Amon Duul Reviews Part Six: Amon Duul II’s “Wolf City”
1) Surrounded by the Stars 2) Green-Bubble-Raincoated-Man 3) Jail-House-Frog 4) Wolf City 5) Wie der Wind am Ende einer Strasse 6) Deutsch Nepal 7) Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge
9+ out of 10
After the release of “Carnival in Babylon” in 1972, the band reconvened in their studio in July to record another album. When it was released, the fans of “Amon Duul II” must have shaken their heads in anger, with the word “sell out” hanging even more prominently on their lips. The band they had fallen in love with was falling even further into the depths of commercial clap trap.
This time, the album had NO songs over 10 minutes long! The longest song didn’t even reach eight minutes in length. Not only that, but the album was an incomprehensibly short 35 minutes, making it the band’s shortest effort yet. Yes, the album cover was a disturbing wolf head and the album itself was named “Wolf City” but there was no way possible this could be a good album.
My rating of this album would suggest otherwise. This album is very nearly a masterpiece of short piece German rock and roll. Although the songs may be shorter, they aren’t exactly brimming with catchy pop melodies, the type of melodies that would indicate a sell out. Instead, the band sets their dials back to “dark.”
Again, I want to stress that I’m not some kind of “dark” music fiend. However, “Amon Duul II” simply does dark better than they do light, which is proven by this album. The opener “Surrounded by Stars” is one of their better mid-length epics: the overdubbing is back. The sound is murky, the vocals are a bit off key, the lyrics are odd and the song weaves through multiple sections while retaining a dark, hard hitting atmosphere.
The band quickly moves through a wide variety of different moods and styles. “Green-Bubble Raincoated Man” is an odd, slightly experimental piece with off kilter arrangements and odd melodies. “Jailhouse Frog” storms ahead quickly with a rampaging riff that doesn’t sound a lick like “Jailhouse Rock” but which has a similar hard rocking power.
“Wolf City” follows, which moves through a nearly oppressive, seemingly fatalistic atmosphere. It is the masterpiece of the album: the mood set by this track is one of nearly suicidal gloom. It’s amazing that the band can conjure up these moods with a few well placed chords and melodies. It is even more amazing that the band never seems to fall into self parody or over the top melodrama. Instead, the create realistic dark moods which has the effect of making these moods even more effective than the melodramatic posturings over other, lesser artists.
Another point that falls in “Amon Duul II”’s favor is their sense of humor. “Deutsch Nepal” almost nearly falls into a parodic dark level: the lurching, frightening melody almost seems too exaggerated to be taken seriously. The band does an excellent job of arranging instruments to focus even heavily on the darkness of the tune. Then, a grim narrator comes in and begins reciting a set of lyrics in German.
However, the band enlightens this atmosphere by having the narrator cough at various points throughout the track. These points are almost strategically arranged at the points wherein the track approaches its most ridiculous levels. It is a small touch but it is a saving touch: it shows that the band doesn’t take this darkness 100% seriously. That is to say, they take their job of making great music seriously, but they don’t want us to think of them as Nazi’s (the feel the track honestly creates at times).
The biggest accomplishment of this album lies not only in the quality of the music (which is amongst their best) but in the way the album fully finishes the band’s “transition” to shorter, more straightforward music. After all, it’s not as if the band truly did only long numbers before: however, even these shorter numbers tended to be jam based and instrumental. These shorter tunes are now arranged in a more classic pop and rock format, making them easier to grasp.
However, making the tunes more streamlined and easier to understand did not actually make the band loses its artsier, more experimental edges. If anything, structuring these experimental tunes in a more straightforward way actually helps enhance the effectiveness of the tunes.
No longer is the band simply lost in an incredible murky, atmospheric haze. Instead, they are creating darkly, incredibly moody songs that can resonate with more people. After all, more people can appreciate a murky mood piece when it has an easier to hum melody and doesn’t top 20 minutes.
This isn’t to disparate their earlier work. In fact, that work is truly their groundbreaking work and should be remembered as their most important work, historically. However, albums of great, short and mid-range songs like this live up to the band’s early legacy. “Wolf City” is more immediately entertaining than their earlier albums while retaining a similar, but slightly reduced edge. As a result, I can’t help but give it as high of a rating as their other albums and consider it another masterpiece.
The band would begin integrating more streamlined song ideas into their work at this point to varying degrees of success. Due to the success in their “shorter song” experiments, the band still created worthy albums of great music for several more years. Perhaps not as experimental, but just as enjoyable. But first, the band took an odd detour…