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Henry Cow Unrest album cover
3.51 | 193 ratings | 21 reviews | 29% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1974

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Bittern Storm Over Ulm (2:44)
2. Half Asleep; Half Awake (7:39)
3. Ruins (12:00)
4. Solemn Music (1:09)
5. Linquaphonie (5:58)
6. Upon Entering The Hotel Adlon (2:56)
7. Arcades (1:50)
8. Deluge (5:52)

Bonus tracks on 1991 CD release:
9. The Glove (6:35)
10. Torch Fire (4:48)

Total Time: 51:23

Line-up / Musicians

- Fred Frith / stereo guitar, piano, violin, xylophone
- Tim Hodgkinson / organ, piano, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocals
- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, oboe, recorder, vocals
- John Greaves / bass, piano, vocals
- Chris Cutler / drums

- Charles Fletcher / vocals

Releases information

Recorded at Virgin Records Manor Studios in Feb and March 1974 with the engineering of Mike Oldfield in track 3

Artwork: Ray Smith

LP Virgin - V 2011 (1974, UK)

CD East Side Digital - ESD 80492 (1991, US) With 2 bonus tracks taken from raw material recorded at the UNREST sessions
CD East Side Digital - ESD 81412 (1999, US) Remastered by Matt Murman

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy HENRY COW Unrest Music

HENRY COW Unrest ratings distribution

(193 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(29%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(35%)
Good, but non-essential (28%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

HENRY COW Unrest reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Henry Cow's second album saw a number of changes from their debut. Saxophonist Geoff Leigh had left, and was replaced by multi instrumentalist Lindsay Cooper. The jazzy feel of much of their debut gave way to the kind of avant-rock which would later be labelled RIO, and the album was darker and less readily accessible. The album also showed two distinct sides to Henry Cow - side 1 (tracks 1 - 3) featured pieces composed by individual members, whilst side 2 was largely taken up with group improvisations enhanced with studio effects. If you're looking for comparisons, side 1 has a lot in common with Univers Zero, while side 2 is closer to Faust.

Side 1 kicks off with Fred Frith's Bittern Storm Over Ulm, a short piece that, according to the sleevenotes, "owes a debt to O.Rasputin's 'Got To Hurry' by the Yardbirds". Frith leads from the front with some magnificent guitar squalls and the rhythm section out- Beefheart Beefheart, and the whole thing is over in less than 3 minutes. John Greaves' Half Asleep, Half Awake follows. A beautiful, under stated piano intro leads into the most accessible piece on the album, a reverie which has echoes of post-Third Soft Machine or Zappa circa Hot Rats/Burnt Weeny Sandwich, but which has a sound all of its own. Cooper's oboe is the lead instrument for the main body of the piece, followed by shorter bursts of clarinet and guitar. The final piece on side 1 is one of Henry Cow's most uncompromising composed pieces, Ruins, a piece which could well define the RIO sound and which has rarely been equalled for complexity or depth. 25 years after first hearing it, I still find new nuances every time I play it.

Side 2 opens with a short piece from Henry Cow's music for a production of The Tempest, an oboe/guitar duet, before launching into some dazzling studio improvisations. Linguaphonie features a lot of half and double speed recording, puctuated by the band reciting bits of nonsense in a variety of foreign languages - sample 'il y a pour moi vingt cinq chiens', or 'there are twenty five dogs for me'. Upon Entering The Hotel Adlon is a manically fast paced burst of improv that could blister paint at 50 paces. Arcades/Deluge closes the album, a beautiful and melanholy group improvisation that closes with a brief fragment of song from John Greaves, with semi audible lyrics.

Unrest is a superb achievement by on of the most committed and uncompromising of 1970s rock groups. It may be hard work, but ultimately it is also highly rewarding.

Review by Sean Trane
2 stars As of late 73, Leigh grew tired of the band's tight schedule of touring (numerous in order to survive) and he left the group. Soon replaced by Lindsay Cooper, the group changed a bit its sound as her instruments and style differed a fair bit, choosing to play with bass or baritone wind instruments. Graced with the same sock artwork than LegEnd (in different colors, though), this album is much harder to get into than their debut.

Actually if the first four tracks are written, you'd be hard-pressed to tell it from free-form improves or atonal jamming, if it was not for the odd bit that seems to make sense. Among the hardest to "get" is the 12-mins Ruins, which is much farther "out there" than Univers Zero will ever get.

What's to say for the rest (6) of the tracks that cover the flipside, all of them credited to the group. As the group openly admitted, they lacked enough written material and just improvised the second side. The least we can say is that it is very much a mindless cacophony that makes sound Faust like Abba. Not that their squibbles were never done before, either, as Horde Catalytique Pour La Fin or Area's Caution! Radiation Area albums have done similar things, albeit with no greater success.

For a few decades now, I've not been able to think of a RIO-related album that does not suffer more from its over-rated reputation, as does Unrest. If you are searching casually for "RIO" and really want to investigate Henry Cow, I suggest that you either start with LegEnd or In Praise Of Learning, but you should really avoid this stinker.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Unrest is the second studio album from avant garde rock act Henry Cow. Sax player Geoff leigh has left the band and new face is Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, oboe, recorder, vocals). Lindsay Cooper would also appear as a member of Comus on their To Keep From Crying album from the same year.

The music on Unrest is a continuation of the avant garde rock they initialized on their debut LegEnd. This time the music seems less structured though and IMO not as excellent as it was on the debut. The album gets of to a good start though with Bitter Storm Over Ulm and the highlight of the album Half Asleep; Half Awake which both could have been featured on the outstanding debut. The third song Ruins also gets of to a great start but after a couple of minutes goes to deep into avant garde territory for my taste. The rest of the songs are also in the same improvised avant garde style except for Deluge which is actually a great song that has a beautiful and for Henry Cow unusual ending.

When I listen to the most avant garde moments on Unrest I´m reminded of the most avant garde moments on albums like Uncle Meat and Weasels Ripped My Flesh by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. But Henry Cow takes it a bit too far IMO.

The musicianship is outstanding and it´s obvious that these musicians are something special. Breakneck time signatures and odd sounds are a piece of cake for these guys ( and girl).

The production is excellent. I really enjoy how this album sounds. Those drums have such an great sound. But there are lots of great organic sounds on the album.

Unrest is a bit of a disappointment compared to LegEnd but if you are able to enjoy the avant garde parts you´ll probably enjoy the album more than me. I prefer the more structured parts which are as excellent on Unrest as they were on LegEnd. My initial thought was to give Unrest 4 stars because I was so impressed by the musicianship and the great production but as I´ve listened to the album more I´m not as happy about it anymore and a 3 star rating will do for now.

Review by horsewithteeth11
3 stars Where to start with this album? Most albums I listen to, I tend to either like (sometimes a lot) or dislike (also sometimes a lot), but this album has bits of both moments. With a lineup like this however, one would at least expect very good/solid chamber-esque music anyway. I don't feel like doing a really long intro, so let's jump right into the songs:

1. Bittern Storm over Ulm - Quite a fantastic intro song. The drums start with an almost mechanical feel before they really come alive, followed by some neat guitar noodling that works very well here. Sax provides great background here as well. If you like RIO music at all, this is quite an enjoyable piece. Very complex and multi-layered. I almost wish it went on a bit longer. 8/10

2. Half Asleep, Half Awake - Unfortunately when I listen to this song, I sometimes feel the way that the title describes. Starts with a nice piano intro before drums, bass and some horned instrument comes in (I sadly have a hard time telling brass/horned instruments apart from each other). A sax solo comes in later on. I like the way this piece starts, but the mood doesn't really change much, well, at all actually and the musicians feel content to noodle for most of the song. It does however end with some piano soloing, but that comes in a after too much noodling. There's so much of it on this song that I have a hard time dealing with it. 5/10

3. Ruins - A friend of mine who is obsessed with Henry Cow really enjoys this song. Starts with a very dark atmospheric mood with occasional strikes on the piano and sax going back and forth. There's a moment during this where you think the song is going to get really hectic and zany, but then transitions quite well into the next section (although zaniness does come in a bit later). This song really features some crazy soloing, and there's definitely noodling, but I feel that the band managed to keep it tighter and more controlled on this song in comparison to the last one, making it much more enjoyable. Some interesting xylophone in there as well. This is certainly a song where the band pulled out all the stops, and it shows. I wish more of the songs on the album had been like this. 10/10 4. Solemn Music - More of a transitional song really. Some horned/brass instrument of some type dishing out a few notes with piano in the background. A good transition, but not really anything noteworthy. 6/10

5. Linguaphonie - This song starts off even darker than Ruins in my opinion and has some distorted vocals at near the beginning as well. Almost make me think of that creepy sound in old horror/mystery movies, so definitely nostalgic. Unfortunately, like the second track, I feel like this is just a lot of noodling and doesn't really move past the original sound presented in the beginning. Slightly better though. 6/10

6. Upon Entering the Hotel Adlon - Once again, something very interesting. The drumming on this song is odd, but in a very hypnotic way. It's hard to describe unless you hear it yourself. Some of the strange sounds around the middle also have a similar feel to them. Quite an enjoyable track and one that must be heard to be believed. Getting used to it might take some listeners several tries, as it did for me. 8/10

7. Arcades - Another short transitional song, however the atmosphere on this one is much better than on the last one. You can actually hear the instruments clearly and loudly. Great for building suspense, but another case of how I sometimes wish Henry Cow could extend songs like this. They have great room for development, but it seems to get cut off sometimes. 7/10

8. Deluge - This song makes me think back to a jazz class era 1930s. Obvious jazz influences are present on this song, especially on the drums. An enjoyable last track, but once again it suffers from some of the same problems that I feel exist on other tracks on this album. The song always feels like it's going to keep building, but then you realize that the musicians are just using it for noodling. Good noodling, but not really my kind of thing unless you show that it's going somewhere. 7/10

This album is actually enjoyable for me from time to time, however if you've never heard Henry Cow, I'd recommend starting with one of their other three albums, most notably Western Culture. If you like the other three enough then go ahead and get this one too. It has its enjoyable moments and unfortunately a few dull ones in it as well. This is an album that will take multiple listens for you to understand it and see how much you like it (or don't). If it wasn't for so much rambling noodling work, this would easily be a 4 star album, but since some of the music on here doesn't serve much of a purpose to me, I'll have to give it 3 stars. A good album if you enjoy the rest of Henry Cow's work, but the last one you should explore and unless you like noodling work, you probably won't enjoy this album too much.

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This album has its moments, but is not nearly as good as the debut.

"Bittern Storm Over Ulm" Right away, one realizes that Henry Cow is heading for more experimental waters, even though this track has its own appeal.

"Half Asleep, Half Awake" Lovely piano beings this piece, followed by more typical Henry Cow music. This is one of my favorite Henry Cow works, as it blends danceable and experimental qualities.

"Ruins" The longest track is atonal, but not painful to listen to, a synthesis I find rare. Soon, the music becomes more like something in the vein of Kansas and Gentle Giant- melodic, but eccentric. The instrumentation retains that quirky, yet constructed quality, even as the violin enters. The beginning of the second half of the piece alternates between heavily panned strings and strange instrumentation, then goes into something even more weird, which evolves into something unpleasant.

"Solemn Music" I particularly enjoy the music here, and, as always, it's too bad the band didn't capitalize on this strong composition.

"Linguaphonie" This is the weirdest track on the album, and is probably best passed over unless the listener is interested in odd vocals and seemingly random music. Part of it is like a kiddie program, teaching the young viewers their vowels while frightening them at the same time. The female vocal is interesting, but the rest of the music just goes downhill from insanity.

"Upon Entering the Hotel Adlon" Actually, things get even crazier, with a wild female vocal screech and some insane drums and incomprehensible guitar work. The music is far from enjoyable, as everyone but the bassist seems to be doing whatever the hell they want. On the upside, the brief music in the end is exceptional listening.

"Arcades" This short piece consists of varying, but sparse instrumentation.

"Deluge" The music is borderline jazz, borderline eclectic progressive rock, but is staggers in the limbo somewhere between those genres. The main bass line is similar to the final piece on Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. This track is neither here nor there until the final moments, when it would have become a fantastic way to end the album, except someone decides to sing, at which point the music sounds like someone has taken a portable tape recorder into a lounge of a drunken cruise ship.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars This is quite a change from their Canterbury flavoured debut "Legend". Enter Lindsay Cooper with her bassoon and exit Geoff Leigh. Certainly the bassoon along with the Chamber music style that is evident on a couple of tracks brings to mind UNIVERS ZERO, although this came out a couple of years before UNIVERS ZERO's debut. The first four songs were compositions written by Frith except for "Half Asleep; Half Awake" which was composed by Greaves.The last four tracks were a band effort with lots of improvising and experimenting in the studio after the fact.

"Bittern Storm Over Ulm" features prominant angular guitar from Frith while Greaves on bass and Cutler on drums dominate the sound early. This sounds amazing ! Horns come and go but it's the guitar that steals the show for the first 2 minutes. "Half Asleep; Half Awake" opens with slowly played piano for a minute before a collage of intricate sounds come and go the rest of the way. There is so much to enjoy throughout this track. Just a pleasure. It ends as it began with solo piano. "Ruins" opens with a lot of tension and suspense until a melody arrives not too unlike the previous song. Cutler really shines on this one. Dissonant horns 3 minutes in. It settles right down before 4 minutes as we get some chamber music. This lasts for 6 minutes then drums and that earlier suspense ends the song. Amazing.

"Solemn Music" describes this tune quite well. "Linguaphonia" features even more solemn music than the previous track. Bassoon will do that. Strange vocals from Lindsay as well on this one. Lots of atmosphere and it's quite experimental. I like it. "Upon Entering The Hotel Ablon" is led by drums and bass with outbursts of craziness once and awhile. Dissonant horns 3 minutes in to end it. "Arcades" is almost 2 minutes of chamber music. "Deluge" is a retrained song with intricate sounds coming and going quickly. Greaves comes in on vocals before 5 minutes to end it. His vocal style did remind me of Wyatt the first time I heard it.

I think this is a significant album for the Rio / Avant genre, and while I do prefer "Leg End" and "Western Culture" I do believe "Unrest" should be in every Rio fans collection. Easily 4 stars.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Unrest is my favorite of all of the Henry Cow albums. Not just because it was the first one I heard (although it was). It is more avant garde than Legend, and less irritating than the Dagmar Krause albums. In short, this is very listenable weirdness, very much like Zappa's work around the time of Burnt Weenie Sandwich or Uncle Meat. Even the free jams and vocal improvisations are delightfully odd, but not ear splitting.

The best track on the album is Ruins, one of the best RIO pieces ever recorded. All at once, the song brings up classical, jazz and rock.

I would say, for the Henry Cow initiate, start here.

Review by JLocke
3 stars Henry Cow's second release, Unrest, is a little harder to get into right away, as most of the well-orchestrated Jazz stylings from the first have been put on the back burner, making way for a more experimental, improvised approach to the music. The first song, ''Bitter Storm Over Ulm'', is quirky, fun and short. I have no complaints here, and it's a good start.

''Half Asleep; Half Awake'' is by far the best track on the record. The subdued Lounge Jazz piano that serves as the foundation for the affair displays some of the most beautiful playing the band ever did, and all of the other elements thrown on top never become too monotonous or pointless. It's a gorgeous track, once again showing just how musical and compositionally capable this band really was.

''Ruins'' is a little tougher to pinpoint. It is more visual, and has many pauses, breaks and sudden shifts in the music that almost makes it seem like this track was written for film. Nothing wrong with that approach, though it doesn't always hold my interest like the previous two songs did. It's clever enough, but at twelve minutes long, the music may not be quite as attention-holding as it needs to be for such a length. Still pretty good, though.

''Solemn Music''. Another short and sweet track. Brilliantly played, and full of heart.

''Linguaphonie''. If you want a reference from elsewhere for what this song is similar to, I would say some of the darkest moments off of the Disco Volante record by Mr. Bungle are the closest comparison my mind can reach at this point. If you like creepy, random, possibly unsettling Avant-Garde Rock, you'll love this track. I know I do. Somehow, despite my dislike of disjointed playing, randomness in music always pleases me when pushed over the line into the insane. I guess when I am assured that the musicians themselves aren't taking it too seriously, I am more game to appreciate this type of stuff for what it is. In this case, it's a carnival ride through hell, and quite possibly my second favorite track on the album.

''Upon Entering the Hotel Adlon''. Think Yes' ''Five Per Cent of Nothing'', only three times as pointless and five times as long. Not all that enjoyable, in my opinion, and it drags the album's value down somewhat.

''Arcades'' is the final 'short track' on the record, and again sounds directionless and bland. Two tracks like that in a row? There goes another star.

''Deluge''. The final track on Unrest, and the first half simply sounds like more of what we've been hearing, however the second half is beautiful and moody, full of long, drawn out, atmospheric keyboard chords, slowly leading into a quite nice vocal and piano section, which finishes off the album on a peaceful note.

I think had the more free-jamming style songs been better integrated amongst the more cohesive pieces, this album would have felt more balanced, however since the record is almost cut directly in half by the polar opposites being grouped together (one style of music per side), it means that the listener may be more inclined to simply skip large portions of the second half. However, I do believe that part of what this album was about was to indeed create some form of 'unrest' in the listener, and to cut the album down for these more experimental pieces would be to miss the point of it entirely. That being said, I can understand what Henry Cow were trying to do without having to particularly enjoy it.

So it's a half-and-half kind of listening experience. I think some of the weirder, freak out stuff present on this release could have been pulled off a lot better, while at the same time the more strictly composed works are some of the best the band ever did. In the same way Yes' Close to the Edge split the album rating in half for me due to the unbalanced content, so does Henry Cow's Unrest. A little too much filler clumped together in one place. It was a tough choice for me, but ultimately I give this album 3.5 stars. It's still good, but not as good as the previous release.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Second, and possibly one of the best Henry Cow album. After their debut they made some line-up changes. Most important - Fred Frith is there, and his guitar paints free form geometric sound figures...

I like this album - being very experimental one, it has strong (British) chamber feeling! Some (free) jazz elements are presented almost everywhere, but at the same time common sound is dry, well constructed, almost academic in moments. Possibly, this strange combination of experimental music and chamber tradition gives such attractive effect.

Jazzy elements there are more in a Canterbury manner, but differently from relaxed Canterbury sound, almost all the time all musical components are framed in neo-classic musical frames.

Big part of music presented is improvs, but not in a free-jazz manner. It's often pure modern neo-classic avant . As a result, music isn't easy accessible, and will hardly attract fans of melodic, rhythmic and well structurised compositions.

For me , it is really interesting to hear Fred Frith playing in early 70-s his strange and complex guitar , what later will grow into Naked City hardcore.

Very original and interesting for time of it's release , this album sounds well even now. For sure, release for avant/RIO fans, hardly accessible for casual listener.

My rating is 3,5, rounded to 4.

Review by The Quiet One
3 stars Half Great; Half Crap

Legend was a very mature debut album with slight Canterbury leanings that were right up my alley, the sophomore effort, however, just seems to delve further in what I considered Legend's few flaws. These few flaws that Henry Cow's debut had were the pure experimental and free jazz parts that make no sense to me. Though, I did title this review "Half Great.." for a reason.

That reason is the opener, which is, unfortunately, short but really enjoyable if you've enjoyed the quirkiness but still listenable stuff from Legend. Then there's 'Half Asleep; Half Awake', another tune I really like, some really fine piano playing, and the brass althrough is splendid.

The third track, 'Ruins', begins strong with Henry Cow's complexity at full steam, though after that it gets very avant-garde, nothing really interesting, the ocassional xylophone on that mid-section reminds me of Koenjihyakkei. So, half-great.

'Deluge' and 'Solemn Music' are the last tracks that I would consider listenable from Unrest, though not great by any means. The rest of the album is annoying, most of it I wouldn't consider music.

Damn Henry Cow! This could have been another fantastic album, but no, they decided to write 26 minutes of music, which only 16 minutes of those are really worthwhile, and 14 minutes of nothing.

3 stars: if you liked Legend, you should get this, if only for the worthy half.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Henry Cow, a lovely man. Cousin of Jethro Tull and one-time roommate of Pink Floyd. OK, Henry Cow has one of the stupidest names in all of prog, but their music is excellent. Most of the time anyway; some of their improvisations can be hard to stomach. These guys pretty much invented what we call today Rock-In-Opposition. Strictly speaking, that movemnet only started in 1978 and lasted only a few years. From a musical perspective the sound of RIO goes back to what Zappa and Beefheart were doing in the 1960s. Unrest is closer to what most think of as RIO as compared to the more Canterbury-sounding debut LegEnd. It is with Henry Cow that Fred Frith and Chris Cutler first appeared in the music world, although both musicians are today probably better known for other projects/collaborations they did after Cow split up.

Here we get the classically-trained Lindsay Cooper(bassoon, oboe) replacing Geoff Leigh (saxes, flute). Perhaps the greatest lesbian bassoonist in rock music. Tim Hodgkinson, in addition to clarinet and sax, plays keyboards. Now when I say 'keyboards' I really mean piano and a cheap '60s-era electronic organ. He must have been one of the few prog keyboardists to never touch a synth, Mellotron, Rhodes or Hammond. Cow in general were more about improv/composition than about trying to be hip with new gadgets. John Greaves uses a fuzz-box on his bass occasionally, and Frith uses some wah-wah, but that's about it. Frith is credited with "stereo guitar" on "Bitter Storm Over Ulm"(supposedly loosely based on a Yardbirds song). What this band liked doing was recording instruments at different speeds. In fact, the whole second half of the album was improvs recorded this way along with tape-splicing.

It is hard enough trying to describe the composed pieces on side 1, let alone the chaos that is side 2. Here you get jazz, classical, avant-garde and psychedelic rock all mixed together. Most of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists so it's hard to say exactly who is playing what, although Cutler does all the drumming. There are no lyrics or vocals except for a few of both on side 2(I'll get to that). "Ruins" is one of the best songs in all of progdom. The violin part Frith plays near the end is breathtaking, and the rhythm section backing him up makes it even more so. Supposedly Mike Oldfield had something to do with the mixing on this song. Unlike LegEnd and the follow-up In Praise..., this album was never re-mixed.

What was side 2("Solemn Music" to "Deluge") were all improvisations that were tampered with. Varispeeding and tape-splicing were used to make these improvs into something that sounded radically different to what was originally recorded. Warning: this stuff is an acquired taste and will not appeal to everyone. But I likes it. On "Linguaphonie" you can hear the members say things in French. "Deluge" is the closest to sounding like a composed piece. It begins with a little drums and a simple bassline which gets repeated casually. Slowly you hear what sounds like violins and bassoons growing in volume until it drowns out the drums and bass. At the very end you hear what sounds like something recorded at a rehearsal: somebody playing piano and singing some lyrics which are hard to make out. I assume this is Greaves, but I'm not sure. It's actually a nice way to end the album.

On the original CD release there were two bonus songs that were similar to the stuff on side 2. Nothing essential. Expect the unexpected with this album. "Ruins" is probably the greatest thing the Cow ever did. Soft Machine fans should probably start with LegEnd; fans of groups like Univers Zero and Art Zoyd should go straight to Western Culture. I think this is Henry Cow's best effort overall, but if you're not familiar with Avant- Prog you would be better off to start with some of the more avant stuff Zappa and Softs did before getting into the Cow. I would suggest you hear Art Bears(featuring Frith and Cutler) first, which is similar to Cow's music but more accesible. 3.5 but I will round it up to 4. Buyer beware.

Review by Warthur
3 stars This rather transitional album captures Henry Cow in the process of absorbing Lindsay Cooper - formerly of avant-folk band Comus - into the lineup, as well as transforming their sound from the Canterbury-influenced approach displayed on LegEnd to the more avant-garde style they would follow for the rest of their career. Due to a shortage of material going into the studio, much of the album was cobbled together from tape-manipulated improvisations, and as such it doesn't feel quite as polished as earlier or subsequent releases by the group, but there's the undeniable feeling that the group have latched onto something potent and powerful. Some of the darker and more brooding tracks are reminiscent of work which would be undertaken by their future Rock In Opposition allies in Univers Zero. On the whole, though, this is one for the committed Henry Cow fan.
Review by Neu!mann
3 stars Henry Cow was always a group positioned very near the event horizon where music and noise overlap, and that boundary was further blurred on the band's aptly titled 1974 album. Unrest, indeed: this is music tailor-made for sleepless nights.

Imagine a modern chamber orchestra, masquerading as a rock 'n' roll band and commissioned to improvise the score to an experimental ballet, juxtaposing oboes, clarinets, bassoons and violin against the usual array of electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. That might give you a vague idea of their sound, but I doubt it.

There are moments here, mostly during the second, more improvisational half of the album, that might leave you wondering who is more insane: the septet of players actually performing this racket, or yourself for willingly listening to it. The opener 'Bittern Storm Over Ulm' bounces forward on an awkward but not unattractive melody, in my limited experience maybe the closest the Cow ever came to a legitimate pop song. But all bets are off after that uneasy truce; check out the bizarre, pre-verbal chanting in 'Linguaphonie' for proof.

And what exactly is creating that distorted buzzing hum, in 'Ruins' and elsewhere: synthesizers? Maybe some sort of electronically fuzzed horn? I suspect it's Fred Frith, up to his usual tricks. What that man does to a guitar almost borders on abuse, god bless him.

In the end the album is easy to admire, but harder to actually least for anyone not schooled in advanced musicology. I'm not suggesting you need to be a complete brainiac to appreciate Henry Cow, but it couldn't hurt. A four-star effort with two-star popular appeal: hence my fickle three-star recommendation.

Review by ALotOfBottle
4 stars The Return of the Giant Sockweed!

After releasing their debut album Legend, Henry Cow were organised a tour with a German experimental band Faust. In addition, the group was offered to play with Mike Oldfield (whom they met while recording LegEnd) on the BBC session recordings of Tubular Bells. It was at that time that Geoff Leigh left the band, being unable to keep up with the touring schedule. He was replaced with a classically-trained female oboe and bassoon player Lindsay Cooper, who had previously played in a folk rock outfit Comus. In early 1974, Henry Cow returned to Virgin's Manor Studios to record their second album called Unrest.

It is known that there were many tensions between the members while recording this album. From a certain point of view, that is detectable at times with the band breaking free from the aesthetic of their first offering. Unrest is composed of two distinctive concepts. Side one presents a rather familiar Henry Cow sound, full of well-though, elaborate, demanding compositions and accurate musicianship. The Canterbury-style jazz influence is pushed to the background and is substituted with a darker avant-garde chamber-like quality, owing a much greater deal to classical compositions of Arnol Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and even Olivier Messiaen. Free-form parts and collective improvisation, reminiscent of Peter Brötzmann, Ornette Coleman, and Marion Brown, previously being just a portion of the group's musical sauce are being much more present and pronounced. Side two is said to have been fully improvised based loosely just on little themes that the musicians brought in. The free-form mayhem is definitely an acquired taste and one is guaranteed to be disgusted with it without having been introduced to the style. The presumably unplanned and instrumentally undemanding moments play a different role from traditional music forms. It all comes down to personal views and experience, but, in my opinion, free improvised music deserves a seperate, unique interpretations - somewhat similar to abstract art of Mark Rothko and Jason Pollock. It is there to create certain tensions, invigorate creativity, give one space for contemplation.

As previously mentioned, Henry Cow's sound on Unrest is a lot darker than on LegEnd. The fast-paced jazz passages are virtually gone and are replaced with slowly evolving, dissonant, experimental passages, including a bassoon, saxophone, and violin prominently, which drive the group closer to their later works and what would lie under the label "Rock In Opposition." Despite the changes, we are still capable of observing the group's classic elements: Fred Frith's fuzz guitar solos, Tim Hodgkinson's signature Farfisa organ sound, Chris Cutler's percise drumming. and John Greaves' distinctive bass playing style, as well as his fuzz bass tone.

After Henry Cow's LegEndary debut album comes this strange beast - Unrest. Often dismissed as unambitious or, in demanding minimal creative effort, even by band's most enthusiastic fans, this album, at least for some, proved difficult to appreciate. The trouble does not lie in the poor quality of music or lack of members' musical skill, but in lack of comprehension of musical forms other than those formed by western culture, that is free-form improvisation. However, even with that, the album features a few incredibly elaborate musical compositions, namely "Ruins", with its rhythmic melody based on Fibonacci's sequence, "Half Asleep, Half Awake" with its neo-classical piano prelude and unorthodox harmonic solutions. As said above - not an accessible album, but a phenomenal, mature effort nonetheless.

Latest members reviews

3 stars A very gimmicky album to my ears. The first couple times I heard Unrest was amazing. Quickly my opinion dropped and I never listened to the album. I find once the changes have been heard they lose their shock value and one can see the music between transitions. For me that music is sparse and uninte ... (read more)

Report this review (#2522168) | Posted by Beautiful Scarlet | Monday, March 8, 2021 | Review Permanlink

1 stars This is the first time I rate an album 1-star. The reason is that it deserves so. This album goes against everything I consider to be music. And I'm not even talking about GOOD music, but music in general. It seems to me that the guys arrived in the studio and said "Ok, let's record a new albu ... (read more)

Report this review (#1159462) | Posted by claugroi | Wednesday, April 9, 2014 | Review Permanlink

5 stars UNREST!!!! Lindsay Cooper enters, Geoff Leigh out. This means change in sound. Debut album LegEnd had a Canterbury flavor and with the absence of Geoff band lost some part of that energy. Classically trained oboe player Lindsay Cooper enters the band and the energy transorfmed into something diff ... (read more)

Report this review (#269332) | Posted by alionida | Wednesday, March 3, 2010 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Unrest contains a distinct disparity between the quality of first four songs and the remaining four. Resulting from this we have the first half of the album full of beautiful chamber influenced Avant-rock, and the second half of the album consists of largely atonal jam sessions with myriad studi ... (read more)

Report this review (#132945) | Posted by Equality 7-2521 | Monday, August 13, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I think "Ruins" is a monument of the chamber lock. I want you to challenge once by all means. Masterpiece to which it evolves to improvisation music with which originality overflows from sound influenced by free jazz, and individuality is established. The masterpiece is an improvisation pe ... (read more)

Report this review (#43181) | Posted by braindamage | Wednesday, August 17, 2005 | Review Permanlink

1 stars Mostly pointless noodling. The first song, with its dissonant but reasonably listener-friendly structure, is really good -- all 2 minutes, 44 seconds of it. Then, it's all downhill. Pointless guitar riffs drifting off to nowhere; a violin on "Ruins" that sounds like its primary mission is t ... (read more)

Report this review (#37019) | Posted by Ruglish | Sunday, June 19, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This one is better than the first (Leg end), and indeed, I think it is the second-best HC album. It pushes the envelope of composition and abstract-expressionism in music, while still keeping things together, and giving each piece its own distinct character. Ruins and Deluge are my favourites. ... (read more)

Report this review (#20182) | Posted by | Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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