Static Timeline

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Land Of Cockayne > Soft Machine, The

March, 1981
United Kingdom
Written by Karl Jenkins, Soft Machine's final record was produced by Mike Thorne, who also had just produced Wire's trailblazing trilogy of art-rock albums for the Harvest label. The record's title refers to a medieval land of plenty, and plenty of diverse tracks is what the album holds. Released in 1981, Land of Cockayne arrived well past Soft Machine's sell-by date; their previous studio album was 1976's Softs, with a live album recorded and released the following year. However, joining Jenkins and drummer John Marshall were an A-list of guests: Jack Bruce, Allan Holdsworth, Alan Parker, John Taylor, Ray Warleigh and Dick Morrissey. It's also the only album from the band to feature string arrangements. But what about the music? Composed entirely by Jenkins, he moves between new agey-ness, a good measure of disco-era funk (with strings, of course), some Oldfield-like minimalism and a tiny hint of the Softs of old (there's some nice blowing toward the end of the record). Holdsworth makes his mark on "Sly Monkey," but I still can't believe how much the opener "Over ‘n' Above" sounds like Supertramp! It's a strange record; not that it's difficult to listen to or digest, but it's one that ultimately has no time or place. Soft Machine? Not really. New Age? Maybe. Rock ‘n' roll? Certainly not. 1981? Really!? Well, it opened to little fanfare; and apart from a week-long residency in 1984 at Ronnie Scott's, the album remains Soft Machine's final coda.

1984 > Phillips, Anthony

June, 1981
United States
Passport Records
Curiously, Anthony Phillips's next offering was an album of electronic music released in 1981, and under the title 1984. Assisted by Richard Scott in the studio, Phillips composed and created all of the music exclusively on electronic keyboards, though Morris Pert did add some percussion to the recordings. The Roland CompuRhythm CR-78 was an early programmable drum machine, and its familiar "chirp" can be heard on Phil Collins's classic track, "In the Air Tonight." The Orwellian black-and-white cover image of a cage presents a stark contrast to previous Peter Cross creations, yet the music was divergent as well. "Prelude ‘84" b/w "Anthem 1984" was issued as a single, but the meat of record is the two-part title track "1984," which encompasses most of the album. Gone are Phillips's pastoral, acoustic compositions; instead, the music is constantly propelled by the driving force of the drum machine. It's a contemporary work, though as lyrical as any of Phillips's previous efforts. Themes reprise themselves, tension ebbs and flows and all of it culminates in a grand vocoder finale. The layers of Polymoog and ARP 2600 synthesizers blast away, forging a landscape of dark beauty; it's a brilliant work and a bold step forward for Phillips. The album was released by RCA Records in the UK, and again on Passport Records in the US. For the remainder of the 80s, Phillips concentrated on his Private Parts & Pieces series. Another curious outlier though was the 1983 album Invisible Men, again recorded with Richard Scott. Ostensibly a pop album, it saw Phillips return to both contemporary song-form and subject matter (the Falklands War) for a final time.

Sitting Targets > Hammill, Peter

June, 1981
United States
Passport Records
Peter Hammill entered the 80s as a solo artist and without a label, yet still managed by former Charisma director Gail Colson. This link led to a (somewhat controversial) production job for Random Hold's 1980 debut album, Etceteraville, and later, briefly, a label, S-Type, that released his 1980 album A Black Box. Arranged, performed and produced by Hammill himself, it's a curious record, full of technological experimentation and odd, chunky production. For his next album, Sitting Targets, Hammill again enlisted David Lord in what must have been a larger role: sonically, the album is light years ahead of its predecessor, presenting a contemporary, if still unconventional record. The opening "Breakthrough" benefits from Guy Evans's crisp drumming, as does the following "My Experience." Layers of guitars, synths, punchy bass and compressed drums push Hammill into the 80s, while his compositions offer strangely appealing songs. "Ophelia" slows the pace, offering one of Hammill's emotive ballads, while "Empress's Clothes" and "Glue" crank up the drum-machine for more serene rides. "Hesitation" is raw, with David Jackson offering his sax. The strong title track opens the second side, while the piano-based "Stranger Still" offers one of Hammill's classic lyrics. "Sign" jumps with Evans's drums, and features Hammill's thick-toned guitar; it's the highlight. All-in-all, the album is one of Hammill's most cohesive efforts, and one fitting for the times. His next move was to form the K Group—a "beat combo" featuring Evans, bassist Nic Potter and guitarist John Ellis—to tour the album, which saw release on Virgin Records (and PVC in the US). The K Group would remain together for another three albums, all of which were built around the foundation laid here. Moving forward, Hammill would foster a solo career that was-surprise, surprise-uniquely his own. However, while others would find mainstream success in the 80s, Hammill's career would be best defined by a different measure: perseverance. One of the most prolific artists to emerge from the progressive era, Hammill continues to this day to release records to his ever-fervent fan base.

Abacab > Genesis

September, 1981
Early in 1981, drummer and vocalist Phil Collins released his debut solo album, Face Value. Featuring the single "In the Air Tonight" b/w "The Roof is Leaking," it was a huge success, reaching the top of the UK and US charts, and launching Collins to superstar status during the 80s and early 90s. It was Collins then that brought engineer Hugh Padgham along when Genesis reconvened at their Farm Studio in Surrey to record their 11th studio album, Abacab. A play on the arrangement of the title track, "Abacab" opens, revealing an altogether different Genesis: sparser, and with a reliance on synthesizers, there's a simplicity to the sound here that belies the band's artistry-laden past. Harsh drums, big synth lines and an almost jam-like ending still contain an edge, but the music is light years from the band's progressive rock of the 70s. Only Tony Banks's "Me and Sarah Jane" and Mike Rutherford's "Like It or Not" ever so gently reach back towards the band's previous work. "Keep It Dark" lumbers over Collins's plodding drums, while "Dodo / Lurker" and "Who Dunnit?" similarly offer a rough edge. Collins's "Man on The Corner," built over a chirping drum pattern, is firmly of the new era. In fact, the band recorded enough material for a double-album during the sessions, but relinquished what they deemed too similar to their past to b-sides and elsewhere. Complete with horns from Earth, Wind & Fire, the R&B of "No Reply at All" b/w "Naminanu" was a huge hit, rising to No. 2 in the US. Released in September, the album too was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching No. 1 in the UK and No. 7 in the US. It also serves as the dividing line between the Genesis of the 70s, and the Genesis of the new era. Following the album's release, the band embarked on a worldwide tour, culminating in the double-album Three Sides Live in 1982. In the US, the fourth side contained tracks from the 3x3 EP, while the UK version included live material from their 70s repertoire. The tour was the first to feature Vari-Lite technology, one that the band's investment helped create. For the next few years, Genesis would reign supreme in popular music, with further platinum and No. 1 albums, numerous hit singles and the runaway success of Collins's solo career—at least until the early 90s, when the reappraisal began.

Discipline > King Crimson

September, 1981
Warner Bros. Records, EG
After Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen ceased to be in late 1980, he re-teamed up with drummer Bill Bruford for a new "first-division" venture. First aboard was guitarist Adrian Belew, fresh from a stint with the Talking Heads, while bassist Tony Levin joined up after Bruford's choice, Jeff Berlin, was rejected. The band, Discipline, debuted at Moles Club in Bath, Somerset, on April 30th, 1981. Why and when they became King Crimson is ultimately a matter of course; the change did, however, provide a title for the record, Discipline. "Elephant Talk" opens, offering not only a great lyric from Belew, but also a fresh and modern sound from the band. "Frame by Frame" continues, highlighting the guitar interplay between Fripp and Belew; the former's arpeggios are contrasted with the free-form sonics of the latter. "Matte Kudasai" slows the pace, with Belew's guitar up front and center, though his voice is perhaps an acquired taste. "Indiscipline" unleashes the band's fury, with Levin's Stick bass cementing his unique signature to the group's overall sound. "Thela Hun Ginjeet" (an anagram of "heat in the jungle") intersperses some hilarious field recordings from Belew recounting a street encounter; while "The Sheltering Sky" sees Bruford bringing electronic drumming into his repertoire. Band name aside, the music presents a clean break from the King Crimson of the 70s; yet one equally compelling and one in keeping with the aesthetics of a new decade. Released by EG Records, the album was a moderate success, reaching the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. The band's live set would only feature "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two" from the Crim back catalog; and less than a year later, a second album, Beat, would appear with a similar modus operandi. Another two years and one album later, however, the experiment would come to an end. King Crimson were no more—well, until they became even more again later in the 90s.

Exit > Tangerine Dream

September, 1981
United States
Now a trio of Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Johannes Schmölling, Tangerine Dream's first release of 1981 was the soundtrack to the film Thief in April. Although it reprised material from Force Majeure (as was often the case with soundtracks), the band would record another three studio albums for Virgin Records, beginning with the not-to-be-missed Exit in September. Offering six discreet tracks, it's a contemporary, if not timeless album of electronic music. "Kiew Mission" offers a slight return to vocals, albeit disguised in the spoken chant of continent names of its first section; the second half spryly skips over a trio of synths before fading off. "Pilots of Purple Twilight" offers a more conventional theme, but equally thrives from its use of space; "Choronzon" dances to a brisk, drum-like tempo. The second side contains some of the finest TD on record. The slow moving "Exit" ambles over an undulating sequence, while "Network 23" blasts open with a tight groove, approaching song-form. Yet it's the closing "Remote Viewing" that most heralds the return to their 70s glory: A powerful, monolithic wall of sound gives rise to a hypnotic and detailed sequence, one both sinister and epic, and full of the band's expert sound design as it goes for the long fade. Brilliant. Both the soundtrack and the studio album (oddly enough) rose to No. 43 in the UK, while seeing release on Elektra Records in the US. Henceforth, Tangerine Dream would further concentrate their work on soundtracks and film scores—effectively a replacement for their live shows, which had all but disappeared after a final European tour in 1982. From Hollywood blockbusters (Risky Business, Firestarter, Legend), to lower budget films (Wavelength, Heartbreakers), they would foot the bill for the band. But by 1983, their contract with Virgin Records would expire, and by mid-decade Schmölling had left the band. With Paul Haslinger on board, Tangerine Dream would relocate to Los Angeles. Their subsequent output would have little, if any, resemblance to their work from the 70s and earliest 80s.

Sonic Attack > Hawkwind

October, 1981
Hawkwind headlined Glastonbury Festival in June, and in a bizarre twist of fate, none other than Ginger Baker was co-headliner! The band had recovered from the debacle with their former drummer and regrouped around Dave Brock, Huw Lloyd-Langton and Harvey Bainbridge—the latter now sharing keyboard duties with Brock. Martin Griffin, previously a member of Ark and the Hawklords, returned on drums, as did poet Michael Moorcock (absent during most of the Robert Calvert era). Recorded in the summer of 1981 at Kingsley Ward's Rockfield Studios for his RCA-distributed Active label, Sonic Attack would be Hawkwind's 11th studio record in as many years. The album opens with a rehash of "Sonic Attack" and its familiar lyric, which dates to the Space Ritual days. But the Lloyd-Langton-penned "Rocky Paths" points to the band's new sound for the early 80s: the so-called "heavy metal years." Hawkwind's music is firmly riff-driven, pulsing over a click-track steady rhythm with sequencers and synths galore. Lloyd-Langton adds his proficient lead guitar, bending more than a few notes. Moorcock takes a vocal for his "Coded Languages," and Brock's "Angels of Death" (also the album's single) and "Streets of Fire" follow suit. Both of Brock's tracks highlight the driving rhythm that Hawkwind had perfected over the past decade. The album was released to near unanimous acclaim, reaching No. 19 on the UK charts. An appearance at London's Rainbow Theatre in December even saw former colleagues Nik Turner and Robert Calvert take the stage. Two further albums appeared in 1982 on RCA/Active: The more electronic Church of Hawkwind was released in May, while Choose Your Masques came out in October. Hawkwind would then sign to Flicknife Records, releasing several albums that consisted of live recordings, demos and other detritus—including the Hawkwind, Friends and Relations series (heir apparent to Brock's mail-order only Weird Tapes). However, it wouldn't be until 1985 that the band released a proper studio album: the epic saga The Chronicle Of The Black Sword. With Brock in the captain's chair, Hawkwind would soldier on through the 80s amind numerous lineup and personnel changes and continue to experiment with new musical directions; defying fate and fortune, Hawkwind continue to this day.

Asia > Asia

March, 1982
Geffen Records
From the beginning, Asia was designed as a big-name supergroup. John Wetton had previously been in a bevy of progressive groups, with the last being U.K. Joining him were Steve Howe and Geoff Downes from Yes, and a post-PM Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer; though earlier possibilities included Trevor Rabin, Roy Wood and Rick Wakeman. Geffen A&R man John Kalodner compelled the band to start writing in late 1980, and in a direction that was strictly AOR: that is, album-orientated rock. The accoutrements included a "big" band name and a Roger Dean album cover; and the results were phenomenal. Asia quickly rose to the top of the US charts, where the album would stay for some nine weeks. In the UK, the album crested at No. 11, but remained on the charts for 38 weeks. The record earned gold status in the UK and quadruple-platinum in the US, while further earning the band a Grammy award nomination for Best New Artist in 1982. Side one of the album was packed with the singles: "Heat of the Moment," "Only Time Will Tell" and "Sole Survivor" lead off with a one-two-three punch, the former two with videos to air on the recently-minted MTV. There's nothing wrong, per se, with Asia's music. Wetton's voice is radio-friendly, as are his lyrics; and though the arrangements are a little congested, the hooks more than make up for it. The latter track even offers a little progressive edge. But one thing is clear: Asia was a business proposition for the new decade, something purpose-built to the core for commercial success, whether it be radio-airplay or sold-out tours. As the barcode on the back jacket signifies, this record marked the end of an era for the generation of progressive musicians, one that had spent the past decade following their muse through the varied and diverse music of the timeline. Asia released a second album, Alpha, in July 1983, spawning the US No. 1 hit "Don't Cry" b/w "Daylight." While successful, the genie was already out of the bottle, and those pesky supergroup problems quickly arose. Wetton left temporarily in 1983, with none other than Greg Lake subbing for him; Lake's performance is captured in the concert video Asia in Asia, recorded at Tokyo's Budokan Hall. But when Wetton returned, Howe then promptly left, replaced by Mandy Meyer from the Swiss metal band Krokus. A final album from this lineup, Astra, was released in late 1985; but with disappointing sales, tours were canceled and the band folded.

Unending Ascending > Gong

January, 2023
Unending Ascending is the third studio installment from the Gong lineup of Kavus Torabi, Fabio Golfetti, Ian East, Dave Sturt, and Cheb Nettles, again released by Kscope and produced by Frank Byng. The one-two punch of “Tiny Galaxies” and “My Guitar Is A Spaceship” kick off the album with equal parts of pop sensibility and heavy riff. If the previous studio album Universe Also Collapses (mostly) went for deep space, long-form psychedelia, this album is mercilessly executed with equal parts mettle and metal: fierce riffing songs with stop-on-a-dime breaks, and enough math in the rhythms to have you counting in nines. And just when things really start to jump, “Ship of Ishtar” pulls into the dock and turns the music sideways. Longish and Gong-ish, it's an atmospheric stew of glissando, flute, drone, and chant that floats in that space between dream worlds. The band emerges with the brightly crafted pop-prog of “O, Arcturus,” before sinking into another deep riff and fade. “All Clocks Reset” offers more of the band’s incredible interplay. The Nettles-Sturt rhythm section is a driving constant, propelling forward with break-neck speed and precision. The album’s capstone, “Choose Your Goddess,” continues the sonic onslaught. Reverently bowing into a familiar old school Gong riff, it holds back ever-so-slightly before erupting into the closest Gong has ever come to heavy metal! East’s flowery horns offer a psychedelic tinge while the guitars of Torabi and Golfetti chunk away into brick-walled compression. The band is precise, electric, melodic but above all immediate - there's no pussyfooting here! The final two tracks, “Lunar Invocation” and “Asleep Do We Lay,” slowly wind the album down to zero like a lullaby: the former’s dense gravity of feedback and gliss draws it along, while the latter pulses under a fitting rhythm with some wonderfully classic 70s Gong affectations, coalescing to the album's conclusion and, perhaps, reminding us that this is still Gong after all. With Unending Ascending, Gong offers another chapter of the ongoing evolution of something that was started long ago and far away. It’s got enough of the things we love about that Gong, and everything we love about this Gong - uncompromising, inventive, expertly executed psychedelic music - this time with a twist of pop and a dose of heavy rock. More Love from the Planet Gong.