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Slapp Happy - Desperate Straights (with Henry Cow) CD (album) cover

DESPERATE STRAIGHTS (WITH HENRY COW)

Slapp Happy

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Shortly after recording 'Unrest', Henry Cow entered into a merger with label mates Slapp Happy. Slapp Happy comprised Dagmar, a German vocalist who would later win great acclaim for interpretations of Brecht (and sign my copy of this abum), Peter Blegvad, American born but raised and educated in England, played guitar and wrote most of the lyrics and would later contribute the unique strip cartoon Leviathan to the Independent, and Anthony Moore, English pianist who wrote most of the music and who would later work with the post Waters Pink Floyd. Together they produced a kind of skewed pop awash with literary and artistic references. They had recorded 2 albums with Faust, the second of which was re-recorded with session players for Virgin. 2 albums would come from this merger; Desperate Straights (Slapp Happy with Henry Cow) and In Praise Of Learning (Henry Cow with Slapp Happy).

Desperate Straights was the first of the joint ventures to be recorded, and the union of Henry Cow's avant rock with Slapp Happy's warped pop was both challenging and accessible. The majority of the songs were built around a piano/bass/drums accompaniment, with other instruments adding extra colour where needed. Tim Hodgkinson's clarinet is deployed as an instrumental foil to Dagmar's unique voice to superb effect, particularly on the opening song Some Questions About Hats. Elsewhwere, The Owl features Dagmar accompanied solely by horns and Europa has some superb percussion from Pierre Moerlen - all the arrangements are highly original and well thought out. Peter Blegvad takes the lead vocal on Strayed and does a neat pastiche of Lou Reed's drawl. Excerpt From The Messiah is a snippet of Handel as though played by a 70s glam metal band like Slade. There are 2 instrumentals, the title track which is a short, off kilter foxtrot, and the closing track, a lengthy piano/clarinet piece which features the 2 instruments playing scales very slowly. Caucasian Lullaby isn't bad at all, and would have been a superb addition to one of Eno's Obscure label releases, but it is somewhat out of keeping with the rest of the album.

This release is more representative of Slapp Happy than Henry Cow. All of Slapp Happy's albums are worth checking out - this album was released on CD as a twofer with their first album for Virgin, and is superb value if you can find it. If you've ever wondered what a cabaret band from mars would sound like, this album is definitly for you.

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Send comments to Syzygy (BETA) | Report this review (#20205)
Posted Tuesday, February 08, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars As Slapp Happy saw Henry Cow playing live and were being deeply impressed, this album can be seen as the turning point as well as their single Europe. While it still has a few weird songs (well Dagmar's voice makes them automatically off-beat) that can remind you of their previous album, the help of Henry Cow both on production but also in playing the music. If Blegvad had been the main writer in the previous album, here the writing credits are definitely more even, with Moore even slightly tipping the balance in his favor.

Again a very nutty album, and it takes sound nerves to actually enjoy this kind of weirdness. RIO, in a way, avant-garde certainly, I have a problem recommending this kind of album to any proghead, because I always fear it might be "hors de propos", even if the album holds many qualities that are endearing to them. Some track are are reminding me of Julvene's En Ballade album, or even their other albums with a string quintet of sorts. Other tracks have a much rockier feel most impressively an adaptation of Handel's the Messiah. Then comes the weird, somber and gloomy 8-min+ Caucasian Lullaby (half written by HC's Cutler).

The first of two collaborations between Slapp Happy and Henry Cow, (the next being the highly rated In Praise Of Learning), this album is an essential piece of madness that must be heard at least once in a proghead's life. Whether the proghead should choose to further his investigation of this bizarre music is something altogether different.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#79052)
Posted Tuesday, May 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
4 stars The first of the two Slapp Happy/Henry Cow collaborations, or the other way around if you feel like it! Even though Desperate Straights is often labeled as more of a Slapp Happy release, I honestly don't consider it to be dominated by either of the two acts. It's true that In Praise Of Learning might be leaning heavily on the instrumental arrangements with clear links to Jazz but it would be wrong to see it as the next logical step following Legend and Unrest.

The biggest audible change comes with Dagmar Krause's new vocal approach that isn't as melodic as it was on Casablanca Moon but there are still many instances where she diverges from that new Avant-garde direction and breaks her stylish personality. The instrumental arrangements aren't as vibrant and colorful as what Slapp Happy has been know for and it's clear that these music passages weren't written by solely by Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad. It's not that the members of Henry Cow are bad composers, quite the contrary, but I often feel like these compositions would have worked better as instrumentals and that Slapp Happy members aren't always used to their full potential.

The final product is still quite an extraordinary experience that can easily be called a prequel to the style that was later used on the Art Bears project. It's true the side two is a bit weaker, mainly because the crazy experiments get a bit stale, but the final product manages to touch just the tip of my excellent album criteria. It's a pity that the record gets almost butchered by the bland 8 minute Caucasian Lullaby that come right towards the end. This composition just doesn't fit into the overall mood of the album and therefore has no place here.

Overall, this is a great album for all fans of RIO/Avant-Prog sound. It might not be a highly prioritized album purchase, but a must-have nonetheless. I hope it makes sense!

***** star songs: Some Questions About Hats (1:50) A Worm Is At Work (1:53) Bad Alchemy (3:07) Europa (2:49) Except From The Messiah (1:49)

**** star songs: The Owl (2:14) Desperate Straights (4:14) Riding Tigers (1:43) Apes In Capes (2:14) Strayed (1:54) Giants (1:57) In The Sickbay (2:08)

*** star songs: Caucasian Lullaby (8:20)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#339216)
Posted Tuesday, November 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
TheGazzardian
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Since their previous album (Casablanca Moon) Slapp Happy united with Henry Cow, the result of which is this album. Strangely, even though the songs are less accessible than in Casablanca Moon, they are generally short - ranging from just under 2 minutes to just over 3.

The change in style is immediately apparent from the first track. Dagmar's singing style has changed a lot - her singing actually makes me think of a witch, but in a good, interesting way. The style has changed from being as melodic to a lot more experimental, leading to the use of odd chord progressions and rhythms. To my ears, this is a welcome change, for while Casablanca Moon was enjoyable, it was rarely exciting. On this album, there is a lot more interesting things going on, and a total of 11 really interesting tracks.

Unfortunately, there are two tracks on this album that kind of mess with the flow, each being longer than the other tracks and each being an instrumental. The first is the title track, Desperate Straights, which eventually settles on a rather un-interesting segment of music, which it then repeats for a while before fading out. It feels like it was not properly fleshed out. The other is the last track, Caucasion Lullaby, which I think actually creates a really cool, eerie atmosphere - it just doesn't sit well with the rest of the album.

Despite these two tracks, this is definitely an enjoyable album, and a step up from their previous. Unfortunately, this would be the last album that the band would record until the late '90s (although they would all participate on Henry Cows next album).

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Send comments to TheGazzardian (BETA) | Report this review (#434628)
Posted Saturday, April 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Absorbing the egghead Rock in Opposition of HENRY COW must have been as much of a challenge for the Slapp Happy trio as it likely was for their fans. But, like the hats they sing about in the opening track here, this was clearly a band aspiring to higher things.

Slapp Happy with Henry Cow was a more lighthearted ensemble than Henry Cow with Slapp Happy (see: 'In Praise of Learning'), almost as if the parent band set the agenda for the project at hand. This first collaboration (by a matter of weeks) still shows a lingering influence from Slapp Happy's earlier Krautrock associations. Listen to the simple yet insistent beat of 'A Worm at Work', or the sideshow circus melody of 'Apes in Capes', and tell me that a little bit of FAUST didn't rub off on the group, in particular the eccentric song collages of 'The Faust Tapes', released two years earlier.

Meanwhile the album wanders happily all over the avant-rock map. Songs like 'Riding Tigers' are almost (but not quite) Rock 'n' Roll, while the title track resembles a semi-Jazz Fusion orchestration of a minor Erik Satie objet d'art. But the thorny rhythms of 'Bad Alchemy' are pure Henry Cow; ditto the 8-minute epic 'Caucasian Lullaby' (well, it's an epic by Slapp Happy standards, anyway). The latter track closes the album on a repeated variation of near-ambient ascending scales, sounding like one of the Cow's more bovine improvisations, although I suspect it was all carefully notated throughout.

It also proves to be an exception to the very succinct organization of music. None of the remaining songs is allowed to outstay its welcome by more than a few stray seconds, and most of them clock in around the two-minute range: in 1975 the antithesis of Prog Rock scale and ambition. The very brevity of each selection, and of the album itself, may prompt newcomers to undervalue it, but don't be fooled: the music here is as demanding as it is playful, and all the more valuable for embracing both ends of that spectrum.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#818546)
Posted Tuesday, September 11, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Slapp Happy's magnificent Desperate Straights, enhanced by Henry Cow volunteering themselves as a backing band, is an excellent counterpoint to the Cow-backed-by-Slapp album In Praise of Learning. Aside from the excellent War, In Praise of Learning was focused mainly on unwelcoming avant-garde soundscapes; here, though, Slapp Happy's more song- based approach reigns supreme, as does a more diverse musical aesthetic. Dagmar Krause turns in a vocal performance that's more diverse than the witchy rants required of her on In Praise of Learning, Peter Blegvad gets a turn on vocals on the frantic summer sensation of Strayed, and the instrumentalists show a deft instinct for when to add an experimental twist to the songs and when to play them straight. Of the two major fruits of the Slapp-Cow collaboration, I'd say this is by far my favourite.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1012362)
Posted Wednesday, August 07, 2013 | Review Permalink

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