on 19 May 2007
Thirty-two years on since I bought my vinyl copy back in 1975 (ah, those were the days!), and this music is just as fresh and pertinent now, even more so in our capitalist-driven world. Despite the complexity of Chris Cutler's lyrics on "Beautiful As The Moon - Terrible As An Army With Banners", we could all do well to heed and respond to what Henry Cow said then and still continue to say nowadays: that we don't have to be downtrodden and taken advantage of, to stand up for ourselves and others and for the importance of promoting and maintaining human dignity.
One of Henry Cow's great strengths was their ability to play complex, improvisation and free-form music, so no two concerts were ever the same. The two offerings on this CD, "Beginning - The Long March" and "Morning Star", demonstrate this admirably. True, this music may be considered an acquired taste, but once you get into it, you demand more and more. So Henry Cow broaden one's musical horizons as well. A great service to music, and even today the various members of this group are still active in several musical spheres, having made numerous international friends and contacts who appreciate what they do.
It's not too late, so go out and buy it.
on 23 November 2008
I can think of no other album that re-shaped my musical head.
I can still remember the thrill of hearing the first track - War - after a friend lent me his elder brother's copy.
War sets the tone for the whole record - angry, complex, layered - sung with manic intensity by Dagmar, balanced by Peter Blegvad's calm urging to "tell of the birth, tell how war appeared on Earth".
Having been aurally assaulted from the start, the rest of the album delivers revolutionary music along with the revolutionary lyrics and song titles - the only dated aspect of this mid 70s masterpiece. I'd never heard anything like this before and to this day, I still haven't. Some people hated the merging of the two bands - Henry Cow and Slapp Happy - but I think this merger left a legacy which is still going strong today. Check out the current music distribution label created by Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler - ReR Megacorp - this'll show what a legacy has been left. There you'll also find some great live versions of two of these tracks (Living in the Heart of the Beast and Beautiful as the Moon) on the Jan 2009 released 9 CD/1DVD Henry Cow box set.
on 11 September 2010
Henry Cow's 'In Praise Of Learning' (1975), is a unique synthesis of expressionism, electronics, rock-cabaret and the avant-garde. Two expressive moments of the band emerge: the first dedicated to Zappa and Wyatt and the second developed through a trial of uncertainty characterized by long pauses in free improvisation. These elements come together with the cold, hard voice of Dagmar Krause. The overall effect is an unsettling and hostile 'Brechtian' atmosphere and severe expressive tension and mystery.
The albums centrepiece and masterwork is the long jam 'Living In The Heart Of The Beast' which consists of alternating vocal and instrumental improvisations. Nowhere other than perhaps with Stereolab's 'Ping-Pong' has the political vanguard of Marxism and the call to arms been expressed with such lyrical conviction:
"Now is the time to begin to go forward - advance from despair. The darkness of solitary men - who are chained in a market they cannot control - in the name of freedom that hangs like a pall on our cities. And their towers of silence we shall destroy.
Now is the time to begin to determine directions. Refuse to admit the existence of destiny's rule. We shall seize from all heroes and merchants our labour, our lives and our practice of history: this our choice, defines the truth of all that we do.
Seize on the words that oppose us with alien force: they're enslaved by the power of capital's kings who reduce them to coinage and hollow exchange in the struggle to hold us, they're bitterly outlasting.....Time to sweep them down from power - deeds renew words.
Dare to take sides in the fight for freedom that is common cause - let us all be as strong and as resolute. We're in the midst of a universe turning in turmoil: of classes and armies of thought making war - their contradictions clash and echo through time."
on 23 October 2010
Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Yes would probably have been laughed off the stage if ever they'd played a benefit for the Italian Communist party. Henry Cow did and weren't, but then their collective `progressive' ideas were of a radically different stripe. Not for them any bourgeois notions of coherence, hence perhaps the reason why each of their studio albums for Virgin -yes the train, airline and budding space travel people- sounded as if it was made by a different band, and hence perhaps too why their union with Slapp Happy, a trio dedicated like few others ever were to the cause of odd, off-kilter songs with perhaps a little wholesale redistribution of wealth on the side, managed to spawn this monster.
Just to make things even less clear Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore's "War" was once covered by The Fall. This original version features guffawing backing vocals and a middle eight which includes a Mongezi Feza trumpet solo, amongst other things. We'd evidently come a long way since "Love Me Do" by 1975.
Fred Frith's guitar intro to "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" is the sort of thing that might have the faint-hearted hurrying for the safety of the cupboard under the stairs (the idea of male jazz singers has the same effect on this reviewer, by the by) but what follows amounts to at least three hours' worth of music compressed into fifteen and a half minutes. Whatever that might imply to readers the chances are the reality exceeds it, and at the risk of making a rhetorical point the chances are also that the definition of `progressive rock' has rarely if ever been stretched in such a way.
So what you've got is music that's as far from, say, Big Star as it is from, say, Genesis. The references don't amount to much anyway, not when you're dealing with the unique.
on 11 September 2013
I purchased this to replace a long lost cassette copy from many years ago - still find it an enjoyable listen, (though don't ask me why as it is certainly not easy music to understand). The first track is the one I clearly remember and I guess I bought the CD on the strength of the memory. I expect the rest is definitely not music most would find to their taste, but it is interesting to hear again. Can only describe it as very well played and tight, but such complex arrangements many listeners would just describe as 'noise'. I expect anyone purchasing this knows what to expect.
on 2 March 2011
I can't think of another album which takes the concept of extended songform rock music further than this record does, and as such it is simply one of the most important ever made. Add to this the fact they could improvise, and you have an unbeatable force.
on 9 November 2010
All those who have commented before me have reviewed the music herein with far greater perception than I ever could. But whilst one person bought his first copy in 1975, I did so in 1987, when the Broadcast Records remixed LP version was the only thing available new. As such I 'grew' up with the newer version, so this CD, with its original mix, came as something of a surprise, almost like hearing a demo version in places. I wouldn't go as far to say the 80s version was better, just different, but certainly improved in places (e.g. the transition at 9:47 in 'Living in the Heart .. '). The sound is smoother and a little more refined, and whilst many instruments have been treated with reverb, delay or chorus effects (it was the 80s remember), the result sounds better to my ears. Now here's the thing - a CD can hold 80 mins of music. The original recording clocks in at just 37 minutes, so there's room for the entire remixed album on here as well, yet it ain't here. A missed opportunity to contrast and compare . . . .
on 30 October 2005
Music of depth and resonance that sounds as fresh and exciting now as it did when it was written, (interspersed with some rather self indulgent free improvisation sessions which looses it a star).
Sadly the same can't be said for the jaundiced left wing lyrics, which belong in a 1970's Student Union pamphlet!
I bought this album on CD after hearing "Living in the Hart of the Beast" on BBC radio 3's "Mixing it" and being blown away by it. It still makes whats left of my hair stand on end!