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1973 Albums

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In A Glass House > Gentle Giant

December, 1973
United Kingdom
WWA Records
4.125
Gentle Giant recorded their fifth album in the still-settling wake of the eldest Shulman Phil's departure. The band was back at Advision, but for the first time since their debut without engineer Martin Rushent. Like the black-and-white cover, In A Glass House has a stark, monochromatic feel to it; but nevertheless contains some classic Giant material. "The Runaway" kicks off on John Weathers's solid offbeat; and along with "Experience," both songs would remain concert favorites for some years, albeit in shortened form. "An Inmates Lullaby," one of the quiet tunes on the album, is exceptional: The track's percussive vibes provide emphasis rather than embellishment. "Way of Life" clicks away under Weathers's fierce tempo, but it sounds a little too neat; while the noodling arrangement of "Experience" opens the second side. But all of Gentle Giant's studio trickery sounds, well, just like studio trickery. And although Weathers's drums are curiously up in the mix (a good thing), one can't help but get the feeling that the album was constructed, layer by layer and part by part, rather than played by a band. Still, it's difficult to throw stones at the album: The luscious melody and strings of "A Reunion" complement a tender vocal from Kerry Minnear and together are sublime. The title track is the album's hardest rocking affair, and also perhaps the most successful; its incessant beat drives the song forward through its various sections, holding interest throughout. Gary Green's guitar work is particularly strong here, as is Derek Shulman's direct vocal. Though the album never saw release in the US, it went on to sell a reputed 150,000 copies on import and attain near-legendary status with fans. Not bad for an album that was rejected by their US label, Columbia.

Angel's Egg (Radio Gnome Invisible Part 2) > Gong

December, 1973
United Kingdom
Virgin
5
While Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth were off in Majorca, the core group of Tim Blake, Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe—with newcomers Mike Howlett on bass and Pierre Moerlen on drums—spent the spring touring France as Paragong. When the couple returned, this "classic" lineup completed their first UK tour in the summer, and then returned to France to record the second installment of the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. In terms of musical composition, this album is one of the more democratic in Gong's oeuvre, with all members participating; but the story is, once again, all Allen's. Angel's Egg eschews lengthy numbers for more of a storybook presentation. That said, the album opens with "Other Side of the Sky," one of Gong's most ornate invocations. Malherbe's lyrical alto saxophone and Blake's spacey synthesizers gradually rise as the groove gains mass, culminating in Hillage's distinct guitar runs. The straightforward rocker "Sold to the Highest Buddha" follows, and quickly morphs down into a jazzy groove; next, Hillage's space guitar returns for "Castle in the Clouds." The sexy "Prostitute Poem" highlights both Smyth's unique space whisper and feminism, while Allen responds with his sympathetic "Selene." The second side begins with Malherbe's signature "Flute Salad" before sliding down into the pure fun of "Oily Way." "Outer Temple" features another glorious groove, something that would be fully exploited on Gong's next album. The percussion of "Percolations" turns tuneful for "Love Is How Y Make It (sic)," the lyric of which is the most straight-forward and unambiguous Gong's mythology would ever get. Finally, the album ends with two songs proper: Both Hillage and Allen trade off vocals on "I Niver Glid Before (sic)," and Malherbe's "Eat That Phone Book Coda" closes succinctly. Performed impeccably and with considerable production, Angel's Egg is one of the few albums of the era that is just plain fun, and remains the most coherent presentation of Allen's mythology with Gong.

Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh > Magma

December, 1973
United States
A&M Records
4
Armed with a two-album deal from A&M Records (and reportedly signed by Herb Alpert) it was at manager Giorgio Gomelsky's request that Christian Vander firmly took the reins of Magma to realize his epic work, Mekanïk Destrukïw Kommandöh. It tells the story of Nebëhr Gudahtt, a sort of apocalyptic prophet from the planet Kobaia—Book of Revelations-type stuff, really. Recorded versions existed as early as January and the piece was performed in New York in July (with a horn section that included the Brecker Brothers); the album, however, is the grandest of presentations. If there is a musical reference, it wouldn't be Vander's fondness for John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, but rather choral works, such as Igor Stravinsky's Les Noces or Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Throughout the piece, Vander's modus operandi is this "force rythmique," a combination of his deft drumming, Jannick Top's bass supreme and keyboardist Jean-Luc Manderlier's swirling electric piano; static and relentless, it's a kind of musical intercourse, always teasing towards the edge of climax. Vander is also joined on choral acrobatics by Klaus Blasquiz, his wife Stella Vander and others, while stalwarts René Garber and Teddy Lasry provide the brass. Like a storm front on the horizon, the heavy rhythm of "Hortz Fur Dëhn Stekënhn West" wraps the chorus in a circular motion, teetering on the edge of furious cacophony. "Ïma sürï Dondaï" offers a brief respite before the tempestuous choral and horn arrangements again storm in. By the second side's "Nebëhr Gudahtt," with Vander and Blasquiz's falsettos approaching hysteria, the listening gets difficult; still, the Top/Vander rhythm section grinds through "Mekanïk Kommandöh" before the epic work reaches its final, glorious climax. Regardless of the pretension, Magma remains one of the most original groups of the progressive era, and MDK is their masterwork: "Zeuhl" starts here.

Freedom Is Frightening > Yamash'ta, Stomu

December, 1973
United Kingdom
Island Records
5
Hailing from Japan, Tsutomu Yamashita, better known as Stomu Yamash'ta, was a classically-trained percussionist whose earliest recording featured the works of 20th century composers Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies and Toru Takemitsu. After releasing his first original percussion composition, Red Buddha, Yamash'ta toured Europe with his Red Buddha Theatre Company, which eventually led him to London and Island Records. His first two releases for the label, Floating Music in 1972 and Man From The East in 1973, were with fellow percussionist Morris Pert's band, Come To The Edge (which was eventually re-christened Suntreader). Both saw a fusion of eastern and western music, with the latter album also containing pieces for Yamash'ta's theatre company. He then formed his own band, East Wind, with guitarist Gary Boyle, bassist Hugh Hopper and keyboardist Brian Gascoigne. Expectedly, they skirted with another fusion of sound; but this time, it was of the funky-jazz type best demonstrated on the excellent Freedom Is Frightening. The slow-building title track grinds to Gascoigne's organ and Yamash'ta's drums, "Rolling Nuns" undulates over Hopper's bass and "Pine on the Horizon" brings Yamash'ta's percussion to the fore. Its fiery fusion doesn't mind dipping down with a few rockin' breaks, courtesy of Boyle's guitar. Featuring violin from Yamash'ta's wife Hisako, the more pastoral "Wind Words" gently closes the record. Amid touring, another couple of albums would (now with vocalists) appear in quick succession, all again for Island Records.

Cosmic Century > Wallenstein

December, 1973
Germany
Kosmische Musik
3
In 1973, Wallenstein switched to Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's Kosmische Musik label, and saw some personnel changes. Jerry Berkers left and was replaced by bassist Dieter Meier; while a new member, Joachim Reiser, joined on violin. The band then rechristened itself as "The Symphonic Rock Orchestra" and released the excellent Cosmic Century album. Jürgen Dollase's piano still dominates, but as the lead-off track "Rory Blanchford" attests, Reiser's violin is indeed a new texture. The flowing arpeggios of "Grand Piano" follow right into the appreciably rocking "Silver Arms;" here, Dollase adds organ and synthesizer to his armory, but it's Bill Barone's guitar work that's blistering. "The Marvellous Child" continues in similar fashion; Dollase's vocals aren't particularly strong, but they're entirely fitting. Both "Song of Wire" and "The Cosmic Couriers Meet South Philly Willy" ride their lively symphonic arrangements, with Barone's guitar again dominating. Wallenstein's fourth album (with Jürgen Pluta now on bass) Stories, Songs & Symphonies followed in 1975; and in some ways, it's a love or hate affair. If you liked the direction of the previous album, it's even more idiomatic of Wallenstein's original music; however, it also marked the end of an era. In 1977, Dollase would sign to RCA and release the more commercial No More Love, retaining only Pluta from the previous lineup. The following year, Dollase recruited an entirely new band to continue in an even more conventional direction, and found moderate chart success before he retired from music altogether in the early 1980s. Harald Grosskopf would hookup with Klaus Schulze for a few years in the mid-70s before releasing his first solo album in 1980.

Tales From Topographic Oceans > Yes

December, 1973
United States
Atlantic
4.57143
Tales From Topographic Oceans has the dubious distinction of being either the mother lode or motherf&#ker of all prog rock albums. The initial idea for the grandiose album came to Jon Anderson from a footnote regarding Shastric scriptures in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi. Evidently, this was the grand concept he'd been searching for (imagine that!), and it allowed his lyrics to blossom into full-blown biblical verse. Together with Steve Howe, they put most of the initial musical ideas down during the same tours of 1973 that generated the triple-album Yessongs. Actualizing those ideas in the studio was of course more difficult, and even wooden cows and accompanying foliage were reduced to compost by the end of the sessions. Drummer Alan White makes his studio debut with Yes on the album. Previously a member of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and Ginger Baker's Air Force, journeyman White was most recently with Joe Cocker's touring band. Of course, having Eddie Offord as a roommate made the link to Yes tenable, and White got the nod days before their US tour in July 1972. Spanning four sides of vinyl, the sprawling double-album epitomizes the prog rock axiom of "more is more." The question, however, is-does it work? The first side, "The Revealing Science of God," and to a slightly lesser extent "The Remembering," on the second side, certainly do. They're classic Yes music: melodic and inviting, jam-packed with ideas and inventive playing, on par with the band's previous album. The rest of the trip, however, turns more experimental, but arduous as well. The acoustic number "Leaves of Green" ends the third side; of course, the 15 minutes spent getting there does little except introduce us to the names of some ancient Atlantean peoples and their sun rituals. The final side, "Ritual," suffers a similar fate. In edited form, the beautiful main section of "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" would rival any of Yes' previous work; but at 22-plus minutes, it simply goes on too long. Still, what Yes fan wouldn't want a double-album of new material, teeming with everything they love about the band? Well, Rick Wakeman for one. He made his exit quickly after the album's promotional tour. Critically, the album was universally slaughtered, though it topped the UK charts at No. 1 and rose to No. 6 in the US. So, back to my original supposition: You decide.