Monday, February 13, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #50 - Gong – Camembert Electrique

People seem to forget that the 60s and early 70s were not all peace and love - this was the height of the Angry Brigade and Baader-Meinhof gangs and the Anti-Vietnam movement after all, and in their early days, Gong embody this spirit of the confrontational hippy. The band was formed during the Paris riots in '68, and by the time this album was recorded that militant communistic ethos still hung heavy in the air. So, despite the reputation of this band in the post-punk era, there is little about this album that is airy-fairy or wishy-washy.
In those days, Gong belonged to a scene of like minded bands such as The Deviants, The Pink Fairies and Hawkwind - all commune living freaks who produced crazed music not totally unlike punk and post-punk in the later 70s. However, Gong have another dimension which separates them from these bands - the ability to play intricate, tricky arrangements with a playful sense of fun. Unlike many other Anarcho-rock bands of the early 70s, Gong also had the most fabulous hooks and even the odd delightful melody. This is why I am writing about this particular album, and not say, an album by another great Space Rock group - Amon Duul II or Ash Ra Tempel. There is even, among the heavier cuts, a certifiable pop song in “Tried So Hard.”
Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth - the two vocalists in Gong - are both unconventional. Daevid goofily spouts all manner of beatnik weirdness in a stoned stream of consciousness while Gilli adds a layer of space whispers, half sinister, half erotic. The rest of the band is made up of misfits who often took names from the Allen-created Gong mythology: Didier Malherbe (AKA Bloomdido Bad de Grass – sax), Christian Tritsch (AKA The Submarine Captain – bass) and Pip Pyle (drums). Daevid and Gilli became Bert Camembert and Shakti Yoni respectively.
Musically, Camembert is all over the place; an eclectic mix of acid rock, jazzy riffs, trance-like space jams and some good old silliness - all thrown at you in a wild sonic barrage. The album begins with a sound montage (the first of several dotted throughout the album) and then kicks into Allen's protest anthem “You Can't Kill Me.” An iconic track in the space-rock canon, it's a kaleidoscope of mad sax and drums, vicious wah-wah guitar and fuzz bass. Gilli's flaky vocals accompany Daevid at his most defiant. Brilliant stuff.
After that is a hymn of sorts “I've Bin Stone Before”; quirky but oddly touching, followed by the hilarious riff roller coaster “Mister Long Shanks” - all tremendous. Side one ends on a high with the medley “Dynamite: I Am Your Animal” which opens with an aggressively dissonant prog riff and monstrous Pink Floyd-ish spacey guitar - this is 70s rock at its best. This gives way to the most gorgeous moment on the LP, with Gilli's serene and sensual vocalisings proving she was the equal of Annette Peacock or Yoko Ono as far as idiosyncratic female singers goes. Side two doesn't disappoint, with a pair of space-rock epics as monolithic bookends. These aren't pointless acid ramblings though. Monster bass riffs and Allen's signature “glissando” guitar are to the fore - this is thrilling stuff. In between all that are moments of beauty, baffling weirdness and pure pop confection. Something for (almost) everyone!
Welcome to the world of Gong - it's a much nicer place to live than the real one.

---Ben Sumner

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