This page collects my reviews of the albums Jimi Hendrix put out during his lifetime. There are numerous albums released under his name since, a couple of which I’ve also reviewed, but I restricting this list to the official ones in his lifetime and the most serious attempt to produce what should have been his final album.
Jimi Hendrix Experience Albums released in 1967:
Are You Experienced? (10/10)
I have had this album on CD for nearly 20 years. It’s hard to attempt to judge the 40 minute British LP when you’ve been listening to an hour long set full of the singles and bonus tracks for nearly two decades. But I’ll try anyway.
This record changed electric guitar playing (if not guitar playing in general) forever. Given that the electric guitar was the principal instrument for pop rock for its entire existence in the 20th century, that’s a big deal.
Why did it change guitar playing? It’s a combination of two things: on the one hand, Hendrix took the primitive experiments into changing the sound of the electric guitar that people like The Beatles, The Stones and The Who had had undertaken, and he took them to another planet: distortion on this record sounds like actual distortion and feedback is not just present but turned into a musical voice at times. Experiments with electric guitar effects before Hendrix sound like they are from a different time. With Hendrix they become modern and standardized.
The other thing is that Hendrix brought in this hybrid rhythm-lead playing (where he would play rhythm but hit notes that implied a melodic lead, or he would play a melodic lead but hit chords that implied a rhythm) that set new standards in rock guitar playing. Where he got it from, I don’t know, but nobody in the rock world had ever played this way before. With his use of minimal overdubs (for his solos, usually) he created the concept of a “guitar orchestra,” even though he was only using a couple parts to create this massive sound. That drastically changed hard rock.
All of this would be interesting if Hendrix hadn’t written such good songs. Though not the world’s greatest songwriter, Hendrix has to be counted among the best songwriters to also be guitar virtuosos. Usually those two skills do not go together. Though you might seek out this album for the pyrotechnics, you come back to it for the songs.
Also, Mitch Mitchell was probably the best rock drummer of the ’60s outside of Baker and Moon. Listen to “Fire” in particular, but it’s all good.
Axis: Bold as Love (10/10)
You wouldn’t know it from the album opener, a fake radio interview which Jimi uses to show you just how loud and weird guitar feedback can be, but this is Hendrix’s best set of songs in his brief career. It’s a quantum leap forward in terms of songwriting from his debut – released within the past year – and the bloat of Electric Ladyland, which leans to hard into the jams. (Yes, there are jams here, but the one is very short.)
Hendrix combines his improved lyrics and sense of melody with his usual audacious (for the time) arrangements and his phenomenal, path-breaking guitar playing. In terms of songs, it contains a couple of my favourites as well.
It should have been hard for him to top his debut, one of the most significant debut albums in the history of rock music, but he does in just about every way.
1968: Electric Ladyland (9/10)
The rockist orthodoxy says that Hendrix released three studio albums with the Experience and all three are utterly essential for any music fan. I used to agree with that and rated this record just as highly as his debut – one of the most important records in the history of electric guitar playing – and Axis – his best album. But, over the years, I’ve come to see the warts as perhaps a little less beguiling than I used to.
Much like Axis, this one opens with a throwaway experiment which likely sounded really brave and cool then but which has dated really poorly. Unlike Axis there’s a little bit more where that came from. In addition, there are some tracks that just go on for way too long. Yes, Hendrix is an underrated lead soloist, and very little of his studio output shows off his soloing like this record does but I’d rather listen to Band of Gypsies if that’s what I’m trying to hear.
Make no mistake, this is still a pretty great record. It’s got a bunch of classics and most of the songs are at least very good, but it could probably be trimmed of 10 minutes or more (including the obligatory Redding track in addition to the filler) and that’s not something I can say about the first two records.
1970: Band of Gypsys (10/10)
With the exception of Ladyland, Hendrix doesn’t really stretch out much on his Experience albums. The amount of restraint he often shows is actually surprising, given his reputation and his notorious stage antics.
In fact, usually the most notable thing about his studio playing is his rhythm work. Hendrix was the greatest rock rhythm guitarist of all time. Before him, nobody played rhythm like he did. And his solos and leads that accompany this rhythm are often more about trying new tricks that blowing anyone away with technique.
And Ladyland really doesn’t give you a sense of how great a soloist Hendrix actually was. For that, there’s this album. Hendrix is on fire. Virtually every track features awe-inspiring playing, much of it the lead or solo variety. Hendrix also debuts new material here, which is great. Even though it’s nice to hear live versions of familiar material, and how the artists reinterprets them, I always admire an artist who releases a live album with new stuff.
And he makes his bandmate’s material better too. I don’t have much to say about Miles’ songs, they’re nothing special. But it’s not the songs we care about with a live album; it’s the performances. And these performances are great. Hendrix takes Miles’ songs to places Miles never could have taken them. Maybe Mitchell was the better drummer. He probably was. But he wasn’t the performer Miles was. He is in top form here. And him and Hendrix constantly singing or vocalizing throughout actually makes the band sound larger than it is. Yes, Miles has nothing on a jazz singer, but he is a better vocalizer than most rock vocalists. At least he is here.
And I doubt I have to mention that Cox is far and away a better bassist than Redding. No comparison.
I’m not saying this is Live at Leeds, but this is definitely one of the great live albums of its era. Really great stuff. An absolute classic.
1997: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (9/10)
This record contains songs Hendrix recorded in 1970 that were later released on various posthumous albums, often with overdubs. This collection is the closest to a “final Hendrix studio album” as exists.
We will never here what this should have sounded like, but I’m confident that this is a fair approximation. And it’s fantastic.