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
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.