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Gong - Camembert Electrique CD (album) cover

CAMEMBERT ELECTRIQUE

Gong

 

Canterbury Scene

3.82 | 360 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
5 stars After the release of Gong's debut album, Magick Brother, in March 1970, the group moved to a 12-room hunting lodge, Pavillion du Hay, in the French countryside, located near Voisines and Sens. The band's drummer and percussionist, Rachid Houari, left and was replaced with an English musician, Pip Pyle, previously on drums with Delivery, Steve Hillage's Khan, and briefly with a blues rock outfit Chicken Shack. In the line-up consisting of Daevid Allen, Gill Smyth, Didier Malherbe, Christian Tritsch, and Pip Pyle, the group recorded the official soundtrack to a film by Jérôme Laperrousaz, Continental Circus. In addition, they got to play at the Glastonbury Festival. In June of 1971, Gong entered the doors of Château d'Hérouville to record Camembert Electrique, which was released on the French BYG Actuel label in October of the same year.

First thing that catches one's eye before listening to the music on the album is its strange, eccentric art. The front cover portrays a black-and-white mandala with various comedic sketches, drawings, and captions around the name of the band and the album. On the back, we can see a photo of all the band members in strange outfits. The track and personnel listing as well as liner notes look to be handwritten with numerous rhymes and puns. The big signature strangely reads: "THIS IS THE FIRST ALBUM BY GONG THE BAND AND FAMILY RECORDED IN FRANCE IN 1971.". Furthermore, every musician gets their own nickname. Didier Malherbe, the saxophonist and flautist, gets the alias of "BLOOMDIDO BAD DE GRASSE" and is said to play "sassy sax" and "floating flute". Christian Tritsch, playing "aqualung bass", gets the title of "SUBMARINE CAPT." Pip Pyle's name does not change, but one will spot a caption "PIP THE HEEP" on the front cover. The instruments Pyle plays include "drumns" and "breakage". Daevid Allen names himself "BERT CAMEMBERT", while Francis Linon, the band's live sound engineer listed as "switch doctor and mix master" gets the moniker of "VENUX DE-LUXE." Gill Smyth, Allen's partner, is nicknamed "SHAKTI YONI". Robert Wyatt's son, Sam, is pictured with the band members. In addition, Gong invited two guests to help them record their album. Edouard Louise, nicknamed "EDDY LOUISS", plays Hammond organ and piano on one of the tracks. Constantin Simonovitch plays what is described as "phased piano" on one piece.

Daevid Allen's odd, comedic musical vision presented on Gong's first album, Magick Brother, is continued with Camembert Electrique. The cosmic, psychedelic atmosphere is omnipresent. In addition, the tongue-in-cheek arrangements, unorthodox harmonic solutions, and strange lyrics play a crucial role in the album's distinctive sound. Didier Malherbe recalls that one of the key elements to the unique character of Gong's music was the inexplicable doctrine, pataphysics. Although one will still be able to detect elements of the sixties' psychedelic boom, it is undoubtedly being estranged with more modern methods being put in the foreground. One thing that remains very similar is the application of influences from jazz, specifically artists such as Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Ornette Coleman. The overall delivery of the music seems to be aimed at approaching the listener with unexpected, startling, and at times even baffling and superficial moments. Although it may occasionally seem like it, Camembert Electrique is by no means a pretentious creation, with every idea or thought actually contributing to the final result.

The album opens with odd high-pitched voices and electronic effects of "Radio Gnome Prediction", which quickly dissolve into "You Can't Kill Me". The piece basically sets the mood for the rest of the album with its cosmic jazz-rock theme. One of the highlights of the track is the way Daevid Allen's singing matches the phrasing of his guitar and Didier Malherbe's saxophone parts on odd rhythm patterns. "I've Bin Stoned Before" begins as a slow, solemn, yet amusing march dominated by vocals and liturgical Hammond organ. The piece descends into psychedelic madness, which opens "Mister Long Shanks/O Mother/I Am Your Fantasy". This song has somewhat of a count-out-rhyme feel in its opening. The theme is quickly dropped for "O Mother", which sounds a bit like an avant-garde take on a simple pop song. "I Am Your Fantasy" part is much calmer, spacey, almost ambient with Gill Smyth's gentle, feminine voice. On the contrary, "Dynamite/I Am Your Animal" begins with a punchy motif that is repeated with new sounds added every four bars. Then, an ominous groove in an odd time signature kicks in, with Daevid Allen's whimsical, peculiar yelling and weeping. The motif from "You Can't Kill Me" appears towards the end of the song. "Wet Cheese Delirium" closes the side similarly to how it was opened, with sampled voices and electronic sounds. It also features a locked groove, which is especially interesting, if you are listening to the album on vinyl. Side two is opened with "Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen's Heads", which yet again consists of vocal and electronic samples. "Fohat Digs Holes In Space" begins with a cosmic jazz-rock jam. Then, the main theme is introduced, dissolving into a more song-oriented scenario. "And You Tried So Hard" has somewhat of the Revolver-era Beatles-like feel. That is until the more varied parts kick in. But even with that, it is clear that the song follows a more traditional pop pattern. "Tropical Fish/Selene", being the last true piece of the album, emphasizes all of Camembert Electrique's basic ingredients - psychedelic rock, quirky jazz, odd rhythmic patterns, odd lyrics, contrasted segments. Daevid Allen's last words on "Tropical Fish/Selene" are "Ca-mem-bert E-lec-trique", as if concluding and summing up the whole listening experience. Similarly to all other side openers and closers, "Gnome The Second" compiles odd samples and also features a locked groove.

Dripping with exaggerated psychedelic weirdness and unorthodox musicianship, Camembert Electrique witnesses the meeting of space rock, psychedelia, jazz-rock, and high-quality cabaret. The album is an incredibly fascinating and rewarding journey through the band's sophisticated, tangled fantasy. Furthermore, this release points the way towards what is known as Gong's "classic" era - the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. A pivotal record and simply plain joy to listen to. Highly recommended!

ALotOfBottle | 5/5 |

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