Amon Duul Reviews Part Seventeen: Amon Duul UK Reviews
After 1981, “Amon Duul II” finally broke up and stayed that way for nearly two decades. Different band members went on to a variety of projects, some more successful than others. Original founding guitarist, John Weinzierl eventually moved to England and met up with a group of like-minded musicians. First and perhaps foremost was British bassist Dave Anderson. Anderson had briefly played with “Amon Duul II” but also made a name with “Hawkwind.”
The band then scooped up drummer Guy Evans from Van Der Graaf Generator, who were also broken up at the time. For a vocalist, they scooped up a woman named Julie Waring. The band started to rehearse and Weinzierl felt that the music was sufficiently “Amon Duul”ish. He named the band “Amon Duul” and nobody seemed to care. Later on, the band was called “Amon Duul UK” or even “Amon Duul III” by fans.
And when I say nobody cared, I mean it: this line-up made nowhere near the splash brought on by “Amon Duul II” or even the original “Amon Duul.” This may be due to changing times: it was the 80’s, and the type of heavily improvised music the band was practicing here wasn’t exactly in favor.
Another major problem has to do with the frankly half assed nature of many of the group’s recordings. The original line-up recorded only two albums, one heavily improvised the other more song based (both of which were derided by Weinzierl as little more than rehearsal tapes). Eventually, “Hawkwind” guru, lyricist and nut job vocalist Bob Calvert joined and recorded two albums with the band, one of which was heavily improvised, the other of which was more song based (both of which were derided by Weinzierl as little more than rehearsal tapes).
Note the repetition there? It should be telling that Weinzierl, one of the main men behind “Bee As Such” was so harsh on these albums. Frankly, only two of them are really all that worthy. The other two are little more than fairly uneventful improvisations, poorly written and arranged pop songs and Bob Calvert wailings that are out of tune, out of time and not all that provocative.
So, is this version worse than “Amon Duul”? In some ways they’re better: the music is more listenable and more professional. The albums will get higher grades than those Diaster-pieces. However, in some ways they are more disappointing as there was some serious talent here. Weinzierl is, songwriting talent aside, a hell of a guitarist. Dave Anderson was a monster on bass with “Hawkwind” while Guy Evans was always an underrated drummer. Warring and Calvert both have unique voices which should have set the band apart.
And yet, the band never really takes off the ground or generates true excitement. Their two “good” albums won’t get any more than eight out of ten stars. Their worse albums will get no more than five or six. They are neither as trance enduing as early “Amon Duul” or as pitiful as that band at their worst.
Essentially, they were a mediocre band made out of excellent musicians that didn’t have the focus or professionalism to sit down, work through their better ideas, craft better arrangements and elaborate on their (at times nursery rhyme level) melodies. Like “Amon Duul” these guys are really only of interest to historians or “Amon Duul II” completists. Tread lightly folks. I’m covering all the albums in one article as there isn’t a whole lot to say about them: I surely can’t go off into a three page rant about a single album.
Hawk Meets Penguin 1982
1) One Moment’s Anger Is Two Pints Of Blood; 2) Meditative Music From The Third O Before The Producers Part 1; 3) Meditative Music From The Third O Before The Producers Part 2
7 out of 8 stars
The debut album by “Amon Duul UK” came out only a year after the original band shat out “Vortex.” Unlike that album, it is somewhat provocative and a bit more interesting than the rather dull “vortex” of sound that “Amon Duul II” attempted to make into art.
You may be wondering (and even if you’re not pretend you are so this sentence has meaning) what the band thinks of as “art” music? Well, the original “Amon Duul II” had really long songs that often took up complete sides of an album. Got that here: there are only two songs, one of which is broken up into two pieces.
Catchy riffs and melodies are also a bit too passe for true art. So, the band naturally forgoes traditional songwriting for a more atmospheric, soundscape approach. In fact, the band usually seems to improvising or jamming in the classic “Amon Duul II” style. So, there’s another check mark on the “art” list.
Also, there should be some wild woman singer wailing insanely over the top of it. That’s pretty much as art as it gets so it makes sense the band had Warring going all Renate on our asses. Warring is nowhere near as operatic as Renate and is in fact a bit more high pitched. But the aural effect is the same: pure art.
Oh and the album should be called “Hawk Meets Penguin.” Art with a capital “A.”
Joking aside, the band is obviously attempting to go in a more “prog rock/kraut rock” direction. Each side is a sprawling suite of half riffs, improvised bass runs, wild drum rolls, screams, simple synthesizer lines (perhaps Weinzierl? There is no full time keyboardist) with a complete abandonment of structure.
Perhaps not completely. “One Moment’s Anger is Two Pints of Blood” starts out fairly simple but gradually builds up into a stately, slow paced, sci-fi prog rock near-masterpiece. After only (ONLY!) six minutes, the band begins to really work their way into an impressive song. It all slowly builds to a gentle climax in an impressive manner. No masterpiece, perhaps but a nice piece of work.
The second song then is just a “piece of work.” This one is completely improvisation based and its much more difficult to take. It’s also 23 minutes long. It simply lacks direction for most of the piece until it starts to lightly groove several minutes before the song ends. It’s not evocative, like classic “Amon Duul II” albums nor is it unprofessional. It’s simply anachronistic and not entirely successful.
It’s a shame because if the second half was as strong as the first, this could have been an eight. If a little bit more care and work had been done into both pieces (increasing their depth of the pieces and sonic presence) it could have been a late period masterpiece. As it is, it’s a highly flawed, yet still worthy work that is as generic as possible but still fun for the hardcore “Amon Duul II” fan.
Meetings with Menmachines, Unremarkable Heroes of the Past 1985
1) Pioneer; 2) The Old One; 3) Marcus Lead; 4) The Song; 5) Things Aren’t Always What They Seem; 6) Burundi Drummer’s Nightmare
Eight out of Ten
After going a bit nutty with “Hawk Versus Penguin” “Amon Duul UK” took a nearly four year break before releasing their next album. Or before the record company released rehearsal tapes without the band’s permission. It’s really hard to tell what was going on with this band: their history is weirdly shrouded and conflicted.
Anyways, any fans the band may have picked up with the formally avant guardisms of “Hawk Versus Penguin” must have been incredibly disappointed when they picked up this formally pretentiously named follow up album four years later. However, this is an example of an album title that simply doesn’t match its contents (such as ‘Grand Funk’s’ “Good Singing, Good Playing, Good Laying” or whatever the hell it was called).
Because this album is actually, for all intents and purposes, a pop album. Yes, it’s a highly arty pop album made by some of Britain and Germany’s wildest musicians. But the approach, the melodies, the arrangements and the song lengths are all so thoroughly pop that hardcore fans must have collectively puked into their prog rock hats in protest.
However, this album ended up being the best this line-up ever did. There are a few reasons I believe that this is the case. One: nobody in the band was a true “long form genius.” Yes, the band did well with parts of “Hawk Versus Penguin” but it’s obvious they struggled in the format. By pulling back and focusing on simpler melodies and song structures they could focus their talents a bit more successfully.
There’s also the fact that the band is simply not selling out here. The sound is never a “1985” sound. Yes, there are a lot of keyboards and synthesizers (and each song starts with a completely unrelated keyboard introduction which makes this something of a “keyboard introduction” concept album) but the sound is driven by sharply defined guitar lines, crisp drumming, busy bass and wild vocalizations.
If Weinzierl is to be believed, these songs weren’t done when they were released. I’m not sure what he would have added to perfectly solid pop songs like “Pioneer” or to folk ballads such as “Marcus Leid.” Sure, the melodies are simple and the chords few but each of these songs is instantly catchy and almost memorable.
In fact, the album is almost shockingly good in its approach. The band never really trips up over themselves to catch up with the times or to sound cool. Instead, they focus on creating well crafted, diverse art pop tunes that stick in the head and which are different than any songs you’ve heard your life. The low ambition level of this album means it cannot get more than eight stars. But this is a pretty high eight stars. If you get nothing else by this band, scoop up this album. It’s so much better than 99% of “Amon Duul II’s” late 70’s sell out albums that it beggars believe.
Fool Moon 1989
1) Who Who; 2) The Tribe; 3) Tik Tok; 4) Hauptmotor; 5) Hymn For The Hardcore
4 out of 10
And the band completely loses all momentum gained by past albums by a) waiting another four years to follow up their last album and b) going back to a more “experimental” approach. Again, the story on these last two albums is entirely unclear and muddled: Weinzierl claims they were rush released after the death of Calvert as a sort of tribute. He has complained they weren’t finished but there was nothing the band could do after Bob died. Perhaps that would explain their low quality and why they were released back to back.
But I can’t buy the whole “unfinished” thing. Not entirely. I’m not really sure what more they could have gained from working on these songs any more. The type of half assed experimental bullshit the band tries to pull here is so far out of date with the times and so antiquated, unsuccessful and wasteful that it’s hard not to actually feel a bit angry towards them while listening to the album.
I mean why, WHY would the band suddenly abandon the successful approach of their previous album? Yes, I get the whole “gotta keep changing” thing that drove “Amon Duul II” but why change in this way? Because of Calvert? I find that hard to believe: Calvert actually flourished well in the mid period space-pop setting of “Hawkwind.”
Perhaps it was pure laziness. The effort that went into this album was obviously minimal: it sounds like the band could have bashed this out in an afternoon. The band once again goes for a “jam” based approach but they don’t even approach the density of sound and effectiveness of “Hawk Versus Penguin” let alone “Tanz Der Lemming.” They do integrate more synthesizers and industrial sounding noises but this is no great prize.
I mean, something like nearly 15 minutes of the album are wasted on go-nowhere ideas that took no time to conceive. The clock sounds that start “Tik Tok” are boring, offensively over long and nowhere near as effective as the sounds from “Dark Side of the Moon.” “Hauptmotor” starts with nearly seven minutes of “nature” sounds that set no mood but annoyance and which seem to rip off Wendy Carlos. “Who Who” starts with an annoying, pseudo industrial sounding drum beat that just…never…stops…
And then when the songs do start, the band simply spins its tires. The basic formula is “Calvert-blathers-crap-over-top-over-one-riff.” Sure, the band tries tricks with sound effects and volume levels but these effects are incredibly minimal and pointless. Worst of all, the band ends the album with an India mocking “sitar showcase” which is so painful to listen to and so utterly pointless that it almost seems racist.
Sure, “The Tribe” has a solid hard rock drive to it that makes it stand out a bit while “Tik Tok” has a justifiably famous riff. But there is simply nothing here. The band was completely out of ideas and I can’t even blame Calvert here. After all, he didn’t force the band to “compose” such nonsense.
Die Losung 1989
1) Big Wheel; 2) Urban Indian; 3) Adrenalin Rush; 4) Visions Of Fire; 5) Drawn To The Flame Pt. 1; 6) They Call It Home; 7) Die Lösung; 8) Drawn To The Flame Pt. 2.
4 out of 10
“Die Losung” was released the same year as “Fool Moon” and is basically that albums “Meetings with Menmachines.” The band has once again streamlined its sound into a more pop and rock based format. However, unlike that album, they completely fail to do anything of worth and completely embarrasses themselves again, thankfully for the last time.
In fact, I’d say this album is an even bigger attempt to sell out than previous albums. The tones of each instrument are as commercial as they’ve ever been. The melodies and arrangements are even simpler and the subject matter (especially on the turgid “Urban Indian”) are so grotesque that fans of “Motley Crue” may have due them.
This is not to say that the band sounds like hair metal. They don’t. This is also not to say that the band sounds like synth pop. They sure don’t. Instead, they sound like an out of date, clueless, pointless band that is trying to fit in to the times to sell records but without “selling out.” They stick to their tried and true “arty” methods which are a) completely inappropriate and b) completely unsuccessful. Think of this album as the band’s “Almost Alive” but without the funk influences.
I mean, it’s really hard to figure out the purpose and goals of these albums, as they were recorded and released under such murky circumstances. But whatever the purpose and goals (and whether they are finished or not) they were commercially released as finished albums and must be reviewed as such.
Basically, the band goes for a straightforward rock sound that lacks the charm, wit and intelligence of “Menmachines.” The guitar tones are highly processed in a late 80’s way that removes the charm and “sex” out of the guitar. The synthesizers are so late 80’s you’ll want to cry. Calvert is completely wasted, ranting and raving on top of utterly ugly backing tracks in an utterly ugly and out of tune way.
Luckily, Julie Warring makes a reappearance on the last two tracks. And sure, her pleasant voice helps lift these two tracks above the mark. But barely, just barely and hardly enough to really save the album from utter ruin.
Weinzierl was smart enough to stop the band at this point. What had started as formally exciting and potentially worthwhile idea had de-evolved into an ugly mess of contrasting ideas and poorly thought out conception. Even “Bee As Such” is worthier than these last two albums.
And this is where the story of “Amon Duul” ends for me. Of course, I already covered the band’s late period albums with and without Weinzierl. But I shall no more have to write about this band and for that I’m grateful. It’s time to move on to something a bit easier to manage. A band that is a bit more streamlined, yet worthy. Perhaps a high quality pop-rock band that is highly beloved but sorely misunderstood by many people. Most importantly, a band that doesn’t have so many damn albums.
Stay tuned for my ABBA reviews!