I remember, about 20 years ago, Q Magazine did an article called “What if they’d lived?” – it was basically a fan fiction bio of John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious and Jimi Hendrix and how they’d spent the last thirty-odd years. It was great – Buddy Holly headed up A&M Records, The Beatles stormed Live Aid, Sid was a game show host and Jimi, dressed in a purple suit with a long white goatee, was working on a trio of experimental funk albums with Prince.
It’s when you listen to Axis: Bold as Love that you can kind of believe that last part. Rolling Stone called Hendrix the Charles Mingus of rock, and with the sense of experimentation you get on here, not least the moments of pushing the barriers of blues and proto-funk, you could quite well imagine on an older Hendrix jamming with his purpleness at Paisley Park.
Still, this is an album that, to be frank, doesn’t stand up against its (very) immediate predecessor, “Are you Experienced?“. It’s uneven, has few standout moments of greatness, and while it does show Hendrix was improving fast as a songwriter, even Chris Chandler’s impeccable production quality can’t really settle this one comfortably among the greats.
It does have some high points though. Intro track ‘EXP’ is wonderfully playful, “Little Wing” is a simply gorgeous, simple and beautiful song with exquisite guitar, and “If 6 was 9” is really spectacular to listen to, a thrash metal grind played by the master, years before such a thing existed.
(By the way, if you ever want a treat, check out the cover of that one by Tori Amos – she rang her piano keys through a Marshall amp to mimic guitar distortion and it sounds damn fine.)
The rest of the album holds out solidly (“Spanish Castle Magic” has some fine guitar moments) but unremarkably, and it’s only at the end with the title track that Jimi really does his guitar legend thing. And even that track is softer and more vulnerable than we’re used to from the man.
This isn’t a bad album – the production is superb, the songwriting is imaginative, but there’s a distinct lack of moments where you find yourself having to excuse anybody while they kiss any skies. Still, there were great things yet to come…