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Inquire - Melancholia CD (album) cover

MELANCHOLIA

Inquire

 

Symphonic Prog

3.95 | 26 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Don't Sit Under the Chestnut Tree With Anyone (cos Hell is Other People)

You'll have to forgive me for a rather large dose of sentimentality when it comes to this album. It was the reason I started listening to Prog again after a gap of some 10 years when Indie, Post-Punk, jazz and classical had supplanted the former in my affections. During my twenties like all insular and pale young men I went through an 'existentialist' phase where I devoured but completely failed to digest properly Camus, Sartre, Kafka et al. (The resultant dyspepsia must have made my company insufferable back then as I was even more of an irritating furry oink than I am now) Such reading material merely served to confirm my own prejudices that the bloated Prog beastie was an anachronism, an affront to 'art imitates life', an escapist rumpus room of hippiedom, a punctured bouncy Tolkien castle of profundity that I laid siege to with unbridled disdain. My regulation black cannons were loaded but it transpires I had failed to keep my powder dry. Funny thing with those who proclaimed the 'death of God' is that they only conspired to proselytize an entire generation of devout atheists to worship his executioners.(We were willing fools at the metaphysical court)

My memory's a bit fuzzy about the details but I think it was my erstwhile girlfriend 'S' who told me about this album:

You know that book you lent me where the climax is some sad creepy French guy staring at a tree?

Erm.. you mean 'Nausea' by Jean Paul Sartre?

Yeah, well some sad creepy German Prog band have made an album about it...here

No kidding, bet it's Billy Smart's 'Being Precedes Essence' on Ice With Lasers

If it might crack yer sour puss for a while I'll buy it for you (sigh), has to be better than the book...which is pure keech by the way

The relationship ended shortly thereafter but my rebound Prog mistress beckoned.

Sartre set his entire novel in a fictitious French provincial town similar to those he worked in as a schoolteacher and some have speculated that 'Bouville' is a flimsily disguised swipe at Le Havre.The protagonist Roquentin finds himself amongst 'ferociously good people' (the author's splenetic description of those he portrays as unable/unwilling to shake the seductive yoke of social conditioning a.k.a. the bourgeoisie) The classic existentialist hero, Roquentin is an alienated loner who has few meaningful relationships, considers sex a deposit transaction via a human ATM, holds mankind and himself in complete contempt and a shoo-in for life and soul of the funeral party:

The faces of others have some sense, some direction. Not mine. I cannot even decide whether it is handsome or ugly. I think it is ugly because I have been told so

First up, the music from Inquire is tellingly cinematic in it's breadth, pristine detail and scope where scene and mood setting sound-bites of dialogue and musique concrete are cunningly spliced into the sumptuously lush mix and HUGE sound picture. Don't sit too close to the speakers lest you get sonic whiplash progbuddys. Dieter Cromen's guitar takes centre stage for the most part and he dials up a wide array of delicious guitar textures throughout the album. His 'bread and butter' tone is a rich, creamy and spacious distorted signature timbre which lends itself very effectively to the abiding lyrical thrust of his musical ideas. On occasion though he can and does display that laminated, but mercifully dusty, certificate earned from the 'School of Widdley' and lets rip like a shredding speed typist accordingly. Herr Cromen also exploits the possibilities afforded by modulation effects to vary his guitar palette and there are in places on Melancholia, shimmering arpeggios and gently oscillating sinews of counterpoint that resemble uncannily those of Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. It's during these passages that Robert Kohler's keys come to the fore as otherwise they are primarily deployed in a supportive role but given that this is a trio hereabouts, his piano, organ and synth backdrops are crucial to preserve a thematic unity and provide contrasting dynamic relief throughout what is effectively a seamless 76 minute piece. He strikes me as a keen advocate of the Tony Banks 'you only notice it if it ain't there' approach but just like the latter, when afforded the room, can solo like a dervish e.g. that thrilling and spine tingling analogue synth salvo on Der autodidakt.

I heartily loathe cinematic adaptations of my favourite novels, but could get used to their imaginary soundtracks as long as I continue to be able to direct the movie from inside my own head (music being one of the most abstract of all the arts affords the listener this privilege) Perhaps this 'Director's Cut' wouldn't have had a Symphonic styled Progressive Rock band as the ideal accompaniment to Sartre's prose and maybe Shape of Jazz to Come avant oriented music may have been closer in stylistic spirit to the France that the author envisioned, (seeing as how the likes of Ornette Coleman would have surely scandalised the great and the good pious souls of Bouville) Nevertheless, Inquire make a damn fine job of invoking the essential atmosphere within which 'Nausea' inhabits. A latent and burgeoning series of teleological panic attacks ain't exactly 'My Little Pony' to be sure, but the gravitas is never allowed to descend into twee bathos or precious melodrama. It does seem rather ironic however that given the pivotal moment when Roquentin realises an escape route to his existential malaise comes by way of hearing a recording of a negress singing a jazz tune (Some of these Days You'll Miss Me Honey) there is not a single trace of blues or jazz to be found on the entire recording (save the odd flirtation with shuffle time). Something of a missed opportunity methinks and even the unaccompanied female intoning these words at various points throughout, sounds more like a suntanned holidaying Eva Braun (Ulla Becker) than a Billie Holiday.

The narrative's love interest centres around 'Anny', who is Roquentin's on/off chick of many years standing. I just wonder re the 'art imitating life' stipulation if this self absorbed and now half mad porcine Michelin Woman who abandons him in the end, has a corollary with that of Sartre's lifelong squeeze Simone 'I don't hate men, I just think their numbers should be controlled, some sort of cull perhaps' De Beauvoir? Either way, Jean Paul and Monsieur Roq would have been wise to ditch the borderline hysteric beeatches pronto innit?.

The first half of this CD is unremittingly brilliant with sublime thematic ideas fully developed and all manner of stylistic departures, dynamic contrasts, changes of pace and tangential forays all effortlessly negotiated with consummate ease. Thereafter alas, the lads run out of steam alarmingly like a present day Arsenal squad around the 45 minute mark, or in our case circa the convoluted and very unsatisfying track, The Museum. Tired legs, loss of concentration and a bewildering lack of cohesion make them very vulnerable to counter attack and the net to bulge at the wrong end. There's nothing remotely sloppy or shoddy about the latter part of Melancholia as perfectly well executed musical ideas proliferate aplenty but they just don't seem to be able to actually get anywhere near the desired goal behind this listener's less than airtight defences.(I really want them to hit the target but with such a scatter-gun approach, it just ain't gonna happen any-time soon although this portion of the record has grown on me over time)

What can be deemed worthy of being salvaged here is certainly the intended denouement of the entire shooting match i.e. The Chestnut Tree where Roquentin's 'horrifyingly ecstatic' yet icy calm epiphany of 'objects being unglued from their names' is revealed to him in all their bulging, obscene and visceral otherness. Or if you prefer the 'S' reading, a sad creepy French guy is left staring at a tree.

It really matters not a jot whether you give a discarded fig about the Husserl inspired 'dramatisation of ideas' from a wall eyed jowly Parisian intellectual to enjoy this record. For those who have an affection for Camel, Focus, ELP, Genesis and at a pinched harmonic, Rush there is very little NOT to like on Melancholia.

I found coming up with a satisfying rating for this one rather tricky as it's a very firm and robust 3 but a rather flimsy and precarious 4 (3 and a half stars?)

I certainly don't regret my dalliance with a set of ideas now widely considered hopelessly passée and redundant as Existentialism taught me a great deal about the human critter and myself that I couldn't have arrived at by any other means. It also gave me a completely black wardrobe, a ten year dependence on anti-dandruff shampoo, some really 'well dodgy' girlfriends and introduced me to the Cure, my own naval and one real bona fide nugget of wisdom that some on PA should really take to heart (you know who you are tortured artisans)

Like most dreamers I mistook disenchantment for truth (JP Sartre)

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |

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