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SPIRAL STAIRCASE

Supersister

Canterbury Scene


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!

The group's final album is a very weird one, although somehow it's still not weird enough to not be a Supersister album. Indeed the group always tried to add humour to the music, often doing so successfully, but here it certainly feels like they're aiming at Zappa, but are unable to reach him. Despite its drawn Spiral Staircase to heaven on the cover, this album is yet a second proof after Iskander that the group was simply not in their better form of late. RJ Stips was already inside Golden Earring, although his passage in that band would be largely un-productive.

A car beeping and speeding cars passing you by is the signal that you've reached the limits of Zanyland, and you've passed the border once the piano kicks in. Jelly Bean Hop is more of the same madness, but the 7-mins Dangling Ding Dongs, even though it starts on a quiet and normal piano-led first part, brings back a sort of normality to the album, despite its extremely complex rhythm, disappearing in a heavy-sounding footstep. These footsteps lead directly into Sylvers Song is probably THE weirdest track written in The Netherlands, sounding like a cross of Radio Gnome Invisible-era Gong meeting Zappa on an improbable drug. Impossible to describe this track, it musty be heard to be believed. Cookies, Teacups and Buttercups is a bagpipe war-march and furthers the madness of the album. GiGaGo is way to so very much too close to calypso music (I hate this kind of Latino music), despite the group giving it a Zappa edge, I find it cringing and overstaying its welcome by a good 4 minutes ;o)) . One would have to wonder whether Supersister tried their hands at a sort of Rock In Opposition (I'm thinking of Samla mixed with Etronfou) or whether too much substances got into their nostrils, but It Had To Be is again bizarre, almost grotesque. The closing Nosy Parkers and Steel So Frange (sic) are more of the same madness?..

Despite my not liking this album, I must recognize that it is indeed original (but fitting more a music revue or Broadway show), flawlessly played and very well produced. In some ways, I understand the fans that would say this is the group's best album, because it is impressive., but it is definitely not my cup of tea but excellent production job. It's rather hard for me to tell you to go for this album, especially given that it's the only Supersister album so far not having received a remastering by the Esoteric record label.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#24140)
Posted Wednesday, January 05, 2005 | Review Permalink
loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Lots of confusion of this album so let me attempt to simplify by saying that this is not a SUPERSISTER album, but instead a solo album by Sascha van Geest under the name "SWEET OKAY SUPERSISTER". The confusion I think is that many of the musicians also played in SUPERSISTER incarnation that appear on this album. Having said that though this overtly quirky album resonates with a certain flare and offers some pretty interesting moments. Musically this album clings to a certain ZAPPA'esque magnetism offering strange musical compositions and challenging time signatures. Instrumentally this is a full album with a large cast contributing : Robert Jan Stips (keyboards, lead vocals, vibes), Jan Hollestelle (bass), Ron van Eck (bass), Sacha van Geest (flutes, vocals), Mien van den Heuvel (mandolin), Hans Alegres (steel drum), Inge van Iersel and Jose van Iersel (backing vocals). Lots of background effects, talking/chanting and noises adds this the mysticism of this album, which clearly verges on the cliffs on insanity. I hear all kinds of musical influences here like Syd Barrett, GENTLE GIANT, SUPERTRAMP, Steve HACKETT and of course SUPERSISTER. This album has grown on me as I found it slightly too arcane on first listen, but now find I am quite fond of it's progressively psychedelic zaniness... may not be for everyone's taste buds though I appreciate !

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Send comments to loserboy (BETA) | Report this review (#24141)
Posted Saturday, March 05, 2005 | Review Permalink
egebamayasi@h
1 stars Often thought of as a Robert Van Stips solo album augmented with Supersister memebers, "Spiral Staircase" is quite wretched. It is apparent that Supersister was going for a Daevid Allen and Gong level of weirdness, but failing miserably. Any attempt "Spiral Staircase" makes at humor just comes off sounding forced and desperate and musically is it just a bunch of nonsensical noodling. Supersister started out as such a great band, it is sad to see them in this state.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#24142)
Posted Monday, April 04, 2005 | Review Permalink
mhiraldo@hotm
4 stars I LIKE IT! i am a supersister fan and have all of their albums. That said, this is probably the last of their albums that i 'got', meaning it took me a while to enjoy this one. It is more like a continous song rather than an album of songs and there are almost no solos on this one. BUT the musicianship is top notch as on the other albums and there seems to be some kind of story or concept going on. Not the first one to get but if you like this band (or are trying to get into their music) be sure to check this one after their first 4 lps.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#35317)
Posted Sunday, June 05, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars I can understand why others don't like this, but I find it quite enjoyable. Not something you're going to listen to everyday, but a nice reflection of the end times of the first incarnation of Super Sister.

No, it's not the mighty "To The Highest Bidder" - and yes it's a bit zanny, but it is still that Canterbury sound and this time mixed with a bit of the Gong/Zappa humour. Of which, I usually don't like humour much in music, but for some reason it works for me here.

Thanks to this kind of web site, dedicated to the real fans of progressive music, we can all have an opinion, and yet respect the others - THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to Prog Archives!

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Send comments to tmay102436 (BETA) | Report this review (#135681)
Posted Saturday, September 01, 2007 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Supersister's 'Spiral Staircase' album from 1974 may not be in-keeping with their previous Canterburian offerings, but is every bit as delightful and enjoyable an experience. Opening with a re-hash of a previous idea (inspired by/based on the single 'Spiral Staircase', found on the compilation LP 'Superstarshine') the album continues with a freaky concept of a 'schizophrenic spiral staircase gnome', with very quirky music accompanying the whimsical story, which on the first track is narrated by flautist Sacha Van Geest (bless him).

The first serious stop in this adventure is 'Dangling Dingdongs', a lengthy, complex jam which is a cleverly composed rhythmic idea comprising of an up-front upright Bass riff supported by some sensational drumming, which I can't help being reminded of John Marshall's style, especially during his tenure with Soft Machine - a very impressive piece of music here. 'Sylvers Song (Groan, Stamp, Shock, Hoot) has some silly voices and vocals, backed up by some amusing, carnival-like music. The sound of a Mandolin heralds the upcoming track 'Cookies, Teacups, Buttercups', an arrangement for a set of Bagpipes !!

Side 2 of my precious LP starts with a bizarre take on calypso music, the track titled 'Gi Ga Go (Gollumble Jafers)', and lyrically states that 'We are one, we are schizo, We are two, she is schizo.......' seems like there was some sort of fascination with the schizophrenic condition. Amusing, if you aren't Bi-Polar. This is followed by some sped- up voices (resembling chipmunks on helium) telling us the story of a Scotsman, an Englishman and a Chinaman who are in prison, and they try to escape, whilst all the while there is insane shrieks of laughter. This section always has me in hysterics. 'It Had to Be' sounds like a sentimental track utilising piano, some shimmering organ and a xylophone. 'Nosey Parkers' is as close to a 'normal' pop-song as the album gets - clavinet as the feature instrument and jams hard during the second half, replete with some saxophone playing from who knows who (Charlie Mariano, Elton Dean??). There are no credits stating the players on the album so it's difficult to say. Album closer, We Feel So Strange, or actually, 'We Steel So Frange' starts out in a humourous setting, but eventuates into a most beautiful, serene, peaceful, gentle (you get the idea) feel-good passage which sounds like pure magic to these ears, and is the closest thing to a faithful Canterbury sound on the album (it actually recalls Kevin Ayers' track 'Margaret') and thus ends this wonderful and engaging offering, which is every bit as unique as their earlier albums, but of course it's not to be taken that seriously. 4 stars.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#148556)
Posted Friday, November 02, 2007 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
1 stars This album opens on a reworked version of their B-side "Spiral Staircase" (it backed their great "She Was Naked"). I wasn't quite convinced by the original and its weirdness is just the same in this revisited version.

Weirdness. That's what this album is all about. All the "Supersister" friends are back together for this last studio album, but the magic is gone. They went too far in their crazy attitudes and I have to say that one can get lost while listening to this work.

It reminds me the studio part of "Ummagumma", but more fun. Still, good numbers are hard to find. The repetitive instrumental "Dangling Dingdongs", maybe.

This curiosity is available on a cheap Polydor release (as all their repertoire). You get "Iskander" and this one for a budget price on one CD. The only option to avoid spending to many euros on these quite dispensable records.

And the laughing gnome (nothing to do with the other one you might know) who is the vital lead of this "work" might be funny for a while, but this is his only interest.

Three out of ten, maybe...

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#171743)
Posted Tuesday, May 20, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Since Spiral Staircase is receiving little love among Supersister reviews here at PA, let me chime in here to champion what is easily my favorite album by the band, even though it sounds like no other Supersister album. Actually it doesn't sound like anyone else's album!

A musical fairy tale for disturbed but imaginative children is one description I find most apt for this LP. Chock full of musical mischief, played by musicians with great chops, Spiral Staircase is one of those rare albums that consistently puts a smile on my face after hearing it. Many beautiful, serene moments buttress the wacky stuff, and there are a handful of hot little jams by the band in between that really cook! Keyboard man Robert Jan Stips particularly shines.

The varispeed chipmunk vocals that dot the landscape here and there do tend to rub some folks the wrong way - most of the male and female vocal is normal speed, I might add. But taken in context, this just adds to the fun and daring musical stew these guys have cooked up.

Track-by-track rundowns as well as the story of the album (i.e. it's not really a Supersister album per se, though the personnel varies little from other 'Sister elpees) are told by other reviewers so I won't mine that same territory. And I should point out that Supersister's first three albums (Nancy, Bidder & Pudding) are all exquisite and far more representative of the Supersister sound than Spiral Staircase is. But the Staircase album goes to places that very few have ever dared, especially with such fascinating results.

Not only one of a kind but a complete and utter classic. 5 stars from me!

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Send comments to Steven in Atlanta (BETA) | Report this review (#194123)
Posted Wednesday, December 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Poor 'Supersister' - forgotten and ignored by everyone. Well, I'll stick up for them!

This has to be one of the strangest little albums ever recorded. Inventive, unusual and light hearted in nature. It's full of tiny high pitched gremlins in the style of 'The Laughing Gnome'. Lots of electronic effects are used on this album unlike any of their earlier recordings

'Spiral Staircase' was recorded with only Stips and van Geest from the original lineup. (Vrolijk & Ron van Eck - the bass player had left by this point).

Strictly speaking it's not a 'Supersister' album at all. There are a lot of guest musicians appearing throughout playing an assortment of instruments. 'Dangling Dingdongs' has that unmistakable sound of double bass before more conventional prog instruments are introduced amidst jittery drum beats and electronic squishing sounds. There's a lot of sound effects used here including heavy footsteps climbing stairs, cutlery being clashed in a canteen. You get the idea...

I love this kind of stuff - it was used throughout Floyd's 'The Wall' but was far more miserable in it's outcome. This is just a great laugh from beginning to end. Not least on the two completely out of place bonus tracks concerning Coconuts and Brazil. Incongruous in the extreme.

This is their 6th and last album and it's their most 'off the wall', experimental and wackiest. There''s lots going on here with plenty of goofy lyrics which are so bad they're hysterical if listening with English speaking ears! I just wish they'd continued a bit longer.

A happy recording where I find myself having the best time since sliced bread listening to this...!

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Send comments to Dobermensch (BETA) | Report this review (#298187)
Posted Thursday, September 09, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars While many assume this is the final SUPERSISTER album it was actually released under the name SWEET OKAY SUPERSISTER and is really a Sacha Van Geest solo album with SUPERSISTER members. So I guess it's close enough to be considered part of their catalogue ? Well on the official SUPERSISTER web-site you won't find this album but personally I don't have a problem with this being listed under SUPERSISTER.

After the lack of success with their previous album "Iskander" Charlie Mariano left, eventually going back to Germany where he would play with Eberhard Weber. It is a shame that "Iskander" didn't do better because it was so good. The band asked Elton Dean to take Charlie's place and Elton accepted only to see the band eventually implode. On the official SUPERSISTER web-site Elton Dean is still listed as a former member. Man i'd loved to have heard an album with him on board in the same style as "Iskander". But again I have to say that Charlie was fantastic on "Iskander". Anyway "Spiral Staircase" sees the band continuing where "Pudding En Gisteren" left off but even more sillier. In fact Frank Zappa and GONG are good examples of what we get here. Hey with Sacha back you know that humour would be back too.

"Retroschizve" opens with the sound of traffic before the piano and more takes over. Spoken words from Sacha after a minute with pleasing music. Some chipmunk vocals join in too. Get used to it (haha). It blends into "Jelly Bean Hop" where it turns fuller right away. Great sound. It settles with spoken words. The tempo keeps changing and we get more chipmunk vocals. "Dangling Dingdongs" is such a good song. Sparse intricate sounds before it picks up with bass 1 1/2 minutes in. Drums join in too. Killer stuff, especially the drumming. Vocal melodies help out. Samples late of horses walking and whistling. Then we hear someone walking away before it ends with chaotic sounds and breaking glass. "Sylver Song ( Graon, Stamp, Shock, Hoot)" opens with whispered words then some silly singing in the GONG style. Music before 2 minutes as it kicks in to a full sound. Chunky bass too. Back to silliness after 2 1/2 minutes to end it.

"Cookies, Teacups, Buttercups" opens with mandolin and water sounds. Bag pipes eventually lead with marching styled drums and vocals. Catchy. "Gi, Ga, Go (Gollumble Jafers)" opens with piano and multi-vocals. An Island vibe comes in and a singer who sounds like Kevin Ayers. Horns replace the vocals but not for long. Chipmunk vocals and laughter end it. Too funny. "It Had To Be" is piano and reserved vocals. Backing vocals and vibes too. "Nosey Parkers" is piano, drums and vocals with silly background vocals. I like the drumming and sound 1 1/2 minutes in with those GONG-like vocal expressions. "We Steel So Frange (Eplogue)" is a catchy mid-paced tune with vocals. We do get an instrumental break later.

A must for fans of GONG and Zappa.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#788492)
Posted Sunday, July 15, 2012 | Review Permalink

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