Amanda Palmer frees Edward Ka-spel from the bonds of his “artist” wrist band.
Sometimes, even though it seems like the odds are stacked against you, problems invariably sort themselves. At least, this is what I was telling myself to keep calm after discovering that a number of unforeseen circumstances were possibly going to have ended my night before it could begin. Luckily, as I waited in the increasingly cold and increasingly dark evening, this little mantra proved to be true, and all the tribulation was made worthwhile by an absolutely stunning performance that followed.
I’ve been to exactly three shows (now) at The Troubadour, and not a single one of those shows has been anything less than extraordinary. The venue has a glorious intimacy to it, a holdover from its 60s roots. This made the excited energy in the crowd all the more tangible as Amanda Palmer, Edward Ka-spel, and Patrick Q. Wright took to the small stage. If I didn’t know any better I would have told you that I went to a house party show! That’s how specially intimate the performance was. The three musicians told stories relating to songs, as well as joked in such a friendly manner, responding to crowd-thrown comments with a deft perfection that you rarely see in large venues.
Violin Master Patrick Q. Wright, England’s best kept secret.
The majority of the evening was spent telling stories in relation to the songs from the recently released I Can Spin A Rainbow — many of which are quite melancholy — and peppering in a few songs from the expansive catalogs of both artists, which fit the overall theme of mistrust and insanity parading around in the present tense of modern life. It was fitting that the final US date of the all too brief tour would be one of the most enjoyable by the artists as well as the crowd. Jokes about British vs American pronunciation, Donald Trump, and other silliness were met with equally sobering stories about dangerous Uber rides (“Rainbow’s End”) and an Afghani girl whose father gave her a vial of poison to carry around just in case she was caught dressing in drag to participate in sports (“Shahala’s Missing Page”).
Amanda Fucking Palmer
Well-known songs were given extended intro phrases, breathing extra life into them, including the show stopping final encore of the Dresden Dolls tune “Half Jack.” Contrasting Ka-spel’s wispy half-playful, half-sinister approach, Palmer’s intense ferocity at the piano brought chills up and down my spine, bringing a stunningly fantastic conclusion to a brilliantly intimate and equally arresting evening.
„Amanda Fucking Palmer“ ist zurück und man könnte den Eindruck gewinnen, die Kreativität der Solokünstler, Feministin, Bloggerin und Lyrikerin kennt einfach keine Grenzen. Im Jahr 2016 brachte die schillernde US-Musikerin immerhin gleich drei Platten auf den Markt, die in vielfältigen Kontexten entstanden. Nach dem Coveralbum „Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute“ folgten die EP „Sketches For the Musical JIB“, eine Kollaboration mit dem in Seattle beheimateten Musiker Jason Webley, und zuletzt eine Neuauflage ihrer LP „Theatre Is Evil“ aus dem Jahr 2012 als Pianoversion. Wer Amanda Palmer aus Interviews kennt, weiß, dass die quirlige New Yorkerin nicht stillsitzen kann. Vielmehr ist die Bewegung ein Teil ihrer Persönlichkeit, zu der auch das kontinuierliche Bloggen und der stetige Kontakt mit ihren Fans gehört.
Die Sängerin gibt viel Persönliches von sich preis und pflegt so eine einzigartig, emphatische Fannähe. So wundert es nicht, dass sie diverse Projekte als erste Musikerin sehr erfolgreich durch Crowdfunding-Plattformen finanzierte und ihr Grundeinkommen zuletzt über patreon.com sicherte. Bissige Schlagzeilen wie „Wenn Palmer ruft, zahlen die Fans“ sind dann gratis inbegriffen. Nun erscheint mit der neuen Platte „I Can Spin A Rainbow“ wiederum ein Projekt in Zusammenarbeit mit dem englischen Musiker Edward Ka-Spel, vielen besser bekannt durch die Kultband The Legendary Pink Dots. Zwei Musikerkollegen, die sich in ihrem Stil ganz offensichtlich gesucht und gefunden haben. Denn „I Can Spin A Rainbow“ ist von orchestral-psychedelischem Sound geprägt und mutet dem Hörer zum Teil hoch komplexe Stücke zu, die soundtechnisch fast bis zum Kollaps ausgereizt werden.
Die Kompositionen schwanken zwischen Kunst, Musik und LSD-Trip, vereinen aber Amanda Palmers extrovertierte Gangart mit Edward Ka-Spels fast monoton anmutender Stimme. Die Songs scheinen seltsam ver-rückt aus der Welt, fast märchenhaft und würde das Album als Soundtrack eines Disney-Films vermarktet, wäre das sicher nicht ganz abwegig. Dass die Machart des Albums wiederum zu Amanda Palmers Curriculum passt, zeigt sich darin, dass sie selbst immer wieder betont, sie habe bereits mit zehn Jahren ihr erstes Musical geschrieben. Jedes Stück von „I Can Spin A Rainbow“ ist als Dialog zweier ungewöhnlicher Unikate im Musikbusiness arrangiert, die ihre ganz persönliche Ausdrucksweise mit in die Songs einfließen lassen.
Das Album ist dabei anmutig ruhig und gleichzeitig tieftraurig, obwohl Textpassagen oft einfach nur unzusammenhängend aneinander gereiht sind. Der Grund also, warum die Songs eine solche Schwermut implizieren, ist offenkundig nicht durch die Lyrics zu erklären. Diesem Konzept aber verschuldet, ist die LP dann eben auch nicht als massentauglich zu titulieren. Dennoch fällt es schwer, den Neuling mit „gut“ oder „schlecht“ stigmatisieren zu wollen. „I Can Spin A Rainbow“ ist speziell und somit ein Album ganz wie die Protagonisten Amanda Palmer und Edward Ka-Spel selbst: irgendwas zwischen Kunst, Musik, Realität und Traum und am Ende dann eigentlich doch ein sehr einnehmendes Werk.
While their musical styles might not sound superficially similar (or even remotely related to each other), evidence of Amanda Palmer having been a fan of The Legendary Pink Dots since she was a teenager is present throughout her work if you know what to look for.
Her earlier records especially saw her using music to create fiction, myth and metaphor (culminating obviously in 2008’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer), as well as creating hardcore musical chaos, though acoustically rather than electronically (notably on Dresden Dolls tracks like ‘Girl Anachronism’, obvs). Thus it really shouldn’t be a surprise that her and Edward Ka-Spel’s collaboration I Can Spin A Rainbow makes so much sense.
But not only does it make sense – fuck me, it sounds great. The sound for most of the album feels overwhelmingly Dots-ish, yet even on the most electronic tracks like opener ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘The Changing Room’ her presence is not only felt but seems to complete the sound perfectly, framing the explosion of colour and tingeing the edges in crimson. As a result, the stripped-back less-is-more tracks like ‘Shahla’s Missing Page’ and ‘The Clock At The End Of The Cage’ feel anything but out of place.
Each song tells its own story so intensely and so completely, like 11 musical horror novellas, that listening to any of them individually produces an experience more like that of listening to a shortish, intense, masterpiece-like album, especially as the songs often have a few different musical sections and ideas. The chord sequences are longer too than we’re used to from either artist, most notably in ‘The Shock Of Kontakt’, where the harmonic ascension takes almost impossibly long to resolve. Listening the whole album in one go can be quite an exhausting experience for that reason. However, seeing it as a collection of stories also means you can get just as much out of it listening to each musical horror novella as rhizomatic (treating all entry points as equal, as opposed to preferring the beginning. It’s a real thing.)
Neither before nor since Who Killed… has Palmer embraced horror-tragedy so completely in her music, and she certainly hasn’t fictionalised her work to this degree. Working collaboratively with Ka-Spel will of course have brought this to the foreground, for characters and stories playful (‘Prithee Liquidation Day’s whimsical Good Queen Regina), tragic (‘The Shock Of Kontakt’s Astrid, hopeless and consenting to her partner taking her for granted as they rob her of her life), and horrific (the eponymous Jack of Hands). The fictionalisation of ‘The Jack Of Hands’ makes for perhaps the most effective ‘horror story’ here, climaxing as its middle eight wrenches it from the realm of fiction into reality (TW: paedophilia) – this reveal is more than the face of the monster under the bed, but the face of a real, monstrous human beside it.
The horror as well as the sound itself of the whole album feels very…goth. But as Palmer herself has pointed out, that shouldn’t be as unexpected as we seem to think. And so, after a body of work quietly influenced by goth, Palmer’s tendency towards fiction, drama and indeed melodrama (not an insult, it’s what we’ve always loved about her) feel completely at home in this music. Goth becomes Amanda Palmer. And this collaboration, not at all random but in fact 25 years in the making, lives up to every terrifying, dark, colourful, excellent thing it could possibly be.
Edward Ka-Spel’s brilliance with The Legendary Pink Dots is to introduce us to isolated characters and then immerse us in their world-view through expansive and mysterious soundscapes. He begins with the most restricted, infinitesimal point of consciousness and then slowly expands it outward towards a state of ‘cosmic consciousness’ (to use the phrase of 1960s psychonauts). Musically, he often follows this template of expansion, with simple melody lines repeating and layering in increased complexity of texture. Much of the LPD’s music is an undertaking to help the listener (and perhaps composer) escape his/her own head. Lyrical phrases, musical motifs, album titles and themes recur across decades, but tonal shifts between albums are slow and subtle. Hopefully, The Legendary Dots Project, like the Residents and Sparks projects before, will provide the keen reader and listener with a giddy entry-point into the Legendary Pink Dots’ musical world. Fulfil the prophecy!
Tom: Chemical Playschool 3 & 4 is another gargantuan release: disparate in its balancing of marathon soundscapes with off-kilter tunes and a greater than before quota of politics.
‘The Top’ upends the “kitchen sink”, associating Joe Lampton with ‘synthetic manliness’. ‘Neon Gladiators (Version 1)’ is tremendous proto-acid house, with gadding bass and dovetailing squalls of synth and guitar. Chaos is evoked; capsizing walls, condemned criminals and a reference to statuary. There’s gleaming, off-centre organ that lends this deranged stomper a graceful, woozy undercurrent.
‘Obsession’ is one of those occasional LPD relationships songs, and is a typically dank scenario of break-up and solitude. Following the split, he ends up “playing patience on the floorboards” – not the only account of Garbo-esque solitude on this album. It’s a glum guitar confessional not all that far from Peter Hammill on Over (1977). There’s a terse, metaphorical economy to the lines: “I had a picture of you. I sliced it up in two and half my love went in the bin, with the letters.” There are naturalistic references to the offending minutiae: burning the eggs, smoking in bed, buying trivial knick-knacks. Taking not just the records, but the cat: ‘My charity’s all gone, like those records that you stole when you rolled up our relationship and slipped out unannounced. Christ! You even took the cat.” It’s a partial perspective, as is inevitable with such rejoinders.‘When the Clock Strikes 13’ concerns an idealised, desperate romance, viewed as if a French film take on Bonnie and Clyde: a defiant stand against a hostile world, a fugitive couple up against it. Like Tracy Barlow and Rob in Coronation Street, as almost was – in recent episodes of that longest of ongoing British narratives.
‘Curse (The Sequel)’ has stifled, urgent imperatives (“curse your daughters”, “slaughter with a glance”) giving way to baleful declaratives (“I’ve got your picture. I’ve got the pins”). It’s one of those early LPD guitar-led songs not far in form from Television Personalities, but the lyrical content is infinitely more macabre. The effigy inevitably suggests burning or hanging. The wistful, plangent guitar tune transmogrifies into an ambient murk. We catch snatches of Arthur Freed-Nacio Herb Brown’s ‘All I Do Is Dream Of You’, transporting us back into Broadway-Hollywood dreamland. A song recorded not just by Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Alma Cogan, Johnnie Ray, Doris Day and Twiggy, but by Al Bowlly back in 1934 – its year of publication – and Chico Marx in the following year’s A Night at the Opera. This version is from the cartoon flapper character Betty Boop, who was subject of sanitisation by the Hays Code from 1935. This evocative sampling is supplanted by gently wheezing, choked windbag organ; rather like something James Kirby, aka. The Caretaker/The Stranger would come up with: sublime unease, or an uneasy sublime. ‘Hideous Strength’ is a tale of a man transformed into a lion – and then being incarcerated, echoing the Greek myth of the lovers Hippomenes and Atalanta being metamorphosed into lions by Cybele. This song’s leonine figure is more rampant than dormant, proclaiming to be “king of all the jungle”, linking with the lion’s omnipresence in royal arms of medieval and Tudor monarchs. The lion may be significant, in that the title echoes C.S. Lewis’ science fiction novel, That Hideous Strength (1945), which assailed scientific materialism running amok, destroying spirituality in its wake. It has striding Aslan-ish bass, there’s more glistening organ like in ‘Neon Gladiators’. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. All good kittens go to heaven!” This memorable, repeated chorus ought to have landed the LPDs a number one single; better this than ‘Too Shy’, ‘Red, Red Wine’ or ‘Baby Jane’, surely. A piercing three-note synth riff (03:11-03:25), and emotive ‘miaow’s are where it should have been at, instead of spandex, smugness and inexcusable blonde hairdos.
The instrumental ‘Film of the Book’ has a richly evocative, almost Eastern sounding, keyboard refrain – patiently, celestially repeating. It is our passage to ‘The Tower’, our introduction to Ka-Spel’s ‘Tower’ mythology. The titular edifice is impregnable, ‘a beacon in the dark’. ‘The Tower (Version 1)’ details seemingly unfathomable incarceration: ‘And no-one names a crime committed, no-one blames a soul. Their cases heard so long ago – forgot about parole.’ Josef K’s bleak situation in Kafka’s The Trial comes to mind: with its labyrinthine justice system – marked by perpetual deferment and opacity. The constantly repeated closing refrain: “No one has the key to the Tower” is a very Kafkaesque scenario of impersonality and hopelessness. This first Tower track is an inexorable twelve minutes of anti-progress towards chugging emptiness. The second ends with archaic, military-style horns and ‘salutes’. ‘Tower 2’ is a bleak scenario of monkey torture and a man-eating Doberman. Humanity is de-personalised, police state authoritarianism runs rampant, enabled by democracy: “And there’s weeping in the queue, and Lady Gwyneth’s weeping too – sickened, yet she voted blue. She knows it. And night patrols are doing rounds. There’s Tower complex, Tower Towns. Population’s going down, but we’re great again.” This implies the unemployment and severe population decline suffered by most British cities in the 1970s and 80s. As well as the Falklands War and subsequent facile economic ‘boom’, leading to a hollow proclamation of Britain’s renewed ‘greatness’.
As early as January 1979, cultural theorist Stuart Hall had identified an ‘authoritarian populism’ as one of the dominant strains of Thatcher’s politics.Hall described her politics as ‘unlike classical fascism’, in ‘retaining most (though not all) of the formal representative institution[s] in place’, while simultaneously constructing ‘around itself an active popular consent’. This involved associating with simplistic, homely notions – national fiscal policy as akin to a household budget, ‘HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS’ – and a strong law and order agenda: getting the police onside and enlisting their more reactionary tendencies to combat left-wing opponents.
The idea of property ownership was dear to Thatcherite hearts. In August 1983, the Times article entitled ‘Home is where the heart is’ reported that, by the end of 1983, 59% of homes in the UK would be owner-occupied, 3% up on 1981. Nine out of ten of those aged 25-34 saw home ownership as the ideal. Ka-Spel was 29 and clearly not one to write paeans to home comforts.
The 59-second ‘Glad He Ate Her’ continues the dystopian focus. It is a brief, disturbing vignette, with the objects of the ‘screwing’ left ambiguous: “They threw off their dressing gowns, and screwed for the Empire. Screwed for the Queen.”
‘Tower 3’ begins with “The echo of a thousand marching boots hammers on the air.” It’s a queasy, frenzied account of ‘entitled’-feeling boot-boys who are “singing anthems, chanting oaths and [who] whistle as Salome lifts her skirt because they’re ‘real’ men and they’re healthy, happy… own the place.” A mythical striptease viewed by proprietorial 1980s men. The policeman – a “uniform” – tells them their petrol bombing of opponents is against the Law but they’ll “ignore it this time. Peace Krime’s got to be official!” Thus, collusion between far-right bovver boys (“Keep it pure, keep it white”) and the authorities is made clear. They can – and will – put down non-whites and CND.
EKS details a living room – it is unclear whose – with Playboy-style pin-ups, pictures of the Queen and a homely proverb (“HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS”) forming a tellingly contradictory collage: signifying authoritarian populism. The song goes onto detail a cowed, unquestioning public turning blind eyes, while patriots stay indoors, warmed by their leaders’ promise of a new ‘Golden Age’.
‘Lullaby for Charles’ Brother’ emerges from arcade bleeps. It could be a seventeenth century English folk song, but rendered on minimalist synth sequencer and simulated woodwind. It concerns an urban political protest from a disgruntled misanthrope, raging against the police (‘piggies’) and as inevitably doomed as the miners were at Orgreave: “Drew out a carving knife for his course: piggies in blood across the wall. Mummy was shocked but he’s immortal, four page pull-out in the Sunset.” There’s a pointed refusal to directly refer to Murdoch’s regrettably successful tabloid. Unlike the miners at Orgreave – as depicted in the recent documentary Still the Enemy Within – there’s little sense of collective struggle. The protagonist’s grievance is unspecified and his link with the demonstrators is ambiguous.
The magnificently titled ‘Expresso Curfew’ suggests the hegemonic dominance of consumerism, with its intermingled Big Ben chimes and science fiction bleeps. Future and past. Time and space. Binary associations and oppositions assert themselves. An enforced adherence to a system that allegedly grants its citizens ‘choice’ is implicitly critiqued. Indeed, ‘The Plasma Twins’ develops into what sounds like a halting ballet of the TARDIS roundels being rounded up and put to humiliating work by the Krotons. ‘Surprise, Surprise’ includes an ephemeral section of ethereal female vocals, followed by ricocheting percussion and, again, that ghosting organ. Flags, medals, bouquets, limousines, the banal ‘Golden Age’ dream: all detonated in a Goon Show-esque explosion.
‘Premonition 10’ is an immersive thirty-two minutes, a somewhat more percussive variant on the deep ambient of :zoviet*france, who I recently saw headline the Friday of Newcastle’s TUSK Festival. That performance transported you to a rainforest; this propels you into the star-spangled ether and the grimy basement – often simultaneously!
‘Cherry Lipstick’ adopts the ‘Film of the Book’ refrain, overlaying corporeal concerns onto what was otherworldly: “I like you with your make-up on”. “Let’s paint the town together” adopts the American phrase ‘to paint the town red’; concerning celebrating without inhibition and which originally alluded to a red light district permeating the whole town.
The closing ‘The Glory, The Glory’ evokes Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’ Statues Also Die, and directly misquotes its title, enlarging the statues’ stature. History will not devour these mythical statues. A potent, swelling organ enters alongside the adjective “naked”, as it becomes clear the statuary is sentient. These effigies are “waiting for their turn to rule a world where nothing speaks and nothing’s small – nothing’s ever worshipped”. It’s an unnerving picture, as the statues become gods in a world of silence, “on their own, alone”.
Adam: 1983 was the last year that Edward Ka-Spel would spend in London before he decamped to Amsterdam and you can tell listening to Chemical Playschool 3 & 4 that he was sick to the back teeth of living in Thatcher’s Britain. While it is nigh-on impossible to make any encompassing judgements about a compilation that is approximately two hours long, many of the tracks feel strung-out and disconsolate, even by the Dots’ typically restless standards. There are slow, contemplative pieces characterised by foggy drones and Ka-Spel’s plaintive knowing whisper, such as ‘She Said’, but these are islands of uneasy respite amongst long stretches of skittish dissonance. Even a piece like ‘The Plasma Twins’, that starts out sounding like one of the Dots’ cosmic soundscapes – in this case a rather lovely Brian Eno-ish composition, though everso slightly threatening – ends up transforming into a looping cycle of whining guitar that sounds like a wasp trapped in a kazoo and an ominous, shark-toothed bass line that would sit comfortably (ha!) somewhere on Portishead’s Third (2008). The narrator of ‘The Plasma Twins’ sounds tetchy and testosterone-charged in the grotesque, predatory way we previously encountered on ‘Thursday Night Fever’ on Only Dreaming (1981) but here he is diminished and vampiric, clawing and needy. His invitation “I’ll show you my muscles, if you give me your corpuscles. I’ll have your blood, and you’ll have my seed” repels, though Edward sounds seductive and solicitous.
Elsewhere, the album’s lyrics offer flights of fantastical release from suburban squalor, which warp into troubling hedonistic visions or hysterical reveries of violence. The opening track on my edition of the album, ‘The Light In My Little Girl’s Eyes’, begins with the lyrical equivalent of an establishing shot that tracks across a city’s streets, taking in the smell of coffee, shops stacked with stereos and the sun dancing on the chromium of limousines. Lights turn red, a car crashes, and in a moment of strange alchemy the paving stones turn to playing cards and the singer finds himself ushered away to the palace of “the blackest queen”. Soon, in the throes of animalistic passion, they are tearing chunks of flesh from each other, gobbling down body parts, like the two teenager lovers in the infamous Supernatural episode ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (2010). What starts as a simple procession of chords on the keyboard builds in stages, adding in brisk, purposeful drumming; a gloomy yet funky bass courtesy of Roland Calloway; vocal echos; tight little flurries of guitar; weird treated keyboard sounds… until Ka-Spel is calling out a repeated refrain of “Brighter now! Brighter now!”, the name of an album from the previous year, that indicates how early in their career the Dots’ began building a self-referential mythology across their discography.
‘Neon Gladiators’, which sounds like ‘Crosseyed and Painless‘ from Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (1980) played on low battery in a dingy video arcade, conjures a scene of shag-pile carpeted opulence before summarily smashing it to pieces with a murderous cavalcade of sword-wielding living statues. Similarly, the party of chin-wagging socialites and military bigwigs in ‘Surprise, Surprise’ is gleefully blown to smithereens by a present-wrapped bomb, although the effect is rather more like a scene from The Young Ones (1982-1984) than The Anarchist’s Cookbook (1971) especially since Ka-Spel manages to crowbar throwaway innuendo (“it was a master bake”) into the lyrics.
On this collection, outcasts and non-conformists don’t fare much better than members of the establishment, however. ‘Hideous Strength’ is a character portrait of an individual that society would label “crazy”, the type of which characterises the Dots’ later 1985 album Asylum. Ka-Spel’s sympathies are clearly with the deviants, not the “army of the upright” (to use a phrase of Virginia Woolf’s) though he never outright romanticises mental illness or alienation. Leo, the character in ‘Hideous Strength’, believes himself to be a lion… a natural extension of his taste for raw meat and a conclusion he reaches by observing his long hair in the mirror. As an interesting aside, his transformation is the same experienced by the narrator of The Residents’ ‘On the Way (to Oklahoma)’ on their 2005 album Animal Lover. Leo is clearly very unwell, but his vibrancy and virility seems far healthier than the masculinity of the vampiric narrator of the aforementioned ‘Plasma Twins’ or the moody brooding of the love-sick obsessives of ‘The Waiting Game’, ‘She Said’ or – indeed – ‘Obsession’. Another alienated (anti?)hero is the lone activist of ‘Lullaby for Charles’ Brother’. The song sounds like a nursery rhyme played on keyboards submerged underwater. The talk of ‘piggies in blood across the wall’ and the name Charles, summoned the spectre of Charles Manson to my mind. Indeed, there is something of the soured idealism of 1969 on this album… a film by Jean-Luc Godard watched on a lossy VHS cassette.
With the density of lyrics on Chemical Playschool 3 & 4 it’s very easy for the listener to disengage from the music, experiencing it as background furniture for Ka-Spel’s storytelling. This becomes especially pronounced in his later solo work, in which lyrics are sometimes spoken rather than sung and longer tracks like ‘The Voyeur’ from 2012’s Ghost Logik essentially function as short stories. Indeed, this review has focused perhaps a little too exclusively on the album’s lyrics and it is worth turning to the instrumental tracks to give them the consideration they deserve.
‘Film of the Book’ is a deeply lovely mirage of a song, sounding like the music that might play in some celestial cathedral in a Japanese RPG. It’s crystalline and plaintive – Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D’ as dreamt by an alien civilisation. I feel as though I might have encountered in before on an earlier release, but it hardly matters when the music is so soothing, especially on an album that often makes for uncomfortable or anxious listening. ‘Collapse’ sounds crueller and more sardonic – an insidious little tune that recalls the mangled and diminished refrains of Fats Waller on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). It segues very pleasingly into the non-instrumental track ‘Tower 2’.
The wonderfully named ‘Barbed Obituary’ is a wash of glooming keyboards. ‘Expresso Curfew’ might have been recorded in the engine rooms of a Vogon Constructor Ship / the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. ‘The Bride Wore Green’ is curious but pleasing and reminds me a little of one of my favourite early Dots tracks, ‘Voices’, if only for the wind effects. ‘Premonition 10’ is a bewitching medley-cum-soundscape of backtracked choirs and percussive drums. It sounds like it might have been built from the same Notre Dame field recordings that composed ‘Basilisk 2’ on the 1982 album of the same name. ‘Grind’ is another long soundscape, though only really gets interesting near the end of the track. It would, to its credit, fit in nicely alongside the more abstract pieces on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction programme (which often features musical treasure and is worth checking out). ‘Apocalypse Gone’ is like a horrible deconstruction of a Shostakovich violin concerto. Finally, ‘It’s Raining … Again’ contains some really interesting sounds, the origins of which are difficult to discern. It’s non-essential, but would make super background music for a David Firth animation (which is meant in all earnestness – it’s a track that demands visuals).
Chemical Playschool 3 & 4 is long enough that it seems reasonable to save discussion of the ‘Tower’ tracks for The Tower (1984) album itself, where they acquire more muscular production, bring Ka-Spel’s vocals to the fore and really come into their own. It is fascinating to hear these tracks emerge from the foggy production of the Dots’ very early years. They become more direct, more visceral and acquire an even greater degree of sardonic bile and political desperation. They also become funkier. The tracks – ‘Tower 1’, ‘Tower 2’ and ‘Tower 3’ – are wonderful here, of course, but they’re swamped by the surrounding material. Although it is something frustrating when a band revisits material, I’m very glad that the Dots decided to do so with these tracks.
So, Chemical Playschool 3 & 4 is a heady, disorienting and often gloomy mix. The quality is high, but it’s a lot to imbibe in one sitting. Of particular note are Ka-Spel’s vocals. He manages to be theatrical without ever being anything less than convincing. A track like ‘She Said’, which I otherwise find musically forgettable, is saved by Ka-Spel’s cracked delivery and mournful tones. As a listener you’re often thrust into the strange position of sympathiser; bemused on-looker; victim; co-conspirator, by turns. He’s knowing, tainted and faintly abject on the odd nasty ditty ‘Glad He Ate Her’. He sounds like a drugged and emaciated ghoul on ‘The Top’, with its talk of a belly full of seeds. On ‘Cherry Lipstick’ (which reprises ‘Film of the Book’) he is needy, wretched, pawing. He cries and whispers like Robert Smith on ‘Just Passing Over, Lovely…’
To quote T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922): “he do the police in different voices“.
Matt: Well, obviously, “Hideous Strength” is my favorite track — you can never go wrong with meowing in a song. But I dig the synth line, and the story, which as Adam points out is similar to “On The Way (To Oklahoma)”, one of the handful of Animal Lover tracks I quite like. And what with the Pope recently saying that animals can indeed go to heaven, it’s as timely now as ever.
As for the rest of the album — it’s another long one, but, again, a collection of good songs rather than filler. “Neon Gladiator” has a wonderful driving, poppy beat combined with the noises of destruction — The Important Sound of Things Falling Apart. Honestly, it’s one of the LPD songs I could see being a hit had things properly aligned — though I’m not sure if Ka-Spel was even particularly interested in that. I kind of get the impression that his main driving force is making music, and if anyone else happens to like it, all the better. But I imagine that even if there were a worldwide campaign to get him to stop (And in that case: The world would be WRONG) — he still wouldn’t. He’d continue through making records with his blinds drawn to hide the ocean of picket signs outside his door. And that’s awesome.
I also love the texturing on “Film of the Book”. While instrumental, it demands attention. It leads into “Tower 1”, using the Tower of London as its central metaphor and is about oppression — which makes me wonder about the use of so many songs to feel oppressive (in a good way, though — speaking artistically here, not just “oh no, I have to sit still for two and a half hours!”). A lot of the material on Chemical Playschool 3 & 4 has a similar sonic pallate — and I guess you could say that about the Dots’ other material up to this point as well — which means you’re in a dark, stuffy, murky world. And given his criticisms of Thatcherite Britain, it’s a political world as well, and it’s easy to see the more fantastic tracks (like, again, “Hideous Strength”) being an expressionistic explanation of the feel of being under Thatcher’s thumb. I’m a little young to have experienced Reagan’s America firsthand (or, rather, though I was alive for his entire Presidency, I wasn’t terribly politically aware at that point, starting as an infant and ending his run at the age of eight) — but we’re still living with the decisions he made. The homeless problem can be linked back to his closing of the mental hospitals, he was a strikebreaker which kneecapped labor in this country, he hemmed and hawed on AIDS, the list goes on. And seeing as he and Maggie were best buds (that and a healthy Chumbawamba fandom on my part filling in some of the details), I’m imagining that it was similar across the pond as well.
That said, too, it’s not just as a nostalgia piece that this method and material works. If you listen to “Tower 3”, it’s particularly relevant in 2014 America, despite being about 30 years old — “In the living room a picture of the queen nestles in between Miss August and a placard saying HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS. (Keep it pure, keep it white. Keep it free of undesirables because freedom is so valuable and getting scarcer.)” Sound much like, say, Ferguson, or Eric Garner, or hell, just the anti-Immigration bullshit from folks like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, folks who want to be allowed to card Latinos to “make sure” they’re legal — which doesn’t sound like racially motivated harassment at all, no sirree.
I think it’s this feeling that makes it kind of hard to listen to this album all in one go. As relevant as it is today, I almost kind of want to go into the Escapism World and listen to happy, shiny music to take my head off things. But I also know that that’s NOT the way to go, since it’s that kind of thing that keeps the status quo. So, dare I say it, but this album might be actually Capital-I Important?
Either way, though, it should be listened to, even if you have to break it up into 45 minute chunks.
Sie sind wieder da. Nicht, dass sie jemals weg gewesen wären. Aber sie sind wieder da. Dass die Legendary Pink Dots zu meinen absoluten Lieblingsbands gehören, dürfte jedem Leser, der mehr als zehn meiner Reviews oder Geschichten gelesen hat, bekannt sein. Ich stufe es mal so ein: Meine Grundprägung auf anspruchsvollere Musik habe ich von Pink Floyd bekommen. Doch deren Tage waren, als ich sie richtig kennen lernte (mit The Wall), quasi schon gezählt. Meine Prägung auf durchaus experimentellere Musik leiteten dann ausgerechnet Talk Talk ein, die ich als Popband kennenlernte und sie mich mit ihrer Entwicklung mitgenommen haben. Die Legendary Pink Dots kamen dann genau zu rechten Zeit und öffneten meine musikalische Ausrichtung noch viel weiter. Und das Wichtigste: sie begleiten mich seit dem ich sie 1987 entdeckt habe Jahr für Jahr weiter.
Die Band um die Masterminds Edward Ka-Spel und The Silverman machte in diesen Jahren musikalisch und personell unglaublich viele Wandlungen durch und blieb sich doch immer treu. Die letzte große Wandlung war wohl der Weggang des langjährigen Wegbegleiters Niels van Horn 2009. Sein Spiel auf den Blasinstrumenten war gut 20 Jahre ein sehr prägendes Element des Pink-Dots-Sounds. Danach wandelte die Band sich zu einer fast rein elektronischen und überaus experimentellen Band. Die Kreativität nahm fast sogar noch zu. Doch die Alben wandelten sich von den songorientierten Popperlen zu ausschweifenden Erkundungen der elektronischen Musikwelten. Auch dabei entstanden ausgesprochene Perlen wie z.B. Chemical Playschool 16 & 18, zwei Randvolle CDs mit nur drei Stücken. Musik zum Entdecken und darin Versinken, doch ohne diesem naiven Popappeal, den die Dots bei allen Experimenten immer auszeichnete. Und just wo ich mit der neuen Ausrichtung abfinden wollte kommen sie nun mit Pages of Aquarius, einem fetten (Vinyl-)Doppelalbum und blasen mich wieder einmal weg.
“Mirror Mirror“ eröffnet mit fetten elektronischen Beats und breiten, eingängigen Soundflächen. Dazu eine ebenso fette, rockige Gitarre, ein Gesang von Edward Ka-Spel auf höchsten Niveau. Dazu brodeln psychedelische Klänge im Untergrund. Mal wieder ein erstklasssiger Opener.
“The greatest Story ever told“ bleibt zunächst treibend. Der dunkle Keyboardsound ist omnipräsent, besonders betörend der eigentlich einfache programmierte Rhythmus. Manchmal reicht ein einziger unerwarteter Ton um einen Ohrwurm zu kreieren. Sicherlich kommt hier auch Edwards Zusammenarbeit mit Der Blutharsch durch. Das Stück würde zweifellos auf ein Album dieses Projektes passen. Ab der Mitte löst sich das treibende Stück in die schon vorher präsenten psychedelischen Klangspielerin auf und mündet in einer Art Postpsychedelik mit hymnischen Keyboardklängen und einem dieser typischen Textmonologen Edwards.
“D-Train“ bleibt kraftvoll. Eine sphärische Gitarre, pulsierende elektronische Beats und eine dunkle, wavige Melodie wie man sie immer wieder gern von den Dots hört. Dieses Stück hätte eicherlich auch bereits schon Ende der 80er entstanden sein können, besticht aber durch seinen überaus modernen Sound. Wäre das Album nach diesen drei Stücken zu Ende, wäre ich wahrscheinlich schon glücklich gewesen und würde sie auf Dauerrotation stellen, aber zum Glück geht es ja weiter.
Die zweite Seite des Vinylalbums beginnt mit “Credibility“. Hier finden wir einen absolut typischen Pink-Dots-Song. Ein leichter Walzerrhythmus, das führende Piano spielt eine herrlich naive Melodie und die Gitarre umrandet das ganze suptil psychedelisch. Die Elektronik begnügt sich mit dem einstreuen einiger Effekte, um das ganze schwebender und psychedelischer zu gestalten. Erinnert mich an „Hauptbahnhof“, einem ganz alten Stück der Band. Nur eine selbstbewustere Fassung, was sich im Gesang und auch im Text niederschlägt.
“Trending“ bleibt ebenfalls in der sphärischen, ruhigen Stimmung. Die Keyboards / Elektronik kreieren einen schwebenden, von Glockenklängen unterstützten Sound. Die Perkussion ist ganz sanft, postrockartig gesetzt. Dunkle Drones überlagern den Sound, durch den Keyboardklänge wie Wassertropfen perlen. Ein elektronisch-psychedelisches Kleinod, das von der perfekt eingesetzten Gitarre veredelt wird.
Touching the forelock“ bietet dann einen typischen, schrägen Popsong der Band. Ein fast schunkelnder elektronischer, dunkler Beat, schräge programmierte Perkussionen und jede Menge psychedelische Sounds. Dazu singt Edward leicht abgehoben. Für Dotheads wie mich Pop pur.
Die dritte Vinylseite gehört dem zweiteiligen “Don´t go there“. Die Laufzeit von 17:10 verteilt sich auf den ersten Teil “Pages aquarian“ das mit einer rockigen Gitarre, einem treibenden Bass aus dem Synthesizer und vielen elektronisch-psychedelischen Sounds besteht. Das Ganze ist sehr mystisch und dunkel angelegt und zieht den Hörer in fremde Welten. Hieraus entsteht ein kurzer, spaciger, etwas zefaserter Part der in einem großen, elektronischen Rauschen mündet, das mit Sprachfetzen und Sounds unterlegt ist. Nach einer ganz kurzen Pause brandet das Rauschen nochmal auf, mündet dann aber sofort in einer mächtigen elektronischen Perkussion.
Damit sind wir im zweiten Teil “Jacob’s Ladder“ angekommen. Ein Stück das in seiner Art sehr an das Nebenprojekt Teargarden erinnert und mit seinem Beat und den vielen Sounds fasziniert. Das Stück mündet in einen wundervoll schwebenden Ende, die Keyboards klingen versöhnlich und doch melancholisch. Der glasklare Sound beeindruckt. Die Pianomelodie am Ende mit Edwards Gesang und den Geräuschen sind einfach nur faszinierend.
“Prodigal“ eröffnet die letzte Seite dieses großartigen Albums. Hier präsentiert die Band nocheinmal eine großartige, düstere Ballade. Pochende elektronische Perkussion, eine dunkle Gitarre, und dann große Keyboardflächen. Die naive Melodie lehnt sich ein wenig an der von “Jacob’s Ladder“ an. Ganz großer, dunkler Pop, mit zerbrechlichen Gerüst, großflächigen Sounds, aufbrandender, treibender Perkussion und einer Prise Optimismus im Unterton.
“The weight of water parts 1 – 4“ bietet dann einen weiteren Longtrack mit knapp 16 Minuten. Eröffnet wird mit dunklen, treibenden Beats, wieder vermengt mit psychedelischen Geräuschen. Dann setzt Edwards dunkler Sprechgesang ein. Stoisch arbeitet der Beat, ebenso stoisch wirkt der Gesang. Großflächige, hymnische Keyboardsounds setzen ein, der Beat verschwindet, chorale Gesänge tauchen auf. Dann explodiert der Song in einem manischen Beat, wilden psychedelischen Klängen und Stimmgewirr. Das Stück zerfällt, baut sich mit wenigen elektronischen Geräuschen wieder auf und dann setzt eine melancholische, aber wunderschöne Keyboardmelodie ein. Der Untergrund brodelt wieder voller Geräusche unheilvoll. Eine psychedelische Soundlandschaft aus elektronischen Klängen entsteht, getragen von einem sphärischen Keyboard, darüber spricht Edward. Dann zerfällt erneut alles und mündet in einigen Sekunden der Stille. Abgeschlossen wird mit wenigen Perkussionen, elektronischen Sounds und einer melancholischen Gitarre, die wie eine Zither klingt. Und so geht ein kraft- und phantasievolles Album stimmungsvoll zu Ende.
Pages of Aquarius ist ein absolut fantastisches Pink-Dots–Album das durchaus viele Rückgriffe auf die eigene Historie vornimmt, ganz oft an alte Songs erinnert, dies aber in einem derartig überraschend modernen und starken Gewand, dass es für mich in die Reihe ihrer besten Alben aufsteigen lässt. Das Album ist die perfekte Symbiose aus den Soundtüfteleien der letzten Alben und der Bandvergangenheit, verpackt in einen großartigen, modern klingenden Sound. Asylum, Island of Jewels, The Golden Age, Crushed Velvet Apocalypse, The Maria Dimension, Shaddow Weaver / Malachai, Hallway of the Gods, Chemical Playschool 16 & 18, Pages of Aquarius. Und zusätzlich ist das Ganze in einem wunderschön psychedelisch gestalteten Cover eingepackt.
Doch Vorsicht: Das Album wird wohl keine komplette Rückkehr zu den songorientierten Arbeiten sein, denn in einem Interview kündigte Edward Ka-Spel bereits den nächsten, opulenten Teil der reichhaltigen Chemical-Playschool-Serie mit einem 2-CD-Werk an.
They’re back. Not that they had ever been away. But they are back. That the Legendary Pink Dots are one of my favorite bands, probably every reader who has read more than ten of my reviews or stories, to be known….
“Mirror mirror” opens with fat electronic beats and broad, catchy sound surfaces. Given an equally rich, rocking guitar, a song by Edward Ka-Spel at the highest level…..
“The greatest story ever told” initially remains impulsive…From the middle of the driving piece dissolves into the already-present psychedelic sound player and opens into a kind postpsychedelic with anthemic keyboard sounds and one of these typical text monologues by Edward.
“D-Train” remains powerful. A spherical guitar, pulsating electronic beats and a dark, waving tune how they like to hear of the Dots. This piece could be created already at the end of the 80, but impresses with its very modern sound.…
The second side of the vinyl album begins with “credibility”. Here we find an absolutely typical Pink Dots song. A light waltz rhythm, leading piano plays a delightfully naive melody and the guitar surrounded the whole suptil psychedelic. It reminds me of “Central Station”.…
The third vinyl side belongs to the two-part “Don’t go there”. The maturity of 17:10 is divided into the first part of “Pages aquarian” made with a rocking guitar, a driving bass from the synthesizer and many electronic-psychedelic sounds. The total is applied very mystical and dark and draws the listener into unknown worlds.… After a very brief break, the noise breaks out again, then opens but immediately in a powerful electronic percussion.
And so we come in the second part of “Jacob’s Ladder”. The piece ends in a wonderful floating end, the keyboards sound conciliatory, yet melancholic. The crystal-clear sound is impressing. The piano melody at the end with Edwards singing and the sounds are just fascinating.
“Prodigal” opens the last page of this great album. Here the band presents once again a great, gloomy ballad. Throbbing electronic percussion, a dark guitar, and then large keyboard pads. The naive melody leans a little against the “Jacob’s Ladder”. Quite large, dark pop, with fragile scaffolding, large sounds, rhythmic percussion and a pinch of optimism in the undertone.
“The weight of water parts 1 – 4” then offers another long track with just under 16 minutes. It opens with dark, driving beats, again mixed with psychedelic sounds. Then Edward sets a dark chant. Stoic working the beat, as stoically acts of singing. Large, anthemic keyboard sounds employ, the beat disappears chorale chants emerge. Then the song explodes into a manic beat wild psychedelic sound.
Pages of Aquarius is an absolutely fantastic Pink Dots album that makes quite a lot of recourse to its own history, quite often reminiscent of old songs, but in a such a surprisingly modern and strong garment… The album is the perfect symbiosis of the sound fiddling jobs of the last albums and the bands past, wrapped in a great, modern-sounding sound. And in addition, the whole thing is wrapped in a beautifully designed psychedelic cover.
But beware: The album will be probably not a complete return to the song-oriented work, because in an interview Edward Ka-Spel announced already the next part of the opulent rich Chemical Playschool series with a 2-CD album .