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Henry Cow - Western Culture  CD (album) cover

WESTERN CULTURE

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.19 | 148 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

After having founded the RIO movement and signed its chart, Henry cow released what they knew would be their last album, Western Culture. With Art Bears already on its way, having "escaped" from Virgin, and setting up Recommended Record (ReR in short), this album was recorded in Switzerland, in the muddle of the 78 summer, one could easily imagine this would be a halfhearted affair, but quite the opposite. With the Slapp Happy members not taking part, this album is much more the usual HC affair, even if Firth and Cutler take no part in the composition, having saved up their material for the coming Art Bears album. The album sports a Cutler artwork (finally dropping the sock thing), and boasts a few guest musicians

And while WC is quite a worthy and essential HC album, it does a have a schizophrenic aura with the two vinyl side being entirely composed by either Hodgkinson or Cooper, bar the last track (Half Sky), which is a collaboration between the two. The History & Prospect side is entirely due to Hogkinson, and seems to depict the bleak future of humankind. And bleak, dark, somber, the music certainly is. If you can picture early Art Zoyd and Univers Zero with more brass, you'd not be far from HC's RIO, and although there are parts, which are dissonant, others are more down the melodic alley (all things considered of course, we're talking HC, here), but the music remaining indisputably HCowesque.

The Day To Day flipside is Lindsey Cooper's work, and is not drastically different than Hodgkinson's, but it is axed more on Frith's guitars, and generally easier accessed except for Irene Schweizer's crazy piano, reminiscent of Keith Tippett in Crimson's Cat Food. The last track Half Sky might just be the best on the album and could easily come from Wyatt's Rock Bottom album done with different instrumentation, mixed with a demented RIO, where Frith manages the last notes with his blistering guitar.

This album is fitting end to the group, although it will not be the last chapter in the musician's career as their respective paths will cross many more times in further projects. While I can't really say that WC is my fave HC album, it does come close partly because the group regains its first grandeur, which I thought was partly lost with the inclusion of Slapp Happy members, particularly on IPOL. Rarely has a group consciously quit after such a high point in their career, and in some ways it is rather sad, when thinking of what could've come next, especially when this reviewer only moderately appreciate the Art bears project.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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