Amon Duul Reviews Part Five: Amon Duul II’s “Carnival in Babylon”
1 ) C.I.D. in Uruk 2) All the Years ‘Round 3) Shimmering Sand 4) Kronwinkl 12 5) Tables Are Turned 6) Hawknose Harlequin
7 out of 10
“Amon Duul II” had unleashed five albums of incredible music in the world from 1970 to 1972, which takes into account the two double albums. The band showed themselves capable of wild eyed improvisation as well as well structured hard rock. The darkness of the band wasn’t completely unprecedented but had rarely been done so intensely and with such outstanding musicianship. “Tanz Der Lemming” showed a band with a nearly limitless imagination that had proved to the world that they were one of the world’s most outstanding and innovative band’s on the marketplace.
The one thing that had yet to prove to the world was their ability to write music that would sell. Yes, “Phallus Dei” sold very well but this may have been due to the outlandish title as opposed to the musical content. The band was seemingly content with going into the wild blue yonder without truly having a great pop hit.
However, by the end of 1972 something must have changed in the band. Maybe they were tired of writing side long symphonies. Maybe they wanted a pop hit. Perhaps they were running low on talent and ideas. Whatever the cause, 1972 saw them releasing “Tanz Der Lemming” and the streamlined “Carnival in Babylon.”
The word “sellout” is a harsh word that can often spell the death knell for a band. Many people would call “Carnival in Babylon” a sellout. The song lengths shortened considerably, with the average song length not venturing much past five minutes with the longest song just barely topping ten minutes. Not that length dictates the worth of a composition (in fact, excessive length often signals a bad composition) but the band had showed that their main strengths lie in creating dark moods over extended periods of time.
Another surefire sign of “sell out” was the fact that the songs were structured a bit more coherently than before. Their were attempts to create a normal pop song structure with verses, choruses, refrains and even catchy melodies. The atmosphere had also been lightened from heavily oppressive to a much lighter, less intense feel. This album has often been compared to “Camel”’s work and for good reason.
So is this album a complete embarrassment for the band? Judging by my rating, you can probably guess “not quite” but you can also see that this album is still a downturn from the previous albums and a bit of a slight “bump” in the band’s growth. There are things to enjoy about this album but there are also things that cause a considerable weakness in the album.
The main problem is with the general approach. It’s not I think that “lighter” music and “pop” melodies aren’t compatible with good music (far from it: my favorite Beatle is Paul McCartney). In fact, I think that “Amon Duul II” needed to progress in a different direction as any attempt to outdo “Tanz Der Lemming” would only cause the band to stagnate and repeat the sound and style of the album. So I applaud their courage in attempting to branch out. It actually boosts the rating for me a little.
But the band is really struggling in this direction. The band had never written catchy melodies in their lives at this point and their attempts to do so aren’t exactly convincing. It’s not as if the band is completely failing to create enjoyable music: the melodies are pleasant. But not memorable.
Now, before I’m accused of being a “pop slop lover” (a nonsensical insult in my opinion) let me point out that a melody doesn’t have to be immediately catchy to be good. It can be moody, atmospheric and interesting. The band hits on a few moody, atmospheric and interesting melodies on this album but one can tell it is very difficult for them to find these melodies consistently.
Another major problem is the lightened sound. It’s not that the sound is simply major key instead of minor key. The album is still rather moody and not exactly chipper. When I speak of the “lightened” sound I simply mean that the band isn’t overdubbing as wildly as they had in the past. The songs are less wildly arranged than in the past. The dark, murk of their previous albums has been erased for a clearer, easier to understand and less cluttered sound.
Again, many people may consider this a good thing. In fact, in many ways it is a good thing: you can hear individual instruments better than before. The problem comes with the fact that the band aren’t virtuosos and aren’t likely to knock you over by simply playing. Hearing these parts individually separated is nice but few of these parts are immediately memorable. Basically, the band was better at creating enthralling, murky music at this point in their career.
So why give the album such a high rating if there are so many obvious faults? Easy: the music is still enjoyable and moody. The band was simply too good at this point in their career to make truly bad music. This album, while the worst of their “classic” period is still high quality in many ways.
In fact, fans of “Camel” and early “Pink Floyd” may actually prefer this album. It has that same lighter than air feel to it, that same spacey, airy sound that is so alluring from those bands. “Amon Duul II” holds their own against these bands. However, they no longer sound as intriguing or original as they had before which is a major blow against the album. But for those interested in the band, it is worth getting as it’s light atmosphere is nothing like earlier or later albums and only shows off their abilities in changing with each new album.
The album does serve a very important transitional purpose: it helped inspire the band to focus their efforts on shorter, more concise works while fixing the “atmosphere” mistake by retaining a more arranged and darkly focused atmosphere. This approach would help inspire them to create at least one masterpiece and several excellent albums in the years to come.