By Mark Smotroff
It's taken some time to get my head around the deceptively complex new album from Andy Partridge (XTC) and Peter Blegvad (Slapp Happy, Henry Cow). Why? It would be easy to write the recording off as quirky eccentricity. Indeed, it is fine new quirky and eccentric music worthy of your attention. Called Gonwards, at first listen one might even think it is a Peter Blegvad solo album as Partridge barely sings on it.
It's not. "Gonwards" is very much a collaboration. It is a kind of mutant love child of Tom Waits' "Swordfishtrombones," Van Dyke Parks' "Orange Crate Art" and perhaps David Byrne & Robert Wilson's "The Knee Plays," all run through the Partridge/Blegvad musical blender. Andy's pop sensibilities massage Peter's precise Chris Difford-esque vocals and readings.
The first song, "The Devil's Lexicon" takes a fascinating approach to assembling the essence of a blues tune from its elemental roots and when it kicks in it rocks rather royally.Tackling topics on the minds of these artists working overtime, "Gonwards" addresses commercialism ("Sacred Objects) to faux fashionistas ("The Impeccable Dandy In White"). "St. Augustine Says" is a fun bit of swinging British pop ska-lite fun -- with a catchy XTC-worthy hook -- documenting that morning after awareness moment justifying a drunken dalliance (if you will): "Saint Augustine says to love with out measure that would be the measure of love."
"From Germ To Gem" is a twisted Christmas gift for you -- replete with sleigh bells -- wrapped in a slinky swamp jazz groove as Blegvad's slow-motion tremolo electric guitar lines snake through a lush layered choir of chanting Partridges voices. In the bonus tracks on the DVD you'll find two exclusive tracks including a disturbing lovely ditty called "Zombie Tots." Yup, the apocalypse as these guys see it will include zombie babies rising from the dead as they warn of a pending "tsunami of tots.. a tide of tots" sounding at times like a lost Captain Beefheart rant circa Trout Mask Replica.
Speaking of sound, well, how does the album sound? Really good! So good in fact that they offer a deluxe package with a nice DVD Audio disc version containing uncompressed 96/24 stereo mixes that sound markedly better than the CD. If you play the DVD in a standard DVD Video player, it will also work but the sound you hear will be 48k/24 bit resolution -- still, better than the 44.1/16 sound on the CD. There are bonus videos on the disc too which are fun and twisted in their own right. The on screen lyrics are also welcome to keep you in sync with this album that demands your attention.
The DVD-A also reportedly includes three full song "mix kits" (accessible from any computer drive) but this writer has yet to figure out how they are accessed.
Some of you may know this but Andy Partridge is a board game maker and enthusiast! Thus it is not entirely surprising to find that the deluxe box includes a game called Loteria - "a Mexican game of chance similar to bingo but using images on a deck of cards" (according to their website). Drawn by Peter Blegvad, each object depicted on the cards can be found in the song lyrics. It includes a set of boards to play the game on, rules and a lyric booklet. A genuine multi-media experience.
If you are up for a challenging musical adventure, then Gonwards is for you. Support the independent artist and buy it direct. But hurry! The box set is limited to 2000 copies globally. Each includes a certificate hand signed by Peter Blegvad, Andy Partridge and Stuart Rowe.