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Steve Hillage - L CD (album) cover


Steve Hillage


Canterbury Scene

3.66 | 209 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
3 stars After Daevid Allen left Gong following the band's epic classic "You" which concluded the hippie prog adventures on "The Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy," STEVE HILLAGE decided to stick around and continue his spaced out glissando guitar antics on Pierre Moerlen's newest rendition of the Gong universe. Despite a noble effort things got a little to hard to handle with all the changes and having just found a major score with his own debut "Fish Rising," HILLAGE decided to forge ahead as a solo artist rather than endure the drama of the band situation he found himself in at the time.

In most ways, "Fish Rising" was a continuation of the sound that Hillage helped pioneer on Gong's albums "Angel's Egg" and "You" and since it was recorded while he was still a participating member, many of the musicians from Gong joined in to transmogrify a wealth of material left over from HILLAGE's Khan days into full-on progressive space rock astral rockers. While the album didn't quite have a universal commercial appeal, it was and remains a veritable classic of the world of 1970s progressive rock but when it came to following up with second solo offering, HILLAGE had to start from scratch without his Gong connections to steer him through.

The result was the album L which found HILLAGE trading in members from Gong for members of Todd Rundgren's Utopia. The album was in fact recorded in New York produced by Rundgren himself who had made quite a name for himself as a producer. Given the slicker crossover prog of Rundgren and his band Utopia, it's no surprise that L itself followed suit with several more direct tracks that sprawled less and enticed with heavier guitar workouts yet still embraced the new age hippie ethos that HILLAGE had willfully inherited from the Gong-o-sphere. While the album did indeed hit the #10 position on the album charts in his native UK and having become his most successful album commercially, for HILLAGE's prog fans this album was somewhat of a disappointment.

First of all, of the six tracks on board, three are covers leaving only half of the album to feature HILLAGE's own distinct compositional fortitude. The rather strange opener "Hurdy Gurdy Man" showcased a palatable cover of Donovan's classic hit but also cast a dubious spell as to whether Mr HILLAGE could continue to forge a career in the footsteps of his amazingly creative and mind-expanding debut. The following "Hurdy Gurdy Glissando" is a return to form sounding as if it indeed could've been slipped into the debut's effortless flow but also sounds a bit out of sync with the psychedelic pop sensibilities of the Donovan cover.

The beautiful "Electrick Gypsies" is perhaps one of the best tracks with HILLAGE's poetic prose accompanied by glistening guitar antics and guest musician Don Cherry's ominous trumpet sounds. The track features excellent space rock guitar effects and a more blues rock approach to HILLAGE's solos. Continuing down the hippie eccentrics of the 60s, "Om Nama Shivaya" which is a traditional Hindu mantra brings some raga rock to the table which featured a vocal accompaniment by Miquette Giraudy who presumably serves as HILLAGE's counterpart in the classic Gilli Smyth role as space whisperer. While not bad, the track suffers from a bit of cheesiness as HILLAGE's once magnanimous composiitons had been tamped down to more digestible units.

Side Two on the original LP captures the closest vibe to "Fish Rising" with the excellent "Lunar Musick Suite" only turned up a few notches with faster tempos and a heavier rock heft. Still though, the dueling guitar licks are right out of the "Fish Rising" playbook making this 12 minute track another highlight of L. This one is the most progressive as well with loads of time signature deviations, space rock atmospherics and even an excellent trumpet solo from Don Cherry who brings his jazz sensibilities to the table in perfect form and gives this album a much needed upgrade in the stylistic approach of the debut. This track really should've been the template for the entire album to revolve around. Finishing the album is the George Harrison cover "It's All Too Much" which prognosticates the more poppy direction HILLAGE would visit in the future with simple electronic drumbeats and catchy verse / chorus arrangements. Not bad but doesn't fit on this album overall.

In the end, L fell a few steps down from the perfection of "Fish Rising." Whereas the debut made seamless transitions with an epic flow to its trajectory, L on the other hand sounds stilted with clunky covers oafishly sitting next to three excellent originals therefore i have never been able to get into this second album as a whole. True that even the covers are well performed and adequately adapted to HILLAGE's unique idiosyncrasies however the problem lies in the fact that the album doesn't flow smoothly like its predecessor. If the album started out with the superb "Lunar Musick Suite" and then built off of that established sound, L could've been a worthy successor to the debut but unfortunately HILLAGE seemed to want to distance himself from his Gong days and forge a new commercial path as the tides in the music industry were beginning to shift around the year 1976. While it may have made sense at the time, by today's classic prog standards L just doesn't have the mojo magic that "Fish Rising" had in abundance. No true HILLAGE fan will find this album missing from the collection because there is plenty on here to love but unfortunately it signaled the decline in HILLAGE's do-no-wrong days.

3.5 rounded down

siLLy puPPy | 3/5 |


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