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Egg - The Civil Surface CD (album) cover

THE CIVIL SURFACE

Egg

 

Canterbury Scene

3.88 | 220 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer
5 stars After breaking up in 1972, Egg had plenty of leftover material and felt the still had something to say. So, they reunited in 1974 to record Civil Surface (again with a pun in the title like on Polite Force). The trio managed to get a record deal with Caroline records. They invited their friends from Henry Cow (Lindsey Cooper, Tim Hodgkinson, Jeremy Baines) to guest on the album.

This is a mature effort of a band that gives impression of having little concern for fame or fortune. As always, most of the pieces are composed by Mont Campbell, although Dave Stewart brings in his own instrumental parts (some of which he played on Hatfield And The North's debut a year before). Civil Surface shifts towards a more typical Canterbury sound compared to Egg's previous work, although not entirely. The band's classical influences of Hindemith, Stravinsky, Bartok or Schoenberg, as presented on previous releases, still play a crucial role in Egg's sound. Dave Stewart's organ playing is out of this world. Now it has a wider plethora of sounds, as he added a Hohner clavinet to his rig, which gave him a bright percussive sound. Bass playing of Mont Campbell is very unique and goes from funky grooves through classical upright bass-like to experimental fuzz bass passages. Clive Brooks' drumming is precise and accurate. The drummer handles odd time signatures with unbelievable ease. All in all, the musicianship on this Egg release does not disappoint compared to their previous albums. It features all of the characteristic elements of the band.

The album consists of seven pieces. The album opener, "Germ Patrol" starts out with funny high-pitched "ant"-like sounds achieved by Jeremy Baines' work on a gramophone (sort of what he did on Henry Cow's debut one year before). The piece uses a metronome with a bit of reverb to imitate sounds of a mine. The tempo it gives, remains more or less unchanged throughout the rest of the piece. Only a few minutes in, "Germ Patrol" already succesfully sets the mood for the rest of Civil Surface, with its fuzz bass parts, odd time signatures, sophisticated harmonies and arrangements, and smooth, lush Hammond organ sounds. "Wind Quartet 1" is one of the pieces that Campbell worked on after his departure from Egg in 1972 while studying French Horn at the Royal Academy of Music. It only features a chamber horn section consisting of a flute, a clarinet, a bassoon and a French horn. The overall sound reminds a bit of romantic-era anthem of 19th-century hunters, in the vein of Carl Maria Van Weber with a Paul Hindemith-like avant-garde chamber twist. "Ennagram", often hailed the highlight of the album, starts out with a heavy, rapid, complex intro on Stewart's clavinet, bringing the opening of "Long Piece No. 3" from Egg's previous album to mind. The piece loses its agressive quality, but the opening theme still reverbrates in between those extremely varied, dynamic, intricate passages, however in different musical contextx. "Prelude" is probably the most unique track on the album. It has a very pastoral, liturgical character with gentle church-like organ, delicate bass fuzz, which plays a crucial role in the "Prelude's" darkness, and creepy, haunting choir work from The Northettes, which even might bring some of Magma's moments to mind. Drums appear at one point, but play a minor role. Despite its very spiritual or religious character, influences of composers such as Messiaen or Stravinsky are evident throughout through its incredibly elaborate harmonic solutions. "Wring Out The Ground Loosely" starts with a theme that would not be out of place in a heavy prog band, however Egg had to introduce something that saves it from being too easy or uncomplicated. After being repeated a few times, it turns into a jam over a motiff, which Dave Stewart also used on the piece "Gigantic Land Crabs in Earth Takeover Bid" on Hatfield and the North's debut album. "Nearch" is another piece written for the wind section, but with help of Mont Campbell's piano and Clive Brooks' heavy drumming. "Wind Quartet 2", which closes Civil Surface, is a sort of a reprise of the first part. Stylistically, fairly simillar to it, however a bit mellower and more dreamy.

Civil Surface is an outstanding album that is a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Lying on the crossroads of Canterbury scene, avant-prog, and eclectic prog, this album is probably not an essential progressive rock work, but an extremely original, well-composed, and well-played release.

After Civil Surface, Egg broke up again to never be seen again. Mont Campbell briefly played in National Health and Gilgamesh. Not for very long, however, as he eventually abandoned music completely, before releasing two Eastern-influenced world-music albums, utilizing only ethnic instruments, starting with Music from a Round Tower in 1996. Clive Brooks went onto a legendary British blues rock act under the leadership of Tony McPhee - The Groundhogs. He still remains a highly sought-after session drummer today. Dave Stewart remained a prominent figure in the Canterbury scene participating in musical projects such as Bruford or National Health to name a few, but also creating carefully-crafted techno-pop with Barbara Gaskin in the eighties. All in all, Egg blessed us with three unique albums, all of which are different, but are time-worthy masterpieces of progressive rock fusing different influences to create a distinctive, unrepeatable sound.

Highly recommended, five stars without hesitation.

ALotOfBottle | 5/5 |

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