Sound — 5
On the heels of an incredibly successful live album (Some Enchanted Evening, 1978) and still having their highest-charting single (Don't Fear the Reaper, 1976) as a mainstay on AOR radio, Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) purposefully decided to forgo the strange and creepy. Tossing every Dizbuster and Cagey Cretin overboard, they also gave their Svengali Sandy Pearlman (producer and primary lyrical contributor up to 1976's Agents of Fortune) the heave-ho and linked up with industry ace producer Tom Werman. BOC was going to go for mainstream contemporary gold and have Donald 'Buck Dharma' Roeser, the composer and singer of Don't Fear the Reaper, step to the forefront with his smooth croon, tossing aside the general democratic nature of the albums up to then. 01.Dr. Music: not only is the title an indication of the band's direction, but the synth-drum burblings and Boney-Maronie-inspired guitar riff shows the band formerly known for sledge hammer riffs such as Cities on Flame flirting with disco-pop-rock. Mild S&M lyrical references do nothing to heavy the mood. 02.The Great Sun Jester: an Eric Bloom collaboration with science fiction write Michael Moorcock shows the band fiddling with Styx-like pomp balladry. Beautifully recorded acoustic guitar and snyth zooms give way to layered vocals and a straight-ahead pop beat. 03.In Thee: more acoustic guitar and Roeser's smooth lead shows the band veering towards country rock territory. A somewhat Biblical title and harmony vocals throughout (not to mention real strings), a yearning and lamenting vocal by Roeser (though the song was solely penned by guitarist-keyboardist Allen Lanier) did give the band the singles success it was shooting for. In Thee did peak at #74 on the singles charts, but never displayed the staying power of The Reaper (and later, Burnin' For You). 04.Mirrors: an uplifting, smooth riff and the band is once again on a pop-friendly course, complete with female backing vocals. 05.Moon Crazy: a very un-BOC like number that ends on an uptempo fadeout resembling Jewish ethnic music, honestly. Joe Bouchard penned, the song reflects his appreciation of Norman Mailer's A Fire on the Moon. 06.The Vigil: the song that saved BOC's reputation with their core audience. Epic in length, multi-sectional, and a hi-fi arrangement exceeded only by Spectres' I Love the Night, Donald Roeser teams up with wife Sandra and comes up with a sci-fi tale of mystery and doom matched with a riff that ranks with the heaviest in the BOC catalog. 07.I am the Storm: a Joe Bouchard up-tempo rocker with a riff that is uncomfortably close to a primary guitar line in Hot Rails to Hell (also penned by Joe). Unfortunately, the chorus lapses into a disco beat, the throaty vocals unable to compensate for the softness of the arrangement. 08.You're Not the One (I Was Looking For): one of the biggest disasters to ever be associated with BOC (along with Let Go, from 1984's Revolution by Night and, well, anything on 1986's Club Ninja). Tough to believe that this awful number was the only contribution on Mirrors from the band's - up-to-now - prolific composer and arranger, drummer Albert Bouchard. Albert stated later that he was extremely unhappy with Tom Werman as producer. He was especially discouraged that the loose, jazzy feel that had permeated previous BOC releases was completely eradicated by Werman's, strict, stopwatch approach. Albert had written You're Not... as a joke, completely ripping off the Cars' Just What I Needed in tempo, feel and chord progression; an unsettling, nasally vocal performance does not help one bit. When Albert later found out that the decision was made to put this on the album, he was - justifiably - mortified. 09.Lonely Teardrops: featuring a Zeppelin-esque harpsichord intro, the band falls into a quasi-disco beat with a minor-chord arrangement. Roeser sings this Lanier song with conviction and produces an absolutely gorgeous solo. Unfortunately, the song has no real peaks and valleys and sounds like a deep track on a Foreigner album.
Lyrics — 5
While the band had stepped away from the gothic, occultic, and crypto-weird lyrics that distinguished BOC in their so-called black and white era (the first 3 albums) with 1976's Agents of Fortune, Mirrors showed whole-scale surrender to Top 40 aspirations. While sci-fi madness shows through on The Great Sun Jester and The Vigil, outright love balladary on In Thee, Lonely Teardrops and You're Not the One dictate the band's direction. Mirrors is the most intriguing lyric, taking a harsh look at female vanity; Dr. Music and I am the Storm are far removed from the typical BOC canon, sounding uncomfortably like Quiet Riot rah-rah rock. Moon Crazy is an odd piece of work, part love song part, part autobiographical, the impact is lost due to a pedestrian performance. Eric Bloom acquits himself well on Dr. Music and The Great Sun Jester, alternating between a growl and a smooth delivery, but his contributions - both lyrically and compositionally - then disappear. An odd situation for a band's lead singer. Werman, in shooting for the charts, had Roeser take the bulk of the lead vocals. With the exception of I am the Storm (Joe Bouchard), You're Not the One (Albert Bouchard), and Moon Crazy (Joe Bouchard again), Roeser takes rest of the lead vocals, even on the Lanier compositions. The Bouchard's vocal performances are extremely pedestrian compared to their previous efforts, Joe's performance on I am the Storm hampered by a weak arrangement.
Overall Impression — 3
It's a mystery why a band would willingly step away from a successful formula and venture outside their comfort zone, which is what BOC did with Mirrors. Their reputation as volume-cracking arena-heavy rockers with an odd twist was firmly in place and yet they still decided to shoot for mainstream gold, something they had attained by being quirky and mysterious, but apparently they wanted more. Their core audience, understandably, was bewildered. The result was a sales disaster for BOC, and concert goers were stunned when Eric Bloom strapped on an acoustic guitar for In Thee. The break in momentum was something the band never fully recovered from. Sure, they hit gold a couple of years later with 1981's Fire of Unknown Origin (featuring Burnin' For You), but in order to get their credibility back they had to come up with 1980's Cultosaurus Erectus (which sold even worse than Mirrors) but was regarded as an artistic triumph with it's return to the weird and heavy. It was the stress from Fire... that lead to Albert's ousting from the band and the subsequent decline of BOC, they never would see the sales and numbers they had seen. Mirrors does show that BOC was a band of professional musicians and composers that were capable in pulling off such a drastic change in direction. While it proves their wide-ranging talent, by not emphasizing the traits and strengths that brought them the success they had attained at that point it ultimately was a failure from which the band never recovered. Mirrors is a lesson to musicians in general that one should stick with one's strengths and what comes naturally; a cold, calculated approach does not produce fine art.