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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Amon Düül II: Utopia


1) What You Gonna Do?; 2) The Wolfman Jack Show; 3) Alice; 4) Las Vegas; 5) Deutsch Nepal; 6) Utopia No. 1; 7) Nasi Goreng; 8) Jazz Kiste.

Strictly speaking, this is not an Amon Düül album at all. After a temporary quarrel / split with­in the band, bassist Lothar Meid and producer Olaf Kübler went into the studio on their own, grab­bing some session musicians along the way, to record some of their personal ideas; this «side pro­ject» was ambitiously entitled Utopia (funny enough, the very same year that, in a very different place, Todd Rundgren concocted his own Utopia). However, as the recording went by, the band managed to patch up its differences, and most of the original members (Karrer, Weinzierl, etc.) ended up contributing their services to the album as well, as «guests». Consequently, the record has always been associated with Amon Düül II — and, eventually, in the CD age re-released as credited simply to Amon Düül II, so this is where it fits in the discography.

Overall, Utopia leans even closer to the «accessible» side of the music world than Wolf City; but this does not make it an anomaly in the catalog, because the band's subsequent albums would go on and on «normalizing» the tunes. It is more disciplined and less unpredictable, yes, but the ma­terial is still inspired, turning it all into art-rock of the highest degree. In fact, it may well be the most diverse of all their records — each of the eight tracks is an attempt to work with a different palette. Naturally, some attempts are more successful than others, but I cannot find a single «real­ly bad» or «really boring» track here. See for yourself:

No. 1: upbeat catchy folk-rock with San Franciscan overtones, but denser, thicker arrangements and much more aggressive guitar soloing. No. 2: Dark, quasi-Satanic blues-rock with medieval vocal harmonies, like a black mass for headbangers. No. 3: For the first time ever on a Krautrock album — tender piano-and-flute balladry! Not very memorable per se, but per its uniqueness, de­finitely so. No. 4: Shuffling danceable acoustic guitar, jazzy brass riffs, folksy flute, bluesy elec­tric guitar soloing — 'Las Vegas' has certainly never experienced that kind of cross-genre enter­tainment. No. 5: A re-recording of 'Deutsch Nepal' with weaker, less satisfying vocals — the on­ly blunder on here, although the gothic music is impressive all the same, so no potential complain­ing on the part of those unaware of Wolf City.

The last three numbers are purely instrumental. No. 6: Closest in spirit to old-school Amon Düül, a four-minute psychedelic jam (phasing, looping, echoing, Mellotron clouds, swirling, mind-blo­wing guitar runs, the works). No. 7: Solemn, stately, organ-driven wordless gospel anthem, buil­ding up towards a mighty crescendo — if it weren't so blatantly optimistic in mood, it could have been a masterpiece. No. 8: Someone's been listening quite heavily to Bitches Brew, so it seems. Snuck this thing on any Miles Davis album from his «fusion» period and most people will pro­bably not notice the difference.

Hopefully, this brief description will suffice to stimulate interest. There is no such internal cohe­rence here as there used to be, and I wouldn't say that the sum of it all could be greater than its parts — the «Sci-Fi Babylonian» aura of Wolf City has mostly dissipated — but, basically, around 1973 Amon Düül II were on such a roll that they could simply do no wrong, not even when left unguided by conceptual ideas. Utopia may not blow your mind, but it is one fabulous way to keep it entertained. Thumbs up.

Check "Utopia" (CD) on Amazon

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