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Gong - Zero to Infinity  CD (album) cover

ZERO TO INFINITY

Gong

 

Canterbury Scene

3.51 | 72 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This album was widely hailed as a major return to form for Gong, but ultimately proves to be a bit of a disappointment. It makes for pleasant listening, and it frequently has something of the feel of Gong's golden era, but only intermittently delivers the inspiration and imagination that they're truly capable of.

The album starts off promisingly with Foolefare/Magdalene, which feature the twin horns of Travis and Malherbe chasing each other over a tight Gong groove, the whole thing returning to Earth before it drifts off into space altogether. The Invisible Temple opens with Gilli Smyth declaiming over glissando guitar and flute, before drifting off into a lengthy jam featuring some slightly insipid sax over a lazy, trip hop influenced beat. They're clearly referring back to the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy here, but back in the 1970s this kind of noodling was kept under tight control - here it simply plods on, not unpleasant but you keep waiting for something to happen. This sets the mood for rather too much of the album - the contemporary sounds are welcome, but too often there's a lack of real substance. Most tracks start out promisingly enough, but fail to develop in any meaningful sense - it's no accident that the best songs are also the shortest.

Fortunately the band recover their focus from time to time. About half way through comes The Mad Monk, a prime slice of Allen lunacy with some wonderfully ham fisted piano from the man himself. The one bona fide classic comes as we get to the final three tracks - Bodilingus is one of Allen's masterpieces, which makes much that surrounds it seem pale in comparison. Inspired wordplay, one of his greatest vocal performances and the band suddenly playing as though their lives (or at any rate their royalty cheques) depend on it. Crystal clear and supremely tight, for four magical minutes Gong are dragged bodily up to date, with Allen sounding unashamedly his age and as badly behaved as ever. The final two tracks are also strong contenders, if a little over long, and bring the album to a dignified finish.

With a stronger willed producer this could have been a convincing 40 minute album, but the ideas are spread rather thinly across the 63 minute playing time. The old hands all turn in some good performances - Malherbe remains probably the best flautist in rock, Gilli Smyth's contributions are well written, Mike Howlett is as nimble fingered as ever and Daevid Allen is still Daevid Allen - while the 'new' boys fit in nicely, but for too much of the time they cruise when they could be flying. Newcomers should bypass this in favour of Camembert Electrique; older fans can skip to the better tracks and dream of what could have been.

Syzygy | 3/5 |

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