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





4.20 | 84 ratings

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5 stars Music is such a wonderful thing. I hope I never take it for granted. I hope I never, never settle for one style. I hope I never exclude something because it doesn't work for me on first listen.

Well, this album was my initial encounter with the CARDIACS, and I didn't much like it. I wasn't taken with the punk movement: I didn't like the way they 'dumbed down' rock. I didn't like the way they ridiculed my favourite bands and pulled the rug from under their feet. So I wasn't disposed to like this.

Then I caught the Marenest video on YouTube, and saw for myself just what they were doing to create the sound they make. I saw the joy, the absolute freedom they experienced, the abandonment of any straitjackets in their music, and the incredibly tight sound - and completely forgot about genre labels for long enough to fall in love.

The album is an amalgam of styles, but it is fair to say that for the average prog fan this will initially sound like punk. It's not: the punk ethos was three chords and attitude, and this band has worked very hard indeed, harnessing a plethora of complex time signatures, odd chord progressions, absolutely brilliant vocal harmonies, a zany sense of humour and above all stellar songwriting, to produce something with the raw energy of punk and the sophistication of the best of progressive music.

That's what this is: progressive music. NOT classic prog. This bears no relation to the retro-prog (a lot of it great stuff) that dominates these archives. Instead, this has more in common with bands like SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM, FRANK ZAPPA and THE RESIDENTS, poster children for music that breaks conventions. Progressive, in other words, in the literal sense.

The songs are filled with chord stabs, off-beat drums, TIM SMITH's half-spoken, half-sung punkish vocals (masking wry and biting lyrics) and those wonderful backing choruses. This is all backed by a wonderful wall of sound, filled in by two guitars, a delicious saxophonist, lavish keyboards (including a mellotron) and a percussionist as well as a drummer. On reflection, SMITH's vocals remind me of SYD BARRETT. The combination of ingenue and cleverness is vintage psychedelica, as is much of the music, and I now realise why I enjoy this so much: under the punk clothes it is a modern take on the sounds of the late 60s, and anyone who loves 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' will enjoy this album. TIM SMITH says the genre label he most prefers is 'psychedelic', and I can see why.

'Big Ship', the opener, is representative of their sound. Sparse in parts, it builds to the most gorgeous and dynamic close, gloriously over the top. 'Tarred and Feathered' is manic, sideshow music barely harnessed, the carousel threatening to lurch out of control. 'Stoneage Dinosaurs' is, by contrast, a slow proggy workout (love that mellotron, and the saxophone is just perfect) with moments of real drama. 'Everything is Easy' is pop, but the hook is so infectious I'll forgive them - actually, after hearing that tasty combination of sax and keyboards, there's nothing to forgive. 'Too Many Irons in the Fire' is another crazy track, evoking the shade of SYD BARRETT. The two short tracks following this are both beautiful, melodic and garage-sounding with the bellowed choruses. (You'd swear the melody to 'Blind in Safety' was nicked from 'Mad Man Moon'.) The album ends with two longer tracks, of most immediate appeal to proggers, the wall of sound crushing the listener, already befuddled by the seemingly random but perfectly choreographed rhythms (a la GENTLE GIANT).

The CARDIACS deserve to be here. They deserve to be heard. My tastes do tend towards classic prog, but this infectious collision of fun, energy and musicianship has completely won me over. No wonder they have a fanatical cult following. The smell of genius is all over this album. It is indeed a masterpiece of progressive music.

russellk | 5/5 |


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