Amon Ruul Reviews Part Eight: Amon Duul II’s “Vive La Trance”
1) A Morning Excuse; 2) Fly United; 3) Jalousie; 4) Im Krater Blühn Wieder Die Bäume; 5) Mozambique; 6) Apocalyptic Bore; 7) Dr. Jeckyll; 8) Trap; 9) Pig Man; 10) Mañana; 11) Ladies Mimikry.
Eight of Eight
“Amon Duul II”s winning streak continues with 1973’s “Viva Le Trance.” Isn’t it amazing that a band could pump out two high quality albums in one year? Gotta love those times. These days, it takes years and sometimes decades for an artist to come out with a great album.
Take an artist like Fiona Apple (one of my absolute favorite modern artists). Her first album comes out in 1997. Her second is 1999. Pretty normal. However, her next one comes out six years later in 2005. Her latest (and perhaps greatest) comes out in 2012, seven years later! Talk about taking your time.
Anyways, where was I? Right. “Vive La Trance.” It is probably fair to say that most fans of the band ran straight into a serious dilemma with this album. While “Amon Duul II” had been streamlining in a fairly straightforward, honest and understandable way for most of their career, this album takes that streamling to a whole new level. The albums just keep getting more and more accessible, with shorter songs, lighter moods and even more schizophrenic genre jumping.
Here, the band really only pulls out the old “darkness” trip for one song: but what a song! “Mozambique” is the absolute classic of the album: it moves through multiple sections, including doo wop (?!), folk rock and pounding rock of a nearly punk level of intensity. It’s songs like this that really show how good of an idea it was for the band to streamline. They could have perhaps penned a song more diverse in the past but not one without such a solid, logical flow and with real emotional power to boot. In fact, it might be their fastest song ever.
The band then tackles a wide range of genres in a manner that shows off their technical skill withotu showing their grasp of emotionality. Not that “Amon Duul II” ever hit more emotions beyond the “darkness” or “discomfort at weirdness” emotions but the band doesn’t even hit those levels. Instead, they go for a poppy approach that is leavened by their inherent weirdness. As a result, the songs are still generally accessible but non-trivial, making them incredibly entertaining at almost all points.
For example, “Fly United” comes across as an odd, brooding folk rocker in a style the band had never attempted before. The band then tries out other styles and ideas, such as loud garage rock in the song “Dr. Jekyll.” It’s odd to hear a band of great musicians strip back their playing and arrangement ideas to a more basic (but still fully arranged) garage rock song. But it sounds oh so funny.
There are also a few moments where it seems the band is attempting to try out other peoples’ ideas and styles. Of course, they always smash them into their own framework, creating a very odd contrast between the original bands and “Amon Duul II”’s feelings on what makes those band’s styles unique and worthwhile.
For example, “Apocalyptic Bore” finds the lead singer belting out a Bob Dylan impersonation over a rather unfortunately dull attempt to sound menacing. The style of the song brings to mind some of Dylan’s experiments in style and sound, making this sound like an even odder experiment than it would have otherwise.
Later on the band seems to mimic “Roxy Music” and even predict “Kate Bush.” This should give you an idea for how disjointed and odd the album truly is the first time you listen to it. In fact, this album is even more disjointed and odd than “Utopia” which was a high point of “musical” and “atmospherical” schizophrenia.
I mean, what other band would have a song called “Apocalyptic Bore” on the same album as “Dr. Jekyll?” The two songs are completely incompatible in focus and mood. Even more ridiculous is the contrast between the epic “Mozambique” with it’s dark brooding mood and the incredibly silly garage rocker “Pig Man” which seems to be the humor piece of the album. It goes without saying, of course, that all four of these songs set entirely different moods.
Basically, this album is an even more streamlined version of “Utopia” with many of the same positives (wildly diverse ideas, well crafted melodies, clever arrangements and great musicianship) with many of the same negatives (complete incoherence, a growing sense of pointlessness and triteness, arrangements that blur the differences between the songs rather accentuate them). However, it cuts away a lot of the experimental fat, such as the three instrumental tunes that end “Utopia.” The band had cut away a lot of the formal, noisy experimentation out of their sound and replaced it with catchy, well written experimentation in different genres.
Which helps explain why many fans (and even silly critics) dismiss these mid-period “Amon Duul II” albums. It is easier to applaud successful noisy experimentation than it is to praise genre experimentation. That’s because it’s easier to make weird noises and to pass it off as art (and to trick those who want to sound smarter into bemoaning those who don’t “understand” this art) than it is to successfully experiment in multiple genres. It takes genius on the level of The Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones or even Bob Dylan to get away with this kind of experimentation and get regularly praised by both critics and fans.
Do “Amon Duul II” fail in their quest? They only fail in the sense that they aren’t geniuses like the aforementioned artists. They are simply incredibly talented players, borderline genius arrangers and highly above average songwriters. It takes true songwriting genius to successfully pull of multiple genres successfully. “Amon Duul II” comes close but doesn’t hit a home run.
However, the album is incredibly, excitably fun. This is mostly due to watching them attempt to hit that home run. It’s kind of like watching a talented batter knock himself on his ass trying to hit a home run every time he’s at bat. His attempts are entertaining and endearing: who doesn’t love somebody shooting for the moon, shooting above their station? We all root for those people and want them to succeed.
But I’d have to say the album is a success, rather than a failure. Sure, a lot of the fun of the album is seeing “Amon Duul II” try to hit the “Great Diverse Album” home run and slightly failing. However, every song has good to great melodies, engaging (it same sounding) arrangements, intriguing performances and diverse moods. Basically, it is a highly entertaining pop album of the highest quality. Only the fact that it isn’t at all groundbreaking keeps it from hitting higher levels of greatness.