After years of trying to find the right musical vehicle to transport him on to the charts, by 1973 Alex Harvey had apparently found the backing band he had been searching his entire adult life for. Teaming up with rockers Tear Gas to form the appropriately named Sensational Alex Harvey Band, their debut album Framed was released in January that year, and realising that they were on to a good thing, ensured that they headed back into the studio as early as possible to keep the momentum going. The resulting album was Next, and it consolidated the band’s position with an appropriately theatrical flourish.
SAHB were a band that didn’t fit comfortably into any pigeon hole at any stage of their career. In Harvey they had a frontman with oceans of performance and life experience, and stage presentation was a particular strong point of the band, what with the five pieces contrasting stage costumes (While Harvey himself often dressed as a piratical street tough, The McKenna cousins Ted and Hugh on drums and keyboards respectively always looked like refugees from a sleazy lounge act, bass player Chris Glen was often full on Glam Rock, while guitar wrangler Zal Cleminson habitually wore clown make up) and an innate live power and combined stage presence that few acts of the era could match.
As an album, Next leaps around stylistically, with “Gang Bang” and “Giddy-Up-A-Ding-Dong” being SAHB’s twisted approximation of glam rock, both neatly bookending the immense “Faith Healer”, with its slow build yet incessant intro, religious preacher lyrical imagery, and Harvey’s own sinister vocal delivery. It’s a unique number in that it almost approximates progressive rock, but it is much, much groovier and more direct. Trust me, after all that, you’re ready for the silliness of “Giddy-Up-A-Ding-Dong”.
The second half of the album might start with a frivolous and relatively disposable number, but Next’s title track is one of the band’s signature numbers and one which again nods to Harvey’s time in musical theatre (he was a member of the pit band for Hair). “Vambo Marble Eye” is a hard rocker, albeit one with cryptic, almost cut up lyrics that introduces a character that SAHB would return to multiple times throughout their career.
Next closes with “The Last of the Teenage Idols” a multi-part epic that stands apart from the other multi-part epics at a time when multi-part epics were a significant part of the musical landscape. With Hugh McKenna’s sombre piano under Harvey’s slightly unhinged vocal delivery before the rest of the band crashes in, “The Last of the Teenage Idols” is a memorable tune, if not exactly a toe-tapper. It also ensures that “Faith Healer” doesn’t dominate the whole album. Swinging from moody slow burner to shameless rock and roll beast to doo wop, “The Last of the Teenage Idols” finds Alex Harvey effectively telling his hard-won story in a way that only SAHB could.
Sure, Next wasn’t quite as consistent as Framed, but it’s still delivers a hell of a lot of entertainment bang for your investment, and really, that’s what The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were all about.