Kronomyth 1.0: COME TO MY ARMS, MY BEAMISH BOYS. This is a seminal work from three-fourths of 10cc, designed to cash in on the surprise success of “Neanderthal Man” and featuring songs originally intended for Godley and Creme’s first album, which was to be produced under the name of Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon. Little of it sounds like “Neanderthal Man” (mercifully, since forty minutes of chanting, drums and lazily strummed guitars would have made for a boring history lesson), some of it sounds like 10cc (compare “How Many Times” and “Take Me Back” to “The Hospital Song” or “Fresh Air For My Momma”), and parts of it are clearly patterned on The Beatles (“Suite F.A.” is their response to the second side of Abbey Road), the Beach Boys (“All God’s Children”) and CS&N (the harmonies on “How Many Times”). In other words, just the sort of studio pop tinkering you would expect from the boys, but which hadn’t quite coalesced into the quartet’s vision of over-the-top doo wop and pop. It wasn’t, however, what fans of “Neanderthal Man” were expecting, if they were expecting an encore at all, and so Hotlegs’ first (and last) album met with a chilly reception. Today, the record is primarily of interest to 10cc fans, who number not a few, and for their archaeological efforts will be rewarded with clever concoctions that would have felt at home on the B side of a 10cc single. That said, it’s not a work of genius, at least not in a world where Paul McCartney’s Ram, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One and Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Ballet already existed. It is, however, a better bet to please 10cc fans than some of the later godleyless and uncremed efforts (Look Hear, I’m looking at you).
Kronomyth 6.0: LET BE BE FINALE OF SEEM. This is a live/studio hybrid that has all the earmarks of a contract closer. In other words, Clarke likely owed Nemperor two more albums on his contract and decided to kick in an album’s worth of live material to hit the magic number of albums owed, which would apparently be six. Anyway, that’s just speculation on my part, and of no particular interest. The music on I Wanna Play For You, now that’s interesting. I find it amazing that a bass guitarist could build a robust live repertoire around their instrument. Clarke is an extraordinary musician, of course; the sounds he coaxes out of those four strings would make a Stratavarius blush. The live performances are excellent; I sort of wish they had preserved the concerts intact, since I would have loved to hear songs like “Silly Putty,” “Yesterday Princess” or “Dayride” in a live setting. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a six-minute sampler called “My Greatest Hits.” The studio material has a live energy to it and features a few funk/pop/disco numbers that point forward to the Clarke/Duke Project. “The Streets of Philadelphia” is the best of these; in fact, I’ve always regarded it as the heart of the album. I Wanna Play For You feels instantly familiar, not just in the sense that you’ve heard “School Days” and “Quiet Afternoon” before; even the new songs (e.g., “Together Again,” “Jamaican Boy”) arrive like old friends. In that sense, the record wraps around your mind like a favorite shirt (I know, that’s a crappy analogy); it feels good whenever you put it on. (Apparently, there was a 2-for-1 semicolon sale at that shirt store.) The Epic adventures that followed were too populist; the last emperor is this Nemperor of nice dreams.
“That’s all I ever wanted, was to not do a proper job. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” – Mick Jones, in a 2011 interview with GQ Magazine.
Kronomyth 3.01: I SING THE SONG, YOU SELL ‘EM. The advance single from Tighten Up, Vol. ’88 featured a really cute video of the band on tour and at repose, which made it seem like Mick Jones was having the time of his life being B.A.D. And yet (wrote the gray, unhappy and envious little man), it always seemed to me that Jones and his badmates were living on the equity earned by The Clash. You could argue that B.A.D. was blazing trails, only you could arrive at the same destination by listening to Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” like, once. (That video had better hats, too.) “Just Play Music!” isn’t a bad song (“The Other 99” is better), and the nonalbum B side, “Much Worse,” is appreciably funny. Various singles included extended mixes of those tracks, which are just longer versions with more drumbeats, in case you didn’t figure that out already.
Kronomyth 2.0: 10cc GETS THEIR SHEET TOGETHER. This might be the most perfect piece of plastic pop in the universe. It might also just be a brilliant record from a brilliant band; I suppose there’s some wiggle room there. Unfortunately, 10cc never released an album so good as Sheet Music again. Of course, Paul McCartney never released an album as good as Abbey Road either, and I kept buying his albums. The magic of Sheet Music is that you get the melodic genius of Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart and the art-pop sensibilities of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme swirled together, resulting in songs like “Silly Love,” “The Sacro-Iliac” and “The Worst Band In The World” (my favorite 10cc song, despite long-held loyalties to “The Things We Do For Love”). By the time the third track (“Hotel”) rolls around, you’re either a lifetime member of the 10cc fan club or you’re not. Of course, I was hooked after “Donna,” but not everyone gets excited by doo-wop sendups. The only complaint I have against Sheet Music is that the band never tried to duplicate it. The album’s closing line, “there’s no more goodies in the pipeline,” while not exactly prophetic, marks the end of an era; from here on, the band would struggle to get their big ideas into succinct pop packages. But that’s a problem for another day. Here, oddity and melody lope along happily: “Somewhere In Hollywood,” “Baron Samedi,” “Clockwork Creep,” “Wall Street Shuffle.” Their first album was also wonderful in spots, although it sometimes felt like a novelty record. Sheet Music is strange, but it’s no novelty; we’re clearly in the realm of inspired genius here. If you enjoy pop music with a sense of humor and adventure, you’re gonna love this Sheet.
“I do believe the album is a failure. I don’t think I interpreted some of the songs right. I think the songs are pretty good. My voice gives me a lot of trouble.” – Robert Hunter, in an interview from 1985.
Kronomyth 5.0: AMAGAMALIN MAN. Robert Hunter’s first album of new music in nearly a decade was a double-album song cycle about down-and-out losers living on the city streets. Inspired by a visit to NYC, Hunter’s story follows the intertwined lives of Chet, his friend Murphy and their (shared) girlfriends Roseanne and Maggie. Although the Dead/Dylan parallels hold, the album’s defeated characters and Hunter’s clever wordplay keep bringing me back to Lou Reed, an association I hadn’t made before. In some ways, this feels like a country-rock version of Reed’s New York, with the caveat that Reed could sing rings around Hunter. I’d have to agree with Hunter’s own harsh assessment of Amagamalin Street, since it does fail to capitalize on a great idea. Hunter tries to do too much on the opening “Roseanne,” singing the parts of both Chet and Roseanne in rapid-fire fashion, resulting in a sometimes confusing dialogue. The language is interesting, authentic, rich in nuance (when you stop to think about it), but about midway through I found myself wanting Hunter to both slow things down (so I could hear everything) and speed things up (because I was getting tired of the music). The second side continues the depressing tale of Chet’s manipulation of Roseanne, resulting in her descent into prostitution. The second side picks up the story of Chet, Maggie and Murphy. Chet is eventually dispensed with on “Rambling Ghost,” Maggie and Murphy escape on “Out of the City,” but Maggie dissappears on “Where Did You Go?” At the end of Amagamalin Street, Murphy connects with Roseanne, and a slightly brighter future for the surviving pair is implied. Yes, it’s as depressing as it sounds, the hopeful ending feels tacked on, and Hunter’s voice effectively undermines the first half of the story (he sings in a lower register for Murphy, with better results). That said, Amagamalin Street is appreciably ambitious, well played in places (the backing band does a solid job with Hunter’s sometimes spare melodies) and lyrically astute. I’d say it’s only a partial failure and a partial triumph, since completing something of this magnitude isn’t easy. Hunter’s fans presumably come to hear what the man has to say, not to hear him sing, and he says a mouthful here. At some point, it would be great to hear this staged with different singers and richer arrangements, since the idea and the lyrics merit the effort.
Kronomyth 3.0: AND NOW AND THEM FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. After Van Morrison left Them, you might have expected the band to quietly disappear. What you didn’t expect was a psychedelic album featuring a nine-minute Indian raga and trippy songs like “Truth Machine” and “Walking In The Queen’s Garden.” Now And Them is a radical shift from the band’s R&B origins; in truth, the band reinvented themselves after Van’s departure. Here, they take on psychedelic blues (John Mayall’s “I’m Your Witch Doctor”) and pop (“You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today,” “I Happen To Love You”), plus a few originals that reveal a heretofore undiscovered talent for psychedelic rock. The new vocalist, Kenny McDowell, won’t make you forget about Van Morrison, but he’s a legitimate singer, versus, say, having one of the other members take on the role. New drummer Dave Harvey is another solid addition and wastes little time making a good impression, giving his kit a sound thrashing on the opening “Witch Doctor.” Unfortunately, Van took most of the eyes and ears with him, and not a lot of folks stuck around to hear/see Them’s second act. These days, Now And Them is best appreciated as a psychedelic artifact (one that XTC seems to have dug, judging by “Your Gold Dress”). Whether the band really did have a psychedelic conversion of heart or whether it was just a fashionable costume change, I couldn’t tell you. Them were hardly the only R&B act to go psychedelic (I was originally going to kronomyth this “Thempathy for the Devil”). I won’t kid you, Van Morrison’s Blowin’ Your Mind is the better album, but Now And Them is a pleasant, mind-expanding addendum from the rest of Them.
Kronomyth 1.0. UNAPOLLOGETIC. With Roman Gods, Fleshtones threw their hat into the center of the garage-rock revival. Listeners, for the most part, threw it back. New wave bands were all the rage in 1981, and old wave acts had to steal the spotlight from The Ramones or The Cramps if they wanted any attention. In a sense, Roman Gods had the odd misfortune of being both outmoded and ahead of its time. Had it been released 15 years later, Fleshtones might have enjoyed the same success as The White Stripes and The Vines—although, here again, those bands understood the importance of a good visual gimmick. The sin of Roman Gods is its lack of a compelling gimmick. If the band had played in roman togas every night, well, maybe they would have enjoyed more success as a novelty act. Those who did tune in for Fleshtones’ debut were treated to a great little party platter of raunch and roll. The opening track, “The Dreg,” is absolutely filthy in the best sense of the word. From there, the band follows the footsteps of “Cold, Cold Shoes” with the likable “I’ve Gotta Change My Life” and continues to deliver the goods for the next thirty minutes. The slick “Hope Come Back” and a sizzling cover of Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony” are highlights. The band’s only crimes have been arriving underdressed to the first garage rock revival and arriving too early to the second. Musically, they hold up as well as any of their peers. Maybe the world will rediscover Roman Gods some day and pay it the homage it deserves.
Kronomyth 7.1: DREADFULLY FUNNY. I read on the Internet (probably Songfacts) that this song was inspired by an incident that happened while Graham Gouldman and Justin Hayward (of The Moody Blues) were on holiday in Barbados. This would probably be considered racist today; ah, for the 70’s, when we all had longer hair and thicker skins. (The band also released an early music video for this song; now that was racist.) The B side is a nonalbum track, “Nothing Can Move Me.” It’s a bland rocker that one can only assume is very, very subtle irony. Because one shudders to think otherwise.
Okay, so this one isn’t as good as it looks but, in its defense, it looks awesome. The record revolves around a science fiction story of space pirates who steal a powerful device to save a dying world (and make some money), only to be guided to a strange world where they battle a cyborg bent on world domination. In between is a message about the importance of music and universal love, plus your obligatory ambisexual orgy (they don’t call them astral pirates for nothing). The music is a mix of progressive fusion and funk, not markedly different from Venusian Summer but without the stellar lineup. It’s tempting to see the presence of Don Blackman as a kind of Clarke/Duke axis on which these adventures spin; their “Universal Love” plies the same sort of smart funk. There are also songs that recall the work of Al Di Meola (“The Great Pyramid”) and Chick Corea (“Mandarin Warlords”). If you’re comfortable in the universe of mid-70’s fusion, this is an adventure you’ll enjoy. Of course, concept albums are difficult to make, and the music doesn’t always follow the narrative, at least to my mind. Close your eyes and you may hear an intergalactic tale unfolding, but you won’t (for example) be thinking about an interspecies intergalactic orgy on “Stew, Cabbage And Galactic Beans” (which, in retrospect, I suppose I’m thankful for). What I end up doing is keeping the story in mind as I listen to the music, without going chapter by chapter. That way, I can appreciate the narrative (which is interesting) and the music (which is excellent) without worrying about which notes represent the cyborg on “Heavy Metal Monster” (none of them, apparently). There are a handful of RTF-related albums that offer better music, but as a last hurrah for progressive rock/fusion, Adventures is a tale that deserves at least one spin on your turntable.
“I think audiences are quite comfortable watching something coming into being.” – Brian Eno.
Kronomyth 6.4: MAGIC, THIS GATHERING. On paper, adding another player to the chaotic trio music of Chick Corea, Barry Altschul and Dave Holland was a recipe for disaster. In practice, surprisingly, Circle turned out to be the ideal expression for Corea’s experimental, improvisational, musical communion. The early fruits of this partnership were recorded in New York City, but were made available here only as a Japanese import. Gathering, the group’s second release, is forty minutes of inspired musical interplay that straddles the worlds of avant-garde jazz and modern classical music. I was tone-deaf to The Song of Singing. A.R.C., though better, was still too dark. But something about Gathering draws me into the music. As the audience, I felt as though the earlier trio music barred me from admission; it was noisy, complicated, disconnected. The music of Circle is open by comparison. I feel involved in its act of creation and exploration. Every time I listen to Gathering, I hear and experience new things. There is a palpable connection between the players as well. The Song of Singing often felt like three unrelated monologues superimposed on each other. Gathering is a dialogue. The conversation centers largely around the subject of what constitutes music. Saxophones yield to slide whistles, strings are plucked and pulled and scratched, anything within reach is struck, yet it’s all done in sympathy to what’s happening around it. Is it improvisational? Yes, but done with a communal spirit that transcends the usual limitations of spontaneous composition. In a sense, listening to Gathering is like watching a modern artist in the act of painting, which I think is what Eno was saying about music. Or maybe he was talking about Japanese steakhouses; it’s hard to tell with him.