Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

The Heads - At Last

The Heads
At Last


AOTM #60, May 2005ce
Released 2004 on Rocket Recordings
Side One (Medley 25:30)
  1. Dissonaut
  2. Quad
  3. Fuego
  4. Troppo Amrio
  5. Vibrating Digit
Side Two (Medley 22:54)
  1. Filler
  2. 31st
  3. Stodgy
  4. The Ritual is an Artform, Is it? Parts 1 & 2

The Scorpions - Spiders on Phasing
The Heads - 33

Though seemingly put together to achieve the same ends, The Heads' album 33 really kicks The Scorpions' tails.

Note: This month’s review was a difficult decision because I was spoiled for choice. Two LPs vied for Album of the Month, and both were releases by those yippiefied distorto-guitar FX behemoths known as The Heads. One record was called THIRTY-THREE and was a digitally-edited maelstrum re-mix of Heads music that seemed to squeeze in somewhere between Neil Young’s outrageous and arhythmical ARC and Dieter Dierks’ attempted Cosmic Jokers take on The Scorpions’ monster weird-out SPIDERS ON PHASING. But whereas The Heads’ 20-part THIRTY-THREE takes bite-size chunks of their music and spins its wah-everythingness into a tight web of disorientation that effortlessly accesses your melting plastic brain, the normally over-achieving and thoroughly abnormal Dieter Dierks made SPIDERS ON PHASING so overly heavy on the electronics that the poor old Scorpions were left with the kind of munting detritus that could only get the Spanish Archer from both Cosmic Jokers fans AND their regular hard rock tribe – seriously underwhelming those moustachioed longhairs expecting more ‘Dark Lady’ type fare. And as Brain Records housed this so-called ‘re-mix’ twaddle in a beautiful fake Peter Geitner-style sleeve in a cynical attempt to align Meine & Co with the Krautrock scene1, the real Scorpions fans (of THE TOKYO TAPES, LONESOME CROW, IN TRANCE) are left high and dry! In the end, being a Pragmatic Motherfucker myself, I too decided that opting for a curveball like THIRY-THREE as an introduction to The Heads’ music would be just too confusing to everyone. So I instead opted for the comparative safety of AT LAST, a record just as horrid as the aforementioned but far more in keeping with where The Heads’ career is taking them, intuitive non-career movers that they so obviously be!


Okay gentlemen, COCKHENGE… where is it?

For some years now, Wessex’s finest mung worshippers The Heads have been promising us a heavy rock album entitled COCKHENGE with a proposed pop-up gatefold cover. Sadly, this artefact has not yet been forthcoming, indeed I’ve stopped holding my breath for fear of turning the same shade of cyan blue that has graced almost every Heads’ album. Had the release of COCKHENGE taken place, however, I have to admit that - regardless of the music within - such a disc would immediately have become an Album of the Month. In a Western culture in which even the most intellectual of us possesses an Inner Moron that needs regular exercise, The Heads would – with the release of COCKHENGE - have proved themselves as true possessors of the Exo-moron, a stubborn Eeyore-like hard-shell of ecstatic stupidity discovered thus far only around David Lee Roth, Joey Smith of Speed Glue & Shinki, Doggen and myself. Unsatisfied but resigned to a long wait for COCKHENGE, I, in the meantime, meditated patiently on The Heads’ aforementioned over use of cyan blue (generally united with vicious red in the manner of Amon Duul 2’s PHALLUS DEI), occasionally slavered and drooled over the hippy babes that nakedly disgraced Heads’ album artwork, and admired this band’s concise adherence to their own metaphor. Loop meets The Pink Fairies is always a fine place to begin a career, but an even greater place to finish it… to finish it… to finish it… to finish it… yup, that’s how repetitious these Heads can be. And unlike pretty much every other rock’n’roll band, The Heads began slowly and then just got, nay get, better and better - their last two albums having totally eclipsed all of their early work.


AT LAST… or “Fuck Bloodrock, let’s have it all away!”

This Album of the Month heaps space rock cliché upon heavy rock cliché upon psychedelic proto-metal cliché in a manner so bereft of guilt, so untainted by fashion, so un-ironic that it transcends its inspirations totally and just becomes sonic environment. Indeed, in my present recently re-psychedelicized state, I have at times been driven to forget I was listening to this record, and got up from the floor to put it on when it was in fact already playing. Of course, of The Heads’ use of multiple clichés, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that this band was unaware of their stance. Hell, they’ze from Bristol not the Orkneys. But as AT LAST has appeared already deep into their so-called career, it’s possible that these gentlemen just thought ‘fuck it, no one’s gonna notice anyway’ just like Sleater Kinney appear to have done with their new Sub-Pop album THE WOODS. Or maybe guitarist P.R.A. Allen has given up looking for what he once called “that heavy psych sound that we haven’t managed to achieve before due to time and financial reasons.”

So The Heads have given up on engineers and studios and have instead recorded a concise career overview in their rehearsal room Asahito Nanjo-stylee, though possibly not through one single compressor mike a la Mr High Rise. Overwhelmed by the vats of raw midrange (and none of it in sealed containers) that inevitably build up during such projects, plus having been thus relieved of such industry standards as bass-end and audible vocals, The Heads have suddenly descended into the underworld in a truly Odinist manner, that is: they’ve retrieved nine polished jewels from their past canon of work with which to present us an entirely new Long Player. Ja, mein hairies, AT LAST has brung 48-minutes of extremely useful tinnitus meditation to our 21st century rock’n’roll party. Not just for Stoners and Gas Guzzlers neither, me dears. As with side one of Chrome’s ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS and Loop’s A GILDED ETERNITY (especially side two’s ‘The Nail Will Burn’ and ‘Blood’), I’ve spent hours lifting weights to AT LAST, doing stomach exercises to it, hell, you can even just lie on the floor with your partner and in-out to it.

Fantastic.
And cheap too.

This whole deal they have then released on cyan blue vinyl (natch) in a cyan gatefold sleeve that presumptuously (and wholly correctly) appropriates for its inner artwork the all-time best rock cartoon; that is, the sleeve of Bloodrock’s BLOODROCK U.S.A., an early ‘70s snoozathon so bereft of meaning and artistry that The Heads truly did the only decent thing and relieved that LP of its single positive asset.2 Even better is the front cover, which – economical motherfuckers that The Heads are – posterizes the photo of the cunt-cupping hippy chick on the cover of their own EVERYONE KNOWS WE GOT NOWHERE, and logo-ifies her still further.

BLOODROCK USA

The beginning of AT LAST is a true summum bonum of all things underground, a dark milky ooze of cosmic thang that unites Tractor’s ‘Shubunkin’3 with Blues Creation’s twin-guitar havoc laden ‘Atomic Bombs Away’ as refracted inevitably through Hawkwind’s SPACE RITUAL lens, which was itself copped from ‘Astronomie Dominie’. Pay no attention to the tracklisting at the head of this review, by the way, for it all sludges from one unidentifiable tantrum into the next in the same manner as the ‘Up’ medley on Kim Fowley’s OUTRAGEOUS and Van Der Graaf Generator’s supposedly 10-part twenty minute freakout ‘A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers’ from PAWN HEARTS. Even though these Heads tracks have appeared in different form across half a decade of studio LPs, here they’re all reduced to individual tentacles of the same octopus. For example, the immaculately-titled opening track ‘Dissonaut’ (originally from 2002’s UNDER SIDED) has so many different parts that any attempts at excavating beginning or end can only be a wind-up, especially as the ‘official’ baton change slides so seamlessly into ‘Quad’ (from RELAXING WITH THE HEADS) that it just feels like a middle-8. The version of ‘Fuego’ is herein reduced to no more than just a pulsating gear change in the ‘Psychotic Reaction Part 2’ tradition. However, those with no foreknowledge of The Heads’ oeuvre will hear it all as one performance piece. Moreover, giving a title to each separate and wholly unidentifiable piece creates as disorientating an effect on the listener as we mung worshippers could wish for, and keeps us pinned to the carpet croaking ‘What the?’ out of one corner of our mouth as the drool slides inexorably down the other. Indeed, semi-oblivion just lets it all burn out your stout cortex with never a thought that these might be songs what some scumfucker actually wrote, that is until the singularly blazing chaos of ‘Vibrating Digit’ brings side one to a merciful conclusion.

The thrilling motorpsycho yatter of “Filler” opens Side Two, and contains Simon Price’s finest lead vocal thus far recorded, a Kim Fowleyan shrieking’n’hawking heart attack somewhere close to OUTRAGEOUS’ “Barefoot County Boy”. Price normally sings with a soft and educated West Country burr that maybe even he ain’t aware of, but here, however, he’s puking Niagara Falls with Viagra chomping his balls as his vocal delivery becomes subsumed into the Rock Everyhead of DeTwat Delta Sahf London Liverpuddle spike-o-babble. Uni-directional guitar feedback then directs us towards the nearest Detroit riff and we ascend a sonic moving staircase towards a major chord penthouse aurally decorated with Warholised screenprints of Van Halen’s version of The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’. This tense wah’d masterstroke is ‘Stodgy’ and even features audible lead vocals, before seguing seamlessly into part one of ‘The Ritual is an Artform, is it?’ It’s somewhere between Brain Donor’s ‘Pagan Dawn’ and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced?’ and I’d like a whole re-mix LP of just this track. Suddenly peace descends. High volume silence is horribly interrupted by Indian sitar, before some Islamic Sultan righteously offs the players hands for failure to rock, and we descend into the relentless 9-minute circular chordal burn-out of ‘The Ritual is an Artform, is it?’ with which AT LAST concludes. This is as close to old space rock as The Heads ever go, at times approaching the fury of first album Ash Ra Tempel, even Hawkwind’s ‘Born to Go’. But always that wah’d-to-fuck midrange slays you beyond the call of duty. Reminds me of the instructions printed on the inner sleeve of Yonin Bayashi’s 1973 debut album ISHOKU-SOKUHATSU. Not only does it state ‘This record should be played loud!’ there’s also a diagrammatic tone control with the bass turned ALL the way down and the treble turned ALL the way up! That note applies to this Heads LP also.

But hey, despite my umpteen comparisons with other rock’n’roll groups, The Heads have a trip that is entirely their own – and AT LAST is one hell of a launching pad. Try and find this record on vinyl if you can because the two sides are equally useful and each contributes to the well-being of your mental health, especially for users on a heavy repetition trip.


In Conclusion

Back in 1996CE, when they first dumped RELAXING WITH THE HEADS at our back door, I listened but was not charmed – the music was potentially large but the production needed to be a lot more shitty and, dammit, you could hear Wayne Maskell’s fucking drums, almost as loud as on a Gay Bikers on Acid record! Nowadays, he’s got it all in check, admitting to no more than having “a specially made snare that emits radio waves every summer solstice.” Anyway, after that first LP, I didn’t catch up with what The Heads were doing until 2000’s fabulously-titled EVERYONE KNOWS WE GOT NOWHERE showed they were not much closer than before but at least still on the right track with titles such as ‘Kraut Byrds’. Even better was 2002’s UNDER SIDED, which produced a great song ‘Bedminster’ about a part of Bristol that people visit only when looking for cheap off-cuts of carpet with which to do up their sheds. I liked it even more when I read in an interview that these Bristol nutters admitted to crediting all their songs to the whole band because it was the way Black Sabbath did it, and that they’d named their own record label Sweet Nuthin’ after that legendary song by Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s amazing and largely unsung Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. But it still wasn’t the Knockout Punch. However, I gots to say AT LAST is one desperate motherfucker of an LP and more than deserving of its Album of the Month. I only hope these self-styled dissonauts continue along their delightful Hellbound trail. Being from Wessex, they certainly have plenny o’portals in which to locate the Underworld. In the meantime, fellow Motherfuckers, please applaud The Heads for their sustaining dedication to The Trip. A decade is a long time to continue with the same line-up without losing the plot entirely, so evidence is strong that these gentlemen – having finally found the path – will remain upon it for a good few years to come. And by opting for the great sonic leap sideways and downwards quite deep into their career, AT LAST has taken this group to another level of pop-artistry.



FOOTNOTES:
  1. The link between Heavy Rock and the experimental underground is always a difficult one to reconcile, as I discovered recently from the public’s reaction when I went out in a Neu vest, motorbike boots, sleeveless leather jacket and WW2 German officer’s peaked cap. About eight years ago, I was talking to the late John Balance of Coil about how UFO’s first LPs (UFO, UFO2, UFO LIVE and the SPACE METAL compilation) are stylistically like typical Krautrock records both in their sleeve design and their use of massively long tracks (some are 18-25 minutes in length). Anyway, Sleazy Christopherson overheard our discussion and he suggested that the ultimate reconciling image between Heavy Rock and the Underground must therefore be the sleeve to UFO’s 1975 album FORCE IT. Being a dodgy pun alluding to the American for ‘tap’ (‘faucet’), UFO asked Hipgnosis to do the cover and Sleazy (being one third of Hipgnosis) asked his friends to be the cover star couple getting it on in the lav. So the faceless duo are actually Genesis P. and Cosey Fanni Tutti from Sleazy’s old band Throbbing Gristle. Now, tell me that ain’t a Know-verwhelming Rock revelation!
  2. Hey, that’s not fair (ed), BLOODROCK U.S.A. does have a few excellent Mark Farner moments of brutal late Grand Funk merit. However, now’s my opportunity to assert that most of those much applauded early ‘70s so-called heavy classics such as Leafhound, Bang, Dust, Crushed Butler, Third World War, Bloodrock, Poobah, etc. are nowadays regularly eclipsed by 21st century heavy rock’n’roll. Indeed, of the ancestors, only those exo-morons such as Black Sabbath; early Grand Funk Railroad (ON TIME, LIVE ALBUM and the red GRAND FUNK LP mostly); Joey Smith’s Speed, Glue & Shinki; early Flower Travellin’ Band (ANYWHERE, SATORI, MADE IN JAPAN), early Blue Cheer (VINCEBUS ERUPTUM, OUTSIDEINSIDE, Randy Holden’s side two of NEW! IMPROVED!); Randy Holden’s own POPULATION 2 and ‘Crash Course in Brain Surgery’-period Budgie seem to have been so sonically fundamental to the rock’n’roll canon that they will not one day be bettered.
  3. I well remember back in November ‘93 the look of disgust on Rooster Cosby’s face during the recording of my AUTOGEDDON album, as we A.B.’d between my own ‘Kar-Ma-Kanik’ and Tractor’s ‘Shubunkin’ in order to get Rooster’s drums quiet enough. Needing to err on the safe side, I made sure the drums were even quieter than Tractor’s, indeed so quiet were they that when Mark Geiger – my A&R man at Def American – heard the master, he suggested that such a space rock song would probably sound better with drums!