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Slapp Happy - Casablanca Moon CD (album) cover

CASABLANCA MOON

Slapp Happy

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.60 | 29 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Following their Polydor debut Sort Of, Slapp Happy recorded a follow up which again featured backing from members of Faust. Unfortunately Polydor decided not to release it, and it languished in the vaults until Recommended gave it a much deserved release in 1980. Salvation appeared in the form of Virgin, flush with the profits from Tubular Bells, and this album was more or less a remake with the song Haiku replacing Charlie & Charlie from the Faust version. Debate rages to this day as to which is the better version; some dismiss the backing on this version as the work of session men, which is a tad unfair as the trio are backed by a stellar crew of players including cameos from Faust's Jean Herve Peron and Henry Cow's Geoff Leigh.

Whichever version you pick, there's no question that this album marked a significant progression from their fine debut album. Dagmar emerged here as the principal vocalist, with Blegvad getting just one lead vocal and a duet. Moore and Blegvad's songwriting had matured considerably as well, with Blegvad's erudite lyrics sharper and wittier and Moore's skewed pop songwriting moving more towards a kind of pan European cabaret style, with a definite RIO twist. The arrangements are largely acoustic, and are mostly sympathetic to the songwriting, although in places the strings add an unnecessary saccharine touch. From the warped tango of the opening track it's clear that this is no conventional rock album, and the first 6 tracks are infused with the kind of whimsy (described as 'sinister' by Blegvad) found on albums by Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. A particular highlight is Mr Rainbow, a tribute to the French poet Rimbuad with one of his poems sung by Dagmar, giving a foretaste of her acclaimed interpretations of Brecht songs, this being juxtaposed with a down and dirty rock interlude where Blegvad sings lead for the first time on the album. The following 2 songs opened the b side of the vinyl original and are closer to the acoustic soft rock of Carole King or James Taylor than to RIO - the Faust versions of The Secret and A Little Something are harder edged and the better for it. The album closes with 3 more strong songs, including Blegvad's excellent Haiku. This is a kind of continuation of Heading for Kyoto from Sort Of, which was inspired by Basho's classic The Narrow Road To The Deep North. Haiku is written as a series of elegantly phrased - you guessed it - haikus, and the lyrics show that Blegvad was deeply immersed in the work of Basho and his acolytes and his lyrics do justice to the form in a way that few non Japanese have ever achieved. The lines 'Systole, diastole/Dealing with the parts but feeling with the whole...' have a triple inverted irony which crams more into a handful of syllables than many songwriters manage on entire albums.

After this Slapp Happy would forge an alliance with another great avant prog outfit, Henry Cow, and would subsequently resurface once a decade or so to the delight of of their small but intensely loyal fanbase. This is an album which is full of hidden delights, and it was through hearing it that I became acquainted with Basho, visited the Rue St Jacques in Paris (during a near riot, with the French riot police on one side and some very mean looking protesters on the other), read Rimbaud and learned the meaning of the words 'systole' and 'diastole' (look them up. I had to). Recommended, but as you've probably guessed I'm not 100% objective here

Syzygy | 4/5 |

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