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SONGS FOR SHIPS AND IRONS

Cardiacs

RIO/Avant-Prog


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sas@flatearth
4 stars How can you not like this collection when it contains gems like "Big Ship", "Stone Age Dinosaurs" and especially "All His Geese Are Swans" which is rather a curisoity being an instrumental. But such a powerful one and a great introduction for Cardiacs noviates since it's very progressive in the "prog" sense.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#33726)
Posted Sunday, May 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
The Hemulen
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars It seems I'm the first collaborator to be reviewing this release. I hope I'm not the last, as Songs for Ships and Irons is worthy of far more attention than it has so far received on the archives. Also, as a fully-fledged, gibbering, twitching Cardiacs devotee my opinions can hardly be relied upon as being completely bias-free. In fact, I can guarantee it won't be, 'cause I'm giving it five stars and will spend the next few paragraphs raving about the sheer bloody genius of it all.

First though, I'd like to take a moment to clarify as best I can, why Cardiacs (a band who members and fans alike refuse to categorise as prog) are included on this database, and why I am championing them to you, my fellow proggers, now.

Tim Smith, who leads the band with merciless tenacity, is never keen to pigeonhole his music. Journalists, DJs and interviewers will throw words like punk and indeed prog at the band, but Smith prefers to simply describe it as 'pop music'. The more I listen to Cardiacs the more I think he's right. If it's torpid grandeur and symphonic excess you're after, Cardiacs are not for you. If it's highly-charged noise rock or unrelenting dissonance you crave, Cardiacs are not for you. Cardiacs are simply a law unto themselves - not prog, not punk, not anything you've ever heard before or will likely ever hear again from anyone other than Cardiacs. It is in that sense that the word 'progressive' truly suits them.

So, onto the review.

SFSAI is not an album but actually a collection of songs from two EPs, plus a couple of additional tracks. The seamless nature in which the songs are arranged, coupled with the fact that they were all recorded at around the same time (1986-88) gives this release a sense of balance and unity that could fool anyone into thinking it was a genuine album - conceived, written and recorded as a whole. Quite honestly, it feels more balanced and well-structured than a good many albums I own, so don't be put off by its mish-mash origins - it FEELS like an album and that's what matters.

The first five songs were originally released as the Big Ship EP, which contained three of Cardiacs' best-known and beloved tracks, namely the frenetic, jerky Tarred and Feathered, the gorgeous, plodding ballad Stoneage Dinosaurs and the bloated, pompous anthem of wonderment that is Big Ship. I feel I must also mention a personal favourite of mine, Burn Your House Brown. It's a brief, fractured track that bolts through enough musical ideas for three whole songs on its own and manages to be violent, funny, catchy, jarring and immensely powerful all at once. It's textbook Cardiacs - a disturbingly hummable burst of nonsense that grips your brain with all its might and gives it a damn good thrashing. It is not for me to say whether or not your ears will enjoy such treatment, I can merely attest that mine most certainly do.

Following on from the Big Ship tracks is the bonus song Everything is Easy (not their finest hour, but the song has its fans). After this comes the tracks that originally made up the There's Too Many Irons in the Fire EP. The title track from that EP is a rollicking song that, once heard, may never truly leave your consciousness. At times hugely reminiscent of Gentle Giant (jerky rhythms all perfectly slotted together), this is, in my opinion, about as good as music can be.

Loosefish Scapegrace is, at nearly eight minutes, the longest track on the album and thus already noteworthy. What makes it even moreso is the fact that every second of it is utterly utterly utterly brilliant. A masterfully arranged, weaving, twinkling, galloping, tangling, thumping maze of a song, it'll take a good half-dozen listens to really get to grips with and even then it may well take you by surprise.

The album closes with a lengthy instrumental track - something of a rarity in Cardiacs' hefty discography. It's a stately, melodic piece which grows and grows with every new listen, and the perfect close to a perfect (technically-not-an-album- as-such-but-as-near-as-dammit-so-what-the-hell-let's-call-it-one-anyway) album.

For someone unsure of where to start with this unique band's sizeable output, you could do a lot worse than starting here. In fact, I'd say this is about the best introduction there is for the first major phase in Cardiacs' ever-evolving sound.

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Send comments to The Hemulen (BETA) | Report this review (#166538)
Posted Sunday, April 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
russellk
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Music is such a wonderful thing. I hope I never take it for granted. I hope I never, never settle for one style. I hope I never exclude something because it doesn't work for me on first listen.

Well, this album was my initial encounter with the CARDIACS, and I didn't much like it. I wasn't taken with the punk movement: I didn't like the way they 'dumbed down' rock. I didn't like the way they ridiculed my favourite bands and pulled the rug from under their feet. So I wasn't disposed to like this.

Then I caught the Marenest video on YouTube, and saw for myself just what they were doing to create the sound they make. I saw the joy, the absolute freedom they experienced, the abandonment of any straitjackets in their music, and the incredibly tight sound - and completely forgot about genre labels for long enough to fall in love.

The album is an amalgam of styles, but it is fair to say that for the average prog fan this will initially sound like punk. It's not: the punk ethos was three chords and attitude, and this band has worked very hard indeed, harnessing a plethora of complex time signatures, odd chord progressions, absolutely brilliant vocal harmonies, a zany sense of humour and above all stellar songwriting, to produce something with the raw energy of punk and the sophistication of the best of progressive music.

That's what this is: progressive music. NOT classic prog. This bears no relation to the retro-prog (a lot of it great stuff) that dominates these archives. Instead, this has more in common with bands like SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM, FRANK ZAPPA and THE RESIDENTS, poster children for music that breaks conventions. Progressive, in other words, in the literal sense.

The songs are filled with chord stabs, off-beat drums, TIM SMITH's half-spoken, half-sung punkish vocals (masking wry and biting lyrics) and those wonderful backing choruses. This is all backed by a wonderful wall of sound, filled in by two guitars, a delicious saxophonist, lavish keyboards (including a mellotron) and a percussionist as well as a drummer. On reflection, SMITH's vocals remind me of SYD BARRETT. The combination of ingenue and cleverness is vintage psychedelica, as is much of the music, and I now realise why I enjoy this so much: under the punk clothes it is a modern take on the sounds of the late 60s, and anyone who loves 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' will enjoy this album. TIM SMITH says the genre label he most prefers is 'psychedelic', and I can see why.

'Big Ship', the opener, is representative of their sound. Sparse in parts, it builds to the most gorgeous and dynamic close, gloriously over the top. 'Tarred and Feathered' is manic, sideshow music barely harnessed, the carousel threatening to lurch out of control. 'Stoneage Dinosaurs' is, by contrast, a slow proggy workout (love that mellotron, and the saxophone is just perfect) with moments of real drama. 'Everything is Easy' is pop, but the hook is so infectious I'll forgive them - actually, after hearing that tasty combination of sax and keyboards, there's nothing to forgive. 'Too Many Irons in the Fire' is another crazy track, evoking the shade of SYD BARRETT. The two short tracks following this are both beautiful, melodic and garage-sounding with the bellowed choruses. (You'd swear the melody to 'Blind in Safety' was nicked from 'Mad Man Moon'.) The album ends with two longer tracks, of most immediate appeal to proggers, the wall of sound crushing the listener, already befuddled by the seemingly random but perfectly choreographed rhythms (a la GENTLE GIANT).

The CARDIACS deserve to be here. They deserve to be heard. My tastes do tend towards classic prog, but this infectious collision of fun, energy and musicianship has completely won me over. No wonder they have a fanatical cult following. The smell of genius is all over this album. It is indeed a masterpiece of progressive music.

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Send comments to russellk (BETA) | Report this review (#175099)
Posted Wednesday, June 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
4 stars What happens when you combine two EP's and add some unreleased material in the middle? Well, a new Cardiacs album, what else! Is it good? Yes! Is it great? Heeeell YEAH! Is it better than any other album you've heard before? Well, probably not, since it's not a proper album in the typical sense of the word. Let's just say that it's probably better then the stuff most other bands have released as their "best work"!

The stand out track here is Loosefish Scapegrace which is also featured as a bonus track on my re-released version of A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window but the track works much better on this release due to its great transition to the next and closing track. One just has to love the build-up that the composition creates and there is a definite pay-off in the end.

Although Songs For Ships And Irons might not be as jaw-dropping amazing as A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window and Sing To God but you have to take it for what it actually is; an excellent combination of great material that you otherwise would have completely missed out on!

***** star songs: Big Ship (5:48) Tarred And Feathered (3:30) Loosefish Scapegrace (7:46)

**** star songs: Burn Your House Brown (2:37) Stone Age Dinosaurs (5:20) Plane Plane Against The Grain (1:18) There's Too Many Irons In The Fire (3:17) All Spectacular (2:35) Blind In Safety And Leafy In Love (2:46) All His Geese Are Swans! (6:58)

*** star songs: Everything Is Easy! (3:52)

Total rating: 4,29

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#254336)
Posted Saturday, December 05, 2009 | Review Permalink
frippism
COLLABORATOR
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Yet another wonderful Cardiacs album, well sort of album, and almost completely wonderful, but not entirely. This is actually a collection of EPs put together as a whole album, but the album feels more or less connected. There's is of course still the Sea and aquatic theme to the album as with their first (The Seaside), and third albums (On Land And In The Sea), and this album many times make you truly feel like your a pirate.

The album starts amazingly with the huge "Big Ship". This absolute monster of a track is beautiful, energetic, and has a huge chorus which can drive you to tears. One of the Cardiacs' best outings. The follow up "Tarred And Feathered" is just as good! Insanely quirky and hyper bit which can cause several types of seizures at the same time. "Stoneage Dinosaur" is sort of ballad, which is weird for Cardiacs, but is still a typical Cardiacs song, which means it's amazing. Things get troublesome with "Everything Is Easy!" and "All Spectacular". "Everything Is Easy!" has a reputation of not being great, which it isn't, though it isn't horrible, not even close. The thing is a bit to poppish though. My problem is with "All Spectacular", which is probably the weakest Cardiacs song, ever. It's not bad either, of course, but it really just feels like a huge filler (although it's 3 minutes long and the album is a collection of EPs, which I still can't push myself to find as an excuse). "All Spectacular" is dull and rather derivative, with a weak chorus. Probably Cardiacs' low point. Except these two all the other songs are masterpieces! Especially the last two ones "Loosefish Scapegrace" and "All His Geese Are Swans!" are the two longest tracks and probably the best. "Loosefish Scapegrace" starts absolutely beautifully and blossoms into another wonderful track. "All His Geese..." is a special for Cardiacs, being an instrumental. It's probably one of the best Cardiacs songs of all time. I find myself constantly humming it.

Overall, each band has a few low moments, and Cardiacs don't have many of those. If "Everything is Easy!" and "All Spectacular" would have been taken off, this album would probably be the best Cardiacs album. So still a definite seal of approval by me. I give it a 4.25.

Bassist Critique: Jim Smith playing here is great as always, but I find it a bit lacking on this album. On this album for the most part the either play the main melody or give a strong backbone to the songs, which is fine, but from Jim I expected lines a bit more memorable. The exception is "All His Geese..." where there certain parts where Jim definitely shines.

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Send comments to frippism (BETA) | Report this review (#349324)
Posted Friday, December 10, 2010 | Review Permalink

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