ASHRA: CORRELATIONS (1979)
1) Ice Train; 2) Club Cannibal; 3) Oasis; 4) Bamboo Sands; 5) Morgana Da Capo; 6) Pas De Trois; 7) Phantasus.
Although this is hardly a «masterpiece» of the jaw-dropping variety, it is still one of the most unusual records of its era. Recruiting keyboardist Lutz Ulbrich and drummer Harald Grosskopf, Göttsching goes back to band format — for a good reason. Blackouts showed that he was quite capable of producing a multi-layered art-rock record on his own, but the idea of Correlations required extra people, and he got himself some good ones.
From the most obvious point of view, Correlations is a hands-down sellout. Its rhythmic base is «generic» 1970s funk, frequently rolling on to disco; and, normally, if you were an art-rocker, recording of even one disco number around 1977-79 could mean brutally sodomizing your credibility. (The only thing that could be worse was putting a photo of your hairy chest on the front sleeve). Clearly, it did matter to Manuel how many copies his albums would sell. Or did it? Because, in reality, he was running a serious risk here — he could have easily alienated Ashra's veteran fans without recruiting any new ones: after all, what would motivate lovers of Boney M to spread their adoration onto something as odd as this?
Regardless of Göttsching's original purpose, though, Correlations is a delight. Art rocker going disco? Why not, if he does not cease to be an art rocker? What Göttsching does here is simply transpose his usual schtick («cosmic rock») onto a bedrock of popular rhythms. If anything, it can pass off for subtle irony: using a generic, lightweight foundation to support complex sonic landscapes. A «dance album» poking fun at the dance generation — or, at the same time, an «art album» poking fun at the snobby art-rock crowds. Whichever way you want to turn it, it all works.
Actually, while listening to the last track, 'Phantasus', I realized that the closest analogy would, of course, be Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick In The Wall' — a much better known attempt at merging «artsiness» and «disco» that managed to become a critical and commercial success without sabotaging the band's reputation. Ashra, unlike Pink Floyd, make no simplistic social statements (to make a statement, they'd at least need to hire a vocalist), but in terms of sheer tenseness and power, the guitar playing on 'Phantasus' is not significantly below Gilmour's solo on 'Brick'. Not as tightly focused, perhaps, preferring to weave loops and coils around your brain rather than bulldoze it like mad, but this only means that, someday, you might get tired of 'Brick', and that'll be the day when you might be happy to pick up 'Phantasus' instead.
Or almost any other one of these tracks, for that matter. 'Ice Train' honestly does sound like an ice train, moving through fields of snow at a steady set rate as grim synthesized choruses and robotic funky solos swoop around it: danceable and evocative at the same time (or at different times if you cannot combine body and mind activity). The rhythm section of 'Club Cannibal' would be greatly appreciated by any sleazy Eurodisco act — but I am not sure whether they would have taken all the accompanying sonic noise, ranging from astral bleeps to jazz-fusion soloing.
Speaking of fusion, I would actually take Correlations, disco rhythms and all, over a great deal of «classic» instrumental fusion albums, all of which it easily beats in terms of direct entertainment, diversity, and a certain «sense of purpose». (It doesn't beat them in terms of «flash», but that's actually a good one for the critic — nobody would accuse Göttsching of «pretentiousness» or «self-indulgence» corrupting the rock'n'roll spirit, etc.). A few of the grooves are overcooked (the 8-9 minute length for 'Ice Train' and 'Pas De Trois' is a bit too much; everything works fine when centered around the 5 minute mark), but, in compensation, each of the grooves is different: the moods they create are notoriously hard to describe, but they never repeat each other.
Keep in mind that already the next album would be significantly divergent in style, too. It may not be the best sound in the world, but nothing really sounds like Correlations — the «Tony Manero In Outer Space» album. Thumbs up, of course. Even if the record's historical significance is thoroughly undermined by the fact of no one remembering about its existence, that does not stop it from being an exotic aural delight for ages to come.
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