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Cardiacs -  Songs For Ships And Irons CD (album) cover





4.21 | 90 ratings

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The Hemulen
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars It seems I'm the first collaborator to be reviewing this release. I hope I'm not the last, as Songs for Ships and Irons is worthy of far more attention than it has so far received on the archives. Also, as a fully-fledged, gibbering, twitching Cardiacs devotee my opinions can hardly be relied upon as being completely bias-free. In fact, I can guarantee it won't be, 'cause I'm giving it five stars and will spend the next few paragraphs raving about the sheer bloody genius of it all.

First though, I'd like to take a moment to clarify as best I can, why Cardiacs (a band who members and fans alike refuse to categorise as prog) are included on this database, and why I am championing them to you, my fellow proggers, now.

Tim Smith, who leads the band with merciless tenacity, is never keen to pigeonhole his music. Journalists, DJs and interviewers will throw words like punk and indeed prog at the band, but Smith prefers to simply describe it as 'pop music'. The more I listen to Cardiacs the more I think he's right. If it's torpid grandeur and symphonic excess you're after, Cardiacs are not for you. If it's highly-charged noise rock or unrelenting dissonance you crave, Cardiacs are not for you. Cardiacs are simply a law unto themselves - not prog, not punk, not anything you've ever heard before or will likely ever hear again from anyone other than Cardiacs. It is in that sense that the word 'progressive' truly suits them.

So, onto the review.

SFSAI is not an album but actually a collection of songs from two EPs, plus a couple of additional tracks. The seamless nature in which the songs are arranged, coupled with the fact that they were all recorded at around the same time (1986-88) gives this release a sense of balance and unity that could fool anyone into thinking it was a genuine album - conceived, written and recorded as a whole. Quite honestly, it feels more balanced and well-structured than a good many albums I own, so don't be put off by its mish-mash origins - it FEELS like an album and that's what matters.

The first five songs were originally released as the Big Ship EP, which contained three of Cardiacs' best-known and beloved tracks, namely the frenetic, jerky Tarred and Feathered, the gorgeous, plodding ballad Stoneage Dinosaurs and the bloated, pompous anthem of wonderment that is Big Ship. I feel I must also mention a personal favourite of mine, Burn Your House Brown. It's a brief, fractured track that bolts through enough musical ideas for three whole songs on its own and manages to be violent, funny, catchy, jarring and immensely powerful all at once. It's textbook Cardiacs - a disturbingly hummable burst of nonsense that grips your brain with all its might and gives it a damn good thrashing. It is not for me to say whether or not your ears will enjoy such treatment, I can merely attest that mine most certainly do.

Following on from the Big Ship tracks is the bonus song Everything is Easy (not their finest hour, but the song has its fans). After this comes the tracks that originally made up the There's Too Many Irons in the Fire EP. The title track from that EP is a rollicking song that, once heard, may never truly leave your consciousness. At times hugely reminiscent of Gentle Giant (jerky rhythms all perfectly slotted together), this is, in my opinion, about as good as music can be.

Loosefish Scapegrace is, at nearly eight minutes, the longest track on the album and thus already noteworthy. What makes it even moreso is the fact that every second of it is utterly utterly utterly brilliant. A masterfully arranged, weaving, twinkling, galloping, tangling, thumping maze of a song, it'll take a good half-dozen listens to really get to grips with and even then it may well take you by surprise.

The album closes with a lengthy instrumental track - something of a rarity in Cardiacs' hefty discography. It's a stately, melodic piece which grows and grows with every new listen, and the perfect close to a perfect (technically-not-an-album- as-such-but-as-near-as-dammit-so-what-the-hell-let's-call-it-one-anyway) album.

For someone unsure of where to start with this unique band's sizeable output, you could do a lot worse than starting here. In fact, I'd say this is about the best introduction there is for the first major phase in Cardiacs' ever-evolving sound.

The Hemulen | 5/5 |


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