Top positive review
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"I hate it! Bauhaus rubbish daddy!"
on 15 November 2010
The quote above is followed in the song "Armchair" by the father figure, sounding very like Sir Henry Rawlinson, admonishing his son for playing with the tubular sculpture, "stop banging it. It's not a toy you're supposed to enjoy the thing." It really couldn't get more surreal or funny than that. No getting away from it; in the field of popular music you'll be hard pushed to find much like this. Was there ever anyone quite like him? This album came close to the time of Sir Henry at Rawlinson's End and it shows. The album as a whole mixes the surreal Sir Henry humour with some darker moments, biting satire and comical story telling. Taken as a whole the album is funny, sad and very lovable too.
Vivian Stanshall was not yet forty years old but his voice is very weathered indeed and Sir Henry's voice appears on several tracks. So Vivian Stanshall's voice isn't the sweetest singing instrument but in several tracks he gives a virtuoso acting display. On occasions, the tobacco stained baritone is a positive advantage. Slave Valse is quite incredible - apart from Emperor Claudius, the British and sea sickness the poetic density is almost impossible to follow but his acting and the shanty music carry everything along brilliantly.
There are several autobiographical tracks - sometimes downbeat but the Tube and Armchair sound positively sentimental. Nouveau Riffes is a bitter but easy to follow damning of the music industry. The music throughout, with a fair amount of instrumentals by Stanshall himself sounds quite slightly decadent English folksy at times. Other tracks employ a variety of styles even with "Terry Keeps His Clips On" offering Klezmer clarinets.
So it inhabits the "green nowhere" of Rawlinson's End but with some of the densest poetry. With impeccable annunciation and the wordiness of the songs there is more than a hint of a bygone age. I'm even reminded of Noel Coward. The closest thing to it that I can think of is William Walton's "Facade", with Edith Sitwell's surreal "abstract" poems inhabiting a world of the bored rich, "Daisy and Lily, Lazy and Silly" sums it up. Vivian Stanshall's dense poetry inhabits a similar world but his work is more personal and the servants get a verse or two.
To add to these there are the surreally nerdy characters such as Terry sounding like a re-enactment of one of Michael Palin's characters in Monty Python.
On reflection I have reinstated the fifth star because, although some songs are weaker than others, the best is absolutely priceless. I appreciate that this eccentric mix will not be to everyones' taste. Make no mistake, after the Bonzo's this is Vivian Stanshall unleashed. His poetry or lyrics are exrtraordinary, though perhaps Neil Innes has more of a talent for melody and immitation. That's the point though, Vivian Stanshall, in popular music at least, is like no one else: a true original. Even at its darkest, outrageous humour is never far away. One thing that's a real bonus is that all the lyrics are included in the sleeve notes: they're a bewildering joy to read even without the music. It's seems to me the more time passes since his death the more precious his outpourings now seem.