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Salamander - Ten Commandments CD (album) cover





3.27 | 36 ratings

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3 stars What can you say about a society that says that God is dead and Elvis is alive? (Irv Kupcinet)

Christianity and rock'n'roll make very strange bedfellows indeed but be aware it's the former who has done most of the serenading and flirting. Of those mainstream artists who have dallied with a spiritual agenda (Beatles, Cat Stevens, Dylan etc) it's only those large enough to take the commensurate 'hit' from the invariably disastrous musical results that have survived. Marketing gurus appear to be on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to selling rock with a Christian orientation, and Salamander were on a hiding to nothing as a new and untried act attempting to get a foothold OUTSIDE of the pearly gates.

'Prelude Incorp. He Is My God' - This is a very impressive and memorable opener which starts appropriately enough with a devotional chapel organ before leading into the main theme arranged for full orchestra and overlaid with an exotic 'quivering' guitar lead. John Cook is a very fine and inventive drummer who enhances the developmental aspects with some tasteful fills and subtle ride cymbal work throughout. (Way to go John boy) The pace briefly quickens thereafter into a somewhat (heavily medicated) 'Crazy World of Arthur Brown' groove featuring Benson's wide array of mouth watering Hammond textures. This is followed by a haunting strings backdrop to Dave Titley's plaintive and tender guitar.

The sung passage not surprisingly, has an oratorical feel underlined by some very impressive backing vocal counterpoint. Although the piece is not overly complex by the standards of the prog rock it prefaced, it is brilliantly constructed and paced by arranger Bob Leaper. The only fly in this anointment is the latter's occasional lapse into those cheesy 'James Last' mannerisms that also rear their ugly head on similar work by the Moody Blues at around this time. Those of you old enough to remember the theme tune for the TV documentary series 'World in Action' will get a whiff of that in places here.

'Images' - Nice Leslie speaker 'siren' effects and more than a trace of 'Hush' by Deep Purple in the rhythm employed but not overtly derivative as the tune is truly memorable and original. Titley displays what a wide range of vocal timbres he has command of with a rasping blues inflection (or is it someone else singing and the reviewer is too dumb to refer to the sleeve notes?) One of those nice 'false ending' devices is exploited towards the end to good effect.

'People' - Although the production is horribly dated, that has never been an obstacle to a strong melody and sympathetic harmonic support eg the Beatles Yesterday would still be a damn fine song even if rendered by a flat footed Bolivian nostril flute marching band. (think I'm drinking too much coffee) This is beautiful (Full stop)

'God's Day' - Things take a downward turn here with a paean to the Sabbath that sounds just a bit too cheerful for its own good. The melody is decent and well sung but is spoiled by some 'Trumpton Fire Brigade' Brass Band horn writing.

'Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother' - Simple and brief instrumental modest in its scope that carries an echo of Leo Sayer's When I Need You (hardly an unqualified endorsement to be sure, but so much of what we remember we profess to dismiss, without acknowledging its durability)

'Kill' - Reference points might include the organ sound and feel of Bob Dylan and the Band plus the arrangements of Van Dyke Parks heard on the more credible work by Brian Wilson. Unfortunately a good song is rather undermined by the adolescent 'gravitas' of a spoken narrative that drags us down into the twee realms of a school production of 'Joseph and the less than Amazing Monochrome Dreamcoat'.

'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery' - If Giles, Giles & Fripp had been god fearing souls with a better grasp of pop song-craft, they may have delivered something like this. Beautiful flute weaves its way throughout a finely woven tapestry of harmonized strands of melody. Brilliantly sung and enhanced by some restrained strings and subtle hand drum percussion. The best hippy camp fire song ever written to put out the flames of passion.

'Steal' - Bit of a no brainer in the moral lexicon really? but an exquisite Hammond sound and a nagging riff that lives long in the memory afterwards. This may be the best song on the album as the electric band and the orchestral instruments are perfectly balanced with the latter injecting a thrilling little strings glissando at periodic intervals. Great tune and topped off with Benson's Vincent Crane impersonation on an economical solo which is interrupted by a startlingly ethereal strings dissonance. Very spooky.

'False Witness' - These guys were obviously big fans of 'The Crazy World of Arthur Brown' and early 'Deep Purple' as this has that sort of vibe but it fails to really go anywhere after a promising start. Ultimately it serves as a vehicle for an excellent short guitar solo from Titley, who otherwise contents himself with brushing up on a very convincing Dave Davies of the Kinks impersonation.

'Possessions' - Flecks of 'Cream' are visible on a decent tune but the specter of our old unvanquished foe 'James Last' hovers like a white bearded bird of prey over the arrangement.

Much of the music on this album is excellent and there are very few points in its duration where you ever get the impression of being preached at. So full marks to the lads for that.

Perhaps it's the implied 'carnality' of rock that proscribes the limitations of its exploitation by other agendas? Even though I personally am a devout atheist, just remember that our ability to enjoy a song on a purely aesthetic level is not conditional on our understanding or interpretation of the lyrics eg I don't speak Italian but would not consider the Italian Progressive Rock movement any less worthy of my consideration on that basis. In short, I can be moved by the messenger but not necessarily understand or agree with the message.

If Argent were right and God did give rock and roll to you, he would at the very least, have insisted on a receipt. So perhaps the devil does not have all the best tunes after all, but rest assured that those not in his CD rack are only out on loan.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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