Gonzo [Release date 28.1013]
Mick Farren once said: ‘I’m a lousy singer, but a brilliant rock star’. And while that may be true, the rock scene has all but dissipated and our anti heroes need to do more than come up with middle aged psycho babble such as this. Sure there’s some wonderful turns of phrase and unrelenting dark imagery that would make Nick Cave smile, but you really have to be part of the residue of the late 60’s counter culture to buy into this album.
Of course Mick Farren fits perfectly into the Gonzo Multimedia label roster, known for it its West Coast leanings and hippy laden catalogue. Recording on the album started in August 2012 and took 6 months, so at least it’s not tainted with the feeling of a rush release following his death.
Mick apparently laid down his poetry and then former Deviants and Pink Fairies guitarist Andy Colquhoun added various guitar, bass and keyboard parts, along with percussionist Jacki Windmill. Given Farren’s relentless croak, the result is as good as it could have been. It’s an album you need to immerse yourself in, as Farren’s poetic narratives never stray too far from dark shadowy figures with a sci-fi feel and a sexual undertow.
There are elements of Burroughs, Moorcock and Cave on a project that is more about spoken word than music, though the trance like Jaki Windmill vocal on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ might even give Farren an unexpected posthumous club hit.
‘Black Vinyl Dress’ opens with a melodic intro that is in sharp contrast to Mick’s husky poetry. The liner notes give you a clue of what to expect – ‘Did she drink champagne naked? She feared it might have been so in wide-spreading suburban Pangea…’ It’s the sort of underworld imagery that used to sound far out in the early 70’s pages of International Times, but 4 decades later he seems like a poet in aspic.
‘Cocaine and Gunpowder’ is an example of the latter, his word aim to be exciting, revolutionary and dangerous, but in 2013 it sounds contrived and self indulgent, or as Mick says himself: ‘But do consider gentle reader, That we had reached the point, At which we would believe anything’.
And so on it goes, through relentless narratives and streaming imagery, although the title track does at least build towards an acoustic and choral sweep that probably gives the track more substance and weight than the lyrics probably deserve.
‘Venus On Her Shell’ is another stream of consciousness piece, delivered over a repeated guitar line, while the percussive and acoustic wash of ‘The Dark Matter’ is much better and the closest the band gets to a groove. Mick’s phrasing is a tad more uplifting, though the dark elements of the underworld remain an integral part. Andy adds a shred as the piece builds towards the kind of small production and nightmarish ending that Zappa once called ‘Cheepnis’: ‘The Dark Matter’ communicates with me, But only through the penitentiary labyrinth, Heat pipes of my imagination’.
The frenetic ‘I Don’t Like It Here’ is reminiscent of Robert Calvert and ‘Pick Up The Scissors’ is given a robotic vocal over a straight forward stop-start boogie with Jaki’s on bv’s,
At this point the printed lyrics disappear from the album, suggesting the rest might be bonus tracks, which is curious as ‘Cigarettes’ is one of the best musical arrangements, with nuanced guitar parts and percussion as Mick says: ‘It was just something to do between cigarettes’.
The chorus of ‘Beautiful Women’ drones on with a feeling of desperation – ‘Beautiful Women and broken machines’ – but perhaps only Mick Farren could redeem himself with a song title like ‘Humidity on the 7th Floor’.
‘Black Vinyl Dress will surely please the converts, but for the rest of us it’s a reminder that for all Mick Farren’s abilities as a wordsmith, you need a whole more to be a rock star. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 23 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 25 August 2020.
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