Monday, October 8, 2012

MENDOZA – Mendoza (CBS, 1972)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

Poor Mendoza got away. Released a couple of years too late, when music and aesthetics were already beginning to change, ”Mendoza” never really got much of attention. Today, it's a largely forgotten album. The fact that one track was included in the ”Pregnant Rainbows for Colourblind Dreamers” box set hasn't done much for establishing a Mendoza buzz among fans and collectors. Perhaps its reputation of being a Latin flavoured, Santana inspired record stands in the way as well. Perhaps the name Mendoza inspired this reputation; Mendoza is a very common family name in Latin America. Perhaps the album cover simply put people off, being one of the ugliest to ever come out of a Swedish printing press.

Now, the Latin influence has been vastly overstated, so anyone allergic to Santana rhythms can stop worry. I really don't know who started that rumour, but it seems that those who have actually heard the album rather stick to hearsay rthan listen to how the music actually sounds. While it does have some Latin influences, most of the album is heavy pop rock with strong melodies, excellent playing and soulful (but never overwrought) vocals. There's flute, a bit of Lesley vocals, driving guitars, wah wahs and loud pounding bass. Had it been released in the US or in perhaps more fittingly in the UK in 1969, this would have been heralded as an undisputed classic. But, as things went, this came out in Sweden where Pugh had changed the language of rock lyrics to Swedish, Fläsket Brinner pointed out new directions with their debut album the previous year, and Mendoza were two years behind on Arbete & Fritids innovative blend of jazz, drone, folk and rock. Why would anyone care about an album so blatantly advocating the sounds of yesterday?

Forty years later, such things don't matter. Today it stands out as an excellent piece of work. Hadn't it been for the braindead cover of ”Jambalaya”, the only non original track, there wouldn't have been a single inferior track on this album. It might be that choosing ”Jambalaya” as the only 45 from ”Mendoza” killed the album completely. Very bad career move.

Opening cut ”Jojk” boils with energy and enthusiasm, adding a folk element to the lush and splendorous mix. ”Steamship” has a beautiful, catchy melody that wouldn't have been out of place on a late 60's UK pop album classic. ”Hello, Hello” has the band in a slight progressive blues mood. ”A Sinful Man” is guitar heavy prog-ish rock with vague hints at Spencer Davis chestnut ”Gimme Some Lovin'”. ”Pregnant Rainbows” selection ”The Grateful Salesman & Co” take fine use of the flute to lace an already wonderful melody. And on it goes, with one brilliant track after the other. Exclude ”Jambalaya” and you have an album that's a genuine pleasure to listen to all through.

Based miles away from the big cities of Sweden, in Linköping, Mendoza toured all the Nordic countries, Great Britain and the Netherlands, to no avail. The album sank without a trace. Whatever happened to the members is beyond my knowledge. Some of them had been in bands prior to Mendoza, such as Magazine Story which even had a single out, but as far as I know, none of them turned up on another album after Mendoza. It's a sad story for such a hugely talented band. This is a classic, it's just that no-one seems to know it yet. 

Please note that some of the Youtube clips below are marred by an annoying distortion on all tracks. They will still give you a notion of the album's excellence, and inspire you to seek out a better copy of it.