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Slapp Happy


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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Following their Polydor debut Sort Of, Slapp Happy recorded a follow up which again featured backing from members of Faust. Unfortunately Polydor decided not to release it, and it languished in the vaults until Recommended gave it a much deserved release in 1980. Salvation appeared in the form of Virgin, flush with the profits from Tubular Bells, and this album was more or less a remake with the song Haiku replacing Charlie & Charlie from the Faust version. Debate rages to this day as to which is the better version; some dismiss the backing on this version as the work of session men, which is a tad unfair as the trio are backed by a stellar crew of players including cameos from Faust's Jean Herve Peron and Henry Cow's Geoff Leigh.

Whichever version you pick, there's no question that this album marked a significant progression from their fine debut album. Dagmar emerged here as the principal vocalist, with Blegvad getting just one lead vocal and a duet. Moore and Blegvad's songwriting had matured considerably as well, with Blegvad's erudite lyrics sharper and wittier and Moore's skewed pop songwriting moving more towards a kind of pan European cabaret style, with a definite RIO twist. The arrangements are largely acoustic, and are mostly sympathetic to the songwriting, although in places the strings add an unnecessary saccharine touch. From the warped tango of the opening track it's clear that this is no conventional rock album, and the first 6 tracks are infused with the kind of whimsy (described as 'sinister' by Blegvad) found on albums by Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. A particular highlight is Mr Rainbow, a tribute to the French poet Rimbuad with one of his poems sung by Dagmar, giving a foretaste of her acclaimed interpretations of Brecht songs, this being juxtaposed with a down and dirty rock interlude where Blegvad sings lead for the first time on the album. The following 2 songs opened the b side of the vinyl original and are closer to the acoustic soft rock of Carole King or James Taylor than to RIO - the Faust versions of The Secret and A Little Something are harder edged and the better for it. The album closes with 3 more strong songs, including Blegvad's excellent Haiku. This is a kind of continuation of Heading for Kyoto from Sort Of, which was inspired by Basho's classic The Narrow Road To The Deep North. Haiku is written as a series of elegantly phrased - you guessed it - haikus, and the lyrics show that Blegvad was deeply immersed in the work of Basho and his acolytes and his lyrics do justice to the form in a way that few non Japanese have ever achieved. The lines 'Systole, diastole/Dealing with the parts but feeling with the whole...' have a triple inverted irony which crams more into a handful of syllables than many songwriters manage on entire albums.

After this Slapp Happy would forge an alliance with another great avant prog outfit, Henry Cow, and would subsequently resurface once a decade or so to the delight of of their small but intensely loyal fanbase. This is an album which is full of hidden delights, and it was through hearing it that I became acquainted with Basho, visited the Rue St Jacques in Paris (during a near riot, with the French riot police on one side and some very mean looking protesters on the other), read Rimbaud and learned the meaning of the words 'systole' and 'diastole' (look them up. I had to). Recommended, but as you've probably guessed I'm not 100% objective here

Report this review (#107898)
Posted Thursday, January 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Slapp Happy was an ambitious Art-Rock trio from the glory days of the genre, back in the 70's, who were mostly remembered for their collaboration with Henry Cow. But before the Avant-Prog work with Henry Cow on the albums Desperate Straights and In Praise Of Learning, there were those sentimental and complex arrangements of Casablanca Moon.

There is a story surrounding the album involving Slapp Happy's collaboration with the band Faust. The two collectives worked together on this album, but the project didn't work out since Polydor rejected the final product. To tell you the truth, I wasn't all that impressed with the few bit of Acnalbasac Noom that I've listened to on YouTube. This meant that Slapp Happy had to re-record most of the material once they moved to Virgin Records.

I'm actually rather surprised that this release wasn't the huge hit that it deserved to be. The music arrangements are quite excellent, still it's Dagmar Krause's vocals that completely steal the show on practically every number. Everyone who has listened to Krause's career in reverse, just like I did, will probably be surprised by the straightforward melodic approach that her voice undertakes here. Some might even criticize this vocal approach, dismissing it for relying too much on the influences from the music scene of its time, but too me Krause has a dominating presence here that can be compared to that of Nico of the first Velvet Underground record.

Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad do a great job behind the scenes, plus the vast list of guest appearances that are literally crammed on this 35 minute long record make their presence known. There are just so many great tunes that will grab any Art Rock lovers attention. Everything from the opening number's flamenco styled rhythms, to quirky tracks like Michelangelo or the sugary A Little Something make it a highly versatile album experience.

I feel like I'm repeating myself, but this is definitely worth repeating again and again --- Slapp Happy's Casablanca Moon is every Art Rock fan's dear friend that they should grab on to and store in a safety vault. Still, a treasure of this caliber might not be for every progressive rock fan out there, which is why it has to be an excellent rating but with ++ added at the end!

***** star songs: Casablanca Moon (2:50) Me And Paravati (3:26) Half-Way There (3:19) Dawn (3:22) Little Something (4:36)

**** star songs: Michaelangelo (2:37) Mr. Rainbow (3:53) Secret (3:32) Drum (3:35) Haiku (3:06) Slow Moon's Rose (2:56)

Report this review (#338344)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars The band had already actually recorded this album once, but their record label refused to release it because they didn't think it had wide enough appeal. So when Slapp Happy found a new record deal, they recorded this, perhaps the first time ever a band has written a cover album that includes only covers of songs they had already recorded but that no one else had heard.

The original recording had been an attempt at being pop-like, and you can tell listening to this recording. The music is in general good, although a few songs are a bit too repetitive (like Half Way There). The songs range from around 3 to around 4 minutes, so they're pretty consistent in length.

Strings accompany the band on a few songs (like the opening track), and there are occasional weird noise as well, but the stand out feature of this album are the unique vocals of Dagmar Krause. She has a lot of charm and just the perfect amount of edge to give the music a unique sound.

My favorite tracks are the first (Casablanca Moon) and a couple near the end (The Drum (great feel, makes me think of a bunch of friends hanging out around a drum), Haiku (one of the few songs utilising male vocals)), but in the middle there is little that really excites me. It's very rarely dull, so it kind of sits at "pleasant but forgettable" for a lot of the album.

Report this review (#434625)
Posted Saturday, April 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Slapp Happy's 1974 album is a long way from the quirky Rock in Opposition of the band's later collaborations with HENRY COW. What it presents instead is an equally quirky set of oddball cabaret pop tunes, simple yet sophisticated (in true Old World European fashion) but with a more contemporary sense of whimsy.

The nearly one dozen melodies are often very catchy, but too lightweight for long-term appeal. Maybe that was a consequence of having to record the album twice, with a little record label arm-twisting. (The original version, featuring more input from the Krautrock provocateurs of FAUST, was later released with the title spelled backward.)

Whatever else it may or may not be, this is definitely a fun album, as you might have guessed after studying the instrumentation (jugs? sausage bassoons?) And Dagmar Krause's voice was a musical instrument all by itself, perfectly matched to such pleasantly eccentric songwriting. The sound throughout is very intimate, very natural, as if a bunch of good friends were recorded performing an ad-hoc concert in your modestly furnished basement game room.

The title track merits special attention, if only because it's been stuck in my head for weeks: a foreign intrigue tango from the alleyways of Morocco to the mean streets of New Jersey. Lyrically the song suggests a collaboration between crime novelist Eric Ambler and songwriter Colin Meloy, because where else besides in a DECEMBERISTS tune would you expect to hear references to cabalistic innuendo, cocaine stains on the upper lip, and a headless body stuffed into a ventilator?

I don't subscribe to the bias that complexity equals quality, an equation sometimes taken for granted in Prog Rock circles. The early work of Slapp Happy supports my point: the music here may not be very ambitious, but a surplus of charm and character has kept the album from becoming stale for more than 35 years now.

Report this review (#818038)
Posted Monday, September 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Slappy Happy's self-titled album - called Casablanca Moon in some editions - was a rerecording of a harsher, rockier version of more or less the same material (with one song switched out) they'd prepared with the backing of Faust. Whilst I would be interested in hearing that version at some point along the line, at the same time I think the light, jazzy, soft approach taken on this version is interesting in itself, since it really teases out the beautiful, dreamy side side of these quirky, mutant progressive pop numbers.

Prog purists who come to the band via their collaborations with Henry Cow may find this a bit accessible for their tastes, but I don't think this rerecording is necessarily the case of "record company steamrollers artistic integrity" it's made out to be; after all, even this version of the album is hardly slick and commercial, and it fits neatly into the precedent set by the earlier Sort Of - indeed, it represents a polishing and honing of the approach of that album into a bona fide masterpiece.

Report this review (#984955)
Posted Monday, June 24, 2013 | Review Permalink

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