If - "If" (Island 1970)
If were basically the British answer to Chicago, but remained sadly overlooked for their entire career. The flute and two saxophones of Dick Morrisey and Dave Quincy was a very important part of their sound, but guitarist Terry Smith, John Mealing's keyboards (mostly organ and el-piano) and not at least the characteristic vocals of J.W. Hodgkinson also contributed strongly to their sound. Their self-titled debut is one of their finest albums, and defines their style down to the smallest detail. The opener "I'm Reaching Out on All Sides" introduces Hodgkinson's vocals over some almost psychedelic guitar work from Smith, before the sax-riffs of Morrisey and Quincy takes centre stage. "What Did I Say About the Box, Jack?" shows the band in full instrumental bloom, featuring lengthy solos on flute and sax over steady and ever-changing riffs that the flute, saxes and organ either played simultaneously or alone. The compositional structures of "What Can a Friend Say?" and "Woman Can You See (What This Big Thing is All About?)" are very typical for If, with catchy vocal parts on the beginning and end, and complex instrumental passages in the middle. "The Promised Land" and "Raise the Level of Your Conscious Mind" are shorter and less complex tunes with some hit potential, and the latter one was actually released on single. "Dockland" is If from their most atmospheric and laid-back side, and the feel of it is not all that far from some songs on the British group Samurai's album from 1971.
If - "If 2" (Island 1970)
If's second album appeared only months after the debut, and confirmed further that the band had found their musical formula. There were no songs here that could be suitable as singles, with the possible exception of "Tarmac T. Pirate and the Lonesome Nymphomaniac". The rest of the material followed the typical If-style with catchy songs built around extended and complex instrumental excursions. The opener "Your City is Falling" has one of the best melodies on the album, and is followed by another winner in "Sad Sunday". It starts with a beautiful flute that introduces the main melody of the track before Hodgkinson's vocals takes over. Terry Smiths stretches out with a long solo that leads up to the obligatory flute/sax/organ riffs and solos. "I Couldn't Write and Tell You" has a fairly similar structure, but with a happier melody. The ballad "Echoes and Shadows" features fast, jazzy solos in the middle that very efficiently breaks up the laid-back mood of the song. "Song for Elsa, Three Days Before Her 25th Birthday" closes the album with yet another intense and complex dose of jazzy '70s rock. If were at their creative peak from 1970 to 1972, and "If 2" was the second proof of that.
If - "If 3" (United Artists 1971)
The third album followed in the same musical footsteps as the two previous ones, but still felt a bit more song-oriented. Sure, most of the tracks here features lengthy solos in the best If-tradition, but in a slightly more compact form that gave more room for the vocal melodies. However, this didn't apply to the opener "Fibonacci's Number", a lengthy instrumental that sums up everything that the band instrumentally stands for. It's hard to pick any particular highlights here, as the songwriting is even and strong through the whole album. "Forgotten Roads" features a fast and impressive solo from Terry Smith, while Morrisey's flute dominates the instrumental parts of the mellow "Sweet January". The album also featured If's second single in form of "Far Beyond", not surprisingly as it had a chorus that sticks to your ears and was the only song here that didn't include any lengthy soloing (sure, there's a guitar solo here, but it's short by If-standards). The whimsical "Seldom Seen Sam" reminds a bit of Audience around the time of "House on the Hill". The solid "Child of Storm" and the closer "Here Comes Mr. Time" are both on the other hand If at their most ultra typical. And it's impossible to not mention the impressive "Upstairs" that features loads of chord-changes, intense solos and some truly quirky vocal melodies. This is If at their most progressive. With this album, If had delivered the third winner in a row, and they had still enough creative powers left to release another one.
If - "If 4" (United Artists 1972)
Instead of releasing a regular live-album, If decided to record all the material for their fourth album live in front of an audience. This turned out to be a good idea, as "If 4" gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their strengths as a live band, while at the same allowing them to present brand new material. The 10-minute jam "Sector 17" that opens the album is undoubtedly one of Terry Smith's highlights with the band, as he delivers his longest and technically most impressive solo. Jim Richardson also makes a very noteworthy performance here, and has turned his bass considerably louder than what he did in the studio. "The Light Still Shines" is easily one of my personal favourite songs by If. The verse and chorus has irresistibly happy melodies that never become cheesy, and the instrumental part is of the usual high standard. With few solos and a catchy vocal-theme, "You in Your Small Corner" was probably an easy choice for If's third single. The pretty "Waterfall" is one of the very few If tunes to feature acoustic guitar, and Morrisey's flute-work rarely sounded more Tull-like than here. "Throw Myself to the Wind" is a decent, song-based track, but the oddly titled "Svenska Soma" that closes the album is far better. This is instrumental If at their very best. But despite another artistic success with "If 4", the band started to fall apart after its release and would never be the same again.
If - "Double Diamond" (Brain 1973)
The real and true If came to an end when all members except Dick Morrisey left after "If 4". Morrisey decided to start the band from scratch again, and gathered together a completely new line-up with himself as the only member on sax and flute. The jazz-influences were toned down a bit, and the new If appeared to be a rock band in search of a direction and identity on "Double Diamond" (the very first If album with an actual title). The new keyboardist Pete Arnesen used Moog in several places, and Morrisey's flute was also a bit more dominant in the sound. Among the better tracks on the album we find "Another Time Around" where the Moog and flute melts nicely together in the middle. "Fly, Fly, the Route, Shoot" is a quirky tune that manages to be bouncy and laid-back at the same time, dominated by a melody that sticks to your head already the first time you hear it. But other tracks seem to lack focus. The 13-minute "Feel Thing" starts like a generic rock and roll tune, but turns in the middle into something that slightly resembles Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" of all things. The last part is an instrumental that probably is the closest the album comes to the If of old. The opener "Play, Play, Play" and "Groupie Blue (Everyday She's Got the Blue)" are both generic and mediocre tracks. "Pebbles on the Beach" is more interesting, and features a very Tull-ish, medieval-like flute part in the middle. And "Pick Me Up (And Put Me Back on the Road Again)" is a decent rocker. But as a whole, "Double Diamond" is a poorly produced album that clearly revealed that this version of If didn't quite know what they wanted.
If - "Not Just Another Bunch of Pretty Faces" (Gull 1974)
After switching label for the fourth time in just as many years, If released their sixth album with "Not Just Another Bunch of Pretty Faces". The fact that the keyboardist, guitarist and bassist had been replaced once again revealed that If now was a loosely based project with Morrisey as the main member. The album was closer to the style of the original If than what "Double Diamond" had been, but the sound was slicker and more mainstream. Having said that, most of the material on the album is decent enough, with the exception of "Stormy Every Weekday Blues" which gets my vote as the most generic, useless and boring If-track I've ever heard. It's just a very basic blues tune with absolutely nothing that sounds like a riff, melody or theme. My favourite is probably "Chiswick High Road Blues". It's based in a very simple but beautifully efficient organ-riff that lays the foundation for the rest of the song. "In the Winter of Your Life", "Still Alive" and the instrumental "Follow That With Your Performing Seals" are all good tracks that partly tries to bring the band back to the If-style of old. "Borrowed Time" is the slickest song on the album, although the flute-solo in the middle makes up for some of it. The closer "I Believe in Rock and Roll" was catchy enough to be chosen as If's fourth, and to my knowledge, last single.
If - "Tea-Break Over - Back on Your 'Eads" (Gull 1975)
If's final album continued in the polished and funky vein of "Not Just Another Bunch of Pretty Faces". To get the bad stuff out of the way first: the sappy ballad "I Had a Friend" is next to "Stormy Every Weekday Blues" the weakest song the band recorded. But the rest is fortunately better, and varies from good to ok. My personal favourite is "Don Quixote's Masquerade", a delicious piece of laidback and atmospheric jazzy '70s rock. The opener "Merlin the Magic Man" is very typical for this version of If, complete with funky rhythm guitar and the obligatory jazzy horn riffs. "Ballad of the Yessirrom Kid" is of the more straightforward and rocking kind, listenable but not fantastic. But the band would always shine in their instrumental numbers, and "Song for Alison" and "Raw Sewage" is no exceptions to that rule. The title-track is on the other hand a bit harder to make stick to the ears, at least mine. "Tea-Break Over - Back on Your 'Eads" is overall a respectable offering and the band could have closed their career in a far worse way, but the real and true If was in my opinion the first version of the band that lasted from 1970-1972.