I doubt here has ever been any other music like this. This CD covers two consecutive releases by Slapp Happy - the first, Casablanca Moon, is a mystical and wonderful journey through an intellectually barbed landscape, peopled by dissolute dilletantes and littered with knowingly arch puns and references; the second, Desperate Straights, is entirely dissimilar, being a collaboration with Henry Cow, everyone's agit-pop heroes of the seventies. Desperate Straights (THAT'S A PUN, BY THE WAY) takes the fragile lyrical constructions and musically brutalises them occasionally to telling effect, but often resulting in ghastly mutilations (whatever you do, don't listen to Caucasian Lullaby). But it's on Casablanca Moon that all the charm an musicality of the band is shown to best effect. The opener 'Casablanca Moon' is a sleazy minor key waltz reeking of seamy ill-doings and the mental collapse of a hapless double agent, no doubt in an Algerian Casbah - and who these days writes lyrics like 'lines of sweat like tinsel/ start to smart his eyes' - genius. 'Mr Rainbow' is a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud, which features a verse as delictae and beautiful as the chorus is grating and awful. The music on CM overall is characterised by a deft naivete - it's pop, but not as we know it. But it's unerringly lovely, and the closer, 'Slow Moon's Rose', is a beautiful lullably - or pastiche of one - which draws the listener into a glittering, arctic world of frozen rivers and silver trellises. But there are gems a-plenty throughout this CD; Desperate Straights also is not without its moments, but it's too diverse to summarise easily. Buy this CD - find out why Les Singes ne pensent que s'amuser - and baffle your friends with pointless arty references for months to come. But DON'T listen to Caucasian Lullably. You've been warned.
Henry Cow and Slapp Happy are an acquired taste and this review does assume that the listener is so acclimatised. Desperate Straights, as originally released, is made up of tracks 12 to 24 on this compilation CD. Sandwiching two albums onto one CD probably made sense to someone at the record company. Listeners are fortunate that worthy did not also decide to change the track order so at least that part of history is preserved, not rewritten. The musicality and politics of the bands put them at the far left-hand edge of the music/art spectrum in their time (approx '73 - '78 for Henry Cow). Highly avante-garde, elitist and insular, experimental and sometimes completely off the rails the Henry Cow line-up covered a lot of ground in five years of album releases. The Desperate Straights collaboration with Slapp Happy, originally released in '75, puts some of Henry Cow's best dream-like melodies with Dagmar Krause's bewildering vocals. At times these blend tightly, creating hypnotically beautiful edifices such as "A Worm is Turning" and "Riding Tigers" to the lyrically bizarre "Some Questions About Hats". The rhythmic devices used in many of the tracks punctuated by Krause's vocals generate intensely interesting patterns that invite exploration again and again. Not classic Henry Cow but a classic album none the less.