ASHRA: BELLE ALLIANCE (1980)
1) Wudu; 2) Screamer; 3) Boomerang; 4) Aerogen; 5) Sausalito; 6) Kazoo; 7) Code Blue; 8) Mistral.
Another goodie-goodie. With the «disco sucks» movement in full blossom mode, Göttsching decided to cut down on the easy-to-ridicule aspects of his newfound accessible sound, and Ashra's follow-up to the hot funky grooves of Correlations came out in a colder, sterner, but still quite «toe-tappable» casing, which, this time around, took good hard notice of various New Wave-related happenings. Quite content now with following trends rather than setting them, Belle Alliance still set out another good example of how to follow trends in style, instead of unveiling yourself as a pitiful lapdog, whining for a bite, or, rather, for a buck.
The album, sort of returning to the old Ash Ra Tempel tradition, consists of a «hard» and «soft» side, which few people will be able to enjoy in equal doses. Predictably, my sympathies strongly veer to the «hard» side, with an overall irresistible punch, lots of stylistic diversity, and some terrific guitar soloing. 'Screamer', in particular, is a heck of a screamer, chasing along at super speed like a respectable punk number (there is even a «chainsaw buzz»-style rhythm guitar track) with some accompanying mock-shouting, until midway through it gives way to Göttsching's flashy astral-rock guitar, sometimes issuing bursts of speedy psychedelic licks, sometimes melting in a sea of distortion and feedback, more often doing both at the same time. (Should be listened to at top volume in headphones; chances are the ground will disappear from under your feet).
Following it up, 'Boomerang' may be one of the finest examples of guitar playing over a reggae rhythm base — especially since Manuel changes keys several times throughout the track, going from Caribbean to pop-rock to country-blues stylistics and back. But the best build-up is on 'Aerogen', which begins as a set of electronic loops, then slowly grows itself a funky foundation, and finally becomes a lightning-speed rock anthem with a crisp, fiery rock'n'roll solo. All of these are simply exemplary examples of intelligently imagined kick-ass instrumental pop music — in my humble opinion (but don't tell anyone), beating out quite a few much better known «masterpieces» of fusion, Santana-rock, and suchlike.
Side B is mainly dominated by the snowy majesty of 'Code Blue', whose primary «gimmick» consists of gradually, almost unnoticeably, transforming from a pre-Bach-oriented church organ instrumental into a contemporary electronic ambient landscape. The landscape has some dynamic aspects to it — over time, Manuel adds extra synth layers and percussion — but overall, little change is in vogue until the track, without interruption, seagues into the optimistic/romantic coda of 'Mistral', where Göttsching's guitar is eventually used in the spirit of Santana (but, of course, with Manuel's own playing technique). All of it constantly goes from pretty to majestic or vice versa, but suffers from the usual flaws of ambient — too thin density of cool ideas per minute to let you override the drowsiness effect. Will certainly be your favourite of the two sides, though, if you are one of the drowsy types.
Altogether, the album is such an obvious thumbs up that Göttsching's subsequent decision to pull the plug on Ashra as a studio team (he still continued touring with Ulbrich and Grosskopf for some time after that) is quite surprising. Ashra's official site claims that the man was «fed up with the corporate music industry business» — quite odd for someone whose albums never showed the least sign of the music industry business people's interfering or tampering with any of his work. (Unless, of course, it eventually turns out that it was the record industry people who forced him to turn to funk and disco in 1979 — for which I'd like to thank the record industry people).
Whatever be the real reason, nothing further was heard from Ashra throughout most of the decade — then again, considering that the decade was the 1980s, perhaps we should not feel too sorry about that. In any case, the German musical scene at the time was not the best place to behold. Just imagine a collaboration between Ashra and... uh... Modern Talking?
Check "Belle Alliance" (CD) on Amazon