Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Polite Force

Released 1970 on Deram
Reviewed by Lugia, 19/01/2004ce

Egg: "The Polite Force"
Deram DES 18056, recorded/released 1970

1) A Visit to Newport Hospital (8:25)
2) Contrasong (4:21)
3) Boilk (9:23)
4) Long Piece No. 3 (20:42)

Sitting on the cusp between psychedelia and prog, we find Mont Campbell, Dave Stewart (not the Eurythmics one, fyi) and Clive Brooks. A trio of bass, keyboards and drums, otherwise known as Egg. This is some fine stuff if you're into good prog, to be honest...very unsung, not at all well known these days. And the unusual instrumental combo does make for some interesting sonic surprises...

Starting with "A Visit to Newport Hospital", with its fuzz-tone organ of doom...VERY heavy...which resolves into some of the finest jazz-colored and improv-laced playing you might be able to get your hands on. The bridge here is quite intense, with nods to jazz and to a harder rock style all at the same time. The versatility of playing on this one track alone is a standout, and Stewart hands in solo organ-fuzz lines that SEEM like guitar...but on closer examination, they most certainly aren't. Lots of playing around with the time and tempo in here, too...plenty to keep the most seasoned prog-heads happy.

"Contrasong" is this weird rollicker with added horns and this tricky time-shift throughout that messes with you really hard. It's almost Chicago-like...and by that, I don't mean the commercial Chicago, but the strange brew one finds on that first "Chicago Transit Authority" album that was so uncompromising in places. Guaranteed to give drummers aneurysms, this, because the beat is so infectious but at the same time nearly unplayable without serious skills. On this and the previous track, Campbell turns in some very understated vocals...very simply-voiced, but still following the rhythmic and melodic complexity underfoot while nicely-underscoring some introspective lyrical content.

"Boilk", though, is pure instrumental...and very experimental at that. Starting with weird amplified water noises, we're dropped into a tranquil organ-phase drone while chimes and vibes play sparsely. Very proto-ambient at the start, with a psych haze still holding forth as hi-hats go into reverse and a mellotron enters with warpo-pitch classical weirdness. Then it all goes into noise, with something that sounds like a cat walking around inside a harpsichord restrung with rubber bands, more backward piano and drum tapes, snatches of voices...noisy and weird as damaged feedback electronics start to buzz and hum and echo through the mess rudely. Into this, someone off in the next room starts playing a scrap of a Bach prelude on the organ...sort of, because it's all shot thru with notes that ought not to be there until right at the very end. This piece is truly some fine psych mayhem, right up there with Pink Floyd's more troublesome sonic moments in their early work.

The four-part instrumental "Long Piece No. 3" takes over all of side 2. Starting off with a rhythmic scorch right up there with King Crimson in their nastier, harsher moments, we're off with a shot into this strange fray. We then drop into some really difficult stuff...very Stravinsky-like, not unlike some chunks of "Le Sacre du Printemps" in the way it pounds. And then Part 2...into a smoother turf here, more jazz-colored, and really tasteful. At least, for a bit...then we lurch off into weird psych-drone land, with keyboard squiggles and all sorts of avant-garde flavors tossed out. And then we're right back to the jazzy bits, but a bit more edgy this time out. Strange contrast, to be sure. Part 3, though, is more classical-tinged, and Stewart's keyboard work on this section bears a real distinct comparison to what Keith Emerson was up to around the same time. However, unlike Emerson, the theatrics are missing, with straightforward virtuosic playing taking the place of the grandstanding. The end of this is a fine Floydian freakout, with primitive electronic twiddling and heavy fuzz-o-rama. Then the last part takes us back to the Stravinsky-isms of Part 1, with a definite push to a climax. There's this amazing echoed organ solo that is just ALL OVER the keyboard in this for a little while as Campbell and Brooks just thwack away on polyrhythms, then it's back to the dissonance...and it's all over with a big ugly cluster-chord. Whoa... Clearly, this last piece is less about the 'prog' side of things and shows off a strong classical formalism that, in retrospect, helps to ground everything on "The Polite Force". They just make the point a lot clearer here.

Egg's stuff here is a real counter for those who think that all prog has to be this overblown Tolkien-esque fantasia stuff. There are some genuinely noisy moments here, and the range that this trio navigates certainly isn't always one that's sacchrinely nice. As an intellectual exercise, it's quite satisfying...but also as a musical one, as well, and you can't always say that one equals the other. But on this album, it certainly does.

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