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Friday, October 21, 2011

Ashra: Tropical Heat


1) Mosquito Dance; 2) Tropical Heat; 3) Pretty Papaya; 4) Nights In Sweat; 5) Don't Stop The Fan; 6) Monsoon.

For Ashra, the Nineties began with showing us that the Eighties did, after all, exist. Tropical Heat was not released until the dawn of the grunge revolution, but was actually recorded in 1985 and 1986. And it shows. If Göttsching and Co. were a bit too slow to catch on all the latest trends and developments of the club scene, I certainly do not blame them; but Tropical Heat is that one Ashra album for which the use of the term «dated» can only be with a negative twist.

First of all, that is a cheesy album title, and it leads to even cheesier song titles. A mood album about lonesome walks in the desert will, at the very least, bring on visions of Peter O'Toole's blue eyes, but an album called Tropical Heat will, at best, bring on visions of tourist ads. Furthermore, what's the use of building a concept like that on a bedrock of MIDI controllers and similar stuff? How well guaranteed is it that an album like this, lightweight by definition, will turn out to be pleasant to all sorts of ears at all sorts of times, if every now and then you get the feeling that you are listening to a soundtrack for Sexy Beach?

With next to no guitar (except some rather generic Spanish chords on 'Don't Stop The Fan'), big stupid drum machines, and robotic keyboards all along the way, this is not the kind of Ashra you will want to hear if, like me, you have already tipped your hat to their «classic» albums. It is not atrocious, because a lot of work went into it anyhow, and Göttsching, an obsessive perfectionist, would never release an album «just for the money», unless he would be sure it had some value. Each track has its own «tropical» groove, sometimes more than one, and the arrangements are complex enough to ensure that there is always some part to which your ear may latch on without being offended. Yet it still ends up being offended — always.

Thus, the funky arrangement of 'Nights In Sweat', with jangling guitar and pompous fanfares, is the coolest combination on the album; but it is almost killed off by electronic percussion and excessive length. The «Mellotron»-like cooing waves of sound on 'Mosquito Dance' are trance-inducing and lovely, but they only come in very late, on top of all the other keyboard waves of sounds, not worth mentioning — and so on.

In short, Tropical Heat is an okay record that is badly in need of re-recording; it is a bit puzzling, in fact, why Göttsching did not take the chance to re-record it — I am fairly sure that, by 1991, Ashra could make use of far more advanced production techniques than they had at their disposal in the disastrous season of 1985/86. But that's the way it happened, so a thumbs down is im­minent. Final opinion — if you are looking for one Ashra album to skip, skip Tropical Heat. Donate your money to starving Somali pirates instead.

Check "Tropical Heat" (CD) on Amazon

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