50's rock in a contemporary setting.
06.Wind, Weather and Storm: a fantastic tune that best could be described as soft-jazz-campfire-sing-along-pop. Clocking in at a tidy 2:35, Roeser harmony vocals rule throughout as saxophone, a walking bassline featuring an upright bass, and a real thunderstorm create a chipper atmostphere resembling She's As Beautiful as a Foot from BOC's 1972 eponymous debut, minus the psychedelic haze.
07.All Tied Up: more soft pop in the vein of Cold Wind, albeit in a more ethereal vein.
08.Anwar's Theme: an indication of Roeser eventual foray into movie soundtracks (he eventually would score the campy horror flick Bad Channels, 1992, which also included 3 BOC songs). Showcasing Roeser on drums (his original instrument many years ago before a wrist injury channeled him towards guitar), Anwar's Theme is a biting instrumental, featuring some sparse but stellar, melodic guitar playing.
09.Come Softly To Me: a vocal showcase for Roeser and his wife Sandy, they perform the Fleetwood's 1959 hit a capella. An apt postscript for a love-pop album.
Sadly under-promoted, the album disappeared without notice, the lack of heavy material causing it to be ignored by all but the most ardent BOC faithful. Roeser did display adequate artistic integrity by sticking to his guns and making 'his' album rather than trying to come up with merely an emulation of BOC
It is interesting to note that Burnin' for You was penned by Roeser for use on Flat Out, but BOC and it's management clamored for it to be included on Fire of Unknown Origin. Fresh off of 2 major commercial flops (Mirrors, 1979, and Cultosaurus Erectus, 1980), the band was heavily in debt and desperately needed a hit to sustain the Oyster machine. One wonders what the post '80's fate would have been for BOC and for Roeser as a solo artist had Burnin' taken off the same way. // 8
Lyrics: As noted, the songs are much more of a personal nature compared to the BOC catalog as love and loneliness are predominant themes (That Summer Night, Cold Wind, Five Thirty-Five, All Tied Up, Come Softly To Me). Born to Rock is a less embarrassing Let Go (BOC's Revolution by Night, 1984) and Wind, Weather, and Storm is just plain punch-your-friend-in-the-shoulder fun.
Your Loving Heart is the lyrical masterpiece of the album. Cliff's Notes - man needs a heart transplant, he's dying, the love of his life is fatally wounded in a car crash; without his knowledge the transplant donor is - in a wonderful twist - the love of his life. Stephen King - who has a long association with the band via Don't Fear the Reaper in The Stand as well as his narrative introduction to Imaginos' Astronomy - would be proud.
Roeser's silken vocals, justifiably, dominate the album and do much to create the smooth, pop atmosphere; nowhere does he ever try and pull an Eric Bloom by sing-shouting-growling which, quite frankly, would not suit the material on Flat Out. The harmony vocals are stellar and demonstrate Roeser's fascination with 50's and 60's pop. // 8
Overall Impression: Out of print shortly after release and then only limited available via Sony/France thereafter, Flat Out has been back in circulation on Wounded Bird records since 2003 for a new generation of fans. While not the hard rock gem that the BOC faithful were hopeful for, Flat Out does contain some positive pop gems and, just to show that he still has a toe in the pond of the creepy, a showstopper of a tune with Your Loving Heart.
As mentioned, it does make one wonder what Roeser's solo career would have been like had Burnin' For You been on Flat Out. It appears he was certainly prepared for such as he has available a collection of 4 CD's off of his website detailing his voluminous adventures in home recording.
Many of these recordings then later went to BOC recordings both in the '80's all the way through 2001's Curse of the Hidden Mirror; many of course, never saw the light of day as they were too light for BOC and a second solo album has never re-appeared.
Flat Out captures a veteran performer comfortable in showcasing his own true musical preferences; Roeser's guitar skills, sense of melody, and romantic lyrical sensibilities make Flat Out an album well worth searching out. // 8