Number 5 was the fifth Steve Miller Band studio album within a three year period and effectively closed out what is considered the first phase of their career. It was probably not as good as their first three albums, but a little better than their fourth release. This meant that it was somewhere between a very good and excellent album.
It was more scattered and not as cohesive as their previous albums, which may have been due to the haphazard recording schedule. They managed to schedule recording sessions during an extended tour. Also Steve Miller had not taken total control of the band. Since he produced the superior material this time, it probably would have been a stronger release had he just created everything.
Keyboardist Ben Sidran, drummer Tim Davis, and bassist Lonnie Turner returned as the main supporting characters for guitarist/vocalist Miller. Sidemen Charlie McCoy (harmonica), Lee Michaels (organ), Nicky Hopkins (piano), and Bobby Spicher (fiddle), all made significant contributions to various tracks.
The strongest group of songs closed the album. “Industrial Military Complex Hex,” “Jackson-Kent Blues,” and “Never Kill Another Man” may seem somewhat dated lyrically today, but in 1970 they were first rate social commentary. Miller took on the subjects of student killings, the Vietnam War, and man’s inhumanity. The music was some of the most powerful of his career as it was passionate and made listeners think Miller was involved and truly cared. The 14 minutes of music that closed the album were one of the best stretches of Miller’s career and remain a good history lesson of the place of rock music in the era’s protest movement.
Tracks such as “Good Morning” and Tim Davis’ “Tokin’” are pleasant and smooth. Davis would also write “Hot Chili.” These two songs would be his last as a member of the band. His departure would turn the band’s direction over to Miller and his absence would be missed as it deprived the group of a second strong songwriter and vocalist.
A lost gem in the Miller catalogue was the Miller/Sidran tune, “Going to the Country,” which harmonica player McCoy and fiddler Spicher helped take in a country direction. The McCoy and Miller interplay was one of the better and more interesting combinations of the early 1970s.
When Number 5 was good, it was very good. While it may be a somewhat forgotten album today, it is still worth a listen every now and then.
Article first published as Music Review: The Steve Miller Band – Number 5 on Blogcritics.