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Marsupilami - Marsupilami CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.88 | 75 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars The big bang of progressive rock music had only just got begun to break in 1969 when bands like King Crimson, East Of Eden, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd were redefining the context of the rock paradigm by wresting the exemplar blues oriented ingredients out of the standard status quo and expanding its horizons into levels of ever increasing complexity when one of the first adventurous bands, MARSUPILAMI took the newly developing sub-genre of rock and augmented its complexity in virtually every way. This band was born in 1968 when the Hasson brothers, Fred (vocals, harmonica, bongos) and Leary (organ) came up with the idea of naming their band after a famous Belgian comic book character that was created in 1952. The brothers were raised in Taunton in the Somerset region of England only in an Anglo-French household where they were exposed to both sides of the channel at an early age. The comic book character created by André Franquin was a strange hybrid of a monkey and a cat and was yellow with black spots but also a mix of being adorably cute and highly rebellious. Thus, the band MARSUPILAMI not only adopted the name of this character but the generally personality traits as well.

MARSUPILAMI formed after touring Spain in their previous R&B band Levitation but after scoring a coveted gig with the Joe Cocker band, the brothers realized that the other members weren't committed and went their separate ways. After many auditions and new members joining and quickly departing, the brothers cemented their new band by picking off their favorite talents from local band and thus the newly formed lineup included Mike Fouracre (drums) and Richard Hicks (bass guitar) who came from local blues outfit Justin's Timepiece and Dave Laverock (guitar) came from a semi-pro band, the Sabres. Leary's flute playing, art student girlfriend, Jessica Stanley Clarke (now Jecka McVicar, Britain's foremost organic herb grower) joined the cast and one of the world's most sophisticated early prog bands was born. Soon thereafter the members headed to a large unused country house and set up the barn as the 24/7 rehearsal studio where they would tease all their influences into the monstrous musical structures that appeared on their eponymous debut album in full-on progressive splendor.

With influences ranging from the classical greats such as Messian to jazz gurus such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner and Pharaoh Sanders with a little contemporary folk via Fairport Convention as well as the most innovative thinkers in rock via Zappa, Soft Machine, MARSUPILAMI carefully crafted through the painstaking alchemical amalgamations coupled with the ceaseless practice sessions and created some of the most daring and out of the box musical structures within the rock paradigm of the era. While having been released in April 1970, the album was recorded all the way back in June 1969 before King Crimson shocked the world with their progressive bomb "In The Court Of The Crimson King," so that means that MARSUPILAMI developed their simultaneous approach of more demanding strains of rock music completely independently ushering in a completely unique sound unlike any of the other artists of the day. In fact the debut album was actually much more daring and unpredictable as any of the better known early prog albums released by King Crimson, East Of Eden, Amon Düül II, The Nice, Pink Floyd or Soft Machine.

MARSUPILAMI was somewhat of a hit on the live circuit as they played at a number of festivals at a rather relentless pace and even opened for Deep Purple in their Mark I phase. They played the famous 1969 Isle Of Wight Festival and even won the Exeter based South West Regional leg of Melody Maker Best Band Competition. They were also gaining quite the reputation as formidable stage presence on the mainland in Europe and after finding the perfect manager in Julian Palmer-Hill, they were approached by MCA for a record contract but opted instead to sign with the independent Transatlantic Records which was looking to diversify into the greater rock world beyond their avant-garde and folk based acts of The Humblebums, John Fahey, John Cage and even Zappa's "Uncle Meat," just to name a few.

This eponymous debut album is the essence of what would become the norm in adventurous prog that coming to fruition the following year thus in effect jump starting the arms race of pomp and awe that meant each band would attempt to outdo the other with ever increasing albums of complexity. Laced with psychedelic trips, instrumental workouts twisted into complex labyrinthine compositional constructs with jazz-tinged chord progressions with long extended passages to allow flute drenched motifs, heavy rock guitar and avant-garde meanderings, the eponymously titled debut from MARSUPILAMI is one of progressive rock's earliest crowning achievements, however due to a rather limited shelf life of band members cohesively sharing the same vision, the band was short lived and their existence has woefully fallen off the radar throughout the ensuing decades. All five tracks were recorded in relatively few takes and basically done completely live displaying the extreme dexterity and commitment to detail that MARUPILAMI so gracefully mastered.

While the musical mojo shifts stylistically at the drop of a hat randomly metamorphosing from heavy organ tinged rock to folky flute based dreamscapes with chanting and then off to full-on jazz-rock fusion splendor, the lyrics constructed a more ominous and apocalyptic vision such as on the all instrumental "Ab Initio Ad Finem" which is a musical interpretation of a sermon from the Old Testament of the Bible which narrates humanity's undoing through a global catastrophe. "Dorian's Deep" begins the album in a 60s psychedelic haze with a droning organ and ethereal chanting but quickly changes gear from a flute and bass driven military march to a bombastic guitar and organ driven progressive rock behemoth as it goes for the jugular with complex time signature outbursts, unexpected stylistic shifts and various moody elements battling it for domination as the rock guitar, bass and drums alternate with the flute dominated folk elements and psychedelic breakdowns. "Born To Be Free" sounds more like a throwback to the 60s with a jazzy flute dominated mellow vibe. Despite being one of the more "normal" tracks steeped more in a 60s psych throwback rather than 70s excess, the track still exhibits unorthodoxies.

"And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin" totally goes off the deep end with not only the most gloom ridden lyrics of the album but also in its relentless attack on the senses with a tension driving build up that ratchets up the frenetic flute outbursts and heavy time signature rich deviations fortified by a heavy bass and drum attack with the guitar interacting at full fury. "Ab Initio Ad Finem (The Opera)" offers another slice of impending doom with organs riffing in a J.S Bach funeral march while a caffeinated bongo attack creates an impenetrable percussive wall of sound only to be uplifted by a somewhat contemplative flute that can't decide if it's having a good day or not. When the guitars finally emerge, they soar above it all and tamp down the competition until it finally mellows out into a somewhat funk meets flute vibe. The track continues to transmogrify into completely new unrelated territories and although instrumental indeed conveys a lifetime of emotions in its wake. The closing "Facilis Descencus Averni" opens with a call and response of flute and guitar but quickly settles into a more rockin' set with the oddly shaped angular vocal harmonics indicative of the album and goes to even further ends of changing things up frequently but with the intro melodic reprise grounding it somewhat. This last piece if by far the most adventurous and demanding piece and the perfect way to end this brilliant ahead-of-its- time album.

MARSUPILAMI's debut is without doubt the most complex progressive rock albums of the tender year of 1970 and having been created an entire year prior in 1969 ranks as one of progressive rock's most innovative and expressive constructs in its birth pangs. The skill and dexterity that the musicians exhibit is simply impeccable as they effortlessly meander in unison all across the bizarrely constructed soundscapes. Perhaps only dampened by the rather mopey vocal style of Fred Hasson for some as it certainly is an acquired taste and it goes without saying that this is one of those tough nuts to crack musical experiences as it takes a multitude of listening sessions to fully comprehend and then a few more to really let sink in. While emerging as the most angular and demanding listens of the year it was released, there are plenty of dark but beautiful melodic hooks that create a certain level of instant accessibility however they are indeed relentless in their abandonment just as things become familiar as well.

Psychedelic Krautrock tinged sections? Yep, the very first track "Dorian Deep" begins with a firm tie to the 60s with a nice lysergic mind-expanding intro that slowly gels into a creeping organ and spooky vocal 'aaah's' that coalesce into a bass, drum, organ and vocal melodic development which is revisited throughout. As the album continues it pretty much displays a various mix of freak folk flute action preceding the Comus masterpiece "First Utterance," symphonic pastoral interludes that Genesis would latch onto the same year, pugnacious organ rock aspects that Deep Purple were only beginning to develop and even full fledged progressive rock high energy deliveries that wouldn't be fully unleashed at this level again until Il Balletto Di Bronzo's groundbreaking "Ys." Add to that the extreme jazz-fusion sensibilities of syncopation without any melodic sacrificial lambs and you have a recipe for something totally brilliant and light years ahead of its time.

While it seems most reviewers feel reluctant to give this the full masterpiece creds, i personally have no problem pulling the trigger for a 5 star piece of heaven such as this. Virtually everything 70s prog had already coalesced at this early stage and although never to be repeated except by the band themselves with their second and last offering "Arena," MARSUPILAMI are a testament to how quickly the progressive rock big bang of 1969 evolved in a very startling short period of time with all subsequent acts merely latching on to certain aspects of what was unleashed here. This album truly makes me wonder how many other more successful bands were listening to this and latched onto some of the ideas presented. There is just so much on here that it's mind blowing. This is truly a Code Red, Phase 5, top notch prog album that registers a 10 on the prog-o-meter. Simply stunning and beyond belief. A personal favorite.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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