Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Amon Düül II—
Vive La Trance


Released 1973 on United Artists
The Seth Man, January 2004ce
Underlining an evolution not only from album to album but from song to song, “Vive La Trance” was Amon Düül II’s final album on United Artists -- which when you consider the collected works of Can, Hawkwind, Groundhogs (and I admittedly do all too often: even down to noting the similarities of the space metal logos adorning both “Vive La Trance” and Groundhogs’ “Hogwash” LP, for starters) is generally the point where one must draw the demarcating line between music that is life-changing to music that just rearranges the furniture and sends you a bill; music that is the difference between kissing your aunt on the cheek and planting one squarely on your spiritual sister’s lips. Whether it was a cultural or political shift or just a different choice of drugs are valid enough points to see that by 1973 something in rock music had already changed for the worst: progressive rock was already failing to live up to its name, psychedelia was already passé, country rock was a carny shuck so lame (and just one haircut away from Nash Vegas) that if Hank Williams was alive to hear it, he woulda blown six clean holes in its head before it dropped to the ground whimpering the first line of “Desperado.” Funk was by and large faring no better, having already smoothed out most of the elements out of its lust-o-rama sex grooves into a veneer of glossy ‘dating do’s and don’ts’ while hard rock was already taking the brown nose-dive into the depths of boogie and formulaic posturing. Seemingly, reggae was one of the few forms that was keeping its integrity, with an unswerving devotion to kick starting every song with the same snare roll while singer/songwriters were rife: espousing songs that were either veiled gripes against David Geffen or the usual soft ballad tripe dressed up by the same rotating group of LA session heavies that made it all sound like it emanated forth from the same cocaine cocoon factory...which it so obviously was.

Most of the problems then (as now) resulted from nothing less than a very extensive LACK OF HUMOUR and what little of that being utilised seemed to be near exclusively by glam rock (and occasionally, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.) So it was very odd indeed that no less a band from West Germany would be getting in on the act of tarting up and showcasing their own insane take on current trends through the well-honed and well-horned guitar-based moves of glam rock as it smacked straight up against their remaining acid-anarchic flashbacks. But then again, Amon Düül II were a freewheelin’, expressive band that were too crazy to give up the ghost just yet and “Vive La Trance” was their very last stand of freakery (a particular department that the original Düül Eins were responsible for starting way back in ’68.) Tenacious enough to sustain continual personnel transfers while assimilating a variety of contemporary fads while collecting it into an LP where they dished out one hella cannibalised assemblage of progressive rock, ballads, acid rock and even reggae and pre-punk moves as it hurtled recklessly through that air-locked, numbing corridor of mid-seventies stasis already on the rise. And while “Vive La Trance” is a stylistic mess, it was an enthusiastic one perfectly rendered into a robust offering that still managed to sneak in a few lysergically-tinged moments and even one outrageous eight-minute blitz-out.

The scornful laughter emanating forth from F.U. Rogner’s VCS3 threads through “Morning Excuse,” an unromantic morning after dismissal complete with (I think) John Weinzierl’s vocals alternating between both disdainfully fickle guy and weepy woman and it would be vicious if not for its hilarious ladies mimicry. “Fly United” doubles the pace with the roaming and underrated bass structures of new recruit, Robby Heibl. With lyrics by Falk-U Rogner, “Jalousie” sees the entry of vocalist Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, but at a range far higher than she ever had or would again, sounding for all the world like a teenaged Kate Bush gazing dreamily through her bedroom window on a rainy Sunday afternoon without pot. Majestic, watery organ tones part the opening of the instrumental, “Im Krater Blühn Wieder Die Bäume” (translating into English as “In The Crater, The Trees Bloom Once Again”) as springy jew’s harp synthesiser ping-pongs slowly across a re-fertilising landscape. Leopold’s drumming is sparsely fantastic as only his can be and the phasing upon his cymbals harkens back to an earlier era of Düül Zwei.

Bringing everything to order with a brief passage of sharply struck piano keys enter the album’s highlight, “Mozambique.” Nearly eight-minutes of space rock blitz and the main reason I constantly return to “Vive La Trance.” That fuzztone guitar of Chris Karrer’s has a pair of fangs and is stinking up the place while Weinzierl is no slouch either as his stinging counter pointing takes the piece and makes it soar further upwards. I think it is Leopold hammering the piano throughout as he’s not only credited with piano on the sleeve but it’s being employing more as an instrument of percussion than anything else, Rogner’s electronic applications freely skitter throughout in a manner redolent of Del Dettmar and when it finally fades away, a voice whispers hair-raisingly loud “Unite...and...fight...” that dissolves into echoey stereo panning.

A ghostly wind blows across the introductory harmonium, weightless Hawkwind VCS3 stylings and a stridently robotic pronouncement that cuts off into the main ‘song’ section of Karrer’s multi-/nasal-passaged “Apocalyptic Bore” that alternates between Bryan Ferry-isms (especially with the hilarious delivery of “Even gigantic maniacs were thrilled!” -- Ach du lieber, what a hoot) and some brilliantly twisted guitar soloing torn straight from the sustain-o/drain-o assault of Glen Buxton’s moves on the coda burn out of “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.” The ending guitar solo is also truly splintery psychotic chaos, trailed by F.U. Rogner’s synth as they both fuck off across the sky to somewhere in the far Bavarian distance. “Dr. Jeckyll” (sic) is a pop track with springy synth tones operating as rhythm cheese for this horrifically fuzztoned pop song. “Trap” opens as a remarkably pre-post punk prototype with Weinzierl/Karrer’s needling and brash guitar cross-talking with Renate Knaup’s vocals: which are as fantastic as the lyrics’ hilariously bad translation/inadvertently surrealist/or neither meaning gets nailed down by Leopold’s pummeling floor tom punk timekeeping. Plus, the ever-returning coda riff brilliantly rips for too long perfectly. “Pig Man” was the big single off “Vive La Trance” and its rhythm “She’s A Woman” guitar anchor into a kinda Delaney and Bonnie thing that along with the following track “Manana” are the album’s twin heels of Achilles as the former seeks to project the sort of boogie that would always be found backing Inga Rumpf while the latter’s ‘gone troppo’ moment is about as authentically reggae as Kevin Ayers’ “Caribbean Moon”: although the coda remains weirdly similar in feel to the transcendental coda Mick Taylor record on The Stones’ “Time Waits For No One” of the following year (Recorded in Munich, no less.)

All is redeemed with Karrer’s screamingly Ferry camp-vox and his abrasive rhythm guitar flurry-fluster clusters that rip through “Ladies Mimikry” with a sawtoothed punk edge as the violin in the bridge reprise the same nightmarish sawing that adorned their very first album, “Phallus Dei.” In the coda, Karrer’s overdubbed saxophone blare like Andy Mackay and it’s all clear now: this is unquestionably their take on Roxy Music and a wonderfully jittery, brittle pastiche it is.

If you need a place to start with Amon Düül II, you are better starting off with “Phallus Dei” or “Yeti” than “Vive La Trance” because it’s so highly unrepresentative. But it is a record like none other in their entire discography with qualities that were completely out of character, out of context of their previous outings and a total late-period career curveball unlike any other.