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Ash Ra Tempel - Seven Up CD (album) cover

SEVEN UP

Ash Ra Tempel

 

Krautrock

3.29 | 66 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Ash Ra Tempel's 1972 partnership with convicted felon / LSD guru Timothy Leary remains one of the most fascinating albums in all rock, but the chaos behind the music is more noteworthy than the music itself. The album (catalogue number KM 001) heralded the beginning of producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's kosmische musik trip, but in retrospect it also marked the beginning of the end, setting in motion a series of events that would, less than two years later, ruin R.U. Kaiser's career and reputation in the wake of the Cosmic Jokers misadventure.

First, a little background. The original plan for the LP was a collaboration with poet Allan Ginsberg, author of the Beat manifesto "Howl" (quoted in part on the cover of the first Ash Ra Tempel album). But when Ginsberg couldn't be found, Kaiser was inspired to enlist the services of Leary, at the time a fugitive from justice in nearby Switzerland, and already knee-deep in arcane mysticism and decadent European drug habits: pure catnip, of course, to Kaiser and his friends.

Ash Ra bass player Hartmut Enke was the driving force behind the project, although he paid a hefty price for his efforts. The experience more or less blew his mind, after Leary and his sidekick Brian Barritt tried to hitch the upcoming album behind their drug-induced musings on genetic history, mythical archetypes, and heightened cosmic awareness. Never mind the details; it all boiled down to the crackpot equation Time + Space = timESPace, not exactly the most universal truth, as it only works when written in English.

Take that grandiose concept, squeeze it into a paltry 37-minutes of vinyl, add some crystal acid to the studio soft drinks (hence the title, which also references the seven stages of higher consciousness), organize at least one orgy in the middle of it all, and here's the result: a slack-jawed, drooling mess of an album, actually featuring less than sixteen total minutes of original material.

Side One ("Space") is Timothy Leary's version of the psychic mind map, and it's an inadvertent laff riot, with truly embarrassing lead vocals by Leary himself. The music is partially salvaged by the studio camouflage of engineer Dieter Dierks (headrushing synthesizer transitions; deafening reverb effects; and so forth), with at least one brief segment ("Power Drive") clearly anticipating the stronger Cosmic Joker sessions one year later.

The problem was that Dieter couldn't apply the cosmetic mask fast enough or thick enough, and Timmy's wannabe rock star singing keeps reasserting itself. You haven't lived until you've heard the song "Right Hand Lover", presenting the sad spectacle of a stoned, middle-aged ex-Harvard professor of psychology posing as the next Mick Jagger.

Side Two of this schizophrenic affair ("Time") belongs to guitarist Manuel Göttsching, creating a slow-burn cosmic freak-out more in line with earlier Ash Ra Tempel efforts. In truth it merely recycles the same chords already heard on Side Two of "Schwingungen", the band's previous album (which was itself a near-carbon copy of PINK FLOYD's "Saucerful of Secrets"). All good stuff, but secondhand merchandise, and hardly reaching that rarefied state of inner epiphany imagined by Leary and company.

The final mix became a battle of conflicting ambitions, involving up to a dozen recorded participants: a textbook case of too many cooks, so forth. The Germans won that war, thank goodness. But the album itself remains a casualty of more permissive times: a sonic monument to high ideals and low achievement.

A final reflection...after hearing "Seven Up" I'm reminded of the famous quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes (and not Bertrand Russell), who wrote down what he saw as the ultimate secret of the universe while high on ether. After he regained consciousness, this is what he read: "a smell of turpentine prevails throughout".

In the sober light of morning, this album too is a real stinker. But no legitimate Krautrock library would be complete without it.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |

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