When Slapp Happy and Henry Cow joined forces two albums resulted. The first was the monumental Henry Cow centred "In Praise of Learning", one of the most uncompromising and complex rock records ever. The second was this collection of basically Slapp Happy penned songs. This collection owes more to the Brecht/Weill school of art songwriting and is quite poppy is places, especially on tracks such as Peter Blegvads "Strayed". I am even reminded of some of Mike Westbrooks work. The songs are melodic, succinct and quite playful and in some ways signals the post Henry Cow project between Krause, Frith and Cutler as the Art Bears. This is a charming album, unlike anything Henry Cow was involved in at that time. Of note are the tracks "Bad Alchemy" which would later appear on the "Concerts" album and the excellent "Riding Tigers". The final track "Caucasian Lullaby" does not really fit here, a rather austere instrumental which does tend to meander. Only ever available as a poor mid-price double header with "Casablanca Moon" on Virgin, this version is very welcome indeed. This release is wonderfully remastered by Bob Drake who did such a top notch job on the recent Art Bears box set. It's also nice to see Peter Blegvad's original cover reproduced here. All in all this is a fine addition to ReR's re-release programme of all Henry Cow's studio albums.
Song writing doesn't get any more `left field' than the material on this singular gem. Okay that's the hype out of the way, now down to the business of justifying it.
The merging of Slapp Happy and Henry Cow looked unlikely on paper, what with the former being exponents of odd, vaguely `art house' songs and the latter being a band for whom the term `progressive' could have been coined. But for a couple of albums -the other one being `In Praise Of Learning'- they pulled it off. On DS they concocted a programme of songs for the last days of the world and in Dagmar Krause they had one of the most distinctive singers on the planet to put them out.
Thus, `A Worm Is At Work' is the product of individuals destined perhaps forever to look askance at the world, while the odd ditty that is `Europa', complete with horn chorale and chanting of a distinctly secular nature, is simultaneously modest and overblown.
The title track, incidentally, is an instrumental waltz for the most remote -and thus probably empty apart from the pianist and drummer- ballroom on the planet.
So anyone intent on joining a bemusing, slightly whimsical cult can start with this album as a kind of primer.
Desperate straights is one of my favourite albums of all time - along with The White album,Uncle Meat,The Madcap laughs and The Velvet Undergrounds' 1st. Chris Cutlers'intricate but loose drumming is the backbone to the wonderful words and tunes.Add to this Dagmars' otherworldly voice and a kind of junky musical complexity, and you have something which is truly unique. In fact,if I had a band,the avant garde /pop sound on this album is what I would aspire to (but would probably never acheive).And many's the time I sat and dwelt on their subtly amusing words;'Giants exist to deceive'they retreat if they're clearly perceived'(from 'Giants').A true wonder.