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Henry Cow - Legend CD (album) cover

LEGEND

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.10 | 160 ratings

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fuxi
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This album, which I only recently discovered, completely blew me away.

It's SO enjoyable, there's SO much going on... As other reviewers have pointed out, anyone interested in the instrumental side of Gryphon (especially the NON-medieval stuff), Gentle Giant, National Health or Zappa's UNCLE MEAT will definitely enjoy this. "Don't expect cheerfulness" one reviewer warns... Well, it's true that some of the melodies sound a little severe (in an early 20th century, neo-classical kind of way) but the music changes constantly, which makes it terribly hard to describe (just like PFM's early albums, although Henry Cow are - of course - completely unromantic) and you'll come across many moments of breath-taking loveliness. Apart from just TWO noisy free-jazz sax solos (don't let 'em fool you, there's one in the opening track!) LEG END contains absolutely nothing that's not easy to listen to. But you need to sit down and really listen. This is not music you do the dishes to.

So what exactly is there to enjoy? Well, I wrote a few things down... You'll hear lively flute solos accompanied by lyrical electric guitar arpeggios... Lots of tiny fugue-like passages which are taken up in turn by flute, bass guitar, clarinet and violin... Tongue-in-cheek sax melodies which come straight out of 1950s cabaret... Rapid lead guitar solos just as exciting as the one Steve Howe plays on "Awaken"... Splendidly recorded improvisations on bass, lead guitar and percussion which may remind you of the craziest moments in "Interstellar Overdrive"... And much, much more...

The album ends on a splendid song which somewhat reminds me of Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill (although I've only ever attended their "Mother Courage"). It's sung by the entire band in splendid multi-part harmony, with gorgeous arrangements for viola and violin. I read somewhere this song contains the first overt statement of Henry Cow's marxist ideas. If so, theirs was a very British kind of Marxism (closer to Groucho than to Karl) and clearly related to the Canterbury Scene: the lyrics refer to Gertrude Stein ("the mama of Dada") and to Lewis Carroll's immortal poem "The Hunting of the Snark".

At the time of writing, I haven't lived long enough with LEG END to know if it's really on the same level as, say, OF QUEUES AND CURES or LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC. Nevertheless, it seems undeniable that this is one of the true masterpieces of progressive music.

P.S. I just noticed I actually based my review on the so-called "original mix" from 2001. Earlier editions of the album may have sounded murky, but that 2001 mix is crystal clear. I've therefore decided to award it five stars. Meanwhile, THIS version, the older one, is getting four. Thank you for your patience!

fuxi | 4/5 |

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