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Spontaneous Combustion - Spontaneous Combustion CD (album) cover

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION

Spontaneous Combustion

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.17 | 11 ratings

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4 stars Cities on Flame?

Reminds me of The Sweet, David Bowie, Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Airplane, Magma, Fifty Foot Hose, Hawkwind, Wishbone Ash, The Doors, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd (Barrett-era), Ten Years After, The Groundhogs.

Yup - it's a peculiar mixture, and you're right - it does sound very odd.

But somehow it all sounds very familiar too - this doesn't sound like a band who were particularly interested in pushing all the boundaries down, it sounds more like a band who liked loads of different stuff and wanted to include everything they liked in their music. At it's heart, the music is garage rock rather than any serious attempt to write songs, and sounds rather under-rehearsed in places, the musicians pushing their own creative levels as hard as possible and being a bit oblivious to the fact that the playing often comes across as being a bit on the sloppy side.

Only occasionally is this noticeable, though, which means that overall, this is a hugely enjoyable album that's distinctly different from the rest of the garage jam-bands you hear from the 1960s - or even later - right up to the present day.

So, ignoring the dated production and poor execution techniques, how does the music stack up?

Speed of Light has a somewhat disappointing title - I must admit that I was thinking we might be hiut by something like Speed King, by Deep Purple - just goes to show how strong preconceptions can be.

Once I'd got over this expectation, however, I heard a riff very similar to BOC's Cities on Flame, then a drum accompanied vocal that put me in mind of The Sweet, or Bowie. Then I thought, hang on, what's happening in the rhythm department - then realised that it's intentional, and the slightly hiccupy feel with occasional stabbing piano chord and dischordant guitar runs is rather proggy.

The widdly-woo Tufnell special of a guitar solo isn't very proggy, but fortunately it's quite short, and then, at 1:46, we get a quote (the riff to School's Out by Alice Cooper) - just once, and then the first bit that puts me in mind of Magma - some rather cool, slicing, vocals over a sudden key and tempo change.

There's more of this after the next verse/chorus pairing, creating a nice sense of mystery in form - from this springboard, the band could easily extend the piece over a much longer time period.

A wonderful dark synth enters the texture around 3:30, and the vocal section is repeated above it. Far from feeling uber-repetitive, this creates a sense of drama, and more synths together with altered percussion take this into faster-feel territory, before the synths whoosh off into orbit, Hawkwind- like.

Listen to the Wind begins sounding somewhat like Wishbone Ash, with, perhaps overtones of King Crimson's I Talk to the Wind, over constantly changing riff patterns - there's no doubting the model for the first couple of minutes or so. But then it goes odd - maybe a bit Byrdsy, or possibly Jefferson Airplane-like - but nicely unexpected, as is the sudden quote Living in the Past.

After the second vocal section, the expected instrumental materialises. Materialises is a good word for it, and some of it reminds me of The Doors (pieces like When The Music's Over and Unknown Soldier, but also perhaps, the quiet section in Pink Floyd's Careful with that Axe, Eugene.

Suddenly, a heavier riff is thrown at us, then a new vocal section acting as a kind of epilogue to the song, that itself contains a surprise or two.

Onwards and upwards, Leaving carries a light Genesis flavour with the acoustic guitar and light percussion, and unexpected movements in the chord progression - but it's no carbon copy, this is just a passing stylistic similarity, and the song pans out interestingly - with timbral variations and ever- increasing intensity - and never succumbs to the obvious heavy jam with regular beat that lesser bands would give in to, fading out before it gets the chance.

200 Lives is a strange little piece of dark psychedelia, quite Floyd-influenced, until the Crimson- influenced surprise - the adaptation of what I think of as the Mission Impossible riff used on 21st Century Schizoid Man, cruising through the tempo changes with ease, and completely avoiding the predictable for the ending.

Down With the Moon begins almost Groundhogs like, but gets very wierd, scooting off in all kinds of directions like a cat on a hot tin roof, with some superb vocal harmonies, creating an extremely unusual unfolding soundscape, somewhat similar in places to early Floyd - but not. Somehow a tangible continuity is preserved throughout, making this a real high point on the album. If you can get over the lack of synchronisation in places, it does come together in others, verging a little on the ludicrous, but never less than entertaining, defining absolutely what Prog is to many people in the constant changing and technical nuggets. As the piece draws to a close, you can't help but wonder how they held it all together for so long, with all the synchronised improvised-feel passages, some of which typify the more technical prog metal.

We finish up with the 10 and a half minute Reminder, a sure indication that the band had a LOT of fun making this album, and sod what anybody thought. I think it rather brave of Harvest to have actually released this, in retrospect - although any record label that released Syd Barrett's solo work was, quite frankly, the only label that was ever going to release this outside of the burgeoning Private record label industry. The change to Country and Western around 6:00 is, perhaps, somewhat dubious - it certainly puts me off the track - but as it's a passing thing it's just about forgiveable. There are certainly more ideas crammed into these 10 minutes than in many entire albums I've heard, even if not all of them work.

I suppose this is closer to Kosmische than Classic Prog - and it's more the kind of album you'd dig out for one of those late night sessions than one you'd absorb yourself in for technical fireworks or amazing song writing - but it's jam-packed with sonic goodness and proggy nuggets a-plenty, so well worth wrapping sober ears around at least once or twice.

If you're into Stoner Rock, then this is probably essential, so it goes without saying that this comes strongly recommended to fans of Krautrock. If you like your blues rock nice and hard, with more than the occasional twist, then this is also for you.

It wouldn't look out of place in any Prog collection either - maybe not quite an essential, but then again, maybe it is.

Whatever you decide, I thoroughly enjoyed it :o)

Somehow, this mixed bag all flows very nicely to create a cohesive whole by a band exploring already chartered territory, but making their own map.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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