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Art Bears - Hopes and Fears CD (album) cover


Art Bears



3.73 | 82 ratings

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1791 Overture
4 stars I didn't always think highly of this album, but time has caused it to grow on me. The various phases of this extended lineup - from Henry Cow to Slapp Happy/Henry Cow to Art Bears to News from Babel in large part one of continual progress. Henry Cow was a great band, but that incarnation was only the beginning. The songwriting here is more mature, less "scatter-brained" than your typical Henry Cow affair (minus Western Culture, which was written around the same time) - all of the diverse elements of jazz, folk, rock, and chamber music are still present, but they are employed towards writing interesting music, where Henry Cow would sometimes lose itself in a jumble of brief, interchangeable jam sessions that were complex but ultimately uninteresting.

This record is rather uninviting to initial listening for several reasons. The first is the RIO love of atonality and dissonance; the second is the sparse instrumentation, compared with the busy approach of traditional progressive rock and previous efforts by the band; the third is the fact that the instruments were recorded in the studio at separate times and before the songs themselves were completed, so the pieces were composed without an initial cohesion between all of the members. Nevertheless, not all music has to be warm and fuzzy, and if you penetrate the austere veneer, there are a couple songs that are strikingly emotional (On Suicide and Piers being my favorites).

The record is not without flaws. There is one track in particular, In Two Minds, that I see as an utter failure. Everything is bad about it - it drags, its melodies are overwrought and pretentious, its lyrics are laughable (and you thought LIving in the Heart of the Beast was stupid...). It tries to pick things up with a Who-sounding piano bridge, but Dagmar's voice is just not suited to what is going on at all - her acrobatics come off as desperate, and she can't hold the song together. Some fine instrumental work near the end does come close to salvaging it. This is the album's only real low point - other flaws in the record are rather minor (such as the lyrics to "Joan," which sound like something off the worst 80's metal cheese - yuck).

Other than those minor pitfalls, this is for the most part great stuff. It's still not as good as News from Babel, nor the Cutler/Krause/Glandien collaboration, Domestic Stories, but it's certainly a league above the early RIO of the 70's.

1791 Overture | 4/5 |


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