Slapp Happy/Henry Cow
Those were fantastic times indeed, when - thirty-one years ago -
the newly-established Virgin Records signed contracts left and right, getting
the services of some of the most beautiful musical realities from England
- and from abroad: just think of Faust. And it was due to the fact that the
bass player from Faust was featured on the album that I immediately bought
Slapp Happy's Casablanca Moon, an album that I'd never heard before. Of course,
I also knew nothing about their previous career, their album titled Sort Of
and so on. Which didn't make it difficult for me to like the nice songs featured
on that album - sometimes humorous, sometimes lyrical, always sung with unmistakable
grace by Dagmar Krause. Written by Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore,
the songs were a strange mixture of irony and seriousness, "out of time"
and "of their time" at the same time.
The following year, Desperate Straights left many listeners quite puzzled,
and for many reasons. Compositions were now shorter, and more serious
- Stranded, the only song that could remind the listener of the previous
album, sounded almost out of place. The three founding members had collaborated
with the highly esteemed (and loved) Henry Cow and other friends, who
provided austere clothes by adding clarinet, bassoon, oboe, flute, trumpet
and trombone - besides guitar, bass and drums - to Blegvad's guitar
and Moore's piano. But it was Dagmar Krause's new vocal attitude - more
similar to the "art song" approach, or to some modern classical
music, than to the more common "rock vocals" - that constituted
the highest rock to climb.
time, the songs revealed their considerable charm - just listen to the opening
track, Some Questions About Hats, then to A Worm Is At Work, Europa, Apes
In Capes and Giants to have an idea of the territory that's covered here.
Bad Alchemy, whose music was written by Henry Cow's bass player, John Greaves,
is a track that's impossible not to mention, a track destined to become a
classic, and the first of his long and successful series of collaboration
with Peter Blegvad. Lyrics work on different levels, arrangements are noteworthy.
The two instrumental tracks I have always regarded as peculiar: the title-track
for not being an inspired vehicle in the first place; the long closing track,
Caucasian Lullaby, because it doesn't sound as belonging here.
new remastering work (by Bob Drake) enormously widens the stereo field, placing
the instruments on an imaginary stage. All instrumental voices are clear,
and evenly balanced. This has the perplexing effect (for this writer, at least)
of producing an aural sensation similar to listening to a (idealized) score
becoming audible. The previous CD edition - on Virgin, in 1993 - while less
"faithful", gave considerable more weight to Cutler's hi-hat and
Greaves's bass strings, which sounded as they possessed a considerable mass,
which anchored and propelled the songs.
© Beppe Colli 2004
CloudsandClocks.net | Sept. 5, 2004