Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Legendary Pink Dots
The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse


Released 1991 on Play it again sam/Soleil Moon
Reviewed by aaroneous, 18/08/2000ce


How do I explain these visionaries to the uninitiated? Psychedelic goth? The Incredible String Band with synthesizers and teeth? Perhaps it would do to just call them Belgian and leave it at that. For 20 years, these guys have been churning out some of the most eclectic mad revelries and the most twisted nightmares, all sung by the wildly psychotic dope prophet Edward Ka-Spell. I’ve owned tons of their stuff over the years, but “The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse” is the first one I got, and one of the only ones I’ve kept. Not that the others aren’t good, it’s just that this one most completely encompasses their vision. And what a vision it is.

The album opens with the beautiful acoustic ballad “I watched you in your tragic beauty”, a tail of unrequited love from afar, which ends in the middle of one of the verses, only to return with a pastiche of voices and the melody line played on what sounds like an oboe, finally crescendoing with a synthesised string ensemble, as Ka-Spell’s voice intones, over and over, “that’s the way it will always be, always be, always be . . . “

The next song is full on eastern, featuring a sitar and synth together with light percussion, and the simultaneously melancholy and cheerful voice of Ka-spell saying “Here come the green gang.” What does it mean? What is the gang? What makes it green? What do they want with us? Aaaahhhh!!!! The song ends with faux trumpets and snare drum, announcing the green gang’s arrival at the court of His Majesty King Edward, and who knows what’s to come next.

What does is one of the most crazed freakouts ever put on wax. “Hellsville” opens with a churning rhythm, a one note bass line, and some of the most intense guitar playing you’re likely to hear. Delayed, swirled, and heavily distorted, the guitar accompanies a variety of other effects and instruments. Blasts of reverb fly across the speakers from nowhere, like a door opening to reveal an immense cavern, then closing just as quickly, as if to say “see, you could get out if you could only open this door – ha ha ha ha!!”
Synth lines swirl up over your head and go the way of heaven, only to bottom out later after flying too close to the sun. All the while, Ka-spell spews out a milleu of images so deeply scary I’ve had girlfriends leave the room til the song was over. This is just a sample:

“from the bloodstained steps of hope lost,
carrying our cross,
like guilty children waiting til our fathers home.
(he’ll beat our back he’ll break our bones)
Like the hair that stiffens on our spine
We walk, defeated, in a line
Our one release is in the mighty furnace
Take us swiftly, take us now . . . .
To Hellsville, bells peal
Load the barrel, down the pills
Hellsville, bells peal
Load the barrel, down the pills.

You get the idea. If this was the only kind of music on this record, I don’t think I would like it even half as much. But from the bowls of Hellsville, we’re delivered to beautiful sunny plateaus, then whipped back for a moment, then sent somewhere else entirely. This rollercoaster ride visits all emotional states, some extreme, some placid, in just over an hour.

A song like “New Tomorrow”, featuring some of the tasteful use of synthesized orchestration I’ve heard, utilizes timpani drums, distorted guitar beauty, and the ever present keyboard dervishes of The Silverman, while Ka-spell croons like Elmer Phud on quaaludes “Noo Too-mah-woah! Noo Too-mah-woah woah woah woah! We shall see our kingdom coming!!”. This balances greatly against the tale of a group of junkies’ indignation at their own sorry fates in “Just a lifetime” (as in “For this, we waited just a lifetime?”) Lightening the mood is the Barrettesque sing-song fairytale “Princess Coldheart”, featuring more courtly horns and the humble village fool who breaks the spell of the princess who refuses to suited, in whose courtyard flowers bloom over the graves of the ones who tried and failed.

There are more freak-outs, and more reconcilliations, until everything comes to a head, and a collage of themes emerges at the end. Swirling around in the vortex, lines from all the other songs emerge and disappear, as melodies fly around each other and occasionally collide, making new themes. Finally, the words “peace . . . in our time” repeat until the fade, and this ends this amazing album.

All of the Dots’ albums have high points of some kind, it’s just that some are a little more . . . boring? The only other album featuring the amazing work of the guitarist known simply as “Bob” is the equally impressive “Maria Dimension”, which I highly recommend if you can’t find “Apocalypse”. Stay away from the “Malachi” series, as these albums are more ambient, and a lot less interesting, and some of their early eighties stuff suffers from being just that - early eighties stuff. (Uh . . . sorry Julian!)

I saw the Dots in New York this year, and the new stuff sounds like their best ever, mixing dance textures into their lysergic swirl to positive effect, and utilizing the wonderous clarinet and sax of one Neils Hornblower. Unfortunately, these guys have been pigeonholed and ghettoized by the goth scene, so there were too many people there trying too hard to look unenthused, but it seemed that some there got it. Ka-spell is truly a mad man on stage, wearing a psychedelic cloak and muttering too himself between songs. Someone called him God, to which he replied, “We’re all God” Right on!! I met him after the show and asked him what his favorite album by him was. He said their new one, and it didn’t sound at all like a coy plug. Unfortunately, they sold them all, and I haven’t seen any here, so, if you get it, review it, if you would be so lovely, so I know whether to order one myself. My guess is, “The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse” will still be my favorite. If you like Julian’s “Jehovahkill”, you’ll probably like this one too. It’s that good.


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