Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Groundhogs—
Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs


Released 1972 on United Artists
The Seth Man, September 2003ce
“Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs” was the fifth Groundhogs album released on Liberty/United Artists and it concluded the run of the classic trio comprising Tony McPhee, Pete Cruickshank and Ken Pustelnik (Pustelnik left several months after its early ‘72 release) and it was every inch a classic. Following in the established Groundhogs tradition of aggressive, rough hewn playing that nevertheless flowed evenly into a welter of swiftly executed time signatures zigzagging against the speed of sound, or then dropping off entirely as though seeking to disrupt the tempo only never does but kept the beat all at the same time, “Who Will Save The World?” was guided by the splintery SG Gibson guitar playing and songwriting of Tony (T.S.) McPhee.

Just as their previous album “Split” had focused on the psychological ills of the times so did “Who Will Save The World?” set about tackling the major problems facing the world under the guise of comic book super heroes whose abilities to vanquish overpopulation, war, pollution and other such sundry blights on humanity were only matched by their collective musical prowess. It says so when you flip over to the back cover and read the comic panels inked by no one less an artist than ‘The Nefarious’ Neal Adams of DC, Marvel fame:

”It is said in the hall of fame of super-heroes that the rock group GROUNDHOGS might even accomplish more with music than the superhero GROUNDHOGS will, with all their muscle...”

And accomplish they did: stating their case with four tracks per side that all shift in approach and feel ranging from bulky to transcendental, tragic to hopeful and when their slowburn fuses get lit at the drop of a hat, the combustive properties of Groundhogs in heat explode within thickets of clotted bloozy raves and roiling psychic turbulence stabbed by the forked, greased lightning of the counterpointing McPhee guitar throughout. It was also here where McPhee embarked in positioning keyboards to a higher capacity role, which only graced the proceedings in a fashion that wholly integral and complimentary to the proceedings and not just as vogue icing, either. For when the stark and foreboding mellotron piercings appear in the opening track “Earth Is Not Room Enough” a flanking gateway of clouds slowly closes in front of the only patch of blue sky and cuts off the last ray of sunlight forever. What this powerful middle passage snaked out from is a duel between McPhee’s quickly strummed get-up-and-gotcha guitar riff and contrasting riffs chipping away at the atomic centre that the elastic bass and drums plays as tight as possible. Wafting currents of filtered amplifier noise ushers in the mid-tempo death boogie, “Wages Of Peace.” The pace is overburdened by a sackful of trouble in a place where those dark, psychic clouds the mellotron summoned in the previous song have chosen to remain: reducing McPhee to lament defiantly through choking sulfur fumes that there are “so many ways to die...so invent some more” at the tyrannically overcast heavens (as) above, and the polluters (so) below. “Body In Mind” opens with a single guitar brazenly hacking out a saw-toothed riff that is jarring as hell and barges in out of nowhere while daring to go everywhere at once. McPhee gruffly spits out a couplet of hawk-eyed social observation “Greed takes place of trust/love gives way to lust” against an endless supply of multi-tracked guitar riffs that contrapuntally carry and force the melody down a whitewater river to hit every visibly jutting rock at top speed. Cruickshank and Pustelnik contribute to these raging rapids with flexible intensity, maintaining acutely aware to every melodic and rhythmic change. A trapdoor false ending opens, sending the track unpredictably and just as rudely back into the jerking, involuntary response of the opening riff. And with an assembled multitude of guitar tones to choose from what does McPhee do but switch between them all -- all over the place until one of the most complex moments of the album fades off into the howling beyond.

After this trio of apocalyptic vistas a glimmer of hope breaks through with “Music Is The Food Of Thought,” a solemn plateau that is the most reflective moment of the album: especially with its opening of some of the most gently plucked guitar introspective-ness outside of Jimi’s philosophically quiet riffing on “Castles Made Of Sand”. If motivation is the key, then responsibility is the lock and McPhee begins to open the door with the line “We need to trace the source of power and fuse it” just as a choir of dry mellotron chords stab out from behind as though in heralding the positive future expressed within -- not entirely out of reach, only one that requires conscious consideration and effort. Gentle and flutey mellotron melody courses through the background and with sad, lilting tones lays the piece to rest.

“Bog Roll Blues” rolls in lackadaisically with off-beat McPhee lyrics and skewered by a high-pitched slide guitar reminiscent of the same electrified-wire whining violin tones off the first High Tide album as it sits inside a public restroom stall on a miserable and damp Sunday afternoon. It’s as though the entire album is set in a world of eternal overcast, so naturally “Death Of The Sun” breaks in with shimmering, needling textures exquisitely finger-picked on 12-string. It bows out only for McPhee’s vocals which are near-strangulated with all the abusive compression laid upon it, weaving back in to sally forth glitteringly, shored up by further multi-tracked guitar parts that cross-hatch it all together.

A low foghorn harmonium begins pumping out an instrumental rendition of ”Amazing Grace” joined by a bombardment of multi-tracked, wringing of the belaboured McPhee guitar fretboard that pass through a battery of effects like a low-rent production of Jimi’s studio “Star Spangled Banner” multi-tracked extravaganza from “Rainbow Bridge” that somehow maintains the timeless feeling of that soul-searching anthem. It’s usually a radioactive no-man’s zone to tackle any tune of such wide renown (whether “Greensleeves” or “Bicycle Built For Two”) but McPhee’s vision extends itself powerfully into this traditional arrangement and makes it take flight with a strengthened sense of hope, however bruised.

The extended finale of “The Grey Maze” is a whirling, bloozy-asteroid stew of ampli-fried proportioned, and no trails of bread crumbs will help McPhee and his dynamic duo here as they’re plowing straight through the hedges of the vertigo-inducing labyrinth that is modern day life with all the disorientation of viewing four-second highlights of the past year’s news cross-cut with commercials for ten minutes. McPhee rumbles out “somewhere some light is getting through” and that’s when you realise he ain’t never givin’ up the ghost. With the vocals completed, it’s every man for hisself as all breaks loose in an ever-darkening social landscape as the band go whole ‘Hog with celebratory blast-off extemporisations that cut a serpentine path with everything from a 12 foot wide combine-harvester to electric tweezers. Pustelnik’s most punishing percussion bashes away against the blaring blooziness of McPhee’s marvelous musical machinations and Cruickshank’s collectively crushing bass playing for the duration of the track. McPhee’s in the spotlight here and pulls out all the stops as solo upon solo upon every fractured detuned and feedback-ed moment soon demagnetises the improvisation’s compass into every direction at once. This causes massive detours, continual falling into hedges due to all the too-quickly banked turns, trips into gullies of frustration and causing progress to be momentarily slowed by several U-turns in tight cul-de-sacs. But they regroup back at a main junction to search for a better route leading to the exit, and then they’re roaring out confidently at top speed. It takes its time breaking down as seemingly no member will ever cease or desist from squalling; indeed, it takes several yanked flourishes to finally consummate this delirium and draw it to a close.