[Album Review] Max Webster | High Class in Borrowed Shoes

I can see why many prog fans have fallen for High Class in Borrowed Shoes. This one has the genre taking up a good chunk of the album:

  1. High Class in Borrowed Shoes – hard rock
  2. Diamonds Diamonds – pop
  3. Gravity – prog
  4. Words to Words – ballad
  5. America’s Veins – prog/hard rock hybrid
  6. Oh, War! – prog
  7. On the Road – pop/ballad
  8. Rain Child – prog
  9. In Context of the Moon – prog

The album plays more like a straight rock record as it clocks in at just under 38 minutes and only one song surpasses 5. None of the tracks bleed into each other or are lyrically connected, but they are structured to tie a few pieces together. Regardless of the genre, these are some exceptional tunes.

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The opening track, High Class in Borrowed Shoes, is a straight-up rocker. Just as on the debut album, the band’s driving force and lead guitarist, Kim Mitchell, has a way of ripping out a simple riff and enhancing it with a ton of colour. I have to remind myself how he was doing this a year before Eddie Van Halen stormed onto the scene. Kim was not as flashy as Eddie was, but he was certainly ahead of his time making it easy to see how he flawlessly transitioned into the ’80s when the music caught up to him.

Diamonds Diamonds is a shameless synth-driven effort toward an FM radio hit and it lands perfectly. I’ve heard this song so many times one the radio but this is the first time I noticed how it has only the one repeated verse.

She comes across like diamonds diamonds
Easy in love when the lights are low
She comes into focus focus
The closer she gets the more I know
She takes more whiskey than I wine
I whine…
(never want to be lost without you)

The way the octave keeps moving up a notch and some overlapping lyrics gave me Row Row Row Your Boat vibe, but it works!

Gravity is the best pure prog song on the album. In the middle of the song, there is an added sound effect of a coin (Or is it a beer cap?) hitting a solid floor or table. The first time I heard it I was driving with the windows down and thought something fell off my Honda Fit. Heart attack city!

I’m not an ideal judge for a song like Words to Words as I’m not normally a fan of ballads. I find it to be a competent song. Not one I’d skip while listening to the vinyl, but I might while driving around.

Now, America’s Viens is more my speed. It earns my choice for the album’s sleeper hit. Terry Watkinson’s keys on this song sound a lot like what is on FM’s Black Science which came out the following year. I can’t help but think Cameron Hawkins might have taken some inspiration for his tone here. But it might be just a happy accident. Love the little drum break Gary McCracken lays down towards the end too. Overall, it is some outstanding hard-rockin’ prog. Crank this one.

Oh, War feels like a cross between RUSH’s YYZ and Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way. Just cover your ears during those nasty curse words. Language! On the Road, the only non-prog track on side 2, is acoustic-driven like something from America. I wonder if Terry and Kim tried any harmonies here because the song seems to scream out for a little thicker vocal arrangement. Mutt Lange would have had a field day with this band. Definitely more my kind of ballad. Maybe I am a good judge of them, lol

Rain Child is the first of three songs Terry Watkinson would sing lead for Max Webster. It is a decent tune with some slightly distorted John Entwistle-inspired bass work from Mike Tilka. For the finale, the album wraps up with In Context of the Moon. So much going on with this one. I can hear Joe Cocker, Mountain, and Santana just to name a few. The way they were able to tie all of these different styles together while adding in their own ingredients is a sign of a great band.

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I remember a few years ago when I watched Pete Pardo on his Sea of Tranquility YouTube channel announce High Class in Borrowed Shoes as his favourite Max Webster album. I thought it was an odd choice. Outside of the album’s first two songs, nothing else from it stuck with me during past listens. I have done a complete 180 now. Although I do still feel there isn’t a song on here as strong as Toronto Tontos or Hangover, this is a better consistent listen overall. If you do nothing else in the near future, give America’s Viens, Gravity, and On The Road a spin. All are underappreciated songs that I think most will dig.

5/5

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11 thoughts on “[Album Review] Max Webster | High Class in Borrowed Shoes

  1. The debut is my favorite I think. But aside from Mutiny Up My Sleeve and Universal Juveniles, they are 5/5 for me! I found this one instantly accessible when I first got it for my birthday…Christ…25 years ago!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I probably would have found the same if I got it as a Birthday present. Instead, it was just the 2nd album in the boxset I bought. This was the first time I gave it a serious listen. Not to spoil the rest of the series, but it seems like we are pretty much on the same page!

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      1. Cool! I’m intrigued. My buddy T Rev grew up around the Max guys … he has a baby photo sitting on Gary McCracken knee. He got me into this band. Took two tries. The first album was like a muddy haze to me when I first tried.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I got the box set on CD too. I think I grabbed it on sale for around $40. But then ended up finding all of the vinyl for around $5 ea. So, they’re all doubled up now, lol

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