Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

MU
End of An Era


Released 1974 on Sundazed (re)
Reviewed by Fastnbulbous, 18/06/2000ce


MU were: Merrell Fankhauser (Vocal, Guitar, Bass, Percussion), Jeff Cotton (Vocal, Guitar, Bass Clarinet), Randy Wimer (Vocal, Drums, Percussion), Jeff Parker (Bass), Mary Lee (Occasional Violin)

If you're feeling lost, depressed or brought down by life's humdrum reality, a good cure is to give MU a listen. Much of the music on these pages carries a certain amount of - weight. Which is fine if you want to get out there on the perimeter. What MU does, though, is like a warm gentle breeze blowing through your soul, a spiritual spring clean.

All the members of MU had been in LA pop bands at some time during the early 60s, oriented towards surf with Beatles and Byrds influences. Fapardokly was an album collection of these early efforts released only in LA and copies used to change hands for up to $2000 among collectors, such was the aura surrounding it. Fankhauser was in the Surfaris, and I think it is his voice that can be heard laughing maniacally at the beginning of Wipeout. Cotton landed a gig in Beefheart's Magic Band, playing on Strictly Personal and Trout Mask Replica. Many chapters have been written about the influence of this latter album on rock, one of the most surreal, jagged episodes ever in music, and Cotton was a key part of the creation process.

So … surf meets Beefheart. They recorded a promising first album in LA, then decamped to Hawaii where they embraced a blissed-out lifestyle of vegetarianism, flying saucer watching, study of the lost Pacific continent of MU and creating gentle, organic music. The CD reissue on Sundazed contains the first album, the second, only released locally at the time, plus singles. I'm concentrating here on the second, recorded and released in 1974.

The Land Of Mu starts with Merrell seeing 'eyes watching over me and you', a sub-two-minute introduction to their philosophy. Then we are invited to Make A Joyful Noise, with slide solos and bizzare cooing noises from Cotton. Haleaka La is an instrumental hinting at some of the weirdness Cotton took away from his Magic Band tenancy, soloing on bass clarinet and sliding around some more on guitar. Blue Jay Blue and Showering Rain are more developed songs. Tuneful images of birds in flight and rain on water abound. Beatific, crafted pop ballads all overlaid with that exquisite slide of Cotton's. I Saw Your Photograph doesn't make it for me - too twee by far - but hey, there's twenty songs here. Mary Lee plays wistful violin on the next two ballads. Calling From A Star is the next standout with harmonics and wind effects giving the feeling they are singing from light years away. They belt out Waiting For The Sun a bit harder and we have predictions of aliens, heralded by Halleys Comet, landing here in 1986, to bring in a golden age. Did I miss it?

Who Will Write This Song is still visionary but with a more credible and personal feel. It's one of the standouts of the album, a lyrical gem coupled with one of Cotton's best riffs, conveying a sense of wonder and hope. Daybreak Sunshine and we are back to the far-out again -
'Then a space angel appeared out of the sky
Placed a harp on his knee
And disappeared into the sunset,'
whispers Merrell at the end.

I'm running out of space (and superlatives) and I haven't told you about the next five exquisite opuses (opera?). Just believe me, the album goes from strength to strength. Then there's an interview with the band talking about their flying saucer visions, then Jeff Cottons closer, The Awakening. This poignant instrumental showcases his precise but highly emotional style of slide playing.

This is a quiet, understated, masterpiece of an album. When you tire of feedback, distortion and psychosis, Mu is the place to come. And it all sounds so effortless. Don't be deceived though, there is so much happening in the songs and you will hear something new with every play.

Cotton left to follow Christianity, but still plays the occasional gig in Hawaii. Fankhauser continues a solo career but never recaptured the glory of those Mu days.


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