ASH RA TEMPEL: SEVEN UP (1972)
1) Space; 2) Time.
The most famous bit of info here is that Seven Up was a collaboration between Ash Ra Tempel and Timothy Leary — and that the title honours a particularly memorable experience of spiking the band members' 7-Up drinks with acid (no idea if it is true). It is also the most useless bit of info, because little good usually comes out of collaborations between musicians and their non-musical gurus (who normally happen to be tonedeaf), and Seven Up is no exception.
Not that I have a clear understanding of what Leary's exact contributions to the album actually consisted. He is supposed to «vocalize» on some of the extended passages, and he may be responsible for some or all of its «concept»; but other than that, putting his name on the front sleeve alongside the band's own moniker must have been more of a general homage thing than anything else. If the concise message is that, without Timothy Leary, there would have been no Ash Ra Tempel, I can understand it. At the very least, even if Seven Up is quite far removed from the greatest Ashra experience ever, at least the acid guru's guest spots do nothing to ruin it.
The first side of the LP is, overall, more accessible, but also slightly less interesting. It is a splicing of several «normal songs», recorded in a rather generic blues-rock vein, but sewn together with psychedelic noises, cosmic announcements, and electronic stardust. 'Downtown' is almost pure 12-bar blues, whereas 'Power Drive' is more like your average garage extravaganza, and 'Right Hand Lover' is Canned Heat-style boogie-blues. The idea may have been to play all this stuff while being on acid all the time and see what happens.
Well... if so, there is no better confirmation to the fact that the best psychedelic music actually comes from a completely drug-free conscience, rather than a chemically altered one. Because the psychedelic processing is mostly boring, and, sacrilegious as it may sound, I'd rather just hear Göttsching play straightforward blues-rock, because already the self-titled album showed how competent he was in that department.
Or, perhaps, considering the titles of the tracks, this is an intentional sly hint at how utterly unfascinating the concept of «space» is next to that of «time». Because Side B is where it's all really at — a long, drawn-out, half-raga-like, half-ambient meditation, not as otherworldly magical as 'Suche & Liebe', but very much in the same vein, like a series of interchanging lullabies, each disseminating its own mood: some scary ones, to frighten you off to sleep, some majestic ones, to awe you into sleep, and some trance-like, to freeze you with your eyes open when all else has failed. Then it all ends in a fizzly cloud of white noise which may symbolize the relativity and the true static nature of time as such. Or it may simply be a case of somebody forgetting to turn down the controls at the end of the session.
Göttsching's playing skills are not as well displayed on this record as they are on the ones that surround it; Leary's presence is not annoying, but hardly necessary; and whatever idea could govern the building of 'Space' wasn't a very good idea. For all these and possible other reasons, Seven Up is a relative failure, a bit of a misguidance in an otherwise well-designed program of conquering the world. But even as one of those big whoppin' question marks, or silly dead ends, it remains curious enough for me not to want to downgrade it.
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