Up Above Our Heads: Clouds 1966-1971 [CD]
- Artist: Clouds
- SKU: 18858053
- Release Date: 11/09/2010
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Genuine Rock HistoryNovember 30, 2010
UP ABOVE OUR HEADS [CLOUDS 1966-71] I usually don’t like compilations or packages. With compilations, for every gem in there, you often have to wade through the debris, like trawling for pebbles on the beach. With packages, it’s often difficult to see how you can justifiably take several albums that have their own individual concepts and shove them together on one or two discs. However, in the case of Up Above our Heads (Clouds 1966-71) the package works, because it not only unifies and brings together the three Clouds albums, it encapsulates the history of a band that, until recently, without due credit, had a huge part to play in bringing pop into the progressive age. The approach is more or less chronological. The Clouds Scrapbook still has traces of pop songs as well as musical invention, and is perhaps in some ways the most simplistic of the three albums, but in reality, it is the most important of the recordings. It is perhaps the first true bridge between 60s pop and 70s progressive. Up Above our Heads is much more of a stage-performance album, the band sounding pretty much as it must have done in the Albert Hall and Fillmore days. For anyone wishing to hear the musical heights the band could reach, this is the album to pick out from the shelves. Virtuoso keyboards and stunning drums are the order of the day, though often at the expense of songs and arrangements. Watercolour Days seems, in hindsight, to be an attempt to marry all the elements together. The title song is a classic melody, extremely unusual and clever in its chord structures and vocal lines, and exceptionally arranged. Thereafter, power and dynamics dominate proceedings, but with melodies breaking through at regular intervals, seemingly striving for a mixture of the first two albums, and at times, succeeding brilliantly, and though the lapses are at times glaringly obvious too, it was a valiant effort, promising much yet to come. The bonus tracks contain some surprises. Make no Bones About it was the first Clouds release, and though reviews were not favourable (Melody Maker said “They are one of our finest groups, and very exciting live, but this is disappointing and seems to go nowhere” ),in hindsight, it is clearly a song out of its time. Extremely pessimistic lyrics were not in vogue in an era of Marmalade skies, but this is a fine song, albeit sounding nothing like the same band. Heritage, the B-side of the single follows. It is a more Clouds-sounding track, with interesting organ riffs and vocals, but it is also somewhat unmemorable as a song. A beautifully sad song follows, Why is there no Magic sings of disillusionment, but with a Christmas sound lingering through it, ending with some wonderful guitar phrases (by Steve Gould), bell-like pianos, and a poignant lyric “Beneath a tinsel wrapping nothing lies, only diminishing cardboard boxes”. How terrible that such beautiful songs and the songs yet to be, were lost to us. Why songs like these were not released at the time instead of now is part of the 1-2-3/Clouds tragedy. Then, a bit of a jolt, a song recorded in 1971 suddenly transports us to the late 70s. The World is a Madhouse, sounds like new wave, or possibly the Doors meet John Cage, but is much too complex in its musical structure to be of that ilk alone. A rather chilling atmosphere pervades the music, disturbing as much as pleasing. This new wave sound continues with the next track, Shadows, a quite haunting and at times ethereal vocal that again seems to echo the phrasing of Jim Morrison, but in a song using musical metaphors and structures far more sophisticated than the Doors. Once upon a Time sounds like an outtake from Watercolour Days. The same kind of studio sound informs proceedings, though the lyric is rather whimsical, more like a Scrapbook era song that’s been given the later Rock treatment. The balance of the mix seems ill at ease, but there is stirring organ, plus interesting strings from David Palmer. A Day of Rain is a haunting, atmospheric song, full of alienation and paranoia, a sound painting of rain and loneliness in which the instruments are withdrawn, thoughtful, preoccupied. Beautiful strings, mellotron and ghostly piano merge in a melancholy landscape. America by Paul Simon reveals something of 1-2-3, the legendary early band that became Clouds, influencing bands like Yes, The Nice/ELP, King Crimson etc along the way. This is a live track from the Marquee in 1967, the quality of the recording is understandably poor, but it reveals quite clearly what all the fuss was about. For those long used to Prog’s imagination and musicianship, this track will sound like familiar territory, but if you can, transport yourself back to 66-67 and hear this in the context of the times. At least two years before progressive rock, here invention and musicianship abound, as Simon’s song is comprehensively rewritten, but never at the expense of taste or form, a fault that encapsulates much of what went wrong with those who tried to follow in this path. David Bowie, speaking to Mojo magazine in 1994, about the 1-2-3 treatment of his own composition (I Dig Everything) confirmed that “the song was radically altered, but retained its heart and soul”. As far as Bowie was concerned, Billy Ritchie was “a genius”. That view seems to be endorsed by the song closing the album. Clockwork Soldier is perhaps a clue to one direction the band could have taken had they continued. There are two ways of looking at this track. One is that this is poetry of the highest order, not just poetry set to music, but a marriage of music and words as never heard before. The sound of the mellotron and strings lend an orchestral grandeur, making this sound like opera or classics rather than Rock. But of course, the problem that could occur is it’s easy to say that this is not Rock at all, and has pretensions of being art in the highbrow sense. Is this pretension, or is it real? In my opinion, this is Rock’s sole example of genuine Song-Poetry. I do not believe that this is an extravagant claim to make. There have perhaps been better melodies and better poems, but never such a successful and complete combination of the two, meeting here completely halfway in a form nothing less than unique. It won’t please every Rock fan (and may offend many), but like it or not, when all the present-day commercial fads are long-forgotten, consigned to dust and history, Clockwork Soldier is art that will last forever. This small body of almost-forgotten work should be an essential for any serious Rock student. 5 stars because of the importance to music , though the music itself is not insignificant either.
I would recommend this to a friend
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