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Gong - Camembert Electrique CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.82 | 366 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars A psychedelic tapestry of hyper weirdness and acid fuelled needlepoint of space rock

Gong's seminal "Camembert Electrique" appeared in the weird year of 1971, the same year we were inundated by the concentrated bizarreness of the likes of Can, Magma, and Faust but that was Krautrock, this is Canterbury and it's the oddest Canterbury you will encounter. Actually you can't really pigeon hole the band as they are unpigeonholeable; but its voraciously psychedelic. Gong were more than travelling Felini-esque circus, more than avant-garde musicians, more than cosmic clowns, or space rocking infidels, they were on another planet altogether. I read that somewhere. It's an avid description. The line up changed more than Daevid Allen's brain patterns, but he stuck with them despite a revolving door policy of members. On this album we have Christian Tritsch on twangers and bass, Didier Malherbe on sassy sax and floating flute, Gilli Smyth the space whisperer sexpot, Pip Pyle on boom booms, Daevid Allen on Daevid Allen's stuff (vocals, guitars, bass, crazy sounds), Eddy Louiss on keys, Constantin Simonovitch on a phased piano. That was Gong 1971. And what an album we have here!

After a creepy radio frequency subsonic intro the guitar riff locks in and the lyrics begin; "You can kill my father, You can kill my son, You can kill my children, With a gun, You can kill my family, My family tree, You can kill my body, baby, You can kill my body, baby, But you caaaaaaaaaaaaaaan't kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiilllll meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee." Ok, so it's not Shakespeare, but this was the Gong mentality, not to be taken seriously, but rather with a grain of salt, or is that hashish? The opening song features quite simple lyrics, strange as you can get beyond the limit, and repetitious guitar riffs with psych prog freak out effects. If you don't like this track, give up, as its one of Gong's most eclectic. I had heard this one on their wonderful "Live etc" as the opener of the concert and it is actually better than this, but still this rocks hard with a great riff, and is as accessible as the band gets. I accidentally had 'You can't Kill Me' playing whilst watching a YouTube video of a Whizbang chicken plucker and it was hilariously appropriate.

Next, a spacey sound emanates followed by an estranged vocal ala The Residents! "I've been stoned before In Saint John's Wood crematorium I fell down with boredom Knee deep in the snow..." Clandestine and bad. This seamlessly is followed by the equally surreptitious, 'Mister Long Shanks/O Mother/I Am Your Fantasy'. A nice little cosmic spaced out medley with one redeeming factor. The lyrics. They are as bizarre as you can get; "I am your knee, A name shouted at the railway station, The voice that calls you, The candle drips your name, I am your fantasy."

'Dynamite' rocks out and grabs the attention, though not the high point of the album. This is followed by a wonderful event. Gilli Smyth's space whispering orgasmic moans. Dang she makes these albums stimulating and I adored her on the Radio Gnome trilogy. On 'I Am Your Animal' she whispers with sex crazed combative style, forcing a listener to take notice, "I am your animal watching your head, I have been following you, Walking behind you, Sleeping with you, Getting into your bed..." the rest is censored. This militant confrontational song will turn many away but it makes a nice diversion. Smyth's succulent voice of course returns on the infamous trilogy with such luscious lashings as 'I Am Your Pussy' and we all are forced to listen again. I must admit looking at her now, she has not aged well, but in the early 70s era of hallucinatory acid rock, Smyth was the quintessential Queen of queer quacked prog.

The next amusing medley is 'Wet Cheese Delirium/Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen's Heads/Fohat Digs Holes In Space' and this is a delightful indulgence. Strange, non conventional perhaps demented music played with dexterous style. I had set 'Fohat Digs Holes...' on repeat while I was washing the dishes and after 4 consecutive plays I had somehow managed to knock the plug out three times and make a watery mess. It is a great track and perhaps a taster of the best to come on Gong's Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy. The space rock is out of this universe, featuring one of the great mental instrumentals for Allen and co with blistering lyrics; "Well, mirror, mirror on the wall, Who's the biggest fool of all, Hallucinating freedom calls, What's freedom babe? You don't know!" You had to be there I guess. I don't mind this high strangeness personally as long as its entertaining, and entertaining this is.

One of these things doesn't belong here, 'And You Tried So Hard' is an oddball selection. It is more like The Byrds sound than anything Gongified. A very poppy track with cute lyrics; "Must be a way For you to make the big time, You gotta lay The lady at the right time, There'll come a day For drinkin' all the sky wine, You only say You're waiting for the right time, There'll come a time Just try and try against..." Whatever they are on about it works nicely on the album. The guitar riff is cool and psyched and the vocal style is rather conventional, almost like The Zombies, Them, or Troggs; perhaps a combination of these with The Byrds music. In any case it stands out among the other tracks and is one of their most adored tracks, featuring on "Best of Gong" compilations notably; lyrically it is more accessible too, until Smyth's soft vocals chime in, "I am not free I am not free, A hand flutters in my brain, Silken cords trembling into the waterfall, Where the wise brown frog Gives princely advice, But not to you or I." Thanks for those words of wisdom.

The order turns to more frenetic chaos with some delightful sax on 'Tropical Fish/ Selene'. The melody is all over the place and it is quite catchy after a few listens. It sounds in places like early Van der Graaf Generator, especially the sax motifs. The lyrics are once again off the wall: "Well shady lady what's your problem, Trying to buy a brand new husband? All I want to know is what happened To your latest ancient wisdom? She seems like a typical witch to me, She seems like a tropical fish to me, But you can't kid me it's like that back in Sydney." I wonder if they performed this at the Sydney Opera House. Strange interludes of free form jazzed up sax and keys add an ethereal ambience. I like the guitars after "hear the angels sing" and then those estranged vocals of Allen crying out "Seleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeene" , than the space witch whispers in hushed tones, "Spirit of the moon, My mind is made of you, Tell me what to do". It is a remarkable atmosphere no other band could achieve, though many have tried.

The last track is another quick fix that used to run into the groove on the vinyl album ad infinitum. So ends the classic Gong. It needs to be heard in its entirety to get full value. Get this album, along with the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, and you have the best of Gong.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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