Oddly enough, the first time I heard of The Groundhogs was a minor ‘Forgotten Heroes’ piece on them in Melody Maker back in the late 90s as apparently a number of Brit Pop acts had been influenced by them. With both The Melody Maker and Brit Pop and both consigned to history since I first heard of The Groundhogs, it was with no small amount of intrigue that I picked up a copy of Split for a modest sum a while back. While I had heard a little about the band, I had not actually heard much by them, other than a truncated version of “Cherry Red”. I had a good idea about what I was parting with my hard-earned for though, as they had an enviable reputation for being a heavy progressive blues rock act of early 70s vintage, band leader Tony McPhee had a good name for himself as an under-celebrated yet capable and creative guitar slinger and they were generally appreciated by the type of bloke who liked their musicians hairy and their guitars loud (I wouldn’t like to speculate how big the female faction of their audience was by comparison, but it’s probably fair to say that the band never got anywhere on their looks).
Split is not an album for the feint hearted, opening as it does with a four part progressive rock epic which was apparently written by McPhee during a panic attack. Perhaps this should indicate that Split is not the best place for a newcomer to The Groundhogs to start, as it’s pretty dense and heavy going stuff, though those of us that are more prog-rock inclined will find much to admire, especially given the perceived limitations of the power-trio format. With an oddly dry and unfussy production (none of that synthetic nonsense on here thank you!), this album highlights how the band used the recording studio as a tool, with guitars panning from speaker to speaker and quite remarkable stereo separation when listened to on even a cheap pair of headphones. While I’ve heard better sounding albums, I’ve certainly not heard many better recorded albums from this era and the simple yet effective studio trickery is best heard throughout the concept-heavy first half of the album.
The second half of the album is a good example of much more conventional early 70s heavy blues rock, with “Cherry Red” being the Split’s most commercial moment, the rhythm section clattering away in fine form thoughout each of the four songs and McPhee’s guitar work being exemplary throughout. While it hasn’t aged particularly well, it’s fair to say that precious little rock music of this vintage has, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, though most of us could do without the coda of “Junkman”. If you’re an aficionado of late 60s / early 70s rock, with a love of Cream, Led Zeppelin and their ilk and don’t mind ploughing through some rather heavy concepts (man), then chances are you’ll find Split an enjoyable listen, if you’re just a little curious and fancy exploring off the beaten track of classic rock for a while, then again there’s much to admire here. If you were a fan of Brit Pop, avoid this, as The Melody Maker were talking absolute nonsense.