Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Flower Travellin Band - Make Up

Flower Travellin Band
Make Up

Released 1973 on United Artists Japan
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 06/11/2007ce

In his FTB essay which used to be on the site, Julian Cope described FTB’s 4th and final album, Make Up, thusly: “…unnecessary for the casual fan, encumbered by a Deeply Purple organist and totally unlike the other records.”

To which I ask: WHAAAAT???????

Make Up is a funky, groovy, sinister masterpiece, building on the proto-metal mantras of Satori 2 with more of an expansive and organic feel. It also has more of a produced feeling; strange when you consider a major portion of this 2LP was recorded live. True, it doesn’t have the evil feel of the masterpiece Satori, but it’s better than Anywhere, it feels more full than the ultra-short Made In Japan, and it is for sure necessary for anyone who loves them some Flower Travellin Band.

“All the Days” opens the album, and is the perfect example of what I mean – it’s groovy, it’s funky, and it retains the dark vibe of FTB’s earlier material. A live track, but you’d never know it, other than the cheering audience – like all the other live tracks here, this has perfect sound. The organ pops up, an instrument I’ve never enjoyed, but luckily it doesn’t overshadow the track. (Incidentally, the organist/keyboardist throughout the album is Kuni Kawachi, who had recorded an album with the pre-FTB version of this group years before.) This is mostly the FTB you know and love, a loping, Sabbathian riff taking us into the track proper. One of those pulsing, mean affairs the group always did so well. Nearly eight minutes long, it never loses its focus, never becomes boring, and stands on equal footing with anything on “Made In Japan.”

“Make Up” is, like the following track, a studio number, a short tune that’s as ‘70s rock as this group ever got. Guitarist Hideki Ishima even throws in these proggy flourishes after each run-through of the chorus. The organ’s here, providing one okay solo and otherwise just giving the track a swampy groove type of sound. This is a strange track; as short as many of those on “Made In Japan,” but very much in the progrock vein of Deep Purple and the like.

“Look At My Windows” is the sensitive side of FTB, an FM Lite Rock hit that never was. Hell, it sounds like late-era Beatles. Acoustic guitars pluck away with electronic warbles in the background as Joe’s multi-tracked vocals sing indecipherable lyrics (a mix of Japanese and English), ending each verse with “come in through my window.” So yeah, even the lyrics are on the Beatles tip. You remember all those lighter-waving Lite Rock tracks that were all the rage in the late ‘80s? This is much like them, only with a screaming Japanese vocalist, better, more organic production, and less sap. Hey, but that’s just the first three and a half minutes! We’ve got another 8 (!) to go, and the track builds into a ducking and jiving rhythmic track – that “Deeply Purple” organ rearing its head for some lengthy solos. Only to these ears it has more of a Doors sound. The pace picks up, but it’s not frantic – no “Satori 2,” this. Once the organ’s had its say, Hideki throws down a very tasty and wah-wah’d solo, his circular patterns swaying across the sound spectrum. This ushers in a new feel for the track (its third so far); a bit faster, a bit more urgent, a bit more rock. This culminates in a return to the Lite Rock angle which opened the song, Joe’s multitracked vocals and those flute-sounding electronic warbles picking up the tune proper. TRY not to sing along, I dare you. Oh, and a bass refrain, how cute.

“Slowly But” opens with a full-on band assault, almost to the level of Satori but with that organ – which does here sound like Deep Purple. But then an abrupt cut to utter silence, until finally the organ (sounding like an ‘80s synth, but less shitty) and pounding drums initiate the groove of the track. This is firmly established by Hideki, cutting loose a total Sabbath riff, one which wouldn’t sound out of place on “Sabotage.” The organ’s relegated to flourishes in the background; this is a straight-up (and evil) FTB rocker firmly in the Satori/Made In Japan mode. At six minutes it’s a mini-epic compared to the preceding track, and a goodly portion of it’s instrumental. The chorus however gets stuck in your head (something about “generation”), Joe screaming away in his nasally pitch.

“Shadow Of Lost Days” is a live one, and one of the few tracks Julian Cope commented on favorably in his essay: “…(Shadow of Lost Days) was a good single, but you’d be better searching out the original than having it surrounded by so much average stuff.” To which I again ask, “Whaat?” I’ve already given my opinion on the second half of that statement, but as to the first…I’d say “Shadow” is actually the worst track on the album. It’s a slow blues through and through, and the organ’s more prominent here than elsewhere, really making it sound like Deep Purple. This is the kind of music which puts me to sleep…and to hear FTB, they who wrought that which is Satori, churning out such garbage…well, it makes a man question things, that’s all.

“Broken Strings” is more of the “softer side of Flower Travellin Band,” opening with some downright melancholy piano and tinkling bells. Joe sings in a heartbroken whisper, about his “guitar always the same, but the strings forever change.” Hideki gives us more of those ultra-Beatles guitar licks, multitracked and slightly phased. At 8 minutes, the track’s shorter than “Look At My Window,” but since this one doesn’t break away for solos or build into a rocking pace – it stays the same throughout – it actually feels longer.

“Hiroshima” is a twenty-four minute live monster, and is another track which our man Julian singled out: “Hiroshima promises everything but delivers a massive and unnecessary drum solo for at least half of its length.” Well, that’s a mostly fair assessment. Only the drum solo doesn’t show up until well into the track, and only occupies a few minutes of it. In reality, this cover of the “Made in Japan” track (which itself was a cover/extension of “Satori 3” from the Satori LP) is yet another proto-metal feather in FTB’s cap. Hideki’s got this nasty fuzz-wah effect on his guitar, and the organ’s relegated to a few plunks here and there (actually here it’s a piano), so no worries about it diluting the rock action. The track follows mostly the same path as its studio incarnation, and then around the four-minute mark it opens up into an extended, twenty-minute jam. This starts off well, with (of course) Hideki outperforming everyone with another of his inexhaustible guitar solos. This guy deserves to be worshipped by every would-be guitarist there is. In pure ‘70s tradition this leads straight into a bass solo, and since it’s fuzzed I don’t mind it so much. In fact the bassist leads the group into a frantic, pounding, mantra-like groove which is VERY in the mould of the Satori LP, only Hideki doesn’t take part. At the twelve-minute mark the drum solo appears, and as expected it’s taxing on your patience. It lasts seven minutes. After this the band kicks back in, and a purely Sabbathian vibe is enacted, with some wailing guitar from Hideki, pounding drums, and an overall feel of freneticism – on par with Satori 2, in fact. So yeah, other than the drum solo…the track does deliver on what it promises – imagine a heavier, more rock-centered Damo-era Can performance, only for once actually recorded well, and you’d be close to this live cut of “Hiroshima.”

Yuya Uchida, the group’s vocalist way back in the early days (before they were actually FTB), shows up for a live rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes,” which Julian described thusly: “…a dodgiest of dodgy live version of an unmentionable old 50s rock song.” Yeah, it sucks. Yuya’s vocals are all in English, but he sounds disinterested. Hideki snarls out some great guitar licks, reminding one of the utmost Pagey would give those old ‘50s rockers when Led Zeppelin would cover them at the end of their concerts. One also gets the feeling he (and the rest of FTB) is enjoying the track more than their listeners.

A live-in-the-studio take of “Satori 2” shows up next, a track which Julian Cope didn’t mention in his essay. That’s right – the greatest song from the greatest album this group ever did, extended here to nine minutes, and he didn’t mention it?? Yes, this track is as good as you hope it will be. Hideki’s guitar is note-for-note the same as the studio original, only with maybe a bit more wah-wah. Joe’s vocals likewise are just as high-pitched and dramatic; the band’s on-form throughout. The track proceeds the same as the Satori LP original until about the four-minute mark, where Hideki’s improvisation lasts a few minutes longer, going in different places than the studio version. The pace is also a bit slower, making this a more grooving (but no less evil sounding) take on the song. True, they don’t build up into that fantastic climax of pounding drums and bashed guitar chords as on the studio version, but a more chant/mantra-like feel is accomplished…which is no less affecting. And there’s absolutely no organ to be heard here.

“After the Concert” finishes the album, a seven-minute studio track of pure melancholy. “Beggars Banquet” acoustic strums and warbly, bluesy lead, it makes one wonder if FTB knew this was their last album, and so planned to go out in style? Joe enters with these truly affecting wails, way off in the distance, the sound of an acolyte in some forgotten land calling to his cruel gods. This could technically be labelled a bluesy-type affair, but unlike “Shadows of Lost Days” it’s not a rote experiment in such; rather, it’s filled with emotion and warmth. Actually, maybe it’s more similar to something the Grateful Dead might've attempted if they’d ever gotten their act together in the studio, an organic and earthy celebration that tugs at your emotions and makes you wish FTB would’ve given us more albums.

Necessary? You bet.

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