|Egg: The Civil Surface (Remaster)
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-10-21 23:46:24
It starts with the loud ticking of a metronome, followed by distorted cartoon music, then a double bass, Hammond and drums enter with a compelling beat and you're drawn into what will become one of the more unusual albums in your collection. That first track "Germ Patrol" is an upbeat, jazzy piece featuring a bass played fast, playful in its high-registers, that drives the rest of the instrumentals into what is an eclectic (or is it an estoteric) piece of music. It's constantly on the move, winding through imaginative sections that run from cartoon-like caricatures through serious jazz, from tightly composed sections to rambling jam improvisations, and from soft, minimalist arrangements through the avant garde to a capella woodwinds to solid, well layered blocks of sound.
And the next track is nothing like that.
The Civil Surface is experimental, challenging, and many will call it disjointed and un-cohesive. Frankly, it would be hard to argue with that position. You won't find much consistency here, few recurring themes from song to song, and nothing to tie things together. It comes across as a random selection of interesting experiments rather than a coordinated body of work. Others, however, might appreciate the wide ranging sounds, the diversity, and the adventurous search for something different just for the sake of difference. Either way - you can't deny its uniqueness.
The early-70s Cantebury family tree is a large and complex one. Artists floated from band to band with the same spirit as the hippie waifs moved from partner to partner in that decade's free-sex era. Look at the staff list - it's hard to see where Egg ends and Hatfield starts, or where Egg starts and Kahn or Gong even Henry Cow end. Egg was Dave Stewart, Clive Brooks, and Mont Campbell - and the guest artist list includes many brilliant musicians who were already - or were destined to become - minor stars in their own right. Egg's music was often a bit rough around the edges, lacking (for example) Hatfield's refinement - but the upside of that was that it was raw and very 'real' - music with heart.
Dave Stewart's compositions are led by his own keyboards, and Civil Surface is characterized by complex songwriting, fluid time signatures, unconventional arrangements, and rich harmonies. It shares this with most of their Cantebury contemporaries but there's a more refreshing avant garde damn-the-convention attitude here that will bring a smile. Listen for the interesting solos and - better - the duets and the quartets played on an array of instruments including organ, piano, bass, drums, French horn, piano, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, guitar, flute ... name it, it's probably in there somewhere.
Two particular standouts are "Wind Quartet" 1 and 2. The first is fairly conventional classically oriented chamber music piece, while the second is still classical but comes across as a brilliant, avant-garde cacophony of discord and oddly angular melodies. There aren't many vocals, but "Prelude" features a choir of girlie-voiced female vocals a over dark, minimalist Hammond - unusual and particularly appealing.
This review features an excellent remaster, taken from the original tapes by maestros Powell and Byrne - previously of Eclectic Discs, now of the Red Cherry Records Group's new Esoteric Recordings. Although many of the previous re-releases of this album may have been questionable, Esoteric takes pains to point out that this one is officially sanctioned. And more important - the sound quality is particularly good, and the packaging is excellent.
Is it rock? Sort of. Is it jazz? Kinda - more fusion than jazz, really. Is it classical? Oddly enough, in many sections, are closer to pure chamber music than rock. Is it progressive? By most definitions, yes. Is it the best of the 3 albums released by Egg? No, but it is the most experimental. Is it essential? Oh hell, yes!
1. Germ Patrol (8:31)
2. Wind Quartet 1 (2:20)
3. Enneagram (9:07)
4. Prelude (4:17)
5. Wring Out The Ground (Loosely Now) (8:11)
6. Nearch (3:22)
7. Wind Quartet 2 (4:48)