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Henry Cow - In Praise Of Learning CD (album) cover

IN PRAISE OF LEARNING

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.90 | 122 ratings

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Epignosis
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
2 stars Henry Cow's most politically-charged album (no wonder the dominant color of the artwork is red- this album consists of Communist ideology), In Praise of Learning is more of a collaboration with avant-garde progressive rock band Slapp Happy even though it is considered a Henry Cow album only. The most noticeable addition (and what an understatement that is) to the ensemble is vocalist Dagmar Krause. Krause has an unconventional singing voice; a lot of the time, she sounds like an angry Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers movies. Fred Frith indulges in some fantastic guitar work on this album, but his best bits are on the more coherent songs. The trouble with this album is that it's so uneven. Half of the tracks are excellent examples of avant-garde progressive rock, and the other half are pure, unadulterated fiddling and noise. Tracks like these are the sort that soil the genre for me. Continual discordance and noise is simply not something I can appreciate, let alone listen to. Much of the time I feel like I could have made this album if I were nine-years-old and drunk.

"War" This song has crept into my subconscious with a vengeance. I find myself singing it even in public (as best I can and with the consequence of being the recipient of more than one strange look from the elderly), but it's just a great unconventional piece of music, probably Henry Cow at their best. Krause spits out the words like venom from a furious lamia. It also has some outstanding musicianship, including sax and bass. Those quick slides up the neck of the bass are a nice touch, and even the less musical sections of the music serve as an interesting bridge.

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" The opening distorted guitar riff (a rare sound for Henry Cow) is highly interesting, as are Krause's hypnotic vocals. A synthesizer lead follows the main melody, and the lyrics are a call to arms against capitalism (the beast of the song's title). The heavy music abruptly stops as some quiet piano surfaces and Krause sings over it. Odd percussion work takes over thereafter, and then there's some even more unconventional keyboard business. The vocal melodies become even weirder, sung as they are over stark instrumentation. The violin is a rare moment of beauty in this highly offbeat piece of music, and I cannot help but be reminded of King Crimson instrumentals such as "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" or "Providence." At several points, Frith is on fire as a guitarist (perhaps avant-garde's answer to Robert Fripp), and the bass playing of John Greaves is outstanding. The final moments of the song are certainly highlights, with a phenomenal movement on piano and drums.

"Beginning: The Long March" This is six-and-a-half grueling minutes of seemingly random noise. I fail to see why anyone delights in listening to this.

"Beautiful as the Moon- Terrible as an Army With Banners" Over a dark piano, deep bass, and easygoing percussion, Krause sings another highly mesmerizing melody. Despite this being one of the simplest pieces on the album, overall the music is fairly unembellished even if the piano work is strangely chaotic and rhythmic all at once. I think Cutler's percussive work here is the best on the album (perhaps second to that of the opener).

"Morning Star" Titled after a communist newspaper, this is another improvisational instrumental, with exotic-sounding bends, bizarre noises, and disorderly drumming. Most of the notes sound like the strings of a guitar had been tuned down as far as they would go, and then chords played as the player manipulated the tuning keys. The squealing woodwind runs all over the place. As with "Beginning: The Long March," I just don't see how this can be anybody's idea of good music.

"Lovers of Gold" This is a final plea for Communism: "Lovers of gold, give all you own to bats, and spiders, and to moles." For the most part, this track consists of further wild experimentation and irrational-sounding improvisation. All of the instruments are all over the place even though the track maintains a thick atmosphere due to the background sound. Hardly my idea of pleasing music, but to each his own.

Epignosis | 2/5 |

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