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Slapp Happy - Slapp Happy / Henry Cow: Desperate Straights CD (album) cover


Slapp Happy



3.85 | 69 ratings

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4 stars Review Nş 249

One of the most original ensembles of the progressive rock music in the 70's was Slapp Happy. Slapp Happy was founded by the British experimental composer and keyboardist Anthony Moore to accompany his German wife Dagmar Krause's soulful melodies. Slapp Happy debuted with the notable in the original line up was the American guitarist Peter Blegvad, who was in Britain to complete his studies. Recorded with the input of the rhythm section of their friends, the members of the famed Krautrock band Faust, the trio issued their debut studio album 'Sort Of...Slapp Happy', in 1972. The commercial prospects of the album were severely limited as a result of the band's refusal to perform live. In 1974, Slapp Happy recorded their second studio album, 'Casablanca Moon'. After both albums, then the band merged with Henry Cow. The combined line up came up with two summaries of the vocabulary of progressive rock, 'Desperate Straights' and 'In Praise Of Learning', both in 1975. After that, both Moore and Blegvad pursued solo careers, although Krause continued singing with Henry Cow though their 1980 dissolution. However, in 1980, they reunited with Krause to record a new Slapp Happy album, 'Acnalbasac Noom', in the same year. A new Slapp Happy studio album, ''Ça Va', appeared only in 1998 and the last work of them 'Camera' was issued two years later, in 2000.

'Desperate Straights' is the third studio album of Slapp Happy and was released in 1975. As I wrote before, this album is a collaborative effort between Slapp Happy and Henry Cow. So, the line up on the album is: From Slapp Happy: Dagmar Krause (voice and wurlitzer), Peter Blegvad (voice and guitar) and Anthony Moore (piano). From Henry Cow: Fred Frith (guitar, violin and xylophone), Tim Hodgkinson (clarinet, organ and piano), John Greaves (bass guitar and piano) and Chris Cutler (drums and percussion). The album had also the special collaboration of some other musicians. So, here we have also the participation of the guest musicians: Geoff Leigh (flute), Mont Campbell (French horn), Mongezi Feza (tumpet), Nick Evans (trombone), Lindsay Cooper (bassoon and oboe) and Pierre Moerlen (percussion).

'Desperate Straights' left many listeners quite puzzled. Some compositions were now shorter, and more serious than the compositions of the two previous albums. The explanation for that is perhaps because the three founding members had collaborated with the highly esteemed and loved band Henry Cow and with some other friends, who provided some different instruments by adding clarinet, bassoon, oboe, flute, trumpet and trombone, besides bass guitar and drums, to Blegvad's guitar and Moore's piano. But, it was mainly the Dagmar Krause's new vocal attitude that did the main difference. It's more similar to the 'art song' approach, or to some modern classical music, than to the more common and traditional 'rock vocals'. That constituted the highest rock to climb by Slapp Happy on 'Desperate Straights'.

Though the bulk of the material here was composed by Blegvad and Moore, the results do feel like a genuine halfway house between the music of the two groups. Despite their reputation for being a difficult proposition, Henry Cow was keen to experiment with more conventional songs. Similarly Blegvad and Moore's avant-garde tendencies were given much room. The gluing together of pop sensibilities and avant-rock experimentalism results in rich and dynamic music.

With the time, the songs on 'Desperate Straights' revealed a certain considerable charm. Just listen to the opening track, 'Some Questions About Hats', then to 'A Worm Is At Work', 'Europa', 'Apes In Capes' and 'Giants', to have an idea of the territory that was covered here by Slapp Happy. 'Bad Alchemy', whose music was written by Henry Cow's bass player, John Greaves, is a track that's impossible not to mention. This is a track destined to become a classic. It's the first one of his long and successful series of collaboration with Peter Blegvad. The lyrics on 'Desperate Straights' work on different levels and all the arrangements are noteworthy. The two instrumental tracks I have always regarded as peculiar, the title-track for not being an inspired vehicle, in the first place, and the long closing track, 'Caucasian Lullaby', because it doesn't sound as belonging to 'Desperate Straights', even due to is length on an album like this.

Conclusion: 'Desperate Straights' is a surprisingly melodic album, light on the art-school angst and heavy on the playfulness. 'Desperate Straights' hits a sweet spot between weird and nostalgic. 'Desperate Straights' is a very strange album. It reminds me the operas of Kurt Weil with his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. By the other hand, and for what I can remember, this is more a Slapp Happy album than a Henry Cow album. Despite the collaboration of Henry Cow, I think this is an album more in the krautrock vein. Slapp Happy took a very simplistic and innocence mind set into the studio, crafting a primitive pop album complimented by the beautiful Degmar Krause's pure German tainted voice. In contrast to the sometimes quite similar aligned Art Bears' albums, additionally holds some humor and warmth. So, 'Desperate Straights' is a very original and beautiful album, one of the most original and bizarre album I've ever heard.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |


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