Might as well get this over with: my “Amon Duul” reviews are going to start with the least regarded, least interesting and least respected subset of the group. In fact, I’m just reviewing all of them with one article simply to get them out of the way: believe me, the pros and cons of each are pretty much exactly the same with only minor variations.
Starting off with the worst albums by a group is an experience that many reviewers may not enjoy undergoing. However, for some it can be considered an edifying experience: get them out of the way or start of the review series with a hilarious group of insults and then moving on to the good stuff later, to explain why you even enjoy the band in the first place.
Me, I’m doing it because they came out first. It’s kind of an OCD thing: start with the earliest stuff, chronologically and work your way through the years. After all, who could enjoy a bunch of primalistic, simplistic drum pounding produced in the worst possible way? Not a lot of people.
However, there is a simple joy in much of their music that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the rock and roll world, bar perhaps “The Shaggs” (be nice, or I’ll review them). The enthusiasm of their recordings, the amateurish joy can sometimes rub off on the listener. However, the listener has to allow themselves to fall victim to these dubious joys. There is no middle ground here: the band is not goin to come to you. You have to go to them. Is it worth it? Read on to find out.
Psychedelic Underground 1969
1. “Ein Wunderhübsches Mädchen Träumt von Sandosa” (A Pretty Girl Dreaming of a Miracle in Sandosa) 2. “Kaskados Minnelied” (The Cockatoo’s Love Song) 3. “Mama Düül und ihre Sauerkrautband spielt auf” (Mama Duul and the Sauerkraut Band Plays on You) 4. “Im Garten Sandosa” (In the Garden at Sandosa) 5. “Der Garten Sandosa im Morgentau” (Morning Dew in the Garden at Sandosa) 6. “Bitterlings Verwandlung” (The Bitter Nerd’s Transformation)
6 out of 10 stars
Before we begin these reviews, let me state the band lineup: Rainer Bauer, guitar, vocals; Ulrich (Uli) Leopold, bass; Helge Filanda,congas, anvil, percussion, vocals; Wolfgang Krischke, percussion, piano; Eleonora Romana (Ella) Bauer,shaker, percussion, vocals; Angelika Filanda, percussion, vocals; Peter Leopold, drums; and Uschi Obermaier, maracas, percussion. I only mention the line up out of etiquette: it’s not as if many of these people would go on to bigger and better things.
I also apologize for the lengthy song titles: they were an absolute bitch to transfer from Wikipedia over to Open Source. The lengthy titles are also hilariously inappropriate: they sound like bad poetry or bad prog song titles. They definitely don’t match the contents of the “songs” themselves (though I do admit “The Bitter Nerd’s Transformation” is a hilarious title).
In fact, I’m going to refer to the music on this album as “grooves.” I don’t think it’s fair to call them songs, neither for the band or for potential listeners. Because if these are to be held up as songs, they album would basically get zero stars out of ten. They obviously took little time to think up: the band just went into their studio and bashed around for hours, recording every note and then randomly tweaking the recordings with studio effects.
This approach is honestly the approach that early “Amon Duul II” took but with a major difference: professionalism. That band were super pros and very serious about their jamming and studio effects. “Amon Duul” seems content to bash out a single groove endlessly and randomly insert non-related sound collages. Everything by their sister band seemed carefully planned. Everything by the original band seems anti-planned.
Which, I’m going to be honest, is pretty cool. In theory, mostly. In practice, it’s must less cool. However, I can’t deny the awesome groove that the band kicks up on several parts of this album. Track one (I’m NOT putting you through the pain of reading those pretentious song titles twice) is one of the longest, if not the longest, track done by “Amon Duul” and its also one of their best. It doesn’t really differentiate itself from the rest of their output that much: it’s primitive pounding, crashing, bashing and chanting all mining a single groove for 17 minutes.
There is little to no melody to the track: everything is pounding and bashing. The guitar work is limited to some of the most unbelievably amateurish sounding guitar ever pressed to vinyl. Even the piano parts are percussive. The band chants ridiculous nonsense over top of the din. It sounds like an awful drum circle jam come to life.
However, as pointed out by George Starostin, the length of the track actually works in the bands favor. It seems interminable at first, but at about the 8 minute mark the groove imprints itself in the mind of the listener. The rest of the track bash along at the same pace with the same groove. But by that point a listener with a suitable mind (not everybody will fall for the charm of the groove) will be completely entranced.
In fact, the rest of the album has a similar effect. Most of the tracks are pretty lengthy, creating similar hard to beat grooves. Honestly, the grooves don’t sound that much different from each other. Some are a little slower. Some are faster. Others use more sound collage effects while others use less. But they all essentially sound the same.
Which is pretty cool for a listen or two. It all sounds like a wild party with a clan of cave men, bashing around and preparing the listener for a ritual that they weren’t meant to experience. As a result, the album has a unique sound which cannot be found anywhere else in the annals of rock history. Others have tried but few have reached the fun of this record. Of course, such a record can get no more than six out of ten stars. Five stars for the uniqueness and one star for the grooves (after all, they do all sound identical).
Collapsing/Singvogel Ruckwarts & Co. 1969.
1) Booster (Kolkraben); 2) Bass, Gestrichen (Pot Plantage, Kollaps); 3) Tusch, FF; 4) Singvögel Rückwärts (Singvögel Vorwärts); 5) Lua-Lua-He (Chor Der Wiesenpieper); 6) Shattering & Fading (Flattermänner); 7) Nachrichten Aus Cannabistan; 8) Big Sound (Die Show Der Blaumeisen); 9) Krawall (Repressiver Montag); 10) Blech & Aufbau (Bau, Steine & Erden); 11) Natur (Auf Dem Lande).
3 out of 10 stars
“Amon Duul”’s recording output immediately takes a nose-dive with this album, released in the same year as “Psychedelic Underground.” Many listeners may not understand why the album gets such a low rating. However, it’s very easy to explain: this album is literally made up of material from the exact same recording sessions as their debut. So, it essentially sounds exactly the same as the first album.
To some, this may not be a big deal. For me, it’s a little bit ridiculous. I mean, it’s not as if they mine different moods with these pieces or explore uncharted territory: it sounds exactly the same. Except this time the grooves come in smaller, easier to digest chunks. On the surface, it may seem better to have shorter grooves but it actually cripples the album.
Think about it: what’s the best part about listening to a live James Brown groove? Is it the complex interaction of the instruments? James’ vocal improvisations? The solos? No way: it is the rhythmic thrust of each groove extended to nearly intolerable lengths. The groove seeps into your very being and nearly becomes part of your being.
Now, imagine one of these live grooves was cut down to two or three minutes in length. It completely eliminates the power of the repetition. It removes the hypnotic power of the repetition on the mind (a real, studied effect that is incredibly fascinating) and renders it moot. Instead of being hypnotic it becomes annoying. What an odd effect.
That said, the grooves are simply less engaging. It truly seems like the group picked the best grooves for the first album and were scraping the bottom of the barrel with this album. The sound collages and effects are slightly downplayed as well, eliminating much of the sense of randomness which could occasionally make the first album engaging the first time you heard it.
So the score breaks down as one star for the grooves, one star for the balls to release the album (I mean really, it takes some gall to release two albums that sound like this) and the third star because I’m in a halfway decent mood. After all, I’m listening to “The Yardbirds” BBC Sessions while watching the Who’s stupid “Tommy” movie. How could I be in a bad mood?!
Pardieswarts Duul 1970
1) Love Is Peace; 2) Snow Your Thirst And Sun Your Open Mouth; 3) Paramechanische Welt; 4) Eternal Flow; 5) Paramechanical World.
5 out of 10 stars
“Amon Duul” rebounds a bit with their third album. The original album featured three long stracks while CD reissues add two tracks that made up a contemporary single. Unlike their past two albums (and their next two double albums) this album was created in a studio session that did not originate from their massive jam session.
In fact, the album can be seen by the band as an attempt to escape their percussion heavy, amateur drum ritualism and into the world of real music. Perhaps they were inspired by their sister band and their success? Or maybe they were sick of the repetitive nature of their past (and future) albums and wanted to try something a bit more varied and artistically interesting?
Whatever the reason, the album has a much lighter touch than past albums. Acoustic guitars replace the acid rock heaviness of past albums. The drums are very light most of the time and there are light touches of production and arrangement, such as piano, bass and guitar.
And the production is much easier on the ears than previous “Amon Duul” albums. Although that isn’t saying much: their first two albums seemed to be recorded to a tape recorder and mixed with a wooden oar. This album has very clean sound and very careful separation of elements. Everything sounds professionally done and is very easy to listen to for extended periods. The listener doesn’t have to take a break to test their hearing, as was true in the past (and the future).
However, as is obvious by the rating, this isn’t a very successful attempt to create “real” music. The basic problem lies in the band’s musicianship: they are simply too weak of musicians to create truly compelling music. They are obviously going for a “tranquil” air (“paradieswarts” should be an indication of “paradise” or tranquility) and try to create “beautiful” or even “pretty” musical backdrops.
But the band simply doesn’t know how to make that kind of music. You can’t simply strum a few basic chords and play a few simple piano melodies and call it “tranquil” or “evocative.” They simply repeat a few basic phrases over and over again. This is a major problem when it comes to “beautiful” pieces as beauty can simply not be created with such simplicity. You have to work for true beauty.
The band is definitely working here and you can appreciate the effort while still realizing its largely for naught. The songs drift lazily by your ear without engaging your senses like the best of their work. Many people will simply be waiting for the album to get over.
However, even in such a format as this, the band once again succeeds best in long form. In fact, if one wants to be inordinately kind to such a poor band (after all, true kindness is rare these days) you could try to make a case that work such as this could work as a type of “ambient” style of music. After all, its not as if the pieces develop. You could play any of these tracks at any point and still have the same basic sounding music.
And its not as if the music is damaging to your ear. Unlike other albums by the band, this album is gentle, peaceful and not at all dissonant or pounding. You can enjoy it while making tea, just before a nap or as a method of calming wild children. As a result, the album does have some worth to it. Three stars for the attempt at making music and two for the actual music. In fact, this is the band’s second best album. Everything is down hill from here.
1) Drum Things (Erschlagzeugtes); 2) Asynchron (Verjault Und Zugeredet); 3) Yea Yea Yea (Zerbeatelt); 4) Broken (Ofensivitäten); 5) Somnium (Trauma); 6) Frequency (Entzwei); 7) Autonomes (Entdrei); 8) Chaoticolour (Entsext); 9) Expressionidiom (Kapuntterbunt); 10) Altitude (Quäär Feld Aus); 11) Impropulsion (Noch’n Lied).
1 out of 10 stars
I gotta give “Amon Duul” credit: they sure know how to name their albums. After the relative “paradise” of their third album they dive headfirst into the muck with “Disaster” an album that fails on all fronts to be engaging, entertaining or even listenable. The band simply went too far this time and paid the price (a poor review on a poorly web blog. That’ll learn em!).
What is is that separates this album from their first three? Well, very little honestly. The grooves come from the same jam session that birthed the first two albums. Yes, they are still milking that jam session for all its worth. I honestly believe that this was the only jam session the band ever recorded. I also believe it lasts exactly as long as all of the lengths of these albums added together.
Why? Because I am 100% sure they simply released every second of the jam session. After all, why would they release a DOUBLE album of percussive grooves? That’s right, this album is twice the length of “Psychedelic Underground” and is nowhere near as effective.
This is in spite of better sound quality and more manageable groove lengths. Yes, the grooves are longer than “Collapsing” (explaining why this is a double album with the exact same number of songs as that album) but the groove lengths should be long to be appreciated. The problem doesn’t lie in the groove lengths or the sound quality though: it lies in the quality of the grooves. And these grooves stink.
Of course, this is a highly subjective opinion. How can I prove that these grooves are really worse than the grooves on the first album? Honestly, I can’t. Yet somehow, it feels that way anyways. Perhaps the band is actually hampered by better sound quality? The touchy sound quality on the first two albums gave them a “audio verite” feel that made you feel like you were at an actual primitive ritual, which greatly enhanced their effectiveness.
Perhaps the simplest explanation is the most believable: two albums of this drum heavy shit is simply too much to take in one sitting. I’m sorry that I haven’t explained the sound of the album more individually but if you’ve heard ANY of this band’s album (bar the third) you’ve heard them all. And its getting old.
The album gets one star for truth in advertising. This truly is a complete disaster for the band. The band must have realized this, as they didn’t release another album for 11 years. How would it stack up against past albums?
1-24) Special Track Experience
1 out of 10 stars
I want the reader to know that I actually listened to all of these albums in a single sitting in one day. I started with “Psychedelic Underground” and worked my way up to this double album (that’s right, another double). At first, I was a bit excited: after all, the grooves on “Psychedelic Underground” were a hell of a lot of stupid fun. Maybe the band would be better than I thought.
However, as groove after groove passed my ear, I slowly began to lose hope. My positive feelings slowly melted into ambivalence and then into near hostility. How could a band release music this poor and repetitive and not be deeply ashamed? After all, the guitarist for “Amon Duul” would later make an appearance on “Amon Duul II”’s second album “Yeti.” Their sound recorder would appear on that album’s cover (and then freeze to death during an acid trip). Were the band deluded enough to think they were releasing great, ground breaking music?
Oddly, the answer to that question appears to be “no, no they didn’t.” As a matter of fact, the band wasn’t even releasing these albums: it was a producer who was trying to cash in on the success of “Amon Duul II” by releasing excerpts from the jam sessions. This isn’t to say that the band didn’t release albums on their own: the first three albums can be considered to have been released by the band’s own free will. The last two were not. And they are the band’s worst albums.
Now, this is the story I had read somewhere online. I’m a piss poor researcher and I never saved or annotated that source. It was probably Wikipedia. However, I actually believe this theory based on the auditory evidence. Especially with 1983’s “Experimente” a “better late than never” entry into the psychedelic sound wars. And does it hold up?
Have you been paying attention? I know you have: you know the answer. Of course it doesn’t. Why some rogue producer (or the band itself) would think to release an even longer collection of outtakes from a jam session…okay, we can pause here for a moment so you can cry a bit over the idea of “outtakes from jam sessions.” Take your time.
Ready? Good. Obviously, this simply cannot hold up to the band’s past work, let alone their contemporaries from the same time, let alone the musical climate of 1983. This album features 24 ultra short to medium length grooves all named “Experience” and numbered after their track number.
And its torture. What I said about “Collapsing” holds true here, except ten times more fully. How can you give into a groove that last a minute and a half? You can’t. It ceases becoming a groove and becomes either a) song b) an experiment. Since none of these are songs, they can only be called experiments. And since this type of experimentation was already beat to death in 1983 (and since they obviously already released all the “good” grooves and experiments on previous albums) what chance does this album have?
None. It’s a pretentious mess that simply has no reason to have been released or even heard. The fact that it stay sin print boggles the mind. 10 stars for the audacity to release an album like this in 1983 and negative 9 stars for the pretentiousness and inadequacy of the work. Avoid this album at all costs. As a matter of fact, you can avoid “Amon Duul” altogether to be honest. There’s a reason I reviewed all of these albums in one ultra long article: to get them out of the way.
The first couple of albums are good as historical pieces but hardly good music. They really only serve as a historical footnote to the career of “Amon Duul II” and as a sign of how bad that band could have turned out. Turn in next time for a review of “Phallus Dei.”
Good morning (or afternoon or evening) kiddies! Mr. B is back with some more legendary band reviews. This series will focus on a rather wild and wooly time and place in rock history: late 60’s through early 70’s Germany. Rock and roll had finally filtered through the lens of European censorship and had begun to influence the lifestyles, opinions and music of the European people.
Now, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the socio-political sensibilities of the time. Frankly, I know very little about the country in that period beyond the music and the unfortunate division of the country that occurred during World War II. I would hazard an educated guess that this division helped contribute to a rather tense, difficult mood that seems to appear in the rock and roll music of the time.
This music, usually called “krautrock” by critics, was some of the most daring, outrageous, innovative and influential music of the period. For example, David Bowie’s “Berlin” trilogy was heavily in debt to various krautrock bands. Kraftwerk essentially invented synth pop out of thin air, while Can mined a “James Brown meets the Velvet Underground meets World Music meets Stockhausen” groove. Even minor bands, such as Popul Vuh, influenced such music as ambient dance, while Tangerine Dream still makes synthetic music.
However, delving into a complete history of krautrock and all its various permutations and influences is frankly, the work of a madman. Such as Julian Cope, who’s writing on krautrock is extensive, engaging, illuminating and essential for any rock fan interested in the fringe areas of rock. This introduction serves only as a basic primer in krautrock, designed to help introduce the rather infamous, legendary, misunderstood and sometimes nearly forgotten “Amon Duul.”
“Amon Duul” (which is was one of the very first groups to start influencing the rock and roll scene in Germany. Bands such as “The Monks” had appeared earlier but “The Monks” were Americans making rock and roll music in Germany. In fact, “Amon Duul” began as a group as early as 1967. However, they weren’t a strictly musical group. They began live as an art commune that delved into performance art, painting, sculpture, communist ranting and various other activities, of which music was just one aspect.
Most of this commune valued the ideals of enthusiasm, excitement, experimentation and exuberance (the four E’s!) over musical structure, composition and ability. Their musical performances usually consisted of day long jams with up to eleven members contributing at any given point. Members of the commune were encouraged to join in on the jam as others left. Most of the commune played various forms of percussion: in fact, the only instruments besides percussion was sloppily rhythm guitar, bass and percussively slammed piano.
Well, such fun certainly couldn’t go undocumented: their infamous jams were usually very roughly recorded with a similarly amateurish enthusiasm, valuing the “heat of the moment” over sound precision. Which is a nice way to sound the recordings sound a bit like crap. But the group waged their art war with the German world for at least a year before some grumblings from certain members of the group lead to dissension in the ranks.
Six members of the group were getting a bit tired of the amateurish rumble of the jam sessions. These six were actually well trained musicians who had ambitions towards making more structured, well produced and more professional sounding music. This is not to say that they didn’t adhere strictly to the “jam” session aesthetic. Instead, they were growing weary of playing with people who simply couldn’t hold up to their standards.
This lead to a serious problem within the commune. In fact, it all came to a head at the “International Essen Song Days” festival. This was Germany’s first underground musical festival. The six more professional musicians wanted to break away and form their own strictly musical group. However, they wanted to use the “Amon Duul” name. Drummer Peter Leopold suggested that they could share the name: the first, amateur group (who were also working in various other forms of art) would be “Amon Duul.” The second group (who would focus mostly on music) would be “Amon Duul II.” Both bands took to the stage separately and jammed away.
This split creates some confusion amongst krautrock fans as nearly two dozen albums have come out with the name “Amon Duul.” In fact, further confusion is sowed by the fact that in the late 80’s, four albums came out under the name “Amon Duul” which only featured one original member of “Amon Duul” and which featured mostly British musicians. This group can be labeled as “Amon Duul III” or “Amon Duul (UK)” to avoid confusion.
The question amongst some fans is how each band differs from the other. What is incredible is how different each group sounds from the other. “Amon Duul” released four albums of heavily percussive jams, which were enhanced and altered in the studio. These four albums are pretty rough sounding, highly amateurish and difficult to discern from each other. In fact, these four albums all come from one of their mammoth, days long jam sessions. They also released a fifth album of more composed music that was separate from the others.
“Amon Duul (UK)” released four albums of various quality that run the range from free associative jams, highly experimental sound collages to tightly wound pop songs. They are highly produced but seem very separate from the sound of the 80’s beyond the crystal clear production qualities of each album. Nearly all of these albums were allegedly based around studio rehearsals and half finished ideas that never entirely pleased the band.
However, both “Amon Duul” and “Amon Duul (UK)” can be considered pleasant, but minor preludes and prologues to the much more engaging “Amon Duul II.” “Amon Duul II” released the rest of the nearly two dozen albums created by these groups and for nearly seven years was one of the best, most innovative and engaging bands in Germany.
Most of “Amon Duul II”’s legacy is built around their first three albums: “Phallus Dei” “Yeti” and “Tanz Der Lemmings” the last two of which were double albums. What makes these albums so interesting is their combination of highly experimental jamming with listenability. Frankly, “Amon Duul II” is one of the easiest to listen to krautrock bands for the average fan.
Part of this has to due with their heavy emphasis on rock riffs and folk motives. The band rarely engaged in pure dissonance, even in their most experimental period. They also included a wide range of influences including folk, jazz, country, space rock, classical music and electronic music. All of these elements were throw into the pot in a way that synthesized all of them without drawing attention to any singular aspect. And perhaps most importantly, the band had a sense of humor that complimented a truly dark and surreal sensibility: “Phallus Dei” means exactly what it sounds like, to illustrate just one example.
These three albums form one of the most impressive and engaging trilogy of albums in all of krautrock. “Phallus Dei” is heavily jam based, with a lighter approach: “Yeti” is a dark, heavy album filled with wildly experimental rock riffs and a complete album devoted to pure jamming of the “Amon Duul” variety (and in fact features members of the original group); while “Tanz Der Lemming” features a more complex, heavily overdubbed symphonic approach that has no precedence in rock and roll history.
However, the band began to streamline their sound with their fourth album “Carnival in Babylon.” This is not to say that they “sold out” or “went pop.” In fact, “Carnival in Babylon” sounds very “Pink Floyd” or “Camel” which is to say still experimental. Just a bit lighter in tone and less ambitious. The band continued this streamlining process, including the dark and heavy masterpiece “Wolf City” and the highly diverse but engaging trilogy “Utopia” “Vive Le Trance” and “Hi Jack.
Many fans find these albums to be a betrayal of the bands initial experimental nature. While they do get a bit less essential with each new album, the band showcases an incredible strong writing sensibility that nearly seamlessly includes heavily experimental hard rock, piano ballads, disco elements and pop songs in a highly fun and quick shifting manner.
In fact, this trilogy all leads up to the band’s late period pop masterpiece “Made in Germany.” This double album easily matches their earlier darker masterpieces but in a different realm. The album quickly shifts between a seemingly endless collection of immediately catchy pop tunes in a wide range of genres. Experimental textures easily contrast with a catchy chorus, often within the same song. The band had seemed to master the art of pop songwriting.
However, several band members left after the album was released which resulted in an immediate downturn in quality. The band released three albums before breaking up in the early 80’s and then reuniting to create one more album in the mid 80’s. However, none of these albums hold up to the high quality of their pop trilogy, let alone their classic albums.
After the flame out of “Amon Duul (UK)” the original “Amon Duul II” band reunited for a high quality album in 1995 called “Nada Moonshine #” (the # is not a typo). The band then toured the album and occasionally reunited for a tour. As late as 2007, the band was still releasing music.
So, how much of this music is worth the time of the listener? Sorting through nearly two dozen albums could be a headache for the interested fan. To be honest, one could content themselves with the first album by “Amon Duul” as well as “Pardisewarts Duul” the non-jam based album. The rest of their output is very spotty or too similar sounding to differentiate.
“Amon Duul (UK)” has two albums which can be considered essential: their first two albums, “Hawk Meets Penguin” and “Meetings With Menmachines – Inglorious Heroes of the Past.” The first is a heavily jam based album while the second is a solid pop album. The last two mine similar fields but with decreasing rewards and in fact do seem rather thin and “unfinished” when compared to the first two.
“Amon Duul II” is a much trickier proposition for the collector. Many more of their albums are worth picking up. “Phallus Dei,” “Yeti,” “Tanz Der Lemming,” “Live in London,” “Carnival in Babylon,” “Wolf City,” “Utopia,” “Vive Le Trance,” “Hi Jack” and “Made in Germany” are very solid collections to any krautrock fans collection. Fans that are more interested in the experimental work can subsist on the first three, including the live album. However, “Nada Moonshine #” is a very solid combination of high quality songwriting, experimental tendencies and 90’s production techniques.
However, all of this shall be revealed in my upcoming series of reviews. That’s right, I’m reviewing every single “Amon Duul” album ever released. Basically, I want these reviews to work as “one-stop-Amon Duul-review-shopping” for the uninitiated and curious. Each album rating will reflect what I think of the album’s musical content personally. An “experimental” rating will also apply for those who are interested only in experimental work. I will also include a “listenability” rating which will show how easy each album is to listen to in one sitting.
I will also go over the lineups of the bands before individual album reviews (if necessary) as the band was huge in and of itself (as an earlier photo caption stated) and they went through nearly every musician in Germany during their career. What is interesting is that the band doesn’t seem to have a true “leader” like many groups. There’s no Pete Townsend or Holger Czukay steering the band.As a result, I will go into detail on what I believe certain band members brought to the band (when necessary) and how this influenced the band.
All of this is truly, the work of a madman. I expect this process to last nearly the rest of my life (and I plan on becoming immortal soon). I’d ask for pity, but nobody is forcing me to do this but me.
1. These Important Years 2. Charity, Chastity, Prudence and Hope 3. Standing in the Rain 4. Back from Somewhere 5. Ice Cold Ice 6.You’re a Soldier 7. Could You Be The One? 8. Too Much Space 9. Friend, You’ve Got to Fail 10. Visionary 11. She Floated Away 12. Bed of Nails 13. Tell You Why Tomorrow 14. It’s Not Peculiar 15. Actual Condition 16. No Reservations 17. Turn It Around 18. She’s a Woman (And Now He Is A Man) 19. Up in the Air 20. You Can Live At Home Now
Ten out of Ten
After “Candy Apple Grey” the band took a longer time to get to the studio than normal: in fact, most of 1986 passed before they got into the studio in August. It would take them four months to record their last album, the double length “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” named after their rehearsal space and the feel of their new songs. The title wasn’t a vicious call to arms or an aggressive political statement. The name seemed to reflect a newfound maturity that was at arms with their old punk rock past.
Indeed, “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” was much mellower than even “Candy Apple Grey.” Although the band was obviously still a hard hitting rock band, the absolute dedication to speed and hard hitting fuzz was mostly dissipated. In its place, was a slower paced, more textured sound that relied more on pop melodies than ever before. The lyrics had also become much more introverted, personal and rarely anything less than very serious. All of these changes could be seen as serious “problems” or at the very least a complete degradation of the band’s style.
However, the relative calm of the album actually masked serious problems in the band. Grant was a serious heroin addict at the time, a problem which was causing serious friction between Grant, Greg and Bob especially. Bob and Greg had done their fair share of drinking and drugging but had left those days behind for the most part.
Another serious problem was indicated by the length of the album: unlike “Zen Arcade” it was not a double album by choice or by concept by due to the band’s stubbornness. Although Grant was a serious addict, he was contributing more and more songs to the band. In fact, his songs nearly equal Bob’s for the first time on a Husker Du album. However, Mould stated that Grant would “never have more than half the songs on a Husker Du album.”
Grant was not about to stop writing just because Bob told him to stop. Both songwriters kept contributing songs left and right until both had written an album a piece. Neither would let any of their songs get dropped from the play list. Mould later regretted this, saying that if the album had been limited to a single album, it would have been more effective. One assumes he meant his album…but lets not dwell on the negatives.
When it was released, many fans revolted against the mellower sounds while many critics praised it for bringing it a new sound for Husker Du that was diverse, textured, thoughtful and still intense. Guess where I stand on the fence here: I love this album and consider it to be in their top three albums. I place it below “Zen Arcade” and “New Day Rising” simply because that early manic energy that is such a part of Husker Du’s identity is seriously dimmed here.
And besides, what does one get when a band that was previously one of the fastest and most severe bands on the planet slows down a little? You get high quality rock and roll. The band loses some of the speed and some of the intensity here but only some. Slowing things down, stretching out a bit and reveling in the small details let the band achieve a great breakthrough in sound which they were never able to replicate as they broke up after the album was finished.
The album is arranged in an interesting: it’s almost always one Bob song and then one Grant song. Bob has one more song than Grant, so his double up at one point. Otherwise, the album is seemingly arranged as a battle between the two bitter rivals. And what a battle it is! The album starts strong with the uplifting “These Important Years” which finds Bob comforting the listeners and asking them to work hard during the important young years of their lives. The melodies of the song help it stand out as does the guitar overdubs and the careful keyboard parts.
Grant immediately follows suit with “Chasity, Charity, Prudence and Hope” somehow fitting that ungainly statement into a catchy melody. Song after song follows and the band never lets up great songs for a minute. “Ice Cold Ice” has a great descending guitar line during the chorus: “She Floated Away” is a sea shanty that once heard can never be forgotten: and “You Can Live At Home Now” is a simultaneously upbeat, uplifting and depressing song.
I must point out that all of the songs I’ve mentioned were by Hart. This is because Grant enters full on pop songwriter mode here and in the “memorable chorus” competition he beats Bob pretty handily. And since I’m a sucker for a pop chorus, I remember his songs best.
However, Bob is no sucker: his melodies are very memorable and catchy but he tends to focus more on the performance and the lyrics. While Grant shows off a more whimsical (yet still serious) side, Bob offers advice, discusses his pain, comforts the listener, tells difficult stories and lets it all hang out. Bob definitely wins in the “meaningful” side.
If there is a fault with the album, its that the songs tend to run together but that is a fault with Husker Du as a band in general. The arrangements are often fairly uniform and tempos similar. And it is hard to deny that the band has lost a little of the “special” charm by slowing down a little.
The high quality of the songs and the diverse types of genres attempted (all filtered through a guitar rock lens) make this an album that simply cannot be missed by serious Husker fans. In fact, the album has since gone on to influence a wide range of alternative rock in the late 80’s and early 90’s in ways that cannot be under-estimated. The slower, textured approach the band tried here turned into a common approach as old punk bands began to age. In this way, they remained influential even in death.
During the band’s last tour in 1987, a series of tapes were recorded that were eventually turned into a live album called “The Living End” and released in 1994. This was essentially against the band’s will and Bob has stated that he hasn’t even listened to the album. I actually haven’t listened to the album so I won’t rate it but will simply mention that it features 24 songs, many from “Warehouse” a cover of “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Everytime” a song written by Greg Norton. The album has been highly praised by a wide variety of sources as being a solid representation of the band’s live powers during this period.
Unfortunately, the tension in the band grew too strong and they split up. Bob almost never plays Husker Du songs and refers to his time and the band with disdain: he has released multiple solo albums, starting with the all acoustic “Workbook.” He then formed the solid “Sugar” which released two albums, an EP and a B-sides collection. Later albums focused on electronic textures as Bob tried to stay abreast of musical trends. While these albums have fans, it’s hard to deny that his strengths lie in guitar rock.
Grant Hart released a few solo albums and formed an alternative rock band called “Nova Mob” which I’ve never heard. His albums are supposed to be very solid and more Husker Du than Bob’s solo work. Due to his infamous heroin addiction, Grant has been sidelined for years and his career has never gotten much attention. Greg Norton, the talented by quiet bass player retired to open a restaurant.
This is the last entry in the “Husker Du” series. Stay tuned for reviews on the output of Amon Duul, Amon Duul II and Amon Duul III otherwise known as Amon Duul UK.
1. Crystal 2. Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely 3. I Don’t Know For Sure 4. Sorry Somehow 5. Too Far Down 6. Hardly Getting Over It 7. Dead Set On Destruction 8. Eiffel Tower High 9. No Promises Have I Made 10. All This I’ve Done For You
Eight Out of Ten
With “Flip Of The Wig,” Husker Du had begun to slightly repeat their past. For a single album this was okay: the songs were of the highest possible quality given the circumstances. A less talented band would have continued mining the exact same sound and style for a dozen more albums of decreasing worth that would please the devoted but serve as nothing more than careerist contract fillers, designed to fill seats at arenas for decades.
However, Husker Du wasn’t that kind of band. They obviously understood that they were mining musical ground that they had all ready trodden over to its fullest potential. It was time to change again, at least a little: the band did not want to betray their identity and their style. But they were too confident and full of pride to repeat themselves again but without betraying their past.
So, four months after recording “Flip Your Wig”, (and recording for major label, Warner Brothers) the band mellowed out. They added more acoustic guitars to their songs than ever before. Pianos actually became the center point of a few songs, as opposed to an embellishing instrument. The songs were more personal than ever with lyrics that cut to the bone. And the production was their cleanest ever, even featuring an odd “gated” drum sound that was common to mainstream bands of the 80’s.
Some fans accused the band of selling out: they figured a new major label required the band to simplify their sound and become less fast, less intense and less worthwhile. Is this the case? Did the band really simplify their sound simply to sell more records? Did they commit the ultimate underground artist act of betrayal by laying down and sucking up to the man?
In this reviewer’s opinion, that is highly unlikely. Warner Brother’s has a good reputation as an “artist friendly” label that allows their artists to do a wide range of potential noncommercial things. Remember, they released the ridiculous (and awesome) four disc album “Zaireeka” by the Flaming Lips, an album that is much more difficult to comprehend than even the harshest of Husker Du albums.
Besides, both Mould and Hart have shown, through their own meandering, inconsistent solo careers, that they both have a singular vision that they aren’t likely to betray. Bob has followed a wide range of underground trends in an attempt to stay “underground” and “relevant” while Grant Hart simply sells no records. However, the album did climb higher than any of their previous albums (all the way to 140 on the charts!) but didn’t generate any hit singles. Many fans still complain about the cleaner production, the gated drum sound and the mellowing of the bands sound. Are these legitimate complaints to make or are they bellyaching fans that simply want a band to retreat their style forever?
To put it simply, yes and no. The band does seem to lose a little intensity on this album and for a band that thrived on intensity, it can be a bit hard to adapt to the times. The band is definitely becoming more mellow and is running the risk of losing their identity. Even the harder, faster songs seem to lack a certain edge that earlier songs possessed. The clearer production and gated drum sounds tend to make the album sound “thin” as if Bob’s guitar didn’t possess the sheer wall of noise that it had before. This makes the album feel incredibly compromised during the fast moments.
However, if the listener removes themselves from the expectation of “quicker, faster, harder” it becomes clear that the best songs on the album are, paradoxically, the slower, mellower songs. Songs like Hart’s “No Promises Have I Made” and Mould’s “Hardly Getting Over It” extensively feature keyboards and acoustic guitars in a way previous Husker Du songs did not. But Bob and Grant were getting better at these types of songs. They progress in more interesting ways, layering on new sounds and dynamics in ways the band had never tried before. The more mellow sounds suited the more introspective material the band was writing. In fact, both Bob and Grant released mellow solo albums after the band broke up that mirrors the styles they began farming here.
This breakthrough into solid mellow material makes much of the rest of the material frustrating. The harder, faster rock sn’t exactly bad: they are well written, intense and even emotionally engaging. After all, a few mellow songs on an album of shitty hardcore wouldn’t earn an album an eight out of ten. No, the fast songs here aren’t written poorly. They simply seem second hand at this point, songs that might have been left overs from previous albums. There aren’t many songs that truly reach out and grab you by the throat in the way “I Apologize” or “Makes No Sense At All” did in the past.
There are some highlights: “I Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” is a solid Hart singalong, while Mould contributes “Crystal” and “Eiffel Tower High” two solid and memorable pop songs. But there are simply not enough songs. “Candy Apple Grey” is one of the “major” Husker Du albums, with only 10 songs clocking in at 37 minutes. The frantic rush of endless great songs that made such past Husker Du albums so exhilarating is simply not available on this album. The great songs do outweigh the less than interesting but not by a heavy enough margin to make this a truly amazing album.
The album also seemed to indicate future problems for the band: Grant Hart wrote four songs out of ten for the album. His confidence and ability as a songwriter was growing by leaps and bounds, spurred on by Bob’s ever increasing abilities. This conflict would come to a head on their last album, which honestly feels like a song by song competition to prove to the other that they were the better songwriters.
1. Flip Your Wig 2. Every Everything 3. Makes No Sense At All 4. Hate Paper Doll 5. Green Eyes 6. Divide and Conquer 7. Games 8. Find Me 9. The Baby Song 10. Flexible Flyer 11. Private Plane 12. Keep Hanging On 13. The Wit and Wisdom 14. Don’t Know Yet
9.5 Out of Ten
Well, eventually all great things finally slow down and end. Husker Du released their two greatest albums in a row. They had peaked after making only three studio albums, one live album and an EP. Where else but the band go but down? Indeed, in spite of Bob Mould’s claim that “Flip Your Wig” is the “greatest album” Husker Du ever released, this simply is not true. Although the band began integrating more instruments, such as piano, vibraphone and even slide whistle into their arrangements, they were simply refining the formula they had created, not truly expanding on it in new and exciting ways.
However, just because a band has peaked and has begun to slip doesn’t mean it’s awful. Indeed, as is obvious by the rating of this album, Husker Du did slip but not by much. “Flip Your Wig” is in fact, very similar to “New Day Rising.” In fact, it can be considered the “adoring little brother” to “New Day Rising”; copying his older brother faithfully, but coming up with variations due to his own unique personality.
The first obvious shift is the lighter tone of the album. This change is both musically and lyrically. The band is still a very serious band at times but weird moments such as “The Baby Song” pop out and lighten the mood. This may be due to Grant Hart writing five of the 14 songs on the album. He was coming more and more into his own as a writer and contributing more songs than ever.
Bob was also truly mastering the art of songwriting: “Hate Paper Doll” and “Makes No Sense At All” are nearly perfect pop songs from the grumpiest man in hardcore. In fact, the only song Bob regularly plays from his Husker Du days is “Makes No Sense At All.” Song after song flies by the listeners ear giving something new with each song: a melodic twist you hadn’t heard before; a turn of a lyrical phrase; a suddenly prominent bass line; piano suddenly popping up in weird places; or even crystal clear singing.
I have read that while “New Day Rising” is “punk played as pop” then “Flip Your Wig” is “pop played as punk.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. Truly, this is where the album’s unique identity lies. While it is in many ways a minor little brother to the previous album, it plows its own fields and reaps its own rewards. No album by the “Du” is as instantly catchy, light hearted and easy to enjoy.
“Flip Your Wig” is the sound of a band that has reached its peak, found where it excels and which has no intention of letting up. While the band isn’t exactly advancing its sound on this album or changing things up in a big way as they had done in the past, it is still an essential and integral part of their legacy. In fact, it may be a good album to start with when listening to the band: it can easily be listened to by non-hardcore fans and hardcore fans alike and enjoyed.
After releasing this album, Husker Du was finished with SST. They were one of the first underground bands, if not the first, to sign with a major label. The band would release two studio albums with Warner Brothers as well as a live album. Many fans throw accusations of “sell out” at the band during this period. And the band did slightly mellow its sound. However, while the band may have moved (slightly) away from hardcore punk, they expanded their sonic dimensions even further and even helped influenced alternative music in the 90’s and 2000’s.
1. New Day Rising 2. The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill 3. I Apologize 4. Folk Lore 5. If I Told You 6. Celebrated Summer 7. Perfect Example 8. Terms of Psychic Warfare 9. 59 Times the Pain 10. Powerline 11. Books About UFOs 11. I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About 12. How to Skin a Cat 13. Whatcha Drinking 14. Plans I Make
Ten out of Ten
After releasing “Zen Arcade,” Husker Du became even more renowned critically. However, they didn’t sell any more albums. A dense, harshly produced hardcore album simply wasn’t going to shift a lot of units, no matter how melodies the band started integrating. However, this didn’t really stop the band from charging forward.
In fact, it barely slowed the band down. In fact, the band went into the studio in July 1985 to record the follow up, which was the same month “Zen Arcade” was released. The album was released in 1985. It featured a mere 14 songs as opposed to the sprawling 23 of “Zen Arcade.” It didn’t have an immediate storyline nor an obvious concept. None of the songs were over five minutes long (only the last track “Plans I Make” stopped four minutes, due to studio chatter at the end of the song) and the band had streamlined itself once again. The album was also recorded over a month period, instead of the unfathomable rush of a few days given to “Zen Arcade.”
All of these changes made the band seemed less overtly ambitious. However, while the band may have scaled back a lot of their ambitions this was probably for the best. After all, they were a punk band weren’t they? Of course they were. And punk hits best in hard, fast bites of sound. “Zen Arcade” is an amazing album but it is a “once in a career” type of album. The band had set out to prove they were the best, fastest and most talented hardcore group in the land. They succeeded: time to focus on improving their musicianship, songwriting and lyrical abilities.
Which is, of course, what “New Day Rising” achieved. In fact, “New Day Rising” is perhaps the single best Husker Du album. That is to say, it is their best single album and is probably their best album overall. However, this is a very close toss up between this album and “Zen Arcade.” It’s all a matter of preference: ambitious, messy sprawling insanity or focused, melodic and hard hitting rock and roll. Technically, the album is an improvement over “Zen Arcade” in every way but does not have the same feeling of rock and roll destiny.
The first obvious improvement is in the production of the album. Instead of the mess of fuzz, bass and drum thump, the instruments are much more clearly defined and delineated. It is easier to tell who is making what sound now, as opposed to the blur of sound from before. This is obvious from the first track, “New Day Rising” one of the stand out tracks in the Husker Du catalog.
Grant’s drums come in loud and clear: he sounds like he’s playing in the room with you. This is much better than the blurry “thud” of previous albums. Bob kicks in with a simple but fast and fuzzy guitar part that hits hard and reminds the listener that he is perhaps the best hardcore guitarist in the world. Greg’s bass fuses with the drums and guitar, providing a noticeable bottom end. The band then starts chanting “new day rising” in various different ways: harmonizing with each other, chanting, slowing it down, altering the melodies etc. The song plays for two and a half minutes and then disappears.
Some may feel that this is a weak song: it never really develops and features only a three word lyric. However, the presentation of the song makes it work: the band is playing as if their life depended on it and their vocals ring with true conviction. The song feels less like a true song and more like a chant or an evocation. It’s damn near religious and its truly exciting.
The band never lets up after this amazing start. “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” comes in with a trademark Grant Hart pop chorus: however, the band still tears it up like a true punk band. Grant is still sharpening his songwriting stick and his songs become harder and harder to forget. This isn’t to knock Bob: in fact, the next song “I Apologize” hits just as hard and has just as catchy of a chorus melody, although the verse melody resolutions are a bit awkward.
Song after song follows, each one hitting as hard as the last. Like previous Husker Du albums, it can be easy to get lost in the album: for the longest time, I found the album weak because it all starts to sound the same. However, this is a fault of all bands in this genre. The instrumentation and approach is limited and the arrangements often sound similar. With that said, the band continues to show off their willingness to grow and change by adding 12 string guitar to the opening of “Celebrated Summer.” This light touch proved a harbinger of future diversification.
Other highlights of the album include “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About.” Here, Bob rages against a person that he simply cannot understand. In fact, much of the album’s lyrics have a similarly personal approach: confusion, madness, misunderstanding and hatred fill the album. It never becomes a downer because the band is playing too fast and writings songs that are too catchy. By the time “Plans I Make” comes around, any listener will be emotionally drained and devastated by what they have heard: in a good way. Not one song seems out of place or like “filler” except for perhaps a few moments of strangeness such as “Whatcha Drinking” and “How to Skin a Cat” but even these feel more like moments of levity, designed to boost the listener’s spirit, as opposed to bad songs.
Simply put, Husker Du peaked as a band with this album. Everything that made them great is present: great pop melodies, amazing speed, passion, great lyrics and a fuzz guitar led attack that separated them from their peers. The best description I’ve read of this album was that it was “punk played as pop” and that is so true. Although the band never made a bad album, they would begin a slight slide into “more pop than punk” which turns off many hardcore fans.