The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold As Love

by Jeff Penczak Rating:6 Release Date:1967-12-01
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold As Love
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold As Love

Perhaps the most infamous “contractual obligation album” of all time, “Axis” was begun almost immediately after the Experience wrapped the sessions for Are You Experienced in April, 1967. (The band’s contract required two albums in 1967.) While their debut is both one of the greatest debuts AND greatest albums of all time, the sophomore effort pales in comparison. It’s not bad, per se, it just had too much to live up to, with few songs that one intentionally returns to for the sheer exhilaration and, pardon the pun, experience of “genius at work”. Opener ‘EXP’ is pure gimmicky nonsense, a fake interview on the titular radio station about flying saucers and UFOs with “a very peculiar-looking gentleman who goes by the name of Paul Caruso” (Hendrix). Panning and tape speed manipulation ensues as Hendrix wanks off super-distorted guitar histrionics that could possibly be intended to emulate the sound of a NASA rocket launch (this is just about a year before Jimi’s rockets red glare shenanigans at Woodstock).

The album’s lone single ‘Up From The Skies” follows, an unfortunate flop that deserved better, as it is one of Hendrix’ better forays into jazzy pop, with walking, talking guitar licks aplenty. The ‘Foxy Lady’ rewrite ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ is pure garage psychedelia, rough…ballsy…and brutal, with a superb solo at the fade. Despite some of Mitchell’s most powerful drumming, ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’ is weak filler with little girl backing vox from Mitchell and Redding, and ‘Ain’t No Telling’ feels like an audition for a longer track that never materialized.

Which brings us to the trio of tracks upon which the album’s reputation is built (and, frankly, the only three that most listeners will ever need to hear): ‘Little Wing’, perhaps Hendrix’s “prettiest” composition and performance, with genius vibes lifting the track heavenward to the accompaniment of the lyrical title, “fly on, little wing”; the legendary ‘If 6 Was 9’, immortalized both through its appearance on Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider soundtrack, as well as for the unforgettable statement of purpose “I’m gonna wave my freak flag high”. It also illustrates the time and care that Jimi took with his lyrics: philosophical poetry coupled with political banter about the “white collar conservative pointing his finger at me” while my freak flag “waves on”. The two-part suite (originally titled simply ‘Section A’ and ‘Section B’) still feels disjointed, particularly the part in ‘Section B’ where Jimi resorts to spoken word rumination, his mates Graham Nash and Walker Brothers drummer Gary Leeds stomp their feet on Mitchell’s drum platform, and Jimi takes a crack at playing the recorder that sounds like a cat got its tail stuck in a blender. Finally, ‘You Got Me Floatin’’ piledrives its way into your skull, with backing vocals from The Move’s Trevor Burton and Roy Wood that are a damn sight better than anything Mitchell and Redding have supplied.

The remainder of Side 2 is mostly forgettable, the victim of the old “sophomore jinx” and the rushed “contractual obligation” resulting in a dearth of memorable songs. Redding’s ‘She’s So Fine’ may be the result of either Hendrix’ largesse to let his band mate contribute to the album or simply a lack of his own quality songs, but it’s out of place and feels forced. Redding would go on to pen some mighty fine tunes for his Fat Mattress albums, but perhaps Hendrix was right about his offerings at this stage of his career – they just aren’t good enough.

 ‘One Rainy Wish’ is a fine counterpart of Side A’s ‘Little Wing’, as Hendrix take a respite from the sensual overload for a reflective love song that keeps the wankoff aspect in reserve. The album ends with the title track, which is more of “Jimi Hendrix Presents: Story Time, Boys & Girls”, a rambling, unintelligible lyric where even Jimi seems to lose the plot halfway through. Nice phased solo, though!

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars