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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Al Kooper: A Possible Projection Of The Future


AL KOOPER: A POSSIBLE PROJECTION OF THE FUTURE/CHILDHOOD'S END (1972)

1) A Possible Projection Of The Future; 2) The Man In Me; 3) Fly On; 4) Please Tell Me Why; 5) The Monkey Time; 6) Let Your Love Shine; 7) Swept For You Baby; 8) Bended Knees; 9) Love Trap; 10) Childhood's End.

Years later, Kooper himself acknowledged that this album came out as a «colder» experience than usual, ascribing it to heavy use of synthesizers. He may be partially right about it, too: there is quite a bit of freezing machine sound here, although, for the most part, Kooper is able to master the electronic beasts just as effectively as Pete Townshend and Stevie Wonder were doing at the time. The real problem, however, runs deeper than that.

Synthesizers or no synthesizers, there is simply a lot of gloom on this record. It started life as a conceptual thing, dedicated to issues of time and aging — hence Al's creepy «projection» on the front cover (fortunately, as of 2010, he looks much better than the plastic zombie on the sle­eve) — then lost track of the concept, but preserved its rather pessimistic spirit. 'A Possible Projection Of The Future' winds the record up on Al's most depressed note since 'I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know', but if Blood, Sweat & Tears managed to uphold a solid balance between pain and joy, this record is far more pain than joy. The above-mentioned synthesizers quickly set up a half-winterish, half-nightmarish setting, over which Al superimposes sad piano chords and almost tragically plaintive vocals: "You never know who your friends are / 'Til they don't come around no more".

Add to this a hearty "No one gives a fuck when I'm singing" and you're done – the cultured public was still reeling from John Lennon's use of the F-word on 'Working Class Hero'. On the other hand, given the generally low sales for most of Al's albums, no one really gave a fuck when he was singing, so that this should rather be judged as a sign of heavily getting into character than a smartly calculated public gesture. And it is nowhere near as memorable, per se, as the thunderous threatening piano/strings/synths coda to the song.

The rest of the tunes follow the usual pattern of mixing unpredictable covers with unpredictable originals, and it is generally the covers that alleviate the heavy mood: almost saccharine-sweetly done versions of Dylan's 'The Man In Me' and Smokey Robinson's 'Swept For You Baby', with Al trying out his falsetto range on both; since they are not altogether different from the sources, they cannot rank with his finest, but Al's ability to combine sweetness with taste does not betray him on either of the tracks. Jimmy Cliff's 'Please Tell Me Why' fits in better with the gloomy parts of the album — and fattens up the original with several layers of those chilly synths and strings that provide it with a useful extra dimension or two.

Meanwhile, the originals, one after another, keep dealing with the side effects of broken love af­fairs: after the anthemic, but seemingly not too self-certain 'Let Your Love Shine' (which, strange enough, borrows its main hook from 'Brainwashed' by the Kinks), 'Bended Knees' has the prota­gonist prostrate in a weeping prayer, and 'Love Trap' has him going unquietly mad, with what sounds like backward recorded sitars symbolizing his wrecked state of mind during the tumultous race-to-the-end. Each single moment is utterly believable — Kooper's ability to translate soul torture into sound is still his main attraction.

A Possible Projection is certainly not the proper place to start exploring Al: it is better to arrive at it chronologically, with the darkness and depression offering a sharp contrast to the brightness and joviality of what used to be. It is, no doubt, tempting to try to attach it to the «hippie disillu­sionment» of the time, but, truth is, that sort of crisis had already struck musicians at large two years earlier, and it is safer to assume that Al was going through some personal rough times — and even safer to assume that he wasn't. But it's certainly more exciting to assume that this is a troubled album made in troubled times by a troubled spirit, and its title track at least is perfect lis­tening for anyone in dire need of a good wallop of self-pity. Thumbs up as usual.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for introducing me to Al Kooper (the guy I formerly only knew as the bloke who played the organ on "Like a Rolling Stone"). His solo career really is something to dig into, and is massively eclectic and, thus, constantly intriguing to listen to.

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