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Classic Album Review: Jaguar – – ‘Power Games’

Classic Album Review: Jaguar – – ‘Power Games’
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Jaguar – ‘Power Games’ (DISS063CDD)

Originally released on Neat Records, NEAT 1007, May 1983

Having recorded a single apiece for Heavy Metal Records (‘Back Street Woman’ b/w ‘Chasing The Dragon’)in 1981 and then Neat (‘Axe Crazy’ b/w ‘War Machine’) the following year, Jaguar were approached by Neat Records’ head honcho David Wood to record their debut album for the Tyne & Wear-based label. The result was ‘Power Games’, a heavy, exciting and far from run-of-the-mill album which appeared in May 1983 and which these days is rightly recognised as a hugely important and influential release. 

It probably didn’t seem that way to the band at the time though. Having driven up from Bristol to Neat’s Impulse Studios, and staying in one room in a B&B in Wallsend, Paul Merrell (vocals), Garry Pepperd (guitar), Jeff Cox (bass) and Chris Lovell (drums) were horrified to find they were on a very tight deadline – just five days to complete the album. “I thought Dave Wood was joking,” recalls Pepperd, “but sadly not: he was serious. I nervously asked if we could have more time only to hear Dave utter the immortal line, ‘More time? What do you want to do? Go on a fishing holiday?’”

Snappy rejoinder that it was, it didn’t imbue the band with confidence, and even today from a musician’s point of view Pepperd isn’t the album’s biggest fan.  “We weren’t happy at all with the end result but people liked the album and you can’t argue with that. But I don’t think it should be re-mixed now for example either; it should stay as a snapshot in time,” he adds, which is just as well, really, because its importance cannot be overstated. Although a lot of people didn’t really get ‘Power Games’ when it came out, songs like opener ‘Dutch Connection’, ‘Prisoner’ and ‘Master Game’ personified what was happening musically as the new generation of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands and US acts were re-shaping metal and pushing speed to the fore. The review in Kerrang! pretty much summed up this misperception, with reviewer Malcolm Dome stating: “I’m not trying to knock this lot as a poor band. Far from it. ‘Power Games’ shows they’ve got considerable talent and promise. But it’s rather galling to see it all submerged in a welter of blur. Speed is NOT the ultimate goal of rock ’n’ roll,” he concluded, seemingly missing the point of what was happening in metal’s underbelly in mid-1983.

What the mainstream reviewers didn’t appreciate is that the likes of Jaguar and Raven were at the forefront of the sweeping changes that were re-defining heavy metal and would see the genre fracture into so many sub-genres – speed metal, thrash metal, death metal…  The early Eighties were an exciting time for metal, and albums like ‘Power Games’ are perfectly examples of why this was the case. Despite Pepperd’s concerns over how the album sounded it articulated the growing diversity of the metal scene – even if it was presented in a terrible sleeve!

“Oh my God, don’t mention the cover,” laughs Pepperd. “We supplied Neat with a great pencil drawing done by Jeff Cox of how we wanted the cover to look and the end result was how Neat interpreted it. Despite repeated requests Neat would not show us the artwork when it was being created for some reason and the first I saw of it was after it was released. I remember going into the Virgin Records store in Bristol and seeing it, and I was horrified!”

Unfortunately, much as metal was evolving so were Jaguar and their second album would see the band following a completely different path, under the watchful eyes of Dutch label Roadrunner. “We left Neat because we signed with a management company who had Roadrunner waiting in the wings to sign us if we left. We all decided that being with Roadrunner was a better option so we left; it was that simple.” Within weeks of signing to Roadrunner Jaguar were recording ‘This Time’ and in doing so abandoning their speed metal roots for a more mainstream rock approach. At the time, they followed their hearts, but such bravery was to condemn the band to oblivion for many years.

The Dissonance release of ‘Power Games’ also features as bonus tracks both sides of the ‘Axe Crazy’ 7” and ‘Dirty Tricks’, the other song recorded at that session which was later released on Neat’s ’60 Minutes Plus…’ cassette.

To buy or stream ‘Power Games’ click the image below: