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Henry Cow - The Henry Cow Legend [Aka: Legend or Leg End] CD (album) cover


Henry Cow



4.14 | 221 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars Before starting, let's just dispel a few myths: the first being that HC originated from Cambridge (as did Pink Floyd) and not Canterbury, even if sound-wise they approached Kent's capital. The second is how HC is regarded as the RIO par excellence: when the RIO chart was sealed by six groups coming from six lands, Henry Cow was nearing the end of its existence, so in fact very few of its music is sporting the RIO flag, even if of course the spirit and intention was there. As for history, HC's roots can be traced back to 68 with guitarist/violinist Frith and keyboards/windman Hodginson's partnership, as later joined consecutively by Greaves on bass, Cutler (through a common gig with the Ottawa Music Company) on drums and eventually Geoff Leigh (who would depart soon after this album's release) on wind instruments. This album is to be read as Leg End (hence the sox artwork) and quickly became the UFO that every self-respecting progressive artist had to hear (hence its legend) - I never thought I'd be able to pull this one ;-).

Musically describing Henry Cow is not as risqué as you might think (even if they were groundbreaking and never-done before), but if you can picture Gentle Giant/Gryphon pre-classical music, mixed with Zappa's sense of aesthetics, crossed with Soft Machine's zaniness, and Bartok's school of classical composition, you're actually fairly close to the truth. In all truth, Leg End is maybe the most accessible of HC's records because the least dissonant, but that's not saying that this album's music is top 40 material, far from it. You will find atonal, discordant moments two of the last three tracks), but compared to future records of theirs, this is rather lower key.

Out of the most outstanding works ever put out is Amygdala with its stupendous Canterbury jazz-prog ala Hatfield with a more unconventional array of instrument. This tracks rocks, jazzes, kents, classics, sweeps you in the stratosphere and throws you back out after it chewed your brains out, after having trampled down by a Gryphon-like beat. The flipside opener Yellow Half-Moon is also quite awesome, providing chills down the spine once the flute takes centerstage, before quickly leading in the closing section Teenbeat, which will not fail to shred you mind into a pulp-like pasta plate with Frith's fuzz guitar solo.

More unsettling are the two tracks Nirvana and Teenbeat who seems to get entangled throughout the track list; Teenbeat is often axed towards free-jazz and its three parts can be considered like the harder to get music, even if the reprise is much more energetic (Cutler being outstanding, here), as they sound like some kind of Centipede in Septober Energy. The Nirvana thing is book-ending the album's first side and not that spectacular. While a good part of the album's flipside is occupied by two free-jazz/atonal music, neither Chaffing, nor Bellycan are enthralling, but they sandwich the only sung track, the Wyatt-ey Nine Funerals.

Apparently this record was made from a flurry of material to choose from, and I find it rather dismaying that there aren't posthumous releases (at least two or three) of prior-to-debut-album music that have been made available before. Nevertheless, if you are not that much into RIO (or future RIO), but would like to investigate Henry Cow, I suggest that you start with LegEnd, because it only gets more complex and dissonant from this one onward. In the meantime HC's debut stands as my fave from them and could have reached the fifth star had they diddled a little less with atonalities.

Sean Trane | 4/5 |


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