so, after a very long wait (we're talking years), at last, it's Scambot
time. Better said, it's time to listen to Volume 1 of a trilogy. And so,
repeated listening sessions having convinced me beyond any reasonable shadow
of doubt that this is a musical work of excellent quality, I have to admit
that my wait for Scambot was tainted with doubts, my very high expectations
being combined with a certain degree of anxiety.
this is why. Announced as being quite similar to a "concept album" or
a "rock opera", Scambot promised to be very long (a double album,
at least, maybe a triple), featuring a story rich with characters and dialogues,
a complex artwork which was to be featured in a substantial book, with
a no-deadline gestation: all factors that to me are the perfect recipe
for a potential disaster (even though I implicitly imagined Scambot as
resembling more, say, Joe's Garage than, say, Tommy).
Keneally has brilliantly succeeded in surprising me once again. As he has
clearly stated in the course of a few interviews that appeared at about
the same time the album was released (also, in a way that's logically coherent
with the fluid way he approached his stated goals), the music, the plot
(and the characters), and the artwork have all influenced each other right
from the start, the process of creation being quite different from the
usual before-after stages that are more typical for this kind of endeavours.
what do we exactly have here? An album that's long but not too long, a
booklet featuring a story, a plot, very rich artwork, the song lyrics (but
the album is for the most part instrumental), adventures and characters
that listeners are invited to "picture" more than "see".
I hope Keneally won't take offense if I say that the album works equally
fine even when not taking the booklet and the complex storyline into consideration.
what about the music? Here I have to say that (even if I'm perfectly aware
that different listeners have their individual preferences) I like Scambot
1 in a way that hadn't happened to me since the days of Sluggo! (Sluggo!
being in many ways my favorite Keneally album). I'd say the two works could
in a way be considered as similar, meaning that they feature a great deal
of variety (the two albums being quite different in many ways).
the fact that - though it features many diverse musical climates, instrumentation,
and styles - the album presents a quite coherent whole can be a good start
for a quick description like this one. Here Keneally the producer, ably
assisted by Scott Chatfield as the executive producer, managed to make
a lot of material, originally recorded in different studios and by different
engineers in the course of a decade, sound as being "all of a piece".
And let's not forget "chief engineer" Mike Harris, whose work
here can work as the right example for those who (quite rightly) lament
the lack of depth and height that's typical of so many albums recorded
today (listeners are invited to listen closely to a lot of vocal parts,
sounding so life-like it appears as one could almost touch them).
there are quite a few episodes where Keneally plays all featured instruments
himself (more than a few times I was surprised to see that it was he who
played both electric bass and drums), there are also some fine names: Evan
Francis on sax, flute, and clarinet (a presence, and some instrumental
colours, I'd like to see featured a bit more often on Keneally albums);
"rock quartet" featuring Rick Musallam, Bryan Beller, and Joe Travers;
the exuberant Marco Minnemann, who often overdubbed his drums over pre-existing
material; Beller on acoustic double bass; and a small platoon of Dutch musicians,
all playing admirably.
1 is varied but also coherent. While, as it's only logical, the whole Keneally
musical palette is featured here, this time Zappa's influence appears to
be more implicit than in the past; when this debt is more apparent - as
is the case with the guitar solo in We Are The Quiet Children - to me this
sounds like due to the polyrhythms played by Minnemann, which reminded
me a bit of Chad Wackerman's. The orchestration and variety of a track
like Gita easily show Keneally the composer now master complex languages.
It goes without saying that we still have those "British accents" (The
Beatles/XTC on Hallmark, those vocals so influenced by Gentle Giant on
Life's Too Small); what really surprised me was the sudden apparition of
the "very wonderful Northettes" on the album finale, DaDunDa
(and "where have I heard this name before", the liner notes say
it's Jesse Keneally overdubbing herself).
album opens with a funny TV episode (Big Screen Boboli), then it's an instrumental
that says a lot in a very short time (Ophunji's Theme), then it's time
for a beautiful ballad with some skillful piano and a pleasant bridge (Hallmark);
then it's time for a composition rich with diverse timbres (almost a track
off Hot Rats arranged for King Kong) where the aforementioned Dutch musicians
(trumpet, trombone, violin, saxophones, guitars, percussion, and keyboards)
move with agility (Chee); then it's time for a song for rock quartet featuring
only Keneally (Tomorrow); an impressive composition in two parts (Cat Bran
Sammich) with in between a piece whose melody reminded me of Michael Mantler
(You Named Me), another song (Saturate), a brief "intermezzo"
(M), and a fine ballad played on acoustic guitars that stays with you long
after the record is over (Cold Hands). Eleven tracks, thirty minutes.
precisely at this point that the album really goes up to the stratosphere,
the remaining seven tracks lasting thirty-eight minutes. Originally an
improvisation for guitar and drums, We Are The Quiet Children was later
orchestrated, so becoming a complex entity, the same being true of Foam,
which takes it all to a logical conclusion. After the very brief intermezzo
The Brink, Life's Too Small opens with a beautiful melody by multiple voices
treated with echoes and reverbs; then, it's time for a intense guitar solo
framed by harmonics from two acoustic guitars; then it's time for another
vocal section, whose polyphony (dealing with memory and consciousness,
by the way) sounds as being straight off the Gentle Giant songbook; then
it's time for another part, for voices and instruments, which one has no
choice but to define as being "quite intense". Maybe the most
unusual track here, Behind The Door is "empty" and thoughtful,
a concentrated meditation; the finale is quite touching, and here I'll
say no more. Originally born as a string quartet, Gita is the complex work
I already referred to above. Plenty of acoustic guitars and voices by Keneally,
with some help from the aforementioned
"Northettes", DaDunDa takes the album to a relaxed conclusion.
also a limited edition, with an added extra CD, that true Keneally aficionados
will find truly indispensable. It's all interesting material: real
"musical extravaganzas"; a few demos and alternate mixes; an acoustic
ballad that's really great, titled Broken Chair; the long The 3rd Eye, which
deserves repeated listening; and the closing Credits, incorporating a Homage
to Zappa that's really quite subtle.)
© Beppe Colli 2009
| Dec. 12, 2009