There's a picture of Dave Greenslade
and Andy McCulloch playing chess on the inner sleeve of Spyglass Guest
that always makes me chuckle i.e. try NOT inferring that musicians who play complex music, rarely shave and would have us believe they pursue board games between takes rather than wanton hussies ain't erudite and intellectual critters. Delve a little deeper however, by glancing at any proffered lyric sheet and it's erm... checkmate mate:
You left me a nut when I wanted a screw You left me a crossword with only one clue I fell out with love babe when I fell out with you
OK, I admit it's cherry-picking to quote a poetic gaffe that's a bit s.h.i.t (and ain't even on that album) plus ignore the fact that Dave Lawson's lyrics were actually rather good by the relatively gauche standards of Prog
If Cactus Choir
truly represented an opportunity to launch Dave Greenslade
's solo career and draw a line under the Greenslade
'band', why then reprise the Roger Dean artwork (almost) intact, use Tony Reeves on bass for four tracks and continue to plough the same Progressive Rock furrow that makes this tantamount to Greenslade
II?. The only discernible difference is that shorn of Lawson and McCulloch, the music is more synth heavy, less blues and jazz inflected and maybe slightly pared down and/or simplified
I reckon that Lawson, for all his polarising qualities, represented the only real chance Greenslade
had of achieving the 1st division crossover success that always just eluded them. His pedigree as evidenced by previous stints in Web and Samurai proved that he was capable of writing material that dispensed entirely with Prog's stock fantasy footage of Conan the Librarian astride a mythical beast in his lunch break while cradling a rescued and swooning damsel. (Morag, from 'Accounts') In many ways Lawson could have played the Greg Lake, Russ Ballard, John Wetton
or Jon Anderson
role in Greenslade
as representing a more accessible and conventional lyrical style of song-writing that might have lured the inquisitive sailor onto some more erm...progressive rocks. (and here's me giving Prog wordsmiths a hard time...)
There is however a semblance of concept status about the whole undertaking. The colonisation of America
seems to be the gist but although the author's angle on this topic is clearly admonitory, his reasons are seldom expanded upon and ambivalent throughout
Rolled upon the ground like sawdust So began the game they called get rich or bust
Clearly a lament for missed opportunities, paradise lost and the inevitable triumph of greed when unclaimed natural resources and the resultant stratification reveal themselves. The USA gets beaten with the unfulfilled 'American Dream' stick so often that even a Brit like me is starting to find such gleeful flagellation plain vanilla tiresome. Like Uncle Sam monopolised bespoiling a potential green and pleasant land? Enlarge thy countenance and forehead y'all citizens of Golders Green.
Pedro's Party - It's remarkable how prevalent the humble shuffle beat is in much Prog from around this time and it's revisited here a la Spirit of the Dance on a Spanish/latin tinged tune that takes it's inspiration from classicists Villa Lobos and Lalo with a tiny sLive
r of Alberto Ginastera's maverick modulation DNA thrown in to keep everyone's throat dry right to the end.
Gettysburg - the instrumental departure sounds uncannily like Birdhouse in Your Soul by They Might be Giants (who knows what messrs Flansburgh and Linnell were listening to in their formative years that they might now readily disavow?) Steve Gould's excellent vocal melody is on a par with anything that either the Alan Parsons Project or Mike Oldfield
might have hatched in their more inspired moments. Very strong compositional rigour throughout this and it's one of those unusual instances where lyrical immediacy is not intruded upon by instrumental flights of fancy. (A rare bird indeed)
Swings and Roundabouts - love that wurlitzer piano through a big whooshy whirring thing that Dave has exploited to great effect over the years. (I think it's actually a Leslie cabinet and/or a chorus/phaser device) but anyways, it's almost tantamount to the Greenslade
'brand' calling card. Listen to the Simon Phillips/Dave Markee drum and bass performance here and take note that as fine and lyrical a player as Tony Reeves is, he seldom glues the bottom end on any Greenslade
tune as effectively as Markee does here (by playing less and allowing the other parts of the music space to breathe accordingly) I've always felt that much Greenslade
material benefited from Reeves' unique 'singing' melodic bass style but also suffered from him sometimes 'over playing' and neglecting his less glamorous anchor role. It seems I'm not alone in having these reservations:
He (Dave Greenslade
) is the only one who can put up with my playing! Not everybody wants a bass that is upfront a lot of time, though in some ways over the years my playing has matured and I'm not as upfront as I used to be. Somebody sent me through the Net a pirate recording of a gig that we did with COLOSSEUM in Sweden? the first part of it is alright and it's all quite nice, but then we do the whole of "Valentyne Suite", all three movements, and my playing on that is frankly terrible. It's all over the place, too intrusive, too clever, it's actually embarrassing. I can't believe now that I played that way! I went too close to the edge of the cliff, and fell off. (Tony Reeves 2003)
Time Takes My Time - like Keith Emerson and everyone's favourite inebriated Uncle, Dave makes a decent stab at singing but those present merely wish prohibition could be reintroduced pretty damn quickly. A perfunctorily bluesy and dreary guitar solo ensues which takes the song precisely nowhere. A lump of very grey glacial rock but it does at least reveal it's author as a time served jobbing R'n'B veteran and carries one of the very few pointers to his previous band Colosseum on the whole album. Would have been charming at three minutes but encroaches narcolepsy at six. Full marks to Lissa Gray whose wordless harmony vocals try their best to inject some energy into this otherwise sleepy dawdle.
Forever and Ever - Redolent of something that European film score composer Francis Lai might have concocted with a couple of Synths, Vangelis as a house guest, a wet bank holiday afternoon to fill and half a case of Merlot to empty. Rather 'airy' and it smacks in places of nondescript library music or the sort of bijou cosmos that keyboard players somehow get lost in when left to their own knob encrusted devices (see Pent Up Teuchters of the Cosmic Agony for uber s.h.i.t.e variations of this tomfoolery). Spoiler alert: the obligatory cathedral organ ego massage moment is contained herein for posterity.
- perhaps the most fully realised and successful piece on offer and given that it features Dave's signature keys palette plus Tony Reeves on bass then yeah, it does sound a LOT like early Greenslade
albeit stripped of Lawson's idiosyncratic lyrical twist. The sung sections remind me in places of (good and memorable) Barclay James Harvest
(cf flouncy bouffant forgettable BJH). Plenty of variation and effective exploitation of dynamics can be enjoyed plus the individual sections all segue together very smoothly. Rather disappointing ending though, kinda just fizzles out like an imposter's graduation speech.
Country Dance - no gingham orgy hereabouts mercifully, but given the subject matter to hand, which country is being referenced is at best obscure and very un-American sounding. Not sure if Dave is playing the lead here via an electric piano timbre coaxed through a fuzz/wah pedal or if it's an uncredited guitarist? Either way, there's plenty of distinctly ordinary musical mud being thrown at a precarious wall hereabouts that resolutely refuses to stick. Such 'mopping up' exercises on Prog albums, are somewhat akin to a retirement home for ideas not even out of short pants. Once again, a more modestly gifted bass player than Reeves shows how it should be done (this time one John Perry, who even throws in a few short lead breaks but in all the RIGHT places..)
Finale - Rather mournful synth melody over some elegiac little chords until circa three and a half minutes in when the whole band gatecrash this funereal party and Greenslade
reciprocates with an exuberant organ solo over an boisterous Reeves/Philipps groove in 'six' that the rhythm section, once locked on, conspire to blow their target into smithereens. Towards the end we get to hear an excellent but faintly disquieting orchestral arrangement of the previous thematic materials by the late Simon Jeffes, whose huge talent was wasted on the Sid Vicious
atrocity My Way.
Speaking of talentless, overdosing little parasites who are now celebrated as cultural icons, I can't help but think Mr G unwittingly prescient with his title here i.e. Cactus Choir
: the massed spiky voices of dissent were looming on the horizon circa 1976 in the shape of nascent 'Punk'. This must have made the anticipated career path of virtuosos unharnessed from their respective Prog bandwagons a rather daunting one. It appears that solo success for keyboard wizards (with but two arms) consisted of their ability to come up with conventional song formats to appease their anxious post-Punk paymasters. All that instrumental clever s.h.i.t was never going to provide the desired crossover to the skinny tied masses. Like Rod Argent
, Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman
, Patrick Moraz et al Dave Greenslade
eventually gravitated towards film, TV and documentary music once it became painfully apparent that without the radio friendly lyrical and vocal hooks provided by his previous collaborators, he was always destined to inhabit a strictly niche market. All the Prog heavyweights, despite their complex pyrotechnics had recourse to tried and trusted traditional song forms and 'top drawer catchy' melodic hooks in their locker e.g. ELP, Yes, Tull and Genesis
while the likes of Gentle Giant
, Van Der Graaf Generator
, King Crimson
and maybe Greenslade
did not or even cared less? The Tarkus album by ELP is the embodiment of this phenomenon i.e. would Emerson's intense, dissonant and challenging instrumental title suite alone have propelled the album to No 1 status in the UK in 1971 without Greg Lake's spoonful of conventional sugar to help the medicine go down? (I really don't think so)
What happened next - bassist Tony Reeves is now managing director of a very successful pro-audio equipment manufacturing and hire company while Dave G somehow tunneled free from the prison of his own backside a.k.a. Penteuch of the Cosmogony and embarked on a very distinguished TV and documentary music career before resuscitating Colosseum for some very well received Live
shows in the 90's and beyond
It's a pity that the 3 star rating has come to be perceived in many quarters as PA's version of 'damning with faint praise' as this is a very robust and enjoyable album with a few forgivable flaws but it's also not dissimilar to that chick you met at college who smoked roll ups, drank pints, liked footie, laughed at all your jokes and dug your kind of music but... you just didn't want to f.u.c.k her....(unlike Morag from 'Accounts')
Footnote: The little hooded wizard had four perfectly good arms on the Greenslade
debut album cover but only a paltry three here. Roger Dean, you are a one arm bandit.