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Egg - The Civil Surface CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.91 | 236 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars EGG's short career was riddled with problems and almost none of the trio of Dave Stewart, Mont Campbell and Clive Brooks' making. It had plenty to do with the Decca label which signed a whole list of artists and failed to promote any which meant EGG was just one of a long list of rather strange sound makers that didn't fit in with the mainstream. Add to that the band failed to score many live gigs and remained rather obscure during the band's original four year stint that lasted from 1968-72 no matter how critically lauded these musical maestros had become and no matter how cutting edge their musical style was in many ways. No, it would take several decades for a new progressive rock renaissance to reignite any interest in the music this trio so cleverly crafted.

With no solutions presented to rectify the hurdles placed in front of the band, the three members decided to call it quits in 1972. Stewart would rejoin forces with Steve Hillage of Uriel and join on as keyboardist for his new project Khan, whereas Clive Brooks joined Groundhogs. Campbell on the other hand was content to play as a session musician with a fledgling Henry Cow. These guys were getting their feet wet in new projects but EGG was highly prolific and produced more material than they were allowed to record. After a couple of years Dave Stewart had the itch to revive the EGG project so they could record and release some of the material that was supposed to have been included on a third album that never was.

The old gang returned to their respective roles and brought along a lot of new talent as guest musicians. THE CIVIL SURFACE was the answer to those forgotten compositions that lay dormant for three years and appeared in December 1974. Along for the ride were cameos from Steve Hillage on guitar, Lindsay Cooper on baboon and oboe, Tim Hodgkinson on clarinet, Jeremy Blaines on flute and the future Hatfield Northettes Amanda Parsons, Ann Rosenthal and Barbara Gaskin providing a sneak peak of the sounds that would evolve into the Hatfield & The North project. In addition to the EGG sounds of yore, THE CIVIL SURFACE also contained lots of wind performances with extra help from Maurice Cambridge on clarinet, Stephen Solloway on flute, Christ Palmer on bassoon and Mont Campbell expanding his talents beyond vocals and bass and contributing some French horn.

Given the circumstances and the other projects that took place in between EGG albums, it's no surprise that THE CIVIL SURFACE is a bit more eclectic than the band's first two releases. One of the most noticeable differences is the absence of vocals with only "Wring Out the Ground (Loosely Now)" having any lead vocals at all and that is the 5th of 7 tracks. The track also provides a sneak peak into the sounds that would be further explored on Hatfield & The North albums that would emerge the following years. Both vocally and compositionally this track is a virtual rough draft for the super group that followed. Another clear difference is that the band had moved beyond its dominate 60s organ shtick and embraces a much wider display of progressive musical compositional flow. Of all the tracks only "Germ Patrol" and "Enneagram" evoke a sense of the past with the organ dominated rhythmic flow, jazzy drum rolls and angular time signature rich Canterbury fueled melodies.

New to the band's sounds are two tracks entirely dedicated to wind instruments. Logically titled "Wind Quartet 1" and "Wind Quartet 2," the tracks sound more like something off of the first Gryphon album only with more of a Henry Cow take on avant-garde angularity. Only the crumhorn is missing. Another clear reference to the Hatfield years to come is on the rather detached "Prelude" which wends its way down angular alley only to break into the heavenly choir which would become known as The Northettes on the Hatfield albums. Despite these nascent origins, these girls already have their divine diva harmonies down pat and add an extra dimension to the album, one that should've been included on other tracks.

Overall, EGG delivered an excellent batch of loose fodder that would've forever been locked up in the archives for decades only to find a release some time in the 90s however due to the band's commitment to the project and the sublime material they crafted, the album found an actual release in the 70s. As expected THE CIVIL SURFACE hardly brought the band into the world of superstardom as it remained in the niche world of the avant-garde. While it has taken many decades to find a true audience, EGG has held up well over the decades with three distinctly different albums, each expanding the band's sound into a new paradigm. While i do think THE CIVIL SURFACE is a slight step down from what came before, it is also a step up as it jettisoned the mediocre vocals of Campbell for the most part and expanded the band's musical game into the modern world. The extra talent on board gave the album a much richer spectrum of influences and despite the tracks sounding a little disjointed still manages to deliver a strong set of musical compositions. Not a bad way to end the EGG brand with but also pales in comparison to the Hatfield & The North albums that Dave Stewart would be instrumental in creating.

3.5 but too good to round down

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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