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Kevin Ayers - Bananamour CD (album) cover


Kevin Ayers


Canterbury Scene

3.18 | 46 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars 10.75/15P. - The second to best listenable Ayers album, past 'Joy of A Toy'. On this record Ayers attains the apex of his possibilities from times to times (that's a lot for him!), but he most importantly avoids plunging into pseudo-avantgarde or complete triteness. The overall balance: eccentric and well-written pop music with minimalist percussion, sophisticated songwriting and the occasional glam sound - and with R&B replacing the country of the previous album as the main influence. It sounds less commercial than it really is!

Since April 2012 there's a new Kevin Ayers box set including all of the albums from 1969 to 1974 - remastered, including the most important bonus tracks of the previous releases plus the corresponding BBC sessions from the BBC Sessions CD. The con side: the booklet is annoyingly slim, containing only the song titles and the album covers. No liner notes, no lyrics, no information - that's surely a big chance missed. But the pro side: I always hesitated to spend seven euros for an Ayers album which merely includes 20 minutes of music which are really good; this collection is damn cheap - and it includes the BBC sessions, although it sadly lacks the full-length BBC concerts from 1970 and 1972.

But when listening to the Ayers albums I started wondering if this guy simply doesn't require recording a full-length album of good music, or if he actually likes this tacky and lazy pop music which he stuffs into most of his albums. He's an absolute songwriting talent and could have made albums like Whatevershebringswesing become a masterpiece, but he preferred recording lots of R&B, soul, pop and country music inbetween his pieces of sheer beauty, and that dropped it all quite a bit.

Bananamour is different to that effect that the pop numbers on the album are quite good. You only get one song as gorgeous as Lady Rachel or Rheinhardt&Geraldine, but quite a lot of solid four-star-songs - and none below the three-star-level.

First of all: the masterpiece on this album isn't Decadence, but rather Hymn, a tender psychedelic ballad featuring Leslied acoustic guitar, laid-back bass lines in the vein of Roger Waters and delicate tinkling piano. I absolutely adore this melismatic cascade of melody which Ayers sings there (double-tracked!), and Robert Wyatt provides some restrained backing vocals which do not sound as distinctively wyattish as in Whatevershebringswesing, but this contrast of Ayers' bass vocals and the high-pitched backings really sound similar and similarly convenient. Wyatt - at least I think it's him - also provides an interesting percussion arrangement which is totally reduced to the bone; it's just a percussion click track like in Matching Mole's O Caroline and it's all which this song needs. A flawless song, and the doubtless five-star-candidate on this album, and the only one of that sort. Maybe apart from the subsequent Beware of the Dog, which is really brief, but perfectly beautiful under these circumstances. It moves from a lovely British brass band arrangement by David Bedford - and I mean a British brass band with pastoral horns and trombones, and not a big band - to a rousing finale with Ayers paying (whimsical) tribute to his bonvivant life to majestic backing vocals and an orchestral drum roll. But why is it so short? Bedford stretched out his avantgarde brass arrangements quite a lot on There Is Loving from the previous album, and now that he's finally doing something really tuneful he does it too briefly. Excellent it is notwithstanding.

The best of the four-star-songs is Don't Let It Get You Down. Okay, the main riff is perhaps lifted from Pink Floyd's Echoes - just like A.L.Webber ripped it off from a disgruntled Roger Waters for the famous Phantom of the Opera title melody - but the chorus which gets louder and louder while modulating higher and higher through the chord progressions is close to (pop) perfection, as well as the boozy and outstanding melody in the verses. And you get the total Steve Harley glam rock feeling because of Ayers' lead vocals which are recorded through a Leslie speaker in the tremolo mode. A slightly American brass section and the backing vocals by St.John/Strike/Troy keeps it all down-home, but it doesn't distract all. It's a pretty perfect opener which invites both the pop and the prog listeners because there's qualities to enjoy for both.

Another good track Interview/Internotional Anthem, also available in a BBC version with spoken vocals and an extended organ playout. It's got a weird percussion rhythm, weird due to its minimalistic funky sound, and in a way everything else in these five minutes is weird, too. The spooky reverberated bongos, the Chris Spedding-like rockabilly madness of the two guitars - including acute whammy bar violation - and then there's Mike Ratledge fiddling around on his Lowrey organ just like in the days of early Soft Machine. But it's sounds really unusual because Ayers' distorted vocal melody is completely rock'n'roll, but it just sounds as if it was played in slow motion. Internotional Anthem takes the chord progression of the album opener Don't Let it Get You Down (For Rachel) and the melody/lyrics of Interview, performed by the Dark Side of the Moon backing vocals section (Doris Troy etc.). What they're singing in these 45 seconds is just too hypnotic to be soul/R&B and - again - it's a short track which is more than just a filler. This is actually the closest Ayers came to a coherent construction of an album. I'd never have thought that Ayers would reprise the opener of an LP at the end of side A - without playing it all over again.

Then there's Decadence, Ayers' tribute to German singer Nico who he found fascinating. It's a damn good atmospheric mantra with Steve Hillage's guitar drone and some spacy lead guitar, the ever-constant Hammond organ chord and synthesizer bass note which are kept from the beginning to the end and the Gong-like drum rhythm which doesn't appear before the second half of the song. I didn't realize how much is going on there in the last few minutes of the piece until now, especially guitar-wise, that means after Ayers starts chanting 'Marlene' over and over. If you like the stuff like Angel's Egg and You you should love this piece, too. Surprisingly, the lyrics are quite poetic compared with Ayers' other boozy feel-good songs!

Steve Hillage also plays on Shouting In A Bucket Blues, an intelligent and tongue-in-cheek pop song sounding a wee bit like Cat Stevens. The interesting detail: Hillage plays one lead guitar track throughout the album, but also a feedback-laden counterpoint in another track, and it's the mixture of both which creates this special floating mood. But the piece, comprising a nice jazzy chord progression in the stanzas and a catchy chorus, would also be above average without the guitar contributions. The BBC version in the new reissue, however, is just the same version as the album version - even in the same sound quality. I'd like to know who is responsible for this crap research; certainly no-one who has any relation to Ayers' music.

Oh! Wot A Dream is built around a loop of bass drum, guiro, a duck quack and sounds of glasses and should be a tribute to Syd Barrett. And it's that whimsical percussion track and the nice slide guitar which save this pretty naive country pop song from being a let-down. Whatevershebringswesing was country, as well, but a lot more artfully ambitious regarding the hypnotic bass line, the deep vocals and Oldfield's wonderful and faintly psychedelic guitar solo. Oh! Wot A Dream is a beautiful, but not too memorable song - even I though I have to grant that the chorus, somehow a bit similar to the chorus of ELP's Lucky Man, is a wee bit catchy. The BBC version featured in the new box set is quite similar, but a welcome addition thanks to the increased campfire atmosphere..

The only piece which simply doesn't fit in with the rest of the album is overly lengthy When Your Parents Go To Sleep. The problem isn't the American big band sound of this song; I must admit that some of the brass melodies, for instance this cool A-G hook at 1:39, in a sense make up the best component of this song. It's quite considerable that there are many soul ballads around, even by famous soul artists, which don't feature such a competent hook anywhere. But that song is too darn long for an R&B number, and it features Archie Legget singing. He's got an unbelievably 'black' voice, but that's an Kevin Ayers album, and Kevin Ayers albums are pretty tricky affairs because there are so many genres mixed which I even do not like too much when they aren't mashed up. It's merely because of Ayers and his special attitude to singing and playing that I can get into this eccentric mixture, and when somebody else sings it just doesn't have a lot to do with Ayers. I would appreciate such a song on an album like The Last Waltz by The Band, but it just won't blend in this kind of record.

Now let's talk about the remaining bonus tracks, which is the outtake Connie on A Rubber Band and the single Caribbean Moon with its b-side Take me to Tahiti. All of these songs are in some way reminiscent of a holiday on La Palma or somewhere at a Caribbean beach. Connie on a Rubber Band is a reggae version of Ayers' classic tune Clarence in Wonderland, and although I like the live versions by Ayers & The Whole World most, it's still by far more satisfying than the oddly hectic version from Shooting at the Moon. Instead you get a relaxed Hammond organ, muted guitar melodies and a groovy drum rhythm. It's pop all over, but as an appendix to the studio album it's enjoyable.

Caribbean Moon is even sillier than the Strawbs' Part of the Union. It seems Ayers always tried to finish one or more completely ridiculous songs per year, and this time he surpassed himself in ridiculousness with greatest advance. I mean, the song itself is already silly due to its completely stupid refrain ('caribbean moon, yellow, yellow (x3), caribbean moonshine all night.'), but you have to see the video accompanying the song: Kevin posing with an ukulele, dancing and swimming through a blue papier mache in a boat with some naked guys wearing just some underpants spangled with lemons and bananas. It's one of the music videos you have to have seen in your lifetime - and the song itself is cracking good, too. Take Me To Tahiti is a slightly more serious pop song which is upbeat, but which also features vibrating and shimmering glam rock guitars and some strange backwards vocals in the middle. And, of course, the banana appears again in the lyrics.

All in all, I like this album a lot more than the pseudo-intellectual chaos which destroyed Shooting at the Moon. And it might be even a bit better than Whatevershebringswesing because there's a better structure here - and neither an annoying Oh My! nor a Champagne Cowboy Blues. Don't expect any jazz fusion or psychedelic rock, except for in Decadence, but rather a varied and perfectly listenable insight into the strange vision of an eccentric genius. The good news: with this album you don't have to suffer several minutes of utterly bad music. It might be no masterpiece, but in any case a welcome addition to a collection of Canterbury music and pop music far away from uniformity. All in all a weak four star rating for a record nearly as good as Joy of A Toy. Utterly recommendable!

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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