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Gong Shapeshifter album cover
3.47 | 96 ratings | 8 reviews | 7% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1992

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Gnomerique (0:07)
2. Shapeshifter (4:53)
3. Hymnalayas (7:38)
4. Dog-o-matic (3:00)
5. Spirit with Me (2:27)
6. Mr. Albert Parkin (0:17)
7. Raindrop Tablas (0:21)
8. Give My Mother a Soul Call (4:30)
9. Heaven's Gate (4:49)
10. Snake Tablas (0:34)
11. Loli (5:09)
12. Là Bas Là Bas (4:06)
13. I Gotta Donkey (2:12)
14. Can You: You Can (live) (9:09) *
15. Confiture de Rhubarbier (live) (1:18) *
16. Parkin Triumphant (0:06)
17. Longhaired Tablas (0:14)
18. Éléphant La Tête (4:41)
19. Mother's Gone (1:12)
20. Éléphant La Cuisse (3:26)
21. White Doves (5:24)
22. Gnomoutro (0:27)

* Recorded at "A L'Ouest De La Grosne", Bresse-sur-Grosne (France), May 1st, 1992

Total Time 66:00

Bonus track on 1996 Viceroy reissue:
21. Goddess Invocation / Om Riff (live) (12:58) #

# Recorded at Ynys Witren Summer Solstice 1992

Line-up / Musicians

- Daevid Allen / lead, acoustic & glissando guitars, vocals
- Graham Clark / violins, voice
- Didier Malherbe / saxophones (bass, tenor, alto, soprano), flutes, piccolo, Yamaha WX7, keyboards
- Keith Bailey / bass, vocals (2,9)
- Shamal Maïtra / tablas, ghatam, djembe, darbuka, percussion programming, drums (13)
- Pip Pyle / drums

- Charlïlie Couture / vocals (12)
- Alain "Loy" Ehrlich / keyboards (8), kora (5)
- Mark Robson / keyboards & vocals (22)

Releases information

Artwork: Bruno Foglia

CD Celluloid - 66914 (1992, France)
CD Viceroy - VIC 8039-2 (1996, US) Different cover art , omits tracks 12,13 & 17, adds one bonus

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to BaldJean for the last updates
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GONG Shapeshifter ratings distribution

(96 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(7%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(33%)
Good, but non-essential (32%)
Collectors/fans only (21%)
Poor. Only for completionists (6%)

GONG Shapeshifter reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Proghead
4 stars Nice return to the old, classic GONG sound. The reason for that is the return of Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Didier Malherbe, and Pip Pyle. Yes, Steve Hillage (because of his involvement with System 7/777) and Tim Blake (because he always ended up on bad terms with some of the band members) aren't here, and there's some unfamiliar musicians (at least to me) handling bass and violin, although if I'm not mistakened, Steffi Sharpstrings is playing guitar here, and he was a member of the space rock outfit HERE & NOW (who happened to back Daevid Allen in the late '70s, by the way!) There are even Indian musicians here handling things like tabla, and yes, some of the music does have a strong Indian bent to it, thanks to the presence of sitar and tabla. But basically it's the return of the old Pot Head Pixie sound, but of course, "Shapeshifter" doesn't have a concept of the Planet Gong, although references to it are made. Of course, the techno experiment (which doesn't quite work for me) of "Dog-O-Matic" doesn't sound like anything they did before, but to me, I don't think GONG should be messing with techno, leave that up to '90s contemporaries like OZRIC TENTACLES (who at least do something to even convince non- techno fans like me, but of course techno was just one of many styles the OZRICS explored).

I remembered when I bought this CD in 1997 (it was a 1996 reissue), there was a song on there called "Heaven's Gate" and I couldn't help but think of the Heaven's Gate compound in Rancho Santa Fe, California and the suicide that took place, but of course the song was hardly on that subject, for one thing, this was a 1992 release. Even so, this song proved that it was a wise idea to go back to that old sound. "Give My Mother a Soul Call" is another great piece, and even with the presence of digital synthesizers, give it that exotic feel. There are some acoustic pieces that do little for me like "Spirit With Me" and "White Doves", but if you pretty much given up on GONG after You, because fusion isn't your thing, you be sure to pick up "Shapeshifter", as it's a nice CD showing the band returning to their space rock roots!

Review by Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Shapeshifter is the first studio album under the GONG name since Expresso II (1978) and yet first including Daevid Allen since You (1974).

Although not entirely within the concept of Planet GonG, it includes many references to this space mythology, so it can be seen as Part 4 of the Radio Gnome Invisible cyclus. Allen, G. Smyth, Malherbe and Pyle remind us on their early career when they developed an original space-rock freak-out psychedelia.

The album can be listened nicely, albeit often interrupted with unnecessary short instrumental (tablas) or vocal breaks. There are certain Indian raga music influences along with unusual acoustic folk numbers (Spirit with Me with African kora sounds, White Doves). Still, the compositions like Shapeshifter, Hymnalayas, Give My Mother a Soul Call, Heaven's Gate or Loli are the top of GonG psychedelia where Allen presents himself as an excellent vocalist too. Among the guest players, the bassist and the violinist are amazing and their sound marks significantly this album.

Can You: You Can is a wild live performance where Malherbe's sax is brilliant. Another live recording is included as a bonus: Goddess Invocation/Om Riff contains parts of Magic Mother Invocation from You album, but is perhaps extended a little bit too much.

Although without Pot Head Pixies, this album featuring Xerox Mandelbrot character (a.k.a. Shapeshifter) is in every way valid addition to the classic trilogy. Go with it!


P.A. RATING: 4/5

Review by Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars A little known piece of fun from the mid-90s

Looking at the cover of this record most people will quickly think to Gong's earlier days and their Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, and the fact of the matter is that it's not far off. While the album came a lot later than the series end it certainly has a lot of parallels that make one think that this could be the unofficial Radio Gnome Invisible Part IV. While it's not nearly as essential as those early works this one is still unique and fun, and fans of those 3 albums will get a rather large kick out of it. While in general the album is not quite as spacey as something like You it's still a rather kooky concept album (mind you, without the pothead pixies) with hard rock moments, techno moments and even a slight rap moment. Still, the Gong feel is still there, and while this is not the best album to start with it certainly shouldn't be the last one in your collection.

The actual songs on this album have a lot of charm to them. Since the majority of the songs are 6-30 second intro/outro (or filler) tunes the lengthier tracks are a great listen. Shapeshifter is the opening track after a 6 second intro and what an experience it is. A hard rocking tune with some wonderful and fast violin moments played over a demanding bass-line with a somewhat catchy chorus. While the song may not be an epic composition it does what it does well in a compressed amount of time. Other shorter songs on the album also have a fair amount of charm to them as they develop such as the clearly 90s influenced Heaven's Gate which has another canterbury groove bass-line to it, but this time the vocals are somewhat twinged with a rap feel, but don't worry if you don't like rap, given their context within the song they just come off as well done and very quirky. Another standout nearing the end of the record is the fun Elephant La Tete which comes after a long line of introductions.

Still, the lengthier songs dominate the record. Hymnalayas is likely the albums's standout with it's mild pace and wonderful instrumentations that makes it sound like it could have fit well within the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. The live rendition of Can You: You Can is rather hypnotic in its delivery, the violin sections drilling their way into the mind of the listener while the vocals in the middle make for a nice addition. Remasters of the album also feature a bonus track, a live rendition of Master Builder entitled Goddess Invocation/Om Riff extended to 13-minutes and well worth every second.

But while the album has a number of standouts a lot of the songs are rather forgettable. Being an album with 20 tracks it can be hard to make it an album where every song is pure quality. While some of the songs are classics and some of them are simple and short filler the rest tend to blend into a spacey goo that it sometimes hard to really get into. The album still sounds good after repeated listens, but one can't help but feel that the album could have been made more concise.

Still the album is a really good one for fans and good for people looking to get a little bit more into the band. Not recommended over the band's classic material, but there's still some good stuff on here! 3 out of 5 is a good mark for this one, add another half star on there if you fancy yourself a fan.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars First Daevid Allen's Gong album after "You".

I like post-Allen jazz fusion Gong very much, and I like Allen's Trilogy as well. I even like some side projects, as Planet Gong or NY Gong, even if they often are more prog-punk or space- psycho in my opinion.

From that album you are waiting something ...let say what is connected with classic Allen's Gong. Will you find it here? Yes and no.

Yes, there is Allen's voice ,and he's in good form. Loose structure, plenty of speaking voice and musical short interruptions. Common freaky atmosphere. Many different rhythms in unusual combinations. Very dread album structure.

No - no Gilli's voice there. Plenty of very interesting, but not characteristic for earlier Gong Indian influences in rhythms, winds and even vocal. Terrible drum machines in few places. Soft, very polished and in places openly pop-oriented sound.

It total - mixed bag. I like some remained old-Gong feeling, I like new direction of African drumming and plenty of Indian music influences. I like few pieces of complex drumming and dread musicianship. I like this electric violin sound filling almost all songs. But all these sweet soft pieces are just too much pop for me! And I hate that drumming machine sound!

Whenever all album is a strange combination of some nice things and some not so attractive moments heavily mixed in one unfocused work, final feeling is something in the middle. Let say around 3,5. What in details means 4 for Gong heavy fans and three for regular listener.

Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars I love this album. After about 20 years the inhabitants of planet GonG are back to Earth with all the crazyness of the Flying Teapot trilogy. It was a great surprise for me when I bought it. I didn't even know that actually GonG were still alive, and after the jazzy albums like Shamal or the Pierre Moerlen's solo works, I wasn't expecting anything like this, especially at the beginning of the 90s.

Shapeshifter deserves to be considered a classic album in GonG's discography. Even without Hillage of the Bambaloni Yoni's weird vocals it's a natural follow up to the trilogy. Like George Lucas with the Anakin's trilogy 20 years after Star Wars, the epic story of Radio Gnome restarted. The world the teapot is flying on is different from the swinging London. This makes more difficult producing a so intelligent psychedelia and this is another point in favor of the recently passed away genius that was Daevid Allen.

Who is not familiar with this side of early GonG, can expect an album made of short length songs tied together by a concept, very skilfully played and arranged with an excellent clean production and influences from rock, jazz, indo, beat... well, influences is not the right word. Allen was a master in mixing all the ingredients into his musical teapot.

No track by track description. This is simply a 4 stars album and one of the GonG's best.

Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars GONG has always been about keeping it weird and in any possible way imaginable. GONG was the lovechild of the fertile minds and straight out of the 60s hippies named Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth. Together they crafted their idiosyncratic take on psychedelic rock that borrowed a thing or two from Allen's stint as a founder of The Wilde Flowers, a group that pretty birthed another phenomenon, namely England's quirky Canterbury jazz-rock scene. The duo set out to hone their craft and attracted all the right musicians to make their tangerine dreams come to fruition. After the successful grand finale of 'The Radio Gnome Invisible' trilogy that would wind up with 1974's jazz-fusion meets space rock masterpiece 'You,' both parents needed a vacation from their loving children and packed their bags and moved on.

Despite the founders' untimely departure, GONG was still obligated to Virgin Records to record three more albums. Enter Pierre Moerlin, and to the rescue he crafted a new GONG but kept the name the same at least until such annoying legalities were settled but then something even weirder than the music itself started to kick in. The band GONG suddenly became a family tree. Yep, the roots and trunk of the true that GONG had built up and out to brilliantly nurture and sprout new branches. The new GONG itself would eventually adopt the Pierre Mourlen's Gong moniker while other past members would splinter even further with bands such as Mother Gong, Gongzilla, Gongmaison, Paragong and even Planet Gong. Oh the excitement Allen and Smyth must've felt watching their pixie fueled vision morph into so many offspring.

But when such a project so wickedly cool and so utterly unique lays dormant for nearly two decades, something about the original GONG was space whispering in Allen's ear and ever so adept at tuning into the cosmic messages, felt the urge to reunite as much of the classic 70s lineup as humanly possible. Classic lineup is probably a hard nut to crack because even within the 'Radio Gnome' trilogy, there were many members who came and went and i do not believe that one single GONG album has ever seen the same lineup as the previous. And so the process began. Round up the old team to see if the boys (and girl) could still muster up some mind blowing pixie jazz rock magic that could capture the zeitgeist of the past while remaining contemporary for a more fickle alternative rock 90s crowd.

After all was said and done, Allen was quite successful in stacking up some of the greats of the past for the 9th album under the GONG moniker. SHAPESHIFTER would resurrect the zany GONG mythology with the main character Zero The Hero meeting an urban shaman who agrees to take Zero to the next level of consciousness but only if Zero spends nine months on an airplane where he could travel anywhere in the world but could spend money and under the condition that he only eat airplane food. Of course after all this, Zero dies at the end in Australia under mysterious circumstances. Oh my! The TRUE GONG is back and it's never been as absurd or ridiculously surreal since the 70s heyday! The album was released with two covers over the years and there have been variations in tracks as well. Can't anything be easy?

And so it was. GONG picks right up where 'You' left off with Didier Malherebe returning on bass, sax, keyboards, piccolo and flutes. Mike Howlett on bass. Graham Clark from the Pierre Moerlon phase on violins and even Pip Pyle from the wayback machine joins in on drums. Expectedly, everyone else on board is new to the GONG scene providing bass, keys, a crap load of Indian percussive instruments and even an African kora. So let the zaniness begin! There's lots of catching up to do.

As expected, despite being the fourth chapter of the GONG mythology, SHAPESHIFTER doesn't repeat what came before. Instead it's more like a collage effect of everything that came before. Jazz-fusion space rock? Check. Allen's whimsical charismatic presence with ridiculousness galore? Check. Space rock with glissando guitar, Allen's bread and butter? Check. The band take a cue from 'Angels Egg' and lolling through a diverse palette of musical flavors ranging from sizzling violin fueled progressive jazz-rock to silly hippie dippy drugged out silliness with healthy doses of short Indian percussion pieces and narrated silliness. This one is a long affair clocking in at 66 minutes but for the most part it's a wild ride that doesn't get stale. If i have any complaints it's that Allen's voice hasn't held up as well as i'd prefer and some of the tracks are substandard in quality compared to the greats of the past. While Steve Hillage declined the invitation, Steffi Sharpstrings does stellar job in tacking the guitar parts but SHAPESHIFTER is not a very guitar oriented album for the most part. There's even a techno track ('Dog-o-Matic')

SHAPESHIFTER was actually my very first exposure to the whacky wild antics of GONG so it does have a special place in my heart for being my gateway drug into an alternative pixie fueled universe that i had no idea existed. After my initial exposure however, i kind of moved on to the 70s stuff and haven't really returned to this one for quite some time. Having been impressed by my initial listening session, i do have to admit that it doesn't hold up quite as well after the impressive parade of stellar sui generis psych rock / jazz-fusion that is unmistakably GONG. While SHAPESHIFTER does fall short in a few arenas compared to the past, namely it's not quite as funny, it's not quite as brilliantly laid out and the tracks aren't as amazingly perfect in terms of compositional flair. However, the album flows nicely and the musicians are on the top of their game. This is an album that needed to be made but i do wish that was made better. The album should've been cut down by ten minutes. The tracks needed more attention paid to the hooks and earworms and all but overall this is a decent album.

3.5 stars but i'm rounding up since this was the magical album that got me into GONG.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Colin's review nails it really well, it's a much better disc than one might have reason to expect from a band best know for material from the early to mid seventies and one of the better works overall by them. One might expect the Gong sound to have gotten very dated and worn by this point, but it m ... (read more)

Report this review (#27740) | Posted by Gonghobbit | Saturday, April 17, 2004 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this album, because I had largly assumed that Gong had left their best work back in the 70's. This LP is apparently Radio Gnome Invisible Part 4 following on from there classic Trilogy in the 70's. However this LP bears little resemblance to the previous ... (read more)

Report this review (#27739) | Posted by | Thursday, March 18, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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