Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Groundhogs—
Hogwash


Released 1972 on United Artists
The Seth Man, January 2002ce
In hindsight, “Hogwash” completed an insanely prolific era for The Groundhogs that had begun with their second album, “Blues Obituary” as the experimental angle was pushed even further to the foreground by lead ‘Hog, guitarist/vocalist Tony (T.S.) McPhee as he marshaled a near unwieldy thicket of blistering guitars to dance and melt into the heavy, electronic arsenal consisting of ring oscillators, ARP synthesizers and mellotrons that cast mad prog shadows upon the eight compositions that comprised this furiously borderline progressive album that seethed to the core with personal indignations like so many mad darts flung at one man’s maddening target. McPhee and Pete Cruikshank were joined by ex-Egg drummer Clive Brooks, whose expertise remained intuitively well-placed and -paced within a framework which had been painstakingly rehearsed for three years prior to his joining. And the recorded results were nothing sort of magical.

Side one’s four tracks practically cross-fade together into a singular territory both familiar and alien to previous Groundhogs albums. “I Love You, Miss Ogyny” is where McPhee rails and tosses a load of excess bad vibes and dissatisfaction from his shoulders as his feelings towards a shaky marriage swirl in a demented current of mixed emotions and synthesized vocal treatments as stark as his guitar playing (This subject as well as that of side two’s opening track, “Sad Is The Hunter” would both be expanded into side-long suites for his own conceptually split blues/electronic solo album, “The Two Sides Of Tony (T.S.) McPhee.”) At times the riffing starts to resemble a more nightmarish version of “My Sharona” as all the while, the lead guitar switches back and forth between tightening and ever slackening in a vertiginous venting of symbiosis. So much so that the modulated effect on his vocals (especially on the word ‘love’ in the title chorus) stretches it into a harrowingly bitter sting rather than a human voice. Guitar and a matching, ultra-one finger-plonked bass line finally both fall away in futility as though to echo the failed attempts of reconciliation in a relationship headed for imminent destruction. After a no-man’s land crossing into exactly-when-does-track-two-begin-anyway, the next song “You Had A Lesson” begins when a solo electric riff appears. Then it fades. Then a bass line appears with all the levity of a frowning King Tiger Panzer turret turning slowly towards your general vicinity as McPhee switches into an altogether different and higher-toned riffing like a tauter “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” But with that bass line, even that Panzer’s treads are getting clogged with the very mud of that riff, it’s so fucking heavy and oozing. Soon, McPhee is grimly intoning about someone getting theirs, but not gloating, either. The ensuing snakiness of one guitar line starts to run against the sine wave patterning of the simple though effective rhythm section in a perfect fit with the clean and stainless steel guitar lines. Soon passing overhead this plateau of with the gravity of aligned planetary configurations crests the same deep and darkening mellotron clouds that amass during the first minutes of “Watcher of The Skies.” Oh, time to run far, far away...Once more, the song falls away helpless with a single slide guitar falling off the face of the planet and into the WHHEEZZZZZRRRRFFHHHWWW of “The Ringmaster,” the title a pun on this minute and a half ring modulator and drum freak out that sounds like some interstellar game of pinball as the mega-delayed drum patterning tramples and skitters from speaker to speaker. A far more traditional “1-2-3-4” gets barked out to begin “3744 James Road” (sung as a slurred, run-on “Three seven foh-foh/ jamesa-row” to great effect.) The mid-tempo boogie-ness is interfered with on several different occasions as treated guitar runs ride through with zapping-ness over the durable melody lines as they generally fire off in all directions. Woodier electric guitars were never played nor manhandled as roughly to exact effect as these: strangulated wah-wah, octave-divided feedback, whammy bar ejaculations all shot through this road-weary homesickness. It ends with a slap-back riff that then quietly filigrees, raises in volume and then pitch-controls itself into silence.

Side two begins with “Sad Is The Hunter,” an electrified, lowdown dirty blues with a wah-wah’ed dirt snarl shoehorned into every foreseeable crevice. Concerning itself with the nature of animal hunting and human cruelty, McPhee’s vocals are given a wide, delayed echo treatment upon the last word of every stanza. He seems to take his own advice when he sings “Let music be the hunter/And keep your conscience free” for he lets loose in the instrumental break where as his guitar starts burrowing through the countryside over hill and dale, uprooting everything in its path, burrowing through a mountain of blues and horror to then return with the above-quoted, closing lyric. “S’one Song” may be about as hook-driven as The Groundhogs ever got. A cheering, high-pitched rhythm guitar shored up by Cruikshank’s earth-anchored bass lines are furthered by a battery of ringing McPhee guitar riffs as he growls in his grizzled-gruff, elder geezer voice how he looks to the future as his passel of glum friends only see the glass half empty and draining quickly in their eternal Eeyore-ness. Suddenly, silence. Until a stereo rhythm guitar arpeggio the wrong side of punk cuts enters, chopping everything in its path with all of the vengeance of disfigured, progressive Rock timing. McPhee recounts his past life experiences and concludes “I only know I lead the life I like” right before the gaily/menacingly ARP synthesizer dances around multiple guitar runs until it hits a final, stinging note, stopping dead in its tracks.

“Earth Shanty” opens with the whoosh of passing clouds with only momentary patches of sunlight to filter down from the heavens above, offering only temporary glimpses of new, clear future days. Mellotrons part the waves, wind and fields for McPhee’s heroic “Earth Shanty.” We are in epic, alien territory now with McPhee’s beacon of hope for the future the only guide. Mellotronic strings cut through the attendant synthesizer wind, only to dissolve into a bare, ringing acoustic guitar and a heartbeat of a bass line, soon joined by McPhee’s backward-echoed vocals. Everything is all perched on the edge of hope until it twists into the final, uplifting verses accompanied by a braced-against-the-wind, cello-low mellotron melody as the rest of the band’s instruments fall in gently behind as peaceful reinforcements. McPhee is soon singing about and embracing the moon, the sun and the stars in the firmament above as he directs those who need to “get their priorities straight” and to observe that there are no boundaries but nature in a manner about as straightforward as it is an unboundedly cosmic. Your heart will soar; mine is just thinking about it. The bass pounds behind the high-pitched synthesizer and rocks gently from side to side until it ends with a final acoustic flourish.

The album ends with “Mr. Hooker, Sir John” in praise of The Groundhogs’ own spiritual grandfather, John Lee Hooker. Even without a big ol’ foot stomp, this 12-string solo acoustic blues tips a wide and respectful hat to Hooker, their American bluesman namesake who also provided the earliest Groundhogs incarnation with their first ever recording session.

Tony (T.S.) McPhee had come a long way from scratching the surface of the blues to fashioning it into a creative launch pad into inner space exploration as he sought to refine his own blues by following his own instincts, personal beliefs and fusing them with into ever-soaring guitar to transcend and blur all stylistic differences between mere ‘blues,’ ‘Rock’ or ‘progressive’ into something far more timeless. His own vision of the world, no less: compassionate, righteous and striving ever-upwards and onwards into the future. And “Hogwash” is a projected 21st Century Progressive Blues album yet to be.