Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Groundhogs - Solid

The Groundhogs
Solid


Released 1974 on wwa
Reviewed by petew, 26/07/2009ce


THANK CHRIST FOR THE BOMB and SPLIT always get all the plaudits as the 'Hogs finest moments, but for some reason SOLID seems to have fallen off the radar. For me though it matches anything Tony (TS) McPhee ever commited to vinyl and is sonically more interesting than those two aforementioned stellar examples of heavy pysch blues .

SOLID is a psyched-out yowl of existential despair, and sees Tony making some of the most adventurous music of his career, perhaps aside from proto electronica suite The Hunt which takes up the whole of side 2 of TWO SIDES OF TONY TS MCPHEE, (hmmm, in the wake of SPLIT,schizophrenia is revisited again metaphorically speaking , with one side featuring some delta blues stylings and analogue synth shronk on the flip). However, 2 SIDES remains possibly one of the more forgettable entries in the McPhee canon.

Tony generally had a thematic thing going on throughout each album, THANK CHRIST FOR THE BOMB (war), SPLIT (mental illness, alienation) HOGWASH (murder, man's baser instincts, drugs), WHO WILL SAVE THE WORLD (uh, war again, pollution, over population), so by the time TS came to record SOLID all this bad shit must have really got to him, the HOGS weren't going to save the world, in fact it's 1974 and we are all fucked, this is some heavy post 60s comedown reality and then some...

Here's a lyrical sample from SOLID of where Tony' head was at...

"The earth is dark as black as the skies,no sound all around, my ears are filled with a constant pounding, lead me away, from, all this death and decay" from Light My Light

Sad go round is an alternative take on a Ray Bradbury' novel SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES where riders on a fairground get younger as the ride progresses, naturally Tony imagines a merry go round in which people get off the ride suffering from a feeling of shall we say...nothingness.

"Let me take you on a sad go round, in the twilight zone, hear the mournful sound of the carousel and the calliope where you lose your will and abandon hope".

In Snowstorm we find Tony considering... "death is no colder than the night, and I don't know how quickly it will come" ...

jeez!!

The music is housed in a curious sleeve, a simple idea, but weirdly bleak, the band are sitting against a whitewashed wall, looking a bit remote, with just a plug socket for interest and there is a real hierachical thing going on, Tony is sitting on a big chair, with long time compadre Pete Cruickshank reduced to sitting on the floor, whilst newcomer drummer Clive Brooks from clever clogs Jazz Proggers EGG gets the next best chair. Pete later complained he thought this was more of Tony solo album, and maybe he does look a bit pissed off that Tony took over bass on duties on some of the album! Of course Clive was probably taking precendence over Pete with the chairs because he knows more about playing in odd time signatures.

On the rear of the sleeve, we have the same shot sans the band, just the vacated chairs and space, not long after this album the band ceased to exist, how prescient.

Musically, the album was a bit of a departure from previous albums as Tony was keen to experiment, increasing using mellotrons and special effects courtesy of a box of electronic trickery, namely a synthi hi-fli which had an impressive compliment of effects including a ring modulator, phasers and wah wahs. The album was recorded with a curious trebly feel and with lots of speaker to speaker phasing, giving the listener a feeling of falling into a swirling wash of sound. Tony's earthy bluesy vocals sounding like they've been put through a vo-coder!

Highlights include opener Light My Light featuring a nagging riff and some stabbing mellotron, in fact TS's spare deployment of the mellotron adds some great light and shade throughout the album, which makes a refreshing change for an instrument responsible for the more shocking excesses of prog rock. Two singles were plucked from the album Sins of the Father (a wordplay on CHICORY TIPs less than fabulous hit) and Sad Go Round could have both been hits in a parallel universe. Album closer Jokers Grave featuring some severely warped synth makes for the only possible conclusion, the final kiss off from TS is in Jokers Grave "It isn't you that killed me but you sure lent a hand, bury me in a joker's grave".

That proved to be the band's swansong.

With less of the bludgeon rifforama that marked earlier albums and with TS experimenting more with new sounds this meant that the rest of the band became increasingly alienated in the studio and with record company and management problems, the band split, disillusioned.

TS brought the Groundhogs back to life briefly after considering a Rory Gallagher style solo career, but his stock had fallen, so with a brand new four piece the Hogs brand was brought back to life for another stab at stardom. By 1976 lets face it, nobody seemed to be capable of making a decent record and after two more so-so albums in that year the band split again. Then punk rock broke...ironically putting a lot of bands on the dole.


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