Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Be-Bop Deluxe—
Futurama


Released 1975 on Harvest
The Seth Man, October 2004ce
Bill Nelson reconvened Be-Bop Deluxe two personnel changes later with the scaled back lineup of bassist Charlie Tumahai and drummer Simon Fox while wasting no time in laying down what would become Be-Bop Deluxe’s second album, “Futurama.” And when I say he wasted no time, I mean it’s with the jaw-dropping confidence of a high class Parisian prostitute clad in nothing but in stiletto heels and ankle-length fur coat flapping in the afternoon breeze as she darts swiftly across the street and into the portal of a beckoning limousine paused momentarily in traffic. He spends most of the duration of this wildly hyperactive LP locked in at a lunatic speed as though fired by the anticipation of some very sweetened pleasure that awaits him upon its conclusion.

Only thing is, there’s a mountain of responsibilities in the meantime: there are many lyrics to be sung; umpteen guitar lines to be played and overdubbed, keyboard accompaniments to be arranged and then played and sensual images to be conveyed. So it would not be beyond a reasonable expectation that chances were slim he’d hit all the right notes, that his brand new band would square off and kick ass nice and proper and that all the above-stated would even be partially realised before the final swan dive beneath the eiderdown to entwine with his beloved other in order to hit the road to petite morte-ville, toot de sweet.

But the amazing part is that he does. Because Nelson was not only a committed romantic, but a multi-tasking fiend, an axe victim supremo of the highest standing order and perfectionist all wrapped into one so that each and every one of his many objectives and obsessions get ticked off in a rapid and economical fashion without a hint of compromise anywhere. And what must have been the ultimate test of endurance, he was able to achieve all this while constantly ruminating over and being inspired by the very object of his affection: celebrating her abstractly, realistically and with every device at his disposal -- especially electric guitar, which is granted place of pride in Nelson’s artistic arsenal and as a result, beaucoup loco guitar is unleashed all over his creation. It breaks out and spreads like uncontained pockets of wildfire that leap and dance miles behind the fire lines and into the dark forest of lyrical sensualities just primed to spark with all that bountiful kindling of desire just laying there waiting to combust (And when it does -- which is often -- it sweeps through a bounty of passages in “Futurama” like the very same firestorm that raged in my heart when I first heard it as a sixteen year old totally in love with a teenage archangel a mere quarter of a century ago. This relationship solidified my growing obsession with Be-Bop Deluxe because even though Bill sure could play a mean guitar, I also took all his romanticism to heart because I felt them all equally as much as every aggravated, toned-to-perfection solo he played. And I have consequently been both crushed into the earth and released into the sky by them both many times over.)

Nelson’s titling of this highly-agitated album continues the guitar-based imagery he had established on Be-Bop Deluxe’s previous album, “Axe Victim” for “Futurama” is a reference to the late fifties/early sixties series of guitars for the budget-conscious, prospective Hank B. Marvin: the Futurama Deluxe (Nelson continued the vibe with their next album, “Sunburst Finish” but for some reason it all ended there before he got around to naming “Modern Music” “Grazioso Mofo” instead.) With that said, the Hipgnosis-designed/George Hardie-illustrated sleeve contrasted with his six string symbolism with an entirely different set of symbols as the front and inner sleeves displayed swans flying high above oblique-angled, aerial cityscapes while a back sleeve shot showed Nelson as Ziggy Scaramouche in harlequin tights handcuffed and in the process of being led off by his two SS-clad band mates -- ostensibly for the crime of being so into his aesthete-laden imagery shot full of rock’n’roll madness’n’moxie that he must either be insane, from Yorkshire, totally Rock or all of the above and thus a danger to himself and the general public at large. Or at the very worst, just being too much of everything to deal with was reason enough to be whisked off by the Dream Polizei.

Then again, Nelson DID dedicate the whole shebang ‘To The Muse In The Moon’ so chances are even he himself suspected he was turning all toons d’lunaire with no hope for anything except his art or at least: that a vacancy at the puzzle farm would not be forthcoming any time soon. But as much as “Futurama” was dedicated to his lunar mistress, Nelson was equally shooting for it with such fucking élan he wound up with a more direct hit than the rocketship in Georges Méliès’ “A Trip To The Moon” -- although instead of horrifically jabbing it in the old glazball, Nelson gentlemanly pummels it insensibly right between the ears with a battery of guitar riffs, cascading arrangements and lyrics that express through deliriums of varying states: love, desire, flight and madness.

This album hits the ground running with “Stage Whispers” and an unmerciful flurry of overdubbed guitar soloing. Excellent. Setting the scene autobiographically much like “Axe Victim” did on Be-Bop’s previous vinyl outing, here Nelson’s new band supply cohesive and rock solid reinforcement to his six-stringed voltage au-go-go. Which is a necessity for both here and the majority of the album are rendered in wholesale tempo switches that run the gamut between ballad and blitzkrieg: One minute, Bill’s got his guitar in a full nelson and the next they’re headlong throughout a variety of passages including a phased swift wah-wah blur, snatches from “Bolero,” a celebratory Caribbean funk rhythm and more. Before you can even question the pastiche of motifs, it’s already over and into the reflective “Love With The Madman,” where for all its crying to the twinkling nighttime sky, Nelson is soon peeling off riff after riff despite (or because of) its overtly balladry. “Maid In Heaven” is a fierce and compact Rocker with so many parts stitched up into a short yet sprawling quilt of riff-ola, every other section sounds like the beginning of the middle bridge instead of just the next chorus until the final, repeated title. And even then, the phased outro keeps you thinking they’re about to go into some far more exploratory passage, but Nelson brought it all down to earth to fit neatly upon one side of a 45rpm disc. The tempo grinds down to a seductive pace with “Sister Seagull,” allowing Nelson’s guitar to wheel, clime and soar throughout the deftly placed call and response between heavy rhythm/light riffing that by dint, design and placement of amplifier, distorted riffs swoop throughout a range of colourations until they finally dissolve into seagull cries as though Nelson’s axe along with his soul “has vanished/with the bird who flies so free.”

“Sound Track” is one of the highlights of “Futurama” because although it’s only a touch over six minutes, it feels like a 20 minute epic with 30 minutes worth of other epics all sounding off at once. For its entirety, Nelson burns furiously DOWN as riff and riff accent every other line until one gets the impression that if it weren’t for all the interrupting lyrics it would otherwise wind up being an excellently distended and ever-reaching guitar solo. This is borne out during the extended instrumental coda, where the overdubbed guitar solo and gong-smashing that ensues is an overdose of everything and a massive tempest all-at-once and gets hammered home relentlessly. And as “lovers bloom and spread” whilst “giving head” it’s so everything-at-once and by-the-way-where’s-the-kitchen-cinque-I’ll-have-that-as-well that it sends me into Giddyland every time. Even though in reality this coda is but 2 minute 10 seconds and is just one rhythm and one overdubbed, near-ceaseless solo guitar over the rhythm section holding their own taut as a canvas for Nelson to gesture upon with bucketfuls of riffing, it sounds for all the world as though there are umpteen guitars in there all going off all at once at top force and agility. And with one of the best recorded gongs in Rock majestically smashing through it time and time again, “Sound Track” lets loose with a grand fury to close the first side.

The second half of “Futurama” opens relatively calmly and jaunty with “Music In Dreamland” and the re-entry of more blazing Nelson fretwork in the offing of this multi-sectioned slab of rockin’ reveries cut cheek by jowl with returning fanfares and expertly sewn together by Nelson’s synthesizer overlays and small clusters of near-maudlin but actually just plain plaintive piano. “Jean Cocteau” simmers down the proceedings to a much needed breather within the confines of a gentle calypso lilt. The drums are dispensed with as acoustic guitar, standup bass and graceful background slide guitar pay homage to Nelson’s main man. By direct contrast, “Between The Worlds” opens with a holler and speeds down the sonic chute towards the album’s finale in the most manic rush of all as it commences with a break-in of somewhere in the area of five different guitars all vying in various configurations of leads, rhythms, riffs and accents that come together as a supremely jagged and ensnaring guitar crossfire. It continually goes tumbling down the nearest ravine, catches itself on barbed wire, dusts itself off, proclaims allegiance to Love with a capital ‘L’ with a string of rapid fire backing “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la”s and clambers up the slope for a repeat performance, heart on fire. It’s so catchy and infectious that an earlier version was released as a single; but it was also so crazy it was withdrawn after being in print for only 24 hours. And in the poetic justice stakes, that’s a pretty singular accomplishment because this song truly IS caught between the worlds of a pop single and the mania of strangulated guitar riffs that superimpose over themselves in a crimson-hued rush hour fury. A final reversed guitar solo and a single gong sounds to signal its abrupt end. As its reverberations resound into the crossfading military snare rolls, we’ve reached the final stage of the album’s quest and drop into the swelling beauty of “Swan Song,” the grand finale Nelson’s been promising all along. Ascending a stairway on descending chords isn’t easy but here it’s effortless. As the piece dilates further and further until it sets off to the heavens on a chariot buoyed up by phasing that ebbs and flows, it’s a killer beyond words...

Airlocked portals swing open between the worlds, between lovers’ hearts and open up into the beyond until finally: all is beauty, perfection and grace itself, with mellotron choirs signaling cob and pen are mates for life.