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3 stars This HC album would seem to be the critics favourite (am I correct?). I agree that there are some great moments and pieces on it, but as a whole it is not something I put on very much after the first couple of listens. The music (all instrumental) is very complex (similar to Zappa's classical music), but on this album there are both fewer melodies in those complex lines, and fewer push-the-envelope abstract sonic experiments (as on Legend, Unrest, or Concerts). So, this one, for me, seems less dynamic, more flat. Some great moments though.
Report this review (#20194)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Western Culture was Henry Cow's farewell album, recorded after a protracted break during which they had become independent from Virgin Records, Chris Cutler had laid the foundations for what were to become Rock In Opposition and Recommended Records and they'd already decided to split. Much of the material which was to become the first Art Bears album had already been recorded before the band decided that the material wasn't 'Henry Cow', although the closing track 'Half The Sky' came from these sessions. With all this turmoil it's surprising that an album was made at all, and in a way it's ironic that this least showbizzy of bands should have followed the old showbiz maxim 'save the best till last'.

Western Culture is Henry Cow's most coherent album - the only one to feature only composed pieces, the only purely instumental album and the album on which Lindsay Cooper emerged as a talented composer in her own right, as well as a great musician. In creative terms, the album is a 50/50 split between Tim Hodgkinson, who wrote tracks 1 - 3 (side 1 of the vinyl original) and Lindsay Cooper (who wrote or co-wrote the remainder).

Hodgkinson's pieces on side 1 really blend into a seamless whole - brass and reeds play a prominent part here, with relatively little electric guitar but with acoustic guitar featuring prominently for the first time on a Henry Cow album. Special mention should be made of guest musician Anne Marie Roelofs, a Dutch musician who had played with them on stage, and who added some warm, blurry trombone lines to complement Cooper's bassoon - her playing is particularly effective on 'Industry' and 'The Decay Of Cities'. These compositions are a continuation of the compositional style first heard on 'Living In The Heart Of The Beast', with more of a jazz element (perhaps as a result of HC's work with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago). They evoke a decaying urban landscape, with the closing piece 'On The Raft' giving a more optimistic tone with huge brass/reed chords played over a lazy tempo, the whole never quite settling into the comfortable orthodoxy that seems to be promised.

Lindsay Cooper's compositions are a more diverse selection, drawing on contemporary classical and avant garde influences. 'Falling Away' is probably the track that is closest to the avant rock style normally associated with Henry Cow. 'Gretel's Tale' features an astonishing piano contribution by Irene Schweizer, almost like John Cage plying free jazz. 'Half The Sky' takes its title from a famous quotation from Chairman Mao, also cited by John Lennon on 'Woman' a couple of years later - appropriate for a musician who would go on to be a key player in the Feminis Improvising Group.

The key players in Henry Cow continued to work together in various configurations over the years, and released a lot of fine music and exerted a massive influence on the more left field aspects of progressive rock. Odd tracks have since emerged on compilations, but there have been no reunion tours and no 'greatest hits'. Their final press release said that they would not be trapped into reproducing their past in order to secure their future, and they have been as good as thir word. Western Culture is a fitting end to a remarkable career, and is an essential album of its genre.

Report this review (#20195)
Posted Saturday, February 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars The last album of HENRY COW was released in 1978 "Western Culture". Side A is an album that queues up the work by which Tim Hodgkinson composed work and side B that Lindsay Cooper composed.It is a value album to listening though perfections are a little inferior to albums of other HENRY COW.
Report this review (#54855)
Posted Sunday, November 6, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Jazzistic passages + classical atmospherics + improvisations = Western Culture 1.979. A masterpiece of Henry Cow, with In Praise of Learin 75 and Unrest 74, Western Culture is the last studio album of band. The two long tracks "History & Prospects", and "Day By Day" are great songs in 7 fragments of long suites. The instrumental is very complex, and the musicians is competed . Frith, Hodgkinson, and Cutler are great musicians of and good compositors.

This is a classic of Rock In Opposition or R.I.O. High Recommended!!!!

Report this review (#83919)
Posted Monday, July 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
5 stars 'Western Culture' is Henry Cow's swansong before (or rather during) the offshoot 'Art Bears' decided they would be a fully operational unit during the latter half of 1978. This album is possibly THE BEST example of well crafted and precisely performed R.I.O. these ears have ever heard. This is a totally instrumental recording and does not feature Dagmar Krause - she would be part of Art Bears recordings. It is quite difficult for me to explain exactly how this music 'goes' - my knowledge and comprehension on such complex forms is rather limited, so I can only say that it's a challenging listen. Side 1 of the LP is composed by keyboardist/woodwind player Tim Hodgkinson and comprises of 3 seperate parts and falls under the heading of 'History and Prospects', side 2 is composed solely by Bassoonist Lindsay Cooper and comprises of 4 parts, falling under the heading of 'Day By Day'. The instrumentation is dense ; organs, saxes, clarinet, bassoon, oboe, recorders, electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar (with a strange tone, I might add), drums/percussion, trombone, violin, trumpet, piano and 'noise'. At times, it can sound like a mini chamber orchestra. The overall sound of the album is stunning. Guest Bassist Georgie Born is featured on the last track, '1/2 The Sky', which was recorded around the same time as Art Bears' debut album 'Hopes and Fears'. An absolute masterpiece.
Report this review (#103445)
Posted Monday, December 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Henry Cow were one of the most important avant-garde bands of the 1970s, and this album is a large reason why. While I don't own any of their previous releases (though In Praise of Learning should be coming soon), I can safely say that this is almost assuredly their career peak. I very rarely give five stars to an album (in fact, I don't give stars at all, but rather, albums coax stars out of me; they only get what they earn), and at this moment I can only think of one band that has earned two "absolute masterpiece of music" ratings from me (that band, for the record, is CAN, premier Krautrock band and my all-time favorite, who gave us the splendid Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi albums). Thus, it's not very likely that, after earning five stars for Western Culture, they'll earn a similar number for any other release. But enough of that, what matters for this review is the quality of Western Culture, not the potential quality of In Praise of Learning, LegEnd, or Unrest.

Western Culture marked a drastic change in sound from their previous albums. Gone are the improvisations of their first three releases. All the music here is composed (and composed fantastically at that), right down to the last detail. Also gone are the unique vocals of Dagmar Krause (present only on In Praise of Learning), a singer I've learned to love through the Cutler and Frith follow-up Art Bears. This is completely instrumental, and it's completely fantastic. As I said, I haven't heard any of their other work, but I can't imagine that this album does anything other than refine the band's sound. Finally, this isn't a collaboration with Slapp Happy. This is pure Henry Cow. Also worth noting is that this is the band's swan song, as they would split up after this album, with numerous side projects (the most notable probably being the fantastic-but-not-as-fantastic-as-Henry-Cow Art Bears). In fact, much of the material written at the same time as this album was later used for the first Art Bears album, the highly recommended (despite its PA rating) Hopes and Fears. But, yet again, I digress from the main purpose of this review, which is to talk about Henry Cow's masterpiece, Western Culture.

Before looking at the music of the album, it's important to first look at the musicians. Tim Hodgkinson and Lindsay Cooper play an eclectic mix of instruments and also serve as the sole composers on this album (with Hodgkinson writing tracks one through three, Cooper taking four through six, and the two collaborating on track seven). Their presence is really obvious on this album, and they do a fantastic job. Fred Frith gives seven stellar performances on guitar. I'm a bit surprised that he didn't do any composing for this album, especially since he has the honor of being included in a book about the greatest American experimental composers (for the record, he moved to America at some point, and I believe taught music at California). Then again, what really happened is that his and Chris Cutler's compositions were deemed more appropriate for the Art Bears album than this album (and, listening to Hopes and Fears and this album in conjunction, I can see why). And finally, we get to my favorite of the bunch, Chris Cutler. He ranks right beside Christian Vander (Magma) and Jaki Liebezeit (CAN) among my favorite drummers (note that Liebezeit is my all time favorite). He holds the entire album together, and one of my favorite moments in all of music comes at the end of Industry, when he goes berserk in his unique "pots and pans" style. Henry Cow were a band composed of four musicians who truly constitute the term supergroup, but without ever being one. No egos fly, for they're too busy composing great music.

Just from looking at the track titles, we get a sense of the band's politics (which were radically left-wing). Though not listed here, the first three tracks comprise a single unified "song" titled History and Prospects (presumably the history and prospects of Western Culture). We proceed through the industrial destruction of Industry before the despair of The Decay of Cities, and finally to the hopelessness of On the Raft (presumably lost at sea, waiting to die). This seems to be the intended message of this instrumental music, and I find it magical how Henry Cow were able to so potently inject a message into their music without ever explicitly stating it. Day by Day is less politically oriented, with the only political message coming in the form of the last song, co-composed by Cooper and Hodgkinson. One is a woman, one a man, and the title Half the Sky reflects the Chinese proverb, "women hold up half the sky." It's very much symbolic of equal rights, but this doesn't come out in the music the way the themes come out on side one.

Western Culture opens with Industry, by far the best on the album (but don't think Henry Cow blew their load in the first track - far from it!). It opens with a dissonant screech, joined by Cutler's trademark drums, and then we're off on a wild ride through moods and emotions, ups and downs, finally building up steam until it explodes in the furor of the final fifty seconds, only to come to a sudden halt. This sudden stop can be seen as representative of the atomic bomb, which certainly acts quite quickly (just a note: I would normally consider this to be reading too far into the music, but given just how radical Henry Cow were with their politics, I doubt that's the case here). This is a musical tour-de-force that shows just how great Henry Cow were. I cannot imagine a better start to an album, and this may be my favorite opening track of any album. Wherever it stands in that regards, it's impossible to deny that it's absolutely fantastic.

Thankfully, the next track, The Decay of Cities, lives up to the legacy Industry single-handedly created. While it never hits the heights of those last fifty seconds of Industry, it proves just as potent at carrying their political message. The opening guitar is beautiful, and gives little indication of what is to come (though you start getting ideas when Hodgkinson and Cooper enter on their instruments). Then, about a minute in, some horns start blaring in the background, and then the journey's really begun. Excellent moods and atmospheres cycle throughout this track, mostly dark and somber (remember, this is music representing death, decay, and destruction). I must, yet again, point out Cutler's drumming, because it's simply phenomenal. Two and a half minutes in, the music really picks up, furthering the feelings of desperation, depression, desolation, and despair (I'm using a lot of D words for this song; now why is D such a gloomy letter). This is yet another musical tour-de-force by Henry Cow that again displays their musical prowess, both technically (how well they can play) and emotionally (how it appeals to the listener). It's dissonant and difficult (there we go with the Ds again), but well worth the effort.

The three part History and Prospects ends with its shortest piece, On the Raft. This is sad, hopeless music, but it's no less engaging than either of its two counterparts. Cutler, yet again, deserves special mention, drawing you in right through the start, both increasing and controlling (at the same time) the madness created by his three bandmates. This is music that speaks to the soul. It drives a stake deep through your heart, stopping breath until it's over. This is like a story that has you hanging tightly to every word. You cannot put it down until it finishes, even after you've already read it. This is, quite simply (as if - the music is anything but simple), good music in its purest form. This song is a fitting end to my favorite instrumental composition (Western Culture in its entirety is my favorite instrumental album), perfectly capturing the feeling of being lost at sea with no hope of survival.

Side two, then, is bound to disappoint, coming as it does right after the inimitable side one, right? Well, no, actually. While I prefer side one superficially, I cannot imagine either one without the other. Day by Day is composed of four absolutely astonishingly good pieces of music that are just as zany and crazy as those that graced side one (and not nearly as depressing). It opens with Falling Away, my favorite of the four. This track is all over the place, never staying in one place for too long (lest it get boring). Still, there are some repeated themes that keep the track in line and give it focus (which is always a good thing; nothing bothers me more than a song with great ideas that just can't get its act together and focus). Near the beginning, there is a crazy horn (or some similar instrument, I don't know the difference, really) section that seems to epitomize, like the closing of Industry, the very essence of what Henry Cow is about. My only complaint is that Cutler's drumming is more restrained (though still excellent) than on side one. Nevertheless, when the music is this good, I cannot justifiably complain.

Next up are two shorter songs, Gretel's Tale and Look Back. Gretel's Tale opens ominously (in a very low pitch), but it picks up soon, ending up as a crazy blend of happiness and this same ominous quality that permeates the entire track. Cutler gets a bit more freedom on the drums here (but still not nearly enough), but the highlight is Hodgkinson's wonderful piano bit in the middle of the track. Look Back is slightly less significant (it's under a minute and a half in length). It passes quickly, but adds a lot to the song. It doesn't inspire a lot of words from me, but keep in mind that I love it all the same, and that I feel it's essential to the album.

Half the Sky makes itself known immediately, getting off to a grandiose start (finally, Cutler is getting to do what he does best). In addition to Cutler, we get grandiose dark themes that flow throughout the track, including some wailing saxophone reminiscent of Van Der Graaf Generator (especially the Pawn Hearts album), and just as enjoyable (and, just so we're clear, NOT AT ALL DERIVATIVE). This is a track that ebbs and flows, and that percussion in the background (courtesy of Cutler, of course) is always nagging you (in an absolutely wonderful way). This is the perfect close to a perfect album. Among all seven tracks, there is not one moment of filler. Every musician is at the top of her or his game (yes, that was intentional, a reference to the last track and the wonderful contributions of Lindsay Cooper to this album), and I have rarely ever heard such compositional genius. Whenever I get the album Eros by Dun (currently ranked as the number one Zeuhl album on progarchives), this album will have competition for my favorite instrumental album, but until then, Western Culture stands alone, challenged by none.

There is one last piece of information that needs mentioning about Henry Cow before I can close this review. This album is classified on progarchives as RIO/avant-prog, which are really two different genres. Avant-prog is "regular" avant-garde music, and encompasses most of the bands listed in this genre. Rock-in-Opposition (RIO) was a specific movement of the late seventies and early eighties that included bands such as Samla Mammas Manna, Etron Fou Leloublan, Stormy Six, Univers Zero, and, of course, the founders Henry Cow. It would later expand to include Art Bears and Art Zoyd. Now, it includes such bands as Ahvak, 5uu's, and Thinking Plague. I have been guilty of this before (so don't feel bad), but try and keep the two genres separate, and avoid the wrath (I exaggerate only slightly) of our esteemed RIO/avant/zeuhl team.

Also, on a final note, keep in mind that RIO/avant-prog is a pesky genre to get into, and it's easy to get turned off of if you pick the wrong album to start with. I think that Western Culture could very well serve as a great introduction to the genre (especially if you like instrumental music and jazz), but please do not give up if this album doesn't do it for you. Of all the genre's on progarchives, RIO/avant-prog is by far the most diverse, essentially covering every other genre on the site (except maybe Post-Rock and Indo Prog/Raga Rock). Even if you don't like one band, there are plenty of others sure to please you. If you like metal, try Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. If you like post-rock, try Univers Zero or Art Zoyd, who, while not post-rock, have many of the same ideal permeate their music. If you like space rock and don't mind strange (but brilliant) vocals, try Buldozer. The list goes on. For the most part, just TRY different albums from the genre. As I said, something is bound to please you. For me, Henry Cow's Western Culture is one of those "things." Highly recommended, and a very high 5 stars.

Report this review (#115890)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

After having founded the RIO movement and signed its chart, Henry cow released what they knew would be their last album, Western Culture. With Art Bears already on its way, having "escaped" from Virgin, and setting up Recommended Record (ReR in short), this album was recorded in Switzerland, in the muddle of the 78 summer, one could easily imagine this would be a halfhearted affair, but quite the opposite. With the Slapp Happy members not taking part, this album is much more the usual HC affair, even if Firth and Cutler take no part in the composition, having saved up their material for the coming Art Bears album. The album sports a Cutler artwork (finally dropping the sock thing), and boasts a few guest musicians

And while WC is quite a worthy and essential HC album, it does a have a schizophrenic aura with the two vinyl side being entirely composed by either Hodgkinson or Cooper, bar the last track (Half Sky), which is a collaboration between the two. The History & Prospect side is entirely due to Hogkinson, and seems to depict the bleak future of humankind. And bleak, dark, somber, the music certainly is. If you can picture early Art Zoyd and Univers Zero with more brass, you'd not be far from HC's RIO, and although there are parts, which are dissonant, others are more down the melodic alley (all things considered of course, we're talking HC, here), but the music remaining indisputably HCowesque.

The Day To Day flipside is Lindsey Cooper's work, and is not drastically different than Hodgkinson's, but it is axed more on Frith's guitars, and generally easier accessed except for Irene Schweizer's crazy piano, reminiscent of Keith Tippett in Crimson's Cat Food. The last track Half Sky might just be the best on the album and could easily come from Wyatt's Rock Bottom album done with different instrumentation, mixed with a demented RIO, where Frith manages the last notes with his blistering guitar.

This album is fitting end to the group, although it will not be the last chapter in the musician's career as their respective paths will cross many more times in further projects. While I can't really say that WC is my fave HC album, it does come close partly because the group regains its first grandeur, which I thought was partly lost with the inclusion of Slapp Happy members, particularly on IPOL. Rarely has a group consciously quit after such a high point in their career, and in some ways it is rather sad, when thinking of what could've come next, especially when this reviewer only moderately appreciate the Art bears project.

Report this review (#131479)
Posted Friday, August 3, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This record is really divided into two parts, side one was composed by Tim Hodgkinson and titled "History & Prospects". While side two was composed by Lindsay Cooper and titled "Day By Day". It's kind of cool looking back that Lindsay was a guest bassoon and aboe player on HATFIELD AND THE NORTH's "The Rotters Club" album. This album, especially the first side with titles like "Industry","The Decay Of Cities" and "On The Raft" paint a bleak picture for the future of "Western Culture".This band were politically pro socialists, even having a hammer and sicle on the album cover. This was the bands final album and it's cool that they had Yochko Seffer (MAGMA, ZAO) playing sax on some of their live dates in their final year(1978) of existance.The band I was reminded of the most when listening to this record was UNIVERS ZERO. Chamber music played in colour instead of black and white.

"Industry" is my favourite track on here. It has more of a rock influence I guess you could say. The drums pound as the organ comes and goes. Assorted sounds fill the soundscape, but there is a dark undercurrent to this.1 1/2 minutes in this is clearly felt as we get an early UNIVERS ZERO flavour with Lindsay's bassoon playing. An outbreak after 6 minutes including some outstanding drumming from Chris Cutler. "The Decay Of Cities" opens with acoustic guitar from Fred Frith before piano, bassoon, trombone and drums create some beautiful chamber music. The sound kind of explodes 4 minutes in again and again. Violin 5 minutes in with dissonant sounds to end it. Great track. "On The Raft" is a brighter, slower paced tune with drums, piano, sax (from Frith) and trumpet (from Cutler) leading the way. This sounds so good.

"Falling Away" speeds up a minute in with some excellent drumming and horns. Guitar 2 1/2 minutes in and a minute after that is really good. The song calms down 4 minutes in before speeding back up 7 minutes in to end it. "Gretel's Tale" has a melancholic intro. It's the bass and piano show a minute and a half in. Some pleasant horn melodies with dissonant piano over top from guest Irene Schweizer. "Look Back" has a sombre mood as strange sounding horns are played. This short song does come alive before it ends. "1/2 The Sky" has a heavy intro before a pleasant soundscape comes in with dissonant sax playing over top. The song changes before 4 minutes to an uptempo sax and drum led passage. Some great angular guitar to end it.

This is brilliant music that is played about as good as it can be played.

Report this review (#145870)
Posted Friday, October 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars A very good album, indeed. Most music listeners probably couldn't stand the sound of this music (even most prog fans!) but I loved it. Complex time signatures, (good) improvisation, and superb drumming, too. In fact, I think the drumming is my favorite part of the album, but don't get me wrong, the rest of the music was also amazing. The first side (History and Prospects) was my favorite part of the album. Another interesting note to add for people who haven't listened to this album yet is that you will have a fairly hard time trying to connect the music on this album to rock music. It's very much like chamber music, but that didn't stop me from loving this album. If you like out of the ordinary music with complex time signature changes with jazz and classical influences, or if your favorite music is the majority of Frank Zappa's material, than it would be safe for me to say that you should get this album. I loved every second of it, and I think you would, too...
Report this review (#166337)
Posted Thursday, April 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars I know that this is supposed to be a really important album in the history of RIO, but I must stop short of calling it a masterpiece. First of all, I miss Dagmar, her singing really hooked me into A Praise of Learning. In addition, I like LegEnd because of its jazzy undercurrents. Western Culture, after giving it 4 or 5 spins, still bores me. There is nothing here that really gets me riled up. As in the case of King Crimson's Islands, I would say that this album suffers from a situation that makes it good in theory, but just lacking in execution. Although I would recommend it to any person becoming familiar with RIO, I am not sure it's going to be enjoyed by others.
Report this review (#170753)
Posted Monday, May 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars Much of the music here is closer to classical music, even if it remains on the unconventional side. This may very well be my favorite Henry Cow album, because it is full of variety without once becoming nonsensical.

"Industry" I love the initial electronic riff that leads into that really strange but somehow easy to follow arrangement. This piece consists of jangling noise and violin sawing through it.

"The Decay of Cities" One of my favorite tracks on the album, Fred Frith delights with a Joe Pass-like solo jazz acoustic guitar introduction. Lindsay Cooper eases her way in subtly, giving way to Chris Cutler on trumpet. Part of the music has an almost Oriental feel to it. Tim Hodgkinson contributes to that sound with his lap steel guitar. Other times, the music can sound like the theme song to a 1970s sitcom. All of this variety is what makes this one of Henry Cow's most interesting and lovable pieces of music.

""On the Raff" Brass instrumentation abounds on this moderately-paced, subdued instrumental. It isn't nearly as far-fetched as a lot of Henry Cow is, and is almost pleasant jazz music for sitting back and just enjoying, even if it does get a tad boisterous.

"Falling Away" Prior to the unbridled percussion, the music here is a lot like what one might hear on an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. At one point, however, the music sounds very much like Camel.

"Gretel's Tale" This short piece is slow and shadowy in at first. Overall, it sounds very symphonic, juxtaposing gangling segments with far more graceful measures. The middle section thunders, accompanied by almost random piano flourishes. The ending is closer to free jazz.

"Look Back" A very short piece, this is a symphonic-sounding one, much like the one before.

"Half the Sky" A fair bit of this majestic piece sounds a lot like Genesis, particularly that submissive but beautiful lead guitar tone. It's a complex arrangement, full of textures and various timbres; it's a great way to finish and phenomenal album.

Report this review (#221563)
Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars In my opinion, an absolute masterpiece, and definitely the best Henry Cow album. At only a little more than 35 minutes, it is certainly not a long album, but I think this actually works in its favor. There are no over-long songs, which means that every song says what it is supposed to say and then moves on. Additionally, there are no vocals featured anywhere on this album (as there were on Leg End and In Praise Of Learning), and again, I feel this works in the album's favor. The lack of vocals really gives the weirdly amazing instrumental performances room to shine, and shine they do.

Some people have faulted the album for featuring 2 distinct suites composed by Tim Hodgkinson and Lindsay Cooper, respectively; however, I do not feel that it detracts from the overall feel of the album. The suites are so cohesive that it simply feels like there are only two different sounding but equally brilliant pieces of music.

Overall, it is an epic, gorgeously arranged album, with every passage simultaneously beautiful and surprising, just the way Avant- Garde music should be. A must.

Report this review (#272021)
Posted Sunday, March 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The final Henry Cow album was their first post-Virgin release and the first studio album to not feature a sock on the cover. It is also their only 100% instrumental album (although Unrest is 95% instrumental). Also, no improvisation and Frith and Cutler didn't write anything here, saving their songs for the first Art Bears album. The Art Bears featured vocalist Dagmar Krause and were formed when Cow recorded this album. It was decided that keyboardist/saxophonist Tim Hodgkinson and bassoonist Lindsay Cooper would compose the music for the last Cow album. The first side, written by Hodgkinson, is titled 'History & Prospects'. The other side, by Cooper, called "Day By Day'.

The music has quite a lot in common with the 'chamber-prog' that Art Zoyd and Univers Zero were playing at the time. Both bands of course being members of the Rock-In- Oppostion movement. Very classical influenced but there is also a little jazz here as well. The avant-rock element is still strong and they make good use of the studio-as-instrument philosophy. Chris Cutler is credited with playing 'electric drums' on Western Culture. He is not playing electronic percussion, but rather, his drumkit has been amplified. This being the first album without bassist John Greaves (in National Health at the time), Fred Frith does most of the bass parts.

"Industry" starts with guitar and organ dominating before the whole band plays in a robotic fashion. The organ (I think!) being recorded at a different speed in this part. Love the occasional distorted guitar sound. Later changes to a slow tempo with some start/stop drumming. A bassoon/oboe solos over top. Other instruments join in after. Music dies down then gets all crazy briefly at the end. "The Decay Of Cities" begins with classical guitar, some wind instruments join it. Then a tuba(?) with a steady pounding drum in the background. Some far eastern sounding guitar. Music changes a bit and the instruments interact with each other. Later some distorted guitar and noisy, clanging sounds. Then some acoustic guitar and violin with oboe/bassoon.

"On The Raft" opens with an almost Zappa-like melody. Then changes to a more chamber- prog sound. This track sounds similar to some of the stuff on Unrest. Now, it's on to Cooper's songs. "Falling Away" is the longest song. It starts with bassoon/oboes and some banjo-like guitar strumming. drums come in and the tempo increases with some great interplay between the instruments. Later some great electric guitar. The music changes quite often and flows very well. Over halfway some nice bass playing against the other instruments. Good buildup nearing the end, where it gets jazzy.

"Gretel's Tale" has some great jazzy piano playing. The part leading up to the ending to this song is nice. "1/2 The Sky" was co-written by both Cooper and Hodgkinson. This song also features bassist Georgie Born, who joined the group after Greaves left in 1976. The song starts dark and majestic with drums, electric guitar, bass, bassoon and sax(?) Then goes into a symphonic part with organ and cymbals being hit randomly. Meanwhile, something is skronking away. Later on wind instruments play in unison and then the rhythm section joins them. The music is now upbeat and busy here. Stays that way till the end.

A great swan song for this band. Art Bears would go in their own direction after this. This would be a great place to start with the Cow. Especially if you are already familiar with Univers Zero. Perhaps the band's most consistent offering, most likely due to there being no improvs. Not a masterpiece but deserves a solid 4 stars.

Report this review (#383835)
Posted Thursday, January 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Henry Cow transmogrified into Art Bears during 1978 - producing the first Art Bears album, predominantly containing Fred Frith and Chris Cutler songs, and this final Henry Cow piece, dedicated to instrumental pieces by Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson. These represent, in my view, the absolute best instrumental material the band produced in their post-Canterbury avant-garde period.

It's possible to properly call this material RIO - the RIO festivals having kicked off by this point - but whatever tag you put on it, this is startling industrial chamber rock combining occasional moments of tranquility with clattering, noisy rockouts that sound like rusting factory machinery coming to life for a jam session. And yet, unlike much of the instrumental material on In Praise of Learning, there's an immediateness and openness to these instrumentals which had eluded Henry Cow since their debut album. Cooper and Hodgkinson find a space here where they can indulge their every experimental whim without feeling the need to drive the listener away, making this album just plain more listenable than the two previous albums. A fine ending for a truly innovative band.

Report this review (#558432)
Posted Friday, October 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars How do we speak without words?

HENRY COW fascinates me. Its a constructed band aware of their own social construction, trying to explain the world in gestures (sometimes with actually words). The band, when decided to use lyrics, produced one of the most aloudly speaking poems of the late-capitalist society, "Nine funerals for the citizen king".

As one of the unique (and almost only) marxist bands that was formed in the seventies, HENRY COW was also aware of what made HERY COW be HENRY COW. And its here that they produced with heart what is the instrumentation equivalent of Demetrio Stratos singing. Full expression without saying a word. Full humanization of thoughs through metal squalid sounds. If the tracks' titles already give us the hint of what each song is about ("Industry", "The decay of cities", "1/2 the sky") and the sides are also named (a-side: History and prospects; side-b: Day by Day), a good experience is listen to the album without knowing the titles - you'll probably get a correct answer, as their playing lead you into the idea.

Only in ART BEARS we can see how they perceived revolution as a whole, but in "Western Culture" we perceived... well... everything else.

Report this review (#1361528)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Henry Cow in a nutshell?

After the release of In Praise of Learning, Henry Cow toured Europe intensively for nearly two years, which ultimately compelled John Greaves to leave. To replace him, the band recruited a young female cellist Georgie "Georgina" Born. Despite the fact that she had never played bass guitar before, she adapted well and turned out to be quite proficient with the instrument. Dagmar Krause, the band's vocalist, left the group due to poor health, which made it impossible for her to tour. However, she agreed to sing on Henry Cow's upcoming album. In the end, the material known as Hopes and Fears was released by the trio of Fred Frith, Chris Cutler, and Dagmar Krause under the name Art Bears. Almost simultaneously, numerous problems forced Henry Cow to break up. Not for long, however, as the band recorded their last album Western Culture a few months later as a quartet consisting of Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson, Chris Cutler, and Lindsay Cooper.

Western Culture is the first studio album that does not have the band's signature sock on the cover. The sound is once again strongly oriented towards classical music. It's their only entirely instrumental album (Unrest did feature some word-less vocal parts). The jazz methods are gradually estranged with only tiny bits of the genre's influence, mainly on improvisational passages and on parts relying on heavier rhythm. The contemporary classical music influences of Schoenberg or Stravinsky are evident, while the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, once an important element, is alienated. All this made the quartet sound somewhat similar to Art Zoyd or Univers Zero. Henry Cow introduces electronic effects, which were to some extent used on In Praise Of Learning. Not infrequently, the band also plays in odd time signatures, which is typical of them.

Fred Frith's fuzz guitar does not play a substantial role here, compared to previous releases. It is used economically, more as a musical ornament than a solo instrument, like on previous releases. In addition, Frith introduces a completely new element to Henry Cow's music ? an acoustic guitar, which has a bright percussive sound, fitting perfectly the band's music. He also plays bass parts (Georgie Born plays the instrument on one track only) as well as soprano saxophone. However, he completely has abandoned playing violin, letting Anne-Marie Roelofs handle the instrument. In addition to wind instruments and piano, Tim Hodgkinson uses synthesizer and organ, although not the lush Hammond, a mainstay of progressive rock, but the organ sounding closer to a violin or a harmonium. Lindsay Cooper laid down the bassoon, oboe, Soprano sax, and sopranino recorder parts, while Chris Cutler supplied the band with trombone and, of course, drum work. One of the tracks also includes a guest pianist, Irene Schweizer, whose playing gives the band a jazzy flavor. Taken together, all these instruments create a very unique, yet familiar sound.

Some moments on Western Culture remind me of the band's debut Legend. This might be partially caused by the band's general retreat towards chamber influences. The album is rather short at only 36 minutes long divided into seven pieces, each of which has a different feel.

Western Culture was Henry Cow's farewell song. The band blessed us with four albums. Although not flawless, they all are very different and one-of-a-kind experiences. Sometimes jazzy, sometimes classical, the band always looked for what had not yet been said. They still remain a very respected band, known as one of the inventors of experimental rock. Western Culture is a quintessential album of the group, summing up everything they had to say over the ten years of their existence. Five Stars!

Report this review (#1557510)
Posted Saturday, April 30, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is not only my favorite Cow album, but a top favorite all time album. As much as I love the earlier Henry Cow albums, one still notices other influences there at times, and the long improvs can get tedious on repeated listenings, not to mention the rather strident political tone. The LP release was one side composed by Tim Hodgkinson, and side B by Lindsay Cooper. The album is perfectly conceived and structured, and apart from one Zappaesque section, doesn't sound like anyone else (not counting the bands who've emulated its sound since). The opening of Industry still blows my mind today as it did then, a vivid musical portrayal of industrial society in decay. I also find humour here, especially in Lindsay Cooper's album side...the opening is very reminiscent of Zappa's Uncle Meat, and her compositions continue in a playful vein, a great contrast to the rigid terseness of Hodgkinson's side. I've always found this to be a perfectly engineered and mixed album, as nearly all the albums done at Sunrise Studios in Switzerland that I've heard, and honestly don't hear any difference in the Remaster (assuming I've gotten that copy, but mine also has the 3 bonus tracks mentioned). If I had to recommend one RIO album, this would probably be the one (next to Univers Zero's Ceux du Dehors and the Art Bear's Winter Songs, an essential masterpiece of the genre. (Rating 5)
Report this review (#1612749)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "Chamber music played in colour instead of black and white." -- brother John.

I find this album of Rock-in-Opposition music to be far more melodic and accessible, though still quite similar, to that of UNIVERS ZÉRO. The whole avant garde/RIO subgenre I find fascinating though often more cerebral or basic instinct in its access points. Thus, I need to be in "the right kind of mood" when I choose to listen to it.

The Tim Hodgkinson side of this album starts out with one of the more accessible and (therefore) enjoyable songs before taking one on the trail to the precipice. Song three, "On the Raft" finds me feeling as if I'm there, in view of the whole world, sky, land, and the abyss before me, at my feet. There are moments of elation and majesty countered by abrupt shifts into fear and despair. (My vertigo is setting in!) Then there is a familiar Weather Report chord sequence to offer me a lifeline! But no, it's not to be. Darkness falls, disorientation occurs, balance is lost, and we slip--we fall into "Falling away"--down the dizzying rabbit hole. The song is surprisingly slow for the first three minutes before gravitational acceleration takes hold. I thought side two, Lindsay Cooper's side, is supposed to be the lighter, brighter side! This is like an Acadian dirge! But, there are tempo and stylistic shifts. But "Gretel's Tale" gets darker, bleaker, and "Look Back" feels like the funereal aftermath: everyone sitting around in self-isolating numb silence with the occasional distraction of a movement from someone, something--perhaps a cat. The finale, "Half the Sky" is heavy, perhaps like the hellish afterworld to which we are doomed. Still, I can't help but be encouraged by the "light" and "levity" provided by the organ and saxophone, respectively.

To conceive, compose, perform, and render these ideas, this music, into history via the vinyl medium is an amazing feat. I'm so glad it was! Not the most uplifting or optimistic of musics, but of tremendous curiosity from the creativity perspective.

Report this review (#1789770)
Posted Sunday, October 1, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars For many progarchives listeners Henry Cow will not be love at first sight. Their blend of avant-prog and free jazz improvisations on most of their albums will result in mixed opinions. Links to the Canterbury sound can be found, but the quirkiness and pop vibe are totally absent. I myself fell in love with this group after hearing 'Living in the Heart of the Beast' from the third album. On 'Western Culture' the band continues their composed avant- prog style beautifully, but without the vocals of Dagmar Krause. All tracks sound fresh and inspired, creating original atmospheres with a wide pallet of electronic and acoustic sounds. The musicians are all remarkable, yet no-one seeks to stand out as the compositions are tight and well structured. Lindsay Cooper stands out on this album as a great female composer, writing all the tracks of side two! Though I have some favorite moments like the middle section of 'The Decay of Cities' and 'Look Back', I must say every minute of this short album sounds impressive and otherworldly. True art. The sound is mixed in a way that it sounds a bit flat at low volume and huge & detailed at high volume. Recommended to progressive rock listeners who are ready to take yet another step after acquiring a taste for King Crimon's Lizard, Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom and Van Der Graaf's Pawn Hearts.
Report this review (#1884639)
Posted Monday, February 12, 2018 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
5 stars After some dissention in the band, this would become Henry Cow's last album. The attention of members of the group would now go towards the "Art Bears". It was then decided that this album would be an all instrumental album, thus staying away from any commercial appeal pretty much. What ended up happening, after all was said and done, is this excellent album of Rock in Opposition, probably the best of all of the Henry Cow albums.

What you get here is some of the best avant-prog out there with a huge dose of free form jazz. The album become "split in two" with one side being called "History and Prospects" and being completely composed by Tim Hodgkinson. This part of the album is made up of 3 tracks. Starting out with 'Industry' we get a more metallic sounding piece provided mostly by strings, but still with plenty of softer sounding passages that even it all out. All the aspects of free form avant-prog are there, but there is plenty of structure to know that the boundaries are there to form a certain sound. 'The Decay of Cities' is more centered on a brassy feel, with plenty of horns and dissonance among the instruments. Again, a bit of structure is there, just enough to keep things constant as far as the feel of the track. The side finishes up with a shorter track called 'On the Raft' which is again run by brass, though more as a structured whole than free form individual parts as on the previous track. The percussion is more rhythmic than the previous tracks, at least at first. Things do turn a little darker towards the middle of the track though. There is one wayward instrument providing the feeling of a cannon on the loose while the others play together.

The 2nd half of the album is called 'Day By Day' and is composed by Lindsay Cooper. There are 4 tracks on this half, but the last track is composed by both Cooper and Hodgkinson, so that is the only exception to the rest of the album concept. This side starts with 'Falling Away' which is a bit smoother sounding than the harshness of side 1. There is still plenty of dissonance, but you get the feel of more direction here, so maybe a tad less improvised, but not much. It seems that this is a more sectional piece than previous on the album. There is finally a lead by the guitar in the middle of this one, which is followed by an oboe. Next is 'Gretal's Take' which is headed over by reed instruments more so than brass, with a great jazz piano section reminiscent of King Crimson's 'Cat Food'. Again, there is the sectional aspect of the track, even though it is only 3 minutes, there seems to be a lot going on here. 'Look Back' is a short minimal piece with brass and woodwinds playing together, no percussion. The side winds up with '' the Sky' composed by both Hodgkinson and Cooper. This one is very free form with an organ and percussion providing a foundation for an improvised sax. Sudden structure forms halfway through with some great bass interplay and the instruments sometimes play 'insieme' and apart.

There are a few bonus tracks that were added, including 'Viva Pa Ubu' which actually has all four band members singing together (in a somewhat haphazard way) with some interplay with instruments. Suddenly the album wasn't an all- instrumental album anymore. There is also an alternative version of the short track 'Look Back' and another short track called 'Slice'.

This is an excellent avant-prog album and is a great example of the genre. It would serve well as an entry album for those wondering about the genre and whether it would be for them or not. There is plenty of free form improvisation here, with just enough structure to keep things more digestible to those who are not used to the sound. There is a lot of variety here too, which is not always an easy thing to find on many albums in this genre. This is definitely an album worth checking out and it is, in my opinion, a perfect and essential avant-prog album.

Report this review (#2023325)
Posted Saturday, September 8, 2018 | Review Permalink

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