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Atomic Rooster - Atomic Roooster CD (album) cover

ATOMIC ROOOSTER

Atomic Rooster

 

Heavy Prog

3.60 | 230 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Cock Rock

If the extra vowel in Roooster was deliberate, can the same be said for the (green) cockerel endowed with a couple of fulsome bouncy teats? Such gender fluidity created moral panic among Australian retailers sufficient to have them place stickers over the offending nipples. Thank God they did, as otherwise Police minister Russ Hinze would have had to make identical arrangements in the illegal brothels he denied even existed prior to the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Australians like vowels, they have place names like Woolloomooloo but they don't like polygamists with jugs mate.

It's become revisionist wisdom that Rooster were always destined to be a 2nd division Prog band. This perception is perhaps inevitable given the unevenness and polarity of their output e.g they sit quite comfortably on the shoulders of Heavy Prog, Gothic Rock, Symphonic Prog but also Metal and Funk/Soul depending at which point you dip into their 9 year career. However, I think the main reason is that they are appraised using criteria inapplicable to their music. (Ditto Hendrix) If traced to its source, Vincent Crane's muse is closer to James Brown than it is to any of the anticipated precursors of Progressive Rock

The roots of Atomic Rooster are inextricably bound up with the disintegration of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown during their 3rd and final American Tour in 1969 so it will be instructive to expand on some of the background.

I've long been fascinated by that 'collective psychedelic black out' in 1969 when the Crazy World were stuck in New York unable to tour as Arthur had run off to join a black mystic commune, Drachen Theaker was last seen walking out to sea holding a guitar above his head and Vincent Crane was sectioned under the mental health act. For those of us who subscribe to the credo that art should imitate life, there has never been a band so ironically named in the history of popular music. It's difficult to find any credible testimony as to what actually went down here as even Arthur keeps a dignified but tight lipped silence as to his own state of mind during this period. What he does confirm however is that the oft speculated collaboration with Jimi Hendrix was for real and that tentative plans were in place to perform around excerpts of composer Wagner against visual projections by a putative line up of Brown (vocals) Jimi (guitar) Crane (keys) Mitch Mitchell (drums) and tba (bass) Whether any of this would have come to fruition is anyone's guess but the annals of rock are filled with even flimsier and more grandiose plans that contain not an ounce of truth. (The apocryphal H.E.L.P uber group for example)

Carl Palmer maintains today that he formed Atomic Rooster as his band and invited Vincent Crane to join but old men forget don't they? Palmer and Crane did discuss forming a band in NYC and did eventually return to England late 69 early '70 but is it likely that your number one choice for keyboards would be the guy who stepped off the plane in a strait jacket and straight into the Banstead lunatic asylum?

You won't find many pictures on the internet of the Crazy World featuring Vinnie Crane. The fragility of his mental health necessitated him being deputized by Pete Solley (who appears on the iconic TOTP performance of Fire)

Carl was a baby. Sweet guy. Couldn't keep time, but we were good friends. We've lost touch since then. And he was ambitious: I think he would have eaten his young if it helped him get to the top. Pete Solley - proves that despite a perfectly respectable career as a record producer and member of Procul Harum, the green eyed monster is not restricted to just this album art

At the outset, Rooster were tipped for big things and developed a large following in Europe although America, being full of Americans, proved resistant to their charms. One noted UK music scribe speculated they would rival the Nice and become the successors to Cream as the next big power trio (erm....without a virtuoso guitarist?) This type of hyperbole is of course common currency in a profession where talk is cheap and a bar tab is available. That said, there is much to cherish on Rooster's debut which was the only album they released with a dedicated bass player. The rest of their discography has Crane's nimble footwork on Hammond pedals providing the bass lines. I've always felt this gives the bottom end a softer rounder tone consistent with soul, RnB and jazz idioms whereas the percussive attack of Nick Graham's bass guitar lends this album its edgier rock energy. Trivia fans: The group got their name from a member of Elektra 'manufactured' US band Rhinoceros who (allegedly) dropped so much acid he thought he had an alter ego called 'the Atomic Rooster'.

True to form, Palmer's playing is flashy and frilly throughout but just doesn't really carry any authoritative weight or provide Crane's music with the anchor it needs i.e. he treats any natural breathing spaces in a song's phrasing as an opportunity to distract the listener with unnecessary flourishes and fills which only serve to disrupt the ebb and flow of the underlying groove. Don't get me wrong, I think he was the perfect drummer for ELP but just not for Rooster.

Here's where the confusion sets in for your reviewer. The initial pressing of the vinyl album had just organ, bass and drums but my review version is one of the subsequent releases where John Du Cann's guitar has been added to some of the tracks. I've never heard the 'trio' only album (and I suspect it's a disappearing rarity) but I would hazard that it probably sounds a bit lightweight shorn of the distorted guitar. Nick Graham also plays some pretty wild and wacky whammy bar guitar on the substantial S.L.Y just to further muddy the waters...

Vincent Crane's bipolarity was probably diagnosed long before setting out on a music career and he was clearly unsuited to a profession as dissolute, chaotic, shallow, hedonistic and precarious as Rock and Roll. The lyrics to many of these songs carry a prescience of his own fate and that of his condition's inevitable triumph over a faltering will:

Everyone's Lonely When They Die. No One In The World Will Want You - Save Me! No One In The World Will Need You - Save Me! No One In The World Will Love You - Save Me! No One In The World Will Miss You - Save Me!

Hardly, Let's Get It On now is it? Say what you like about the Brits, we might wallow in it to our detriment but at least we do confront some unpalatable realities.

As a reflection of his time spent in a mental hospital, the elegiacally beautiful Banstead exploits to exquisite effect the disparity between the resigned vulnerability in Crane's voice with that of the defiant strength imbued in Graham's. These are sentiments that most of us mercifully, can only guess as to the depths of mental anguish they precipitated in their author

Please, take me out of this place, Yeah, I know I'm never gonna learn. Please, take me out of this place, What I do with my life is my own concern.

Even what masquerades as love in the Crane dystopia is couched in terms of the starf.u.c.king backstage harlot re And So To Bed:

You don't want me, you don't need me, All you need is sex with fame. You don't want me, you don't need me, All you need is sex with fame. Want me, need me, take me, it's all in your mind. You want a group each night, tonight you want me.

I had cause to doubt the authorship of some of the orchestral arrangements on the Crazy World of Arthur Brown debut album but after hearing the brass intro added to the excellent cover version of John Mayall's Broken Wings I have to conclude they are unmistakably Crane's handiwork. No-one before or since, writes brass parts like that. Sublime.

Time for the Turkey Shoot. The only real stinker hereabouts is the instrumental Before Tomorrow which is one of those jams that everyone adores from the rehearsal room until they hear it back through the monitors: as an aimless, unstructured one idea wankfest with bags of unfocused energy captured in an ego massage parlor. Funneling Crane's organ through a wah-wah pedal might be a neat effect if used for textural contrast but when deployed for the number's entire duration just becomes wearying to listen to.

Winter quotes ingeniously the Crazy World's Come and Buy in a poignantly understated ballad for piano, flute (from Graham) and glockenspiel (from Carl) where again, Vincent's wounded delivery sets the sombre mood for an encroaching winter as a metaphor for his latent depression. It's odd that an Englishman should invoke the seasons as a metaphor given that most UK summers are just as awful as their winters but from a pathological perspective, that just might be his point here.

Stare at the remnant of life that once was mine Killed by time What is the point of going on? What is the point of going on? And on, and on, and on? Spring is past - winter's coming on

If you like Deep Purple, the Nice, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Graham Bond, Colosseum or just have a fondness for soulful rock featuring Hammond organ in general then this is well worth checking out.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |

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