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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ash Ra Tempel: Starring Rosi


1) Laughter Loving; 2) Day Dream; 3) Schizo; 4) Cosmic Tango; 5) Interplay Of Forces; 6) The Fairy Dance; 7) Bring Me Up.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that this album really «stars» Rosi Müller, who had already been in­troduced to the audience on the previous record and isn't exactly getting that much more prime time on here, except for serving as the band's only representative on the front sleeve. But the title is still not accidental. Starring Rosi was recorded in a transitional stage of upheaval: Schulze, as it turned out, was not interested in rejoining his old band on a permanent basis, after all, and, even worse, bassist Harmut Enke has also jumped ship, leaving Göttsching as the sole founding father of Ash Ra Tempel and the only one to decide whether the band had to live or die.

For a brief while, it had to live — but with Göttsching providing everything he could be able to provide. He rose up to the task, playing guitar and bass and all the electronic and non-electronic keyboards; only for the drumwork he had to resort to hiring an outside player (Harald Grosskopf). And, for some reason, this sudden shift in the levels of responsibility also brought about a signi­ficant change in sound — arguably the biggest single-moment change in sound Göttsching ever went through. A change so strange and utterly unexpected that no accusations of «selling out», «dumbing down», «softening up», etc., which the loyal Krautrock guard sometimes presses aga­inst the album, can really overshadow the plain old weirdness factor.

When 'Laughter Loving' begins with twenty seconds of psychedelically processed... laughter, this is something new (for Göttsching), but not particularly bewildering. Processed maniac laughter is stuff one should always be prepared to meet in «cosmic rock». But as the music kicks in, all of a sudden you realize yourself caught in the midst of a textbook Southern rock jam, with melodic country-folk guitar jamming loaded with the spirit of, say, Allman Brothers' 'Jessica' (which, by the way, had only just come out and, thus, could have easily inspired Göttsching, never an enemy to good old American roots-rock).

Actually, it is a very pleasing and soothing Southern rock jam, even if Göttsching's phrasing can hardly be expected to match the fluidity and ease of a Dickey Betts when it comes to playing this kind of music. And that's how it is with the rest of the record, which keeps moving from style to style without ever producing a single masterpiece, but always bringing on competence and con­tentedness, so that the sum of the parts eventually transgresses their individual worth.

Altogether, even if Rosi's laughter comes off as faux-mystical rather than cheerful, and the rest of her vocal contributions mostly consist of the same sternly delivered otherworldly monologs that distinguished 'Jenseits', the album is overall far more lively and optimistic than the end-of-the-world aura of 'Jenseits' itself. There is 'Day Dream', set in a minor tonality, dark, repetitive, rather simplistic folk with San Franciscan overtones, but its dark does not imply doomsday-dark. There is 'Schizo', with lots of piercing, high-pitched guitar wailing over wah-wah'd electronic bubbles, and multi-tracked banshees (Rosi again?) swooping from above, but that kind of music, too, is just telling you that there's danger around, not an imminent Ragnarök or anything.

There is even a bit of humor — as represented by 'Cosmic Tango', whose music perfectly mat­ches its title — and then, on Side B, almost all of the space is dedicated to harmless magic, cul­minating in 'The Fairy Dance', where Rosi strums a bit of harp and Manuel gives the semi-acous­tic, semi-electronic treatment to trusty old Celtic motives; quite an innovative track, when you come to think of it, considering how little Krautrock people in general usually paid attention to the traditions of their left-bank Gaulish neighbours.

There is no doubt that Starring Rosi is the most immediately accessible record in Ash Ra's cata­log, which does not at all make it, per se, the weakest Ash Ra record — since when have melody and diversity counted as weaknesses? Personally, I think it is a doggone pity that Göttsching him­self decided to pull the plug on this new direction so early, afraid, perhaps, of losing his artistic integrity; his subsequent deep plunge into Electronica had its payoff of beautiful moments, but this here is some fairly exciting, untapped turf for practicing musical synthesis, whereas in the realm of pure electronics the man had himself some strong competition.

I am also completely unaware of what happened to Rosi Müller. Since she is said to have been Manuel's girlfriend, it is possible that the whole point here was to offer her a unique sort of love song. Perhaps they simply broke up somewhere around 1974, with personal problems leading to further musical changes — I was not able to find out. Whatever really happened, it's a really nice record, and a really nice example of how positive feelings towards someone can result in musical magic rather than musical cornball. Not to mention that I'd much rather listen to Rosi Müller speaking over a mu­sical piece than to, say, Yoko Ono singing over one. Thumbs up, for one of the most «atypical swan songs» in a band's career — even if, on a substantial level, it would be more correct to think of Join Inn as the last true «Ash Ra Tempel» record, and interpret Starring Rosi as a time-filling side project in between Ash Ra Tempel's cosmic rock and Ashra's... umm, cosmic soup.

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