Recording Date: Nov 18, 1969
One of England's prime jazz-rock - or, more accurately, rock-jazz - outfits, most of the members of Colossuem had apprenticed in blues bands, and it shows very strongly on some of the material here. Both "The Kettle" and "Butty's Blues" are essentially tarted-up 12-bar blues, although they work well in a grander context; in the latter case much grander, as a brass ensemble enters for the last part, drowning out everything but the guitar, an indication that this recording is in dire need of remastering. "Elegy" is a fast-paced, minor-key blues that stretches guitarist James Litherland's vocal abilities. Things do get far more interesting with "The Machine Demands a Sacrifice," which offers solo opportunities to organist Dave Greenslade and sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith before re-emerging in what can only be called a proto-industrial style, all heavily treated clattering percussion. The album's real joy comes with "The Valentyne Suite," which takes the band out of their bluesy comfort zone into something closer to prog rock. Bandleader Jon Hiseman is a stalwart throughout, his busy drumming and fills owing far more to jazz than the studied backbeat of rock. Greenslade proves to be a largely unsung hero, his only real solo in the suite something to offer a challenge to vintage Keith Emerson, but with swing. As to criticism, bassist Tony Reeves has very little flow to his playing, which severely hampers a rhythm section that needs to be loose-limbed, and Litherland's guitar playing is formulaic, which can be fine for rock, but once outside the most straightforward parameters, he seems lost. In retrospect this might not quite the classic it seemed at the time, but it remains listenable, and for much of the time, extremely enjoyable.
All Music Guide
There has been understandable confusion for decades about the overlap and the differences between Colosseum's second U.K. album and their second U.S. album. Their second U.K. LP was titled Valentyne Suite; their second U.S. album, however, was not only given a different title, The Grass Is Greener, but featured a substantially different track listing, with only four of the eight tracks overlapping with Valentyne Suite (although the version of "The Grass Is Greener" on the U.S. release has a guitar overdub by Clem Clemson, the original part by James Litherland getting lost in the process). The variance can partially be traced back to the U.S. version of Colosseum's debut Those Who Are About to Die Salute You, which included three tracks yet to be issued in the U.K., including the first two (but not the third) of the sections comprising "The Valentyne Suite." It's enough of a mess to instigate a booming headache among those trying to assemble Colosseum's complete early output. This deluxe expanded edition of Valentyne Suite, thankfully, completely sorts out this hassle in the CD era. With the sort of logic too uncommon in the record industry, it places the whole of the U.K. Valentyne Suite album on disc one, and the whole of the U.S. The Grass Is Greener album on disc two, as well as adding a couple of tracks recorded for BBC radio in November 1969. That does mean that four of the tracks are heard twice, and that only the third part of "The Valentyne Suite" ("The Grass Is Greener") is heard on The Grass Is Greener, since the first two parts had already been issued in the U.S. as part of the altered version of Those Who Are About to Die Salute You. But the redundancy is forgivable, considering that this CD finally allows the listener to hear all of the band's studio material from this era in one place, with lengthy liner notes that explain the discographical tangle as well as possible. Not to be overlooked, of course, is the music, which on both albums finds the band expanding their rock-blues- jazz format in interesting directions that encompass more improvisation and a richer range of melodic colors - though the songs could have used some editing here and there. Especially satisfying is the deft insertion of some classical influences from time to time, particularly in parts of the 17-minute "The Valentyne Suite." "The Kettle" is as close as the band gets to catchy blues-rock-pop, and the jazzier "Elegy" (in which the vocals almost sound like a foreshadowing of Sting) is also one of their best songs. Both "The Kettle" and "Elegy" are placed on both Valentyne Suite and The Grass Is Greener, but the songs unique to The Grass Is Greener (all recorded, unlike the rest of the studio material here, with new guitarist Clem Clemson replacing James Litherland) aren't filler. Of these, "Jumping Off the Sun" in particular got Colosseum more in the swing of hard-charging psychedelic-pop-influenced rock than anything else they did, while "Rope Ladder to the Moon" is a cover of a quality song from Jack Bruce's debut solo album, and Ravel's "Bolero" gives them a chance to plunge further into classical material. Finally, disc one adds the two aforementioned November 1969 BBC tracks, including a version of "Lost Angeles" (from The Grass Is Greener) and the fusion instrumental "Arthur's Mustache," which didn't find a place on either of the two albums.