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Henry Cow - Western Culture  CD (album) cover

WESTERN CULTURE

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.24 | 147 ratings

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zravkapt
Special Collaborator
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars The final Henry Cow album was their first post-Virgin release and the first studio album to not feature a sock on the cover. It is also their only 100% instrumental album (although Unrest is 95% instrumental). Also, no improvisation and Frith and Cutler didn't write anything here, saving their songs for the first Art Bears album. The Art Bears featured vocalist Dagmar Krause and were formed when Cow recorded this album. It was decided that keyboardist/saxophonist Tim Hodgkinson and bassoonist Lindsay Cooper would compose the music for the last Cow album. The first side, written by Hodgkinson, is titled 'History & Prospects'. The other side, by Cooper, called "Day By Day'.

The music has quite a lot in common with the 'chamber-prog' that Art Zoyd and Univers Zero were playing at the time. Both bands of course being members of the Rock-In- Oppostion movement. Very classical influenced but there is also a little jazz here as well. The avant-rock element is still strong and they make good use of the studio-as-instrument philosophy. Chris Cutler is credited with playing 'electric drums' on Western Culture. He is not playing electronic percussion, but rather, his drumkit has been amplified. This being the first album without bassist John Greaves (in National Health at the time), Fred Frith does most of the bass parts.

"Industry" starts with guitar and organ dominating before the whole band plays in a robotic fashion. The organ (I think!) being recorded at a different speed in this part. Love the occasional distorted guitar sound. Later changes to a slow tempo with some start/stop drumming. A bassoon/oboe solos over top. Other instruments join in after. Music dies down then gets all crazy briefly at the end. "The Decay Of Cities" begins with classical guitar, some wind instruments join it. Then a tuba(?) with a steady pounding drum in the background. Some far eastern sounding guitar. Music changes a bit and the instruments interact with each other. Later some distorted guitar and noisy, clanging sounds. Then some acoustic guitar and violin with oboe/bassoon.

"On The Raft" opens with an almost Zappa-like melody. Then changes to a more chamber- prog sound. This track sounds similar to some of the stuff on Unrest. Now, it's on to Cooper's songs. "Falling Away" is the longest song. It starts with bassoon/oboes and some banjo-like guitar strumming. drums come in and the tempo increases with some great interplay between the instruments. Later some great electric guitar. The music changes quite often and flows very well. Over halfway some nice bass playing against the other instruments. Good buildup nearing the end, where it gets jazzy.

"Gretel's Tale" has some great jazzy piano playing. The part leading up to the ending to this song is nice. "1/2 The Sky" was co-written by both Cooper and Hodgkinson. This song also features bassist Georgie Born, who joined the group after Greaves left in 1976. The song starts dark and majestic with drums, electric guitar, bass, bassoon and sax(?) Then goes into a symphonic part with organ and cymbals being hit randomly. Meanwhile, something is skronking away. Later on wind instruments play in unison and then the rhythm section joins them. The music is now upbeat and busy here. Stays that way till the end.

A great swan song for this band. Art Bears would go in their own direction after this. This would be a great place to start with the Cow. Especially if you are already familiar with Univers Zero. Perhaps the band's most consistent offering, most likely due to there being no improvs. Not a masterpiece but deserves a solid 4 stars.

zravkapt | 4/5 |

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