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Henry Cow - Western Culture CD (album) cover

WESTERN CULTURE

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.29 | 263 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Henry Cow in a nutshell?

After the release of In Praise of Learning, Henry Cow toured Europe intensively for nearly two years, which ultimately compelled John Greaves to leave. To replace him, the band recruited a young female cellist Georgie "Georgina" Born. Despite the fact that she had never played bass guitar before, she adapted well and turned out to be quite proficient with the instrument. Dagmar Krause, the band's vocalist, left the group due to poor health, which made it impossible for her to tour. However, she agreed to sing on Henry Cow's upcoming album. In the end, the material known as Hopes and Fears was released by the trio of Fred Frith, Chris Cutler, and Dagmar Krause under the name Art Bears. Almost simultaneously, numerous problems forced Henry Cow to break up. Not for long, however, as the band recorded their last album Western Culture a few months later as a quartet consisting of Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson, Chris Cutler, and Lindsay Cooper.

Western Culture is the first studio album that does not have the band's signature sock on the cover. The sound is once again strongly oriented towards classical music. It's their only entirely instrumental album (Unrest did feature some word-less vocal parts). The jazz methods are gradually estranged with only tiny bits of the genre's influence, mainly on improvisational passages and on parts relying on heavier rhythm. The contemporary classical music influences of Schoenberg or Stravinsky are evident, while the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, once an important element, is alienated. All this made the quartet sound somewhat similar to Art Zoyd or Univers Zero. Henry Cow introduces electronic effects, which were to some extent used on In Praise Of Learning. Not infrequently, the band also plays in odd time signatures, which is typical of them.

Fred Frith's fuzz guitar does not play a substantial role here, compared to previous releases. It is used economically, more as a musical ornament than a solo instrument, like on previous releases. In addition, Frith introduces a completely new element to Henry Cow's music ? an acoustic guitar, which has a bright percussive sound, fitting perfectly the band's music. He also plays bass parts (Georgie Born plays the instrument on one track only) as well as soprano saxophone. However, he completely has abandoned playing violin, letting Anne-Marie Roelofs handle the instrument. In addition to wind instruments and piano, Tim Hodgkinson uses synthesizer and organ, although not the lush Hammond, a mainstay of progressive rock, but the organ sounding closer to a violin or a harmonium. Lindsay Cooper laid down the bassoon, oboe, Soprano sax, and sopranino recorder parts, while Chris Cutler supplied the band with trombone and, of course, drum work. One of the tracks also includes a guest pianist, Irene Schweizer, whose playing gives the band a jazzy flavor. Taken together, all these instruments create a very unique, yet familiar sound.

Some moments on Western Culture remind me of the band's debut Legend. This might be partially caused by the band's general retreat towards chamber influences. The album is rather short at only 36 minutes long divided into seven pieces, each of which has a different feel.

Western Culture was Henry Cow's farewell song. The band blessed us with four albums. Although not flawless, they all are very different and one-of-a-kind experiences. Sometimes jazzy, sometimes classical, the band always looked for what had not yet been said. They still remain a very respected band, known as one of the inventors of experimental rock. Western Culture is a quintessential album of the group, summing up everything they had to say over the ten years of their existence. Five Stars!

ALotOfBottle | 5/5 |

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