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Egg - The Polite Force CD (album) cover

THE POLITE FORCE

Egg

 

Canterbury Scene

4.13 | 436 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
4 stars While the trio of Dave Stewart (organ, piano, keyboards, synthesizer), Mont Campbell (bass, vocals) and Clive Brooks (drums) began their musical aspirations with guitarist Steve Hillage in the psychedelic rock band Uriel turned Archazel, Hillage jumped ship to finish his studies at the University of Kent in Canterbury, while the other three guys had a great chemistry and decided to continue on but changed the name to the rather bizarre EGG which found them adopting a much more sophisticated progressive rock approach to the music. While Uriel was more pop based, EGG's debut displayed a parallel with the classically infused rock symphonic approach of The Nice which inevitably found their self-titled debut release being compared to the debut album of Emerson, Lake & Palmer since both bands emerged in 1970. However keyboard antics aside, EGG was quite a different beast than ELP.

Firstly EGG adopted the sounds of early Canterbury Scene pioneers such as Soft Machine and Caravan but also retained some of the psychedelic pop sensibilities of the Uriel days. The debut album found all these sounds coalescing all these disparate styles into a style that was all of EGG's own making with Dave Stewart's classically trained keyboard maestrohood leading the pack. For the trio's next act, the second album THE POLITE FORCE was released the very next year in 1971 and while the debut found too many comparisons to ELP's keyboardist Keith Emerson, this second time around EGG fine-tuned the compositions into even more extreme idiosyncratic territories. Lauded as the band's best effort and credited as one of the essential pioneers of the early Canterbury Scene section at the prog rock supermarket, EGG indeed crafted an audacious amalgamation of familiar sounds laced with the farthest reaches of avant-garde oddities.

THE POLITE FORCE was clearly a more distinguished album than the debut and although it contained all the yummy prog attributes such as compositional complexity, vintage organ workouts, Canterbury jazz fueled whimsey laced with time signatures run amok, EGG expanded its sound beyond the Mont Campbell vocal led psychedelic pop styles and opted for a mostly instrumental album that fleshed out the band's trajectory on steroids. The album's original pressing contained only 4 tracks but newer releases on CD break down the final 20-minute magnum opus 'Long Piece No. 3' into its respective four parts. Most notable on THE POLITE FORCE is a more balanced band approach where Stewart eschews the limelight and allows the others to integrate into his technical majesty rather than bringing things down to a generic level. With Campbell and Brooks up to the task, THE POLITE FORCE is a veritable slice of early prog paradise!

'A Visit To Newport Hospital' starts the album and is the only track that really connects EGG's sound to the previous album. While starting out with some organ thrusts (oooo baby!), the comp soon reverts back to the stylistic approach of the debut with a 60s psych pop melodic development brought about by Stewart's keys and the only track that displays any sort of vocal arrangements. While the vocals are still the weakest link of EGG's classic sound, these recount the tale of the band's ascent to the progressive days with references to the Uriel years and all the trials and tribulations of surviving in the realms of the music underground. The Canterbury flavors are strongest on this track and plants the seeds of the proto-Hatfield & The North styles to come. Starting with the second track 'Contrasong,' the band really jumps into the prog-o-sphere. The track immediately flaunts a series of jittery time signature frenzies and although also a vocal track seems to integrate Campbell's vox box much more successfully than the previous. The track adds not one two two trumpets and not one but two trombonists from guest musicians. This is where the album really takes off into prog bliss.

The third track 'Boilk' not only takes the title from the short snippet on the debut album but stylistically exudes the same avant- garde detachment only this time around weaves its sonic tapestry into a near ten minute mind expanding exploration of tones, timbres, time signatures and dynamics. Unlike the first two tracks, 'Boilk' is an exploration of atmospheres and ambient mood enhancers with studio tricks like backmasking and other psychedelic accoutrements to develop into utterly bizarre avant-garde sonicscapes that sound much more like an lysergic counterpart to the Third String Band than anything out of the Canterbury jazz playbook. Part progressive electronic and part John Cage, the track meanders with freaky industrial soundscapes, muddled vocalizations emerging from the din and probably was inspired by John Lennon's experimental creations in the form of 'Revolution No. 9' from The Beatles' 'White Album.' The track ends by allowing the Baroque melodies of Bach to bring the listener back to Earth with a little 'Durch Adams Fall Ist Ganz Verderbt.'

The grand finale comes with the 20-minute 'Long Piece No. 3' which is segmented into four 'Parts.' Stylistically they are completely contradictory and contrast greatly so it makes sense that newer reissues just consider them separate tracks. 'Part 1' jumps into a jittery high tempo dance of the bombastic drumming and organ freneticism. Yeah, the bass is in there somewhere. It's like the whole band has become Keith Emerson this time around! After the caffeinated moment subsides then the instruments take turns being hyperactive freaks. A melody and rhythmic groove anchor the madness. A few avant-garde piano tinklings add some spice before the original rhythmic bombast returns like a jackhammer at Chopin's house. 'Part 2' returns a sense of calmness with a reprise to the psych pop structures of the first track. Slow percussive drive, placid organ melodies and no hurry at all. It then completely changes into a formless butterfly shuffle through the breeze on the organs while the bass gently cusps the framework. Then it just gets friggin weird. Basically 'Part 3' and 'Part 4' alternate through more accessible passages and highly experiment formless efforts. It all ends with an energy that could almost be considered early heavy metal if only there was a Tony Iommi guitar stomp leading the pack.

While it's true that the dynamic trio laid their golden EGG with THE POLITE FORCE (if you think of the three albums as representing one letter of the band name then this is the 2nd 'G'), there are a few inconsistencies about this that bug me a bit. Firstly, the opening track is stylistically too similar to the debut album and doesn't sit well as leader of this more sophisticated progressive rock pack and while Mont's vocal style is perfectly integrated into the following 'Contrasong,' the opener just doesn't work for me in relation to the rest of the album which makes it all seem unbalanced no matter how great the album becomes. Secondly, the album could've been much more interesting if the sax and trumpets were on ALL the tracks instead of just the second. The jazzy vibes of 'Contrasong' should've been relegated to sally forth into the great unknown thus adding even more brass fueled textures to the avant-garde mix and thirdly, Stewart relied too much on the sonic organ textures of the 60s instead of expanding the possibilities into the more inventive styles that were at hand. Oh well, a critic some five decades into the future am i, but do not let me dissuade anyone from experiencing this absolute delight of Canterbury infused prog period piece from 1971. While not perfect according to me, it is nonetheless an excellent slice of music freak fineness and for that i am eternally grateful.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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