If you've paid any attention to this website at all, you'll know how much weight Wally Tax carries around here...as my spoken word piece ("Springtime In Amsterdam") indicates on the "Featured Essays" page. I wrote it as a latecomer to the cause, several years after his untimely death. If that's not evidence of his appeal, what is?
The reputed last words of Wyatt Earp ("Suppose, suppose") makes a fair tagline for this new double-disc roundup of Wally Tax's solo material -- in this case, 40 tracks that span his tenure with Ariola Records (1973-77). Like so many '60s Nederbeat exponents, the 25-year-old ex-Outsiders frontman seemed little more than an appealing refugee from another era.
In roughly half a dozen years, Wally had gone from constant presence on Dutch newspapers, magazines and TV shows to incredibly shrinking cult artist. Nothing suggested he was due for a second bite of the apple, since neither of his post-Outsiders projects (Bamboule, Taxfree) had kicked up any notable dust (buzz-wise or sales-wise).
Everything changed when Wally teamed up with producer Martin Duiser and arranger Hans Hollestalle -- whose deft touches gave him four Dutch Top 30 hits alone between March and November 1974. Of course, the best-known one is "Miss Wonderful," which settled in for a six-week run at #11 -- undoubtedly boosted by its punchy Spector-ish production tricks (clattering tambourine, massed choral backing vocals, acoustic guitars bubbling deep in the mix...you get the idea).
Even so, there's plenty more to the story, as one listen to the contents makes plain. In some ways, you should call this collection THE MANY MOODS OF WALLY TAX -- whose voice pefectly suited his tales of romantic tragedy ("It Ain't No Use"), resigned fatalism ("Lots Of Luck") or rebel without portfolio... a stance that he milks to perfection on the title track, whose swooning strings and twanging guitars sound like the ultimate spaghetti western of the mind.
Like many of his acknowledged influences -- Jacques Brel, Tim Hardin, Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra -- Wally's voice functioned as an instrument in its own right, giving his production team plenty of space to build their own landscapes around it, as well as his insistent acoustic rhythm guitar. Those labors comprise much of disc two, whose mix of unreleased demos and smart originals like "We're Going Out Tonight," and "Write Me An Answer To My Song," offers the perfect counterpoint to the reissued material.
The results placed Wally in slicker, poppier terrain than old fans were used to hearing, but they hardly feel contrived. The world had moved on, and -- like any artist of his caliber -- Wally had managed to shift with the tide. If anything, his second album (TAX TONIGHT, 1975) proved a far more audacious, all-over-the-map affair than his self-titled debut had offered only a year earlier.
You name it, Wally could sing it, from the thumping bolero of "It's Too late," to the romantic balladry of "It's Raining In My Heart" -- which he himself labeled "the greatest song I ever wrote," and gave Lee Towers a major hit of his own -- the glacial pop majesty of "No Love At All," and the swirling Euro-disco of "This Girl Is Mine."
Such unrestrained creativity should have ensured a long chart run, if not a stab at international success. However, aside from "Bridges Are Burning," and the subdued folk-pop melancholy of "Let's Dance" -- which reached #26 and #31 in 1974 and 1977, respectively -- nothing else would click. So what happened, exactly? UGLY THINGS mainman Mike Stax floats many different theories in his prescient booklet notes.
As always, the simplest explanation is probably the best one. Although Wally would reach notable artistic peaks with his final LPs (SPRINGTIME IN AMSTERDAM, THE ENTERTAINER)-- and write memorable songs with Duiser for his cunning Abba-styled band, Champagne -- he never again enjoyed the same degree of consistent support.
Maybe it's easier to focus when you don't have to sweat so many of the details yourself (as Wally would do in his twilight years -- such as the Youtube clip that I stumbled on, several years ago, of him hashing out the arrangement intricacies of "Springtime In Amsterdam" with his latest crop of musicians).
Still, we have the music, which sounds contemporary and self-assured, some 40-odd years after its creation -- no small achievement, surely, for the man who often dubbed himself as "the Vincent van Gogh of rock." What would he make of this collection, and the continuing groundswell of interest in his legacy?
Perhaps we should revisit those two words again, and let our ears and imaginations run riot: "Suppose, suppose."
Highlights: Musically, too many to count, though the B-sides ("Lots Of Luck," "She's As Lovely As A Breeze," "Take Me For What I Am") were as good as the A-sides.
Beautiful packaging, as well, with many colorful shots of the singles, albums and promo pics of the man himself!
Lowlights: None, dammit!
12/21/21: This is the place for books, CDs, DVDs or LPs by other artists that fall within this site's mission, and subject matter. (Anything that pertains to me will be posted in the "Press" section.) Hit the "Archive" button to see the full listing of reviews.