Electric Ladyland is one of the most overrated albums in rock music history, and it certainly proves how much industry clout the artist had accumulated at the time, as its sessions were noted for their roughshod production history (whereas setbacks ensued due to legions of distractions and endless, imperfect retakes.) The entire project smacks of self-idolatry, as the artist attempts to assume an unnecessary 'everyman' role in pop music that few could ever slide into comfortably.
Hendrix came to prominence due to performances of a visually destructive nature and a 'wild man' public image. Live, fans mostly expected sexualized Dionysian rituals - not unlike what, later, became of the Doors. Parallels exist between Hendrix and Doors' frontman Jim Morrison in their increasingly erratic personalities, unrestrained addictions to drugs, and, at the end of both men's lives, attempts to shed 'rock God' credibility with, in the case of Morrison, poetry, and, regarding Hendrix, baseless black militancy. With Hendrix's best days barely ever having surfaced, the artist constructed a recording studio and insulated himself from the real world in an attempt at excising his demons that, ultimately, led to death - just as Jim Morrison's death came about through a fruitless Parisian excursion.
Electric Ladyland, for all of its delusions of grandeur, proves that even people lauded as 'geniuses' by critics, fans, and the media are not infallible. Many tracks meander far too long before petering out into the ether, and examples exist in the elongated, motionless blues hubris of 'Voodoo Child' and the shorter, yet somehow even more faceless 'Come On,' sung by Hendrix in a faux-accent not unlike Robert Johnson's forced attempts at sounding 'authentic' in the face of having nicked his perceived originality from others.
Hendrix's penchant for covering tunes in a style befitting a Top 40 bar band continues with 'All Along the Watchtower,' which has become a radio classic due to it being the best production on the album. In context, though, the impact is diluted by being placed near the end of an platter where listeners must sift through the senselessness of 'Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland,' the sonic drudgery of 'Houses Burning Down,' the nearly unlistenable 'Long, Hot Summer Night,' and the contentless pop concessions 'Little Miss Strange' and 'Crosstown Traffic' - the latter of which passes by nearly unnoticed. 'Traffic' does display promise, as, once again, the production helps the melody and songwriting deficiencies. Afterwards, though, such a diversion is followed by the 'in need of a thesaurus' shamanism of 'Gypsy Eyes' and 'Burning of the Midnight Lamp.' The lifelessness is clearly displayed in 'Lamp''s promotional film, where the band simply mimes while standing still, like paisley draped marionettes utilizing the most popular sonic gimmicks of the era as uninventive enhancements.
Other tracks fade into mushy suites, and while such 'innovation' has gained idolatry by millions, as a song collection, Ladyland is nowhere close to being representative of anything nearing the apex of any style of music. It is too directionless to be heard in a single sitting, hence the fact that most of the recording's best bits are justifiably featured on better, more focused compilations. The artist was clearly at the very end of his rope on the album, and while Jimi may have been perceived by his fans as a 'slave' to management, his ultimate fate was being a 'slave' to his own lifestyle and self-perceived importance, as he struggled to find an identity throughout most of his brief career and any possible identity created by Ladyland was exposed as a fraud on Band of Gypsys, where the musician gleefully created music outside of his comfort zone due to the pressures of black militant groups.
Regardless of the era in which such a move was undertaken, him turning his back on Ladyland - an album that was, supposedly, his Mein Kampf - shows that Hendrix's main motivation was money, not art or music. Gypsys could have been Hendrix's great attempt to improve upon Ladyland on stage. The 'genius' never got around to it, instead deciding to, simply, engage in racial politics while befriending Jesse Jackson. Additionally, such an 'innovator' was known to consume thousands of hits of LSD before picking up a guitar to play anything at all due to addiction, not innocence. The weak Electric Ladyland, which de-emphasizes actual talent, attests to such dense, hardheaded misguidedness. Any wonder why most people claim this music is more profound when consumed while under the influence of drugs?
Marcus Singletary is a rocker from the American Heartland with a strong point of view. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/IAmSingletary, and buy an album from Amazon.