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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Tomorrow Belongs To Me


THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME (1975)

1) Action Strasse; 2) Snake Bite; 3) Soul In Chains; 4) The Tale Of The Giant Stone Eater; 5) Ribs And Balls; 6) Give My Compliments To The Chef; 7) Sharks Teeth; 8) Shake That Thing; 9) Tomorrow Belongs To Me; 10) To Be Continued.

This is probably the most Zappa-like album ever recorded by the band — in light of the presence of unpredictable multi-part whacko stories like 'The Tale Of The Giant Stone Eater' and the big fan favorite 'Give My Compliments To The Chef'. Thus it will have the most appeal to those who appreciate the zany theatricality of Harvey, but may cause a slight fall off for those (like me) who only appreciate it as long as it's propelled by the musical skills of Clemenson.

Not that the latter aren't evident on here, but the balance is clearly tipped in favor of Alex, with Zal stepping somewhat out of the way; he is felt throughout, but not always heard. The only Big Riff, for instance, that manages to be memorized after a bunch of listens is the one that drives 'Snake Bite' — and only because it's a clever variation on the riff of 'Whole Lotta Love'. But even on that track, as well as most others, the band is downplaying their hard rock component and con­centrating on a mixture of vaudeville, art-pop, and basic barroom brawl instead. ('Ribs And Balls' is the lone exception, but it's just a small interlude between the "epic" compositions).

Therefore, to truly love this album, you must truly love 'The Tale Of The Giant Stone Eater'. It isn't catchy, its several sections aren't particularly wonderful in the melody department, and the whole "rock theater" schtick isn't even novel any more. But the band still manage to gather them­selves and give Harvey's over-the-top delivery of this harrowing tale of stone shortage and dying trees a properly over-the-top musical backing. The odd truth is, this should probably be seen ra­ther than heard, but no footage of any live performance has surfaced, nor can this be found on any live album — so I'm not even sure it was ever performed live. It's odd, and it requires a seriously acquired taste to be loved.

The other piece on here which clearly contains a chunk of Harvey's soul is 'Give My Compli­ments To The Chef'. It's more solid dynamically, slowly unwrapping from a quiet electric piano led dirge to all-out rock fury, stuffed with obscure, Dylan-style, lyrics ('Leo sits behind the desk, he wanna see the woman cooking gravy, nobody sent no argument and I gotta go and join the Royal Navy') and "progressive" synthesizer squeaks and bleeps. It's meaningless if you try to take it apart, but somehow works when strung together, like the last desperate rant of the seasoned madman, driven to the very brink of existence by our nice society.

And only a seasoned madman, I guess, would want to end the album with a completely straight­forward, dead-on serious rendition of 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me', a song which unsuspecting fans could mistake for an honest, heartfelt attempt to recreate the serenity and solemnity of 'Anthem', but also one which those who are aware of its true origins might be appalled at (if you happen to be in the first category, it's a great stimulus to check out the pleasures of Cabaret). It is rumored that Harvey allowed himself to appear on the German stage dressed up as Hitler, and this is just another bit of uncomfortable titillation that the man thrived upon. You'll find it either fascinating or disgusting, but, in all cases, thought-provoking.

My gut reaction is that Tomorrow Belongs To Me, with its heavier than usual emphasis on the Show rather than the Music, is a notable step down from the previous trilogy of albums; but it is still consistently interesting, and, given that my brain respects it more than my heart loves it, I'd like to give it an intellectually-motivated thumbs up with the possibility of further warming up to it in the future. But experience tells me there'll always be unusual individuals in all corners of the world that would be simply delighted to hum 'The Tale Of The Giant Stone Eater' in the shower, so, all you unusual individuals, this one's for you!

1 comment:

  1. "It is rumored that Harvey allowed himself to appear on the German stage dressed up as Hitler" - yes he did. I saw them live in the late 70s - they played all songs of the 'Live' album. During Vambo he picked fans to come and stage and sign the Vambo book - and 'Framed' he dressed as Hitler and cleverly played on the words of the song - 'I was framed...'. He would ask us who we believed - him or the band. Great! We loved him.

    Cheers Brett

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