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Supersister - To The Highest Bidder CD (album) cover

TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER

Supersister

 

Canterbury Scene

4.26 | 261 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars SUPERSISTER was the band that put the Netherlands on the world map. True the Shocking Blue had taken the world by storm with their #1 pop hit "Venus" and had several more hits in Europe, but they mostly were ignored by the English speaking countries. SUPERSISTER made a huge splash with their debut "Present From Nancy" which caught the attention of none other than DJ John Peel who championed their record on BBC Radio which percolated into the greater British prog scene.

The fact that their Canterbury sound connected them to such greats as Soft Machine didn't hurt one little bit, however SUPERSISTER was a force to reckon with on their own terms. By cleverly juxtaposing the best aspects of the Canterbury sound of Soft Machine such as the instrumental playfulness and lyrical whimsy and marrying them with the jazz-rock of Frank Zappa and the Mothers invention with a little classical chops including that of Erik Satie, this band from The Hague quickly became one of the most inventive and unpredictable acts of the early 70s.

Having proven themselves as the Dutch world's most intelligent band, SUPERSISTER had captivated audiences in their live settings with their stunning and cleverly laid out compositions that took the jittery caffeinated aspects of Zappa and placed them into the context of Soft Machines jazz-rock laced with psychedelic and classical. One particularly important appearance was a concert at Groeneveld Castle in Baarn, Netherlands which was televised on Dutch TV. And while a few guitar parts were included on the debut, SUPERSISTER totally eschews any guitar on this one, making it one of the few guitar free prog acts of the day (Van Der Graaf Generator being another example.) Ron van Eck would pick up the slack with fuzz bass licks and solos.

While working on their second album TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER which emerged the year after the debut, SUPERSISTER's record label Polydor demanded that the band focus on releasing singles despite the band staunchly desiring to remain an album only act. The pressure was too great and the band caved, or compromised rather and took the spectacular lead track "A Girl Named You" and truncated it to a single's length however they would have none of the musical watering down business and created one of the most bizarre singles probably to have ever hit the Dutch marketplace. The B-side "Missing Link" which is tacked on to remastered versions is no less bizarre and utterly brilliant.

While "Present From Nancy" was sort of a climax to the material SUPERSISTER were cranking out before their debut which found them mixing and melding their influences together into highly energetic and chaotic progressive pieces of labyrinthine detours, TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER found the band with a more focused and even keel method to their madness. Keyboardist Robert Jan Stips had taken the helm as songwriter-in-chief and teasing the band's already established sound into a woven tapestry of Canterbury and jazz-rock bliss which found SUPERSISTER dishing out one of the most stylistic originalities of the year 1971 that only hosted a mere four tracks.

Starting the album out with aggressive piano stabs and an instantly recognizable Canterbury jazz groove, "A Girl Like You" was the antithesis of a single or love song as the title suggests. Instead it evolves into several passages that escape the Canterbury clutches and verge into Zappa-esque xylophone runs obviously influenced the the "Uncle Meat" album. Finally well over the four minute mark, Robert Jan Stips blurts out the first vocals on the album which show a darker side of the band which belie the soothing flute solos, upbeat rhythmic dexterity and overall Canterbury groovilisciousness. The piece not only brilliantly melds jazz and rock together seamlessly but contains an ambient psychedelic mellotron backdrop that adds a whole other layer of trippiness.

"No Tree Will Grow (On Too High A Mountain)" begins and ends with a steady gait of electronic sounds that would sound more at home on a Tangerine Dream album but sets the tone for the track as it drones behind a slowly creeping keyboard run that eventually unleashes an uncanny lyrical lugubriousness lightyears away from the carefree frenzy of the debut. The piano melody is utterly addictive while Stips simultaneously does his best Robert Wyatt vocal impression. The track slowly picks up steam as the mellotron becomes an angelic choral in concert with some sort of dolphin sounds. The track ends with a transcendental meditative universal OM before laughter breaks out reminding that this is still Canterbury infused prog rock after all.

The longest and most ambitious track of the album and perhaps the entire SUPERSISTER canon is the outrageous and outstanding "Energy (Out Of Future)" which somehow takes a few simple and addictive melodic earworms and finds more variations on how to alternate the timbres, dynamics, tempos and stylistic shifts than Mozart's entire symphonic career! This track banters the senses as it pummels with heavy percussion, soothes with pacifying flute, bedazzles with Keith Emerson inspired keyboard virtuosity and stuns in its sheer audacity to adopt complicated time signatures run amok but finding balance with the recurring melodic stabilizing effects. The track not only features some of the band's best instrumental workouts but adopts healthy doses of electronic sounds and experimental touches. While mostly instrumental, the track does exhibit unexpected periods of vocal driven Canterbury jazz rock but more often than not zigzags all around like a headless chicken.

The short closer "Higher" really should have been the single. It is the right length and is the only "normal" song on the album. Whereas "Energy" was a bantering assault on the senses, "Higher" is a beautiful keyboard driven ballad in standard psychedelic pop rock fashion and provides the perfect come down from an overtly intense ride into the twisted world of this Dutch group's idiosyncrasies.

While SUPERSISTER bedazzled an unsuspecting prog world with their debut, they went for the jugular with TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER which found all the band's strengths reaching compositional maturity and finding them poised as Holland's greatest musical export during the era and was made even more dramatic by the stunning bright yellow gatefold album cover that donned two large eyes on each panel with coins as the irises and a naked girl added in the upper left corner for good measure. The formula of Stips taking the helm as songwriter and letting the rest of the band add their own touches after the fact turned out to be the perfect chemistry for SUPERSISTER 2.0 and despite tamping down the humor and focusing on more serious and dark subject matter, the music still retained that indefinable but instantly recognizable Canterbury jazz-rock warmth. This was the album that got SUPERSISTER noticed beyond the Netherlands and in terms of popularity their absolute peak.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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