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Khan - Space Shanty CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

4.29 | 799 ratings

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siLLy puPPy

Any fans of progressive rock's Canterbury Scene are keenly aware that the whole thing began back in the mid-60s when the pioneers Kevin Ayers, Brian Hopper, Richard Sinclair and Hugh Hopper created the blueprint for the whole scene with the proto-offerings of the Wilde Flowers, however due to creative differences the band never realized their visions and splintered into Soft Machine and Caravan which would create a snowball effect for an entirely newly established branch of jazz-rock fusion. With a fork in the road, each set of musicians splintered into different directions. While both started out in a more playful psychedelic pop with progressive leanings mold, by the turn of the decade, Soft Machine was a full-fledged jazz-fusion instrumental band and Caravan had polished their progressive pop chops.

Fast forward a few years down the road and a fledgling Steve Hillage was just getting his feet wet in the music world after working in the psychedelic blues rock band Uriel aka Arzachel in 1969. As a result of the remaining three members forming Egg after the band split, Hillage found himself exposed to the world of England's Canterbury sound and learned a few tricks from his continued involvement with his former team. After a few years of academic studies, Hillage had the itch to start a new band which resulted in his next project KHAN which consisted of the lineup of Nick Greenwood on bass after his stints with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Dick Heninghem on organ and Pip Pyle on percussion but quickly Pyle joined Gong and was replaced by Eric Peachey. Soon after Heninghem baled as well leaving the entire project in question.

Despite having recently joined Egg, Dave Stewart came to the rescue and contributed his keyboard playing skills between gigs all throughout 1971 to KHAN's one and only album SPACE SHANTY. The sessions began with only Hillage and Greenwood which would set the stage for the final outcome. If you are lucky enough to have heard the remastered edition that contains the two bonus tracks "Break The Chains" (which never made it onto the album) and the first version of "Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains," it would all make sense as how SPACE SHANTY evolved from being super catchy pop rock songs with flowery hippie inspired lyrics to a more sophisticated slice of prog rock that craftily mixed Canterbury inspired progressive rock with jazz fusion and space rock. The formula was set and teased out until it created one of the Canterbury quintessential listening experiences that stands out from all the rest.

SPACE SHANTY is a brilliant mix of 60s almost Cream inspired harder edged rock in fine compositional form with the melody as the primary feature. Someone forgot to tell these guys that the 70s weren't about peace and love any longer and that cynicism and darker tones were in! Well, never mind. KHAN somehow didn't get the memo and remained staunchly in flower power mode with heart-warming lyrics that make you scream "power to the people!" Despite this extended flirtation with idealistic optimism, the music is off the charts outstanding. Of the six tracks, each begins with a beautifully arranged pop rock song that after a verse / chorus / verse normalcy begins to drift off into the progressive rock universe with each passage organically shapeshifting from various styles of space rock to jazzy fueled fusion to organ driven Canterbury heaven. The result is in my mind exactly what the Wilde Flowers were hoping to achieve had they stayed together.

The opening title track perfectly states the entire mission with the opening "I need you and you need me" belted out in poetic prose and vocals that remind me somewhat of Kansas. After the initial lyric driven rock in melodious splendor, the track deviates into "The Cobalt Sequence and March of the Sine Squadrons" which displays the veritable talent of the musicians involved in the KHAN project and although Dave Stewart and Hillage rule the show with blistering solos and time signature rich outbursts, hats off to both Nick Greenwood and Eric Peachey for finding ways of inserting their genius within the nooks and crannies. KHAN came off as a super group even at this early stage of the members' respective careers.

The entire album follows suit with melodic "normal" rock intros drifting away into a rotisserie of musical genre mashups with each musician finding abnormal ways of musical expression, ranging between loose jazzy jams and space rock extravaganzas with the track finding resolution by ending with the same vocal led melodic rock from which started the whole thing. Some tracks like "Driving To Amsterdam" display more phenomenal than usual keyboard outbursts from Dave Stewart and "Stargazers" finds the perfect way of juggling hyperactive progressive angularity with gentle placidity as the two styles alternate. This album is pretty cool as it displays not only much of Hillage's bluesy guitar rock of his Arzachel project but finds him perfecting his space rock echo approach that he would fully unleash once joining Gong.

I really can't think of another album that so brilliantly melds the 60s ideals so well into a 70s progressive rock context. The brilliant musicianship and virtuosic outburst meld perfectly with placid mellow melodies that would come crashing down if not for the strong vocal performances of both Hillage and Greenwood. Everything serves the greater good of the atmosphere and melody on this one and the result is brilliant and compelling. Forget the hideous cover art. Ugh. The music is some of the most brilliant that the Canterbury Scene has to offer. Yeah, this was a grower for me as i had the initial ick factor with the flowery verbiage and rather dated organ sounds but the more i listened to this one, the more it weaseled its way under my skin.

Yes, this does have a dated sound but not every classic has to be timeless in nature. This is a masterpiece of the era and instantly takes me back to the classic musical year of 1972. This was a great start for Hillage. Unfortunately the band collapsed fairly quickly and despite some material being prepared for a second album, much of that would find itself onto Hillage's first solo album "Fish Rising." While only existing for a brief moment in time, KHAN somehow managed to create one of the ultimate classics of 70s progressive rock that has held up over the years. It was certainly an acquired taste for me but one i finally captured as i let the melodies sink into my skin first and then let the more fancy shmancy complexities follow. Great lyrics, great melodies, great technical wankery. What more could you possibly want? One warning is that this is mood dependent. I haven't found this brilliant on every listen but in the end, it is.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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