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Crippled Black Phoenix - I, Vigilante CD (album) cover

I, VIGILANTE

Crippled Black Phoenix

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.55 | 123 ratings

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MELNIBONÉ
4 stars I usually pay a lot of attention to album packaging, and not only because it's a Prog trademark to link tightly sleeve design and musical/lyrical content? but also because it's a substantial part of the price we pay for CDs. So, in the case of "I, Vigilante", I have to admit that, when I ordered this album, I had no idea whatsoever about its content, nor did I knew anything about Crippled Black Phoenix (since then my wife and I have come to like them a lot). I simply was attracted by its cover art. Since he was a very young kid, our son has always drawn ; quite early, he put aside his crayons and markers to use a pencil and, later on, pen and ink. It's called line drawing (or line art) and, up until his late teens, he seldom used any other technique. Even though nowadays, he draws and paints with other mediums, including computerized ones (he works as a UI artist for a video game company), from time to time, he comes back to what set him initially on his present course. That said, the German shepherd pictured on the sleeve obviously owes a lot more to printing techniques than to line drawing per se. But still, the vivid expression of the attack dog was what prompted me to buy the album in the first place, because it matched some wolf drawings my son had made years ago.

Then, after the record was delivered and I could do more than just admire the cover art, I ran through the booklet and discovered that the album was a reflection on politics, justice (and injustice) and war, with a special focus on World War II. And that plucked a string I wasn't expecting at all : I would never have thought that, in 2010, a band under the Psychedelic/Space Rock label would have been inspired to write about a war that ended before the middle of the previous century. Since I have been a history teacher for some time, it goes without saying that, even before listening to the album, I had an even greater interest to read the lyrics to learn how the band dealt with such a complex subject and what they had to say about after the event 65 years later.

Although the sleeve, the booklet and the CD itself show illustrations related to WW II, there are some pictures that don't seem relevant to the subject, such as a drawing of a fawn and an ibex at rest amid a nest of snakes on the inside back cover of the booklet and, on the back cover of the sleeve, a drawing of an owl with a third eye on its forehead. They might not seem relevant at first, but the first drawing could make sense symbolically (figures of innocence amid vipers), while the second one could be a metaphor of vigilance, forethought and wisdom. If so, then these images have a relevant meaning in view of the album content.

That said, the first song, "Troublemaker" (8:33), is not at all related to WW II, but instead to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, the failed attempt against King James I of England and the Parliament in London by Catholic conspirators (among which were Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes). As for the music, well, it owes a lot to Pink Floyd, but that doesn't make it less authentic. To be original, musicians don't have to shed their influences or pretend they don't have any (which is impossible, since we always stand on the shoulders of others). Originality is how you use influences and your own experiences/tastes/leanings to express what you feel is best to convey the music and the lyrical content it carries. And, on that account, CBP deliver their own.

"We Forgotten Who We Are" (10:47) dwells on the fact that men don't seem to learn much from history : "As men make their own history, still they know we are chained / and bound by all the past traditions of dead generations [?] 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it', / to quote George Santayana". The song opens with Daisy Chapman's piano taking the lead. It's a light melody, with a touch of melancholy or sadness that becomes heavier when the rythm section and voice join in. As it happens elsewhere on the album, CBP use the music as a counterpoint or contrast to the lyrics. At mid-point, Danny Ashberry's Hammond and synth move along with the piano to push the melody on a grander or more ominous trajectory, opening on a vista that suggests that things have yet to be resolved. The end sees the piano tiptoeing again, but in a more reflective way than before, and then the guitar wails in, as if asking desperately for a resolution of the matter? but that one is still out of reach.

"Fantastic Justice" (7:54) is a bitter commentary on truth, betrayal and death. There is almost no gap between the previous song and "Fantastic Justice" and, since the opening piano part is quite similar to that of "We Forgotten Who We Are", the first impression is that we have a twofold song rather than two different tracks. Again, there's a Pink Floyd atmosphere, but this time, with the insisting piano ritornello and bluesing/rocking guitar in the back, it gets heavier, but then the piano and martial drumming tamper things down, until the song soars again. When female and male voices mix in, there is a feeling which evokes present day Mostly Autumn. The finale, sustained by the piano ritornello, is both grand, a bit more upbeat and anthemic.

"Bastogne Blues" (12:01) is about the siege of the Belgian city in December 1944 during the Battle of The Bulge. On the 15th, the German army started its multi-pronged push and US troops (outnumbered 5 to 1) had to retreat around Bastogne, only to be relieved on the 27 th, when elements from George Patton's Third Army finally broke the encirclement. The lyrics tell parts of the story, as seen from a soldier on the frontline ; it's both an ode to courage and a denunciation of horrors committed (among which the slaughter of 84 unarmed American prisoners of war by the Waffen-SS at Malmedy on the 17 th). It could've been a sad and doom/gloom piece, but it is instead arguably the most beautiful song on the album. It's a simple, romantic and Country-tinged ballad, acting as a brilliant counterpoint to the lyrics. Its main melody becomes both grand and cinematic in the finale when it soars and seem to encompass the whole battlefield area. As if the sky was clearing at last after days of harrowing bad weather and even worse pummeling by the enemy. As if we were now in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft (just like the one pictured on the CD itself) and able to see the German army retreat and envision its eventual defeat in the months to come. As a footnote intended for those who are familiar with the folk rock scene in Québec in the '70s, I would point out that the main melody in "Bastogne Blues" is quite reminiscent of the 1974 major hit, "La Complainte Du Phoque En Alaska" by Beau Dommage.

"Of A Lifetime" (6:45) The song is a cover of the hit from Journey's eponym and prog album of 1975. Since I didn't know the song previously, I cannot compare it to the original. It's the most psychedelic track on the album, alternating soft rock female singing with bursts of fiery guitar à la West Coast. Whatever its purpose on the album, its a magnificent track : fully Prog, yet rocking full tilt !

"Burning Bridges" (2:31) was written by Lalo Schifrin and Mike Curb, and released on the album of the same title by The Mike Curb Congregation in 1971 ; prior to that, it was used as the theme for the 1970 WW II comedy movie (at the height of the Vietnam War, such a movie shows how much Hollywood can take things seriously when need be?), "Kelly's Heroes", starring C. Eastwood and D. Sutherland, among others. At first, the song seems to be totally out of place according to some reviewers. In fact, it does fit in perfectly, as it evokes Victory Songs that were sung in pubs and taverns in the UK, Canada and Australia, when people back home heard news about Allied victories and, eventually, the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Or some others view it as if a former soldier was reminiscing about the (allegedly) good old days of the war and, thus, ironically looping the loop with the message within "We Forgotten Who We Are".

So, is it Post Rock, or Psychedelic/Space Rock ? I guess it's both, but I wouldn't argue about the matter so much because I don't care much for labels : I listen to music because I like it, not because it allegedly belongs to this or that sub-genre. That said, my feeling is that CBP are not so easily pigeonholed under any too definite label. They wear their Pink Floyd influences on their sleeves, but they also show a taste for folk. They can be quite electric, all the while sharing the stage with cello, viola, violin, mandolin and trombone. But it's not so much a matter of mixing instruments from different eras, but what CBP do with them : it's versatile and grand, melodic and spacey with lyrics that make sense. In my book, that's more than enough to thank them warmly for what they did in "I, Vigilante".

4 red poppies

MELNIBONÉ | 4/5 |

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