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Art Bears - The World As It Is Today CD (album) cover

THE WORLD AS IT IS TODAY

Art Bears

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.88 | 45 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Art Bears' third and final album was recorded much like the preceding Winter Songs - Chris Cutler arrived at the studio with the lyrics already written, Frith set them to music more or less on the spot and the album was completed in just a couple of weeks. Where the previous album drew heavily on Cutler's fascination with the Middle Ages, The World... goes back to the Brechtian influences heard on Hopes and Fears and the lyrics are a savage critique of global capitalism. Frith's music complements this perfectly, while Dagmar Krause gave a bravura performance as RIO's answer to Lotte Lenya.

Right from the outset the listener is left in no doubt as to the direction of this material; 'The Song Of Investment Capital Overseas' comes straight out of Bertold Brechts Big Book Of Catchy Song Titles, while Frith's piano driven setting, underpinned by Cutler's restless drumming, suggests a militant left wing cabaret band. Imagine Slapp Happy after an intensive course in Marxism and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This sets the tone for what is to follow - the folk influences discernible on the first two albums are largely absent, while the use of the studio is now an integral part of the compositional process. The influence of pioneers like Faust and The Residents is more overt than ever, and on Civilisation the lengthy coda sounds like a nod to Not Waving/Water from This Heat's first album. While there is no out and out rocker here, Democracy features some thunderous drumming in contrast to Cutler's more characteristic featherlight playing. The sonic palette has changed, with piano and keyboards more to the fore and less emphasis on violin and guitar than previously. Fred Frith's piano contributions are his best since Robert Wyatt's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, while his knack with catchy but unpredictable melodies has rarely been deployed to better effect. The songs are also very much to the point, with six of the ten titles lasting less than three minutes, and the superb Law clocks in at 0.51 - short, sharp and bitterly sarcastic. As ever, it is Dagmar who brings these songs to life, and on Freedom she improvises a truly blood curdling wail which builds slowly into a scream of anguish and despair, while Fred Frith plays a perfectly judged guitar solo that Robert Fripp would be proud of as a counterpoint. Etienne Conod is at the controls as engineer once again, and really deserves to be thought of as the fourth Art Bear - this is a beautifully recorded album which is only dated in places by Cutler's use of electric drums.

If The World As It Is Today doesn't quite have the clarity and beauty of Winter Songs, it's still an excellent album which shows RIO at its best. The lyrics are, if anything, more relevant today than they were in 1980, and the album would work well as a soundtrack to the anti-capitalist demonstrations at recent G8 summits. It's also been massively influential on RIO/Avant prog. Art Bears continue to cast a long shadow over this genre, and like their other albums The World As It Is Today repays careful and repeated listening. Recommended.

Syzygy | 4/5 |

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