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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Henry Cow

Western Culture

Review by Gary Hill

I’ll admit it; I’m not the biggest fan of Rock In Opposition. Clearly Henry Cow were one of the originators of that school of progressive rock. So, for me Henry Cow’s music is a tough sell. That said, I can certainly appreciate the talent and creativeness at play. These guys really always thought so far outside the box that I don’t think they could even see that box. This album works quite well as far as I’m concerned. Given my previous comments about the style in general, that says a lot.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
History & Prospects: I. Industry

This comes in noisy and as it carries on the music really does convey the sounds of industry in many ways. It’s chaotic, cacophonous and busy. In some ways it seems disorganized, but there is definitely a plan here. It drops to mellower sounds after a bit. Jazz and classical music seem to merge in the more melodic segment that emerges from there. The piece continues to evolve from there, getting heavy at times and then much mellower at others. Percussion dominates for a short time. Then they explode out into noisy, frantic hard rock. That section takes it to its closing.

History & Prospects: II. The Decay of Cities
Acoustic guitar starts this movement. That instrument, with only minor accompaniment, serves as the concept for the first minute or so. Then it gets completely reinvented as more of a Frank Zappa does chamber music kind of concept. Around the two and a half minute mark there’s a shift towards chaotic jazz. Getting cacophonous later, it seems to combine classical with freeform jazz. Then it turns more sedate into almost soundtrack music territory before more jazz-like elements emerge. It drops to a sparse, seemingly accidental arrangement to end.
History & Prospects: III. On the Raft
Jazz and classical are merged as this piece works out from the gate. There are bits of pretty melody, but there is also an ominous vibe here. The composition has a very measured tempo and some intriguing collusion of instrumental concepts. In a lot of ways this is the most cohesive and consistent piece of the suite. It’s also the one that works best for me.
Day by Day: I. Falling Away

Jazz drives this early in one of the more melodic and straightforward movements of the set. From there, though, it gets into more classical styled sounds. The piece continues to evolve by merging those together. As it keeps changing it becomes much more classical in nature and seems quite freeform. There’s a more melodic and seemingly planned out classical movement later, too. It drops to almost café music for a time and then turns toward jazz. That section builds and eventually ends the piece.

Day by Day: II. Gretel’s Tale

Although there are moments here that shift more toward the classical end, overall this one is very much pure jazz based. It’s quite freeform and quite odd. It’s among the least effective pieces here to my ear, but it does have some moments where it really seems to gel.

Day by Day: III. Look Back
This is a short, sedate and very classical movement. It’s quite effective, if understated.
Day By Day: IV. 1/2 the Sky

Combining jazz and rock, this piece has some great musical moments, but it’s also well rooted in the musical chaos that generally is Henry Cow. It is one of the more effective pieces here, though and has a real driving energy through a lot of it.

 

 
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