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Henry Cow - Unrest CD (album) cover

UNREST

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.43 | 105 ratings

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zravkapt
Special Collaborator
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Henry Cow, a lovely man. Cousin of Jethro Tull and one-time roommate of Pink Floyd. OK, Henry Cow has one of the stupidest names in all of prog, but their music is excellent. Most of the time anyway; some of their improvisations can be hard to stomach. These guys pretty much invented what we call today Rock-In-Opposition. Strictly speaking, that movemnet only started in 1978 and lasted only a few years. From a musical perspective the sound of RIO goes back to what Zappa and Beefheart were doing in the 1960s. Unrest is closer to what most think of as RIO as compared to the more Canterbury-sounding debut LegEnd. It is with Henry Cow that Fred Frith and Chris Cutler first appeared in the music world, although both musicians are today probably better known for other projects/collaborations they did after Cow split up.

Here we get the classically-trained Lindsay Cooper(bassoon, oboe) replacing Geoff Leigh (saxes, flute). Perhaps the greatest lesbian bassoonist in rock music. Tim Hodgkinson, in addition to clarinet and sax, plays keyboards. Now when I say 'keyboards' I really mean piano and a cheap '60s-era electronic organ. He must have been one of the few prog keyboardists to never touch a synth, Mellotron, Rhodes or Hammond. Cow in general were more about improv/composition than about trying to be hip with new gadgets. John Greaves uses a fuzz-box on his bass occasionally, and Frith uses some wah-wah, but that's about it. Frith is credited with "stereo guitar" on "Bitter Storm Over Ulm"(supposedly loosely based on a Yardbirds song). What this band liked doing was recording instruments at different speeds. In fact, the whole second half of the album was improvs recorded this way along with tape-splicing.

It is hard enough trying to describe the composed pieces on side 1, let alone the chaos that is side 2. Here you get jazz, classical, avant-garde and psychedelic rock all mixed together. Most of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists so it's hard to say exactly who is playing what, although Cutler does all the drumming. There are no lyrics or vocals except for a few of both on side 2(I'll get to that). "Ruins" is one of the best songs in all of progdom. The violin part Frith plays near the end is breathtaking, and the rhythm section backing him up makes it even more so. Supposedly Mike Oldfield had something to do with the mixing on this song. Unlike LegEnd and the follow-up In Praise..., this album was never re-mixed.

What was side 2("Solemn Music" to "Deluge") were all improvisations that were tampered with. Varispeeding and tape-splicing were used to make these improvs into something that sounded radically different to what was originally recorded. Warning: this stuff is an acquired taste and will not appeal to everyone. But I likes it. On "Linguaphonie" you can hear the members say things in French. "Deluge" is the closest to sounding like a composed piece. It begins with a little drums and a simple bassline which gets repeated casually. Slowly you hear what sounds like violins and bassoons growing in volume until it drowns out the drums and bass. At the very end you hear what sounds like something recorded at a rehearsal: somebody playing piano and singing some lyrics which are hard to make out. I assume this is Greaves, but I'm not sure. It's actually a nice way to end the album.

On the original CD release there were two bonus songs that were similar to the stuff on side 2. Nothing essential. Expect the unexpected with this album. "Ruins" is probably the greatest thing the Cow ever did. Soft Machine fans should probably start with LegEnd; fans of groups like Univers Zero and Art Zoyd should go straight to Western Culture. I think this is Henry Cow's best effort overall, but if you're not familiar with Avant- Prog you would be better off to start with some of the more avant stuff Zappa and Softs did before getting into the Cow. I would suggest you hear Art Bears(featuring Frith and Cutler) first, which is similar to Cow's music but more accesible. 3.5 but I will round it up to 4. Buyer beware.

zravkapt | 4/5 |

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