AMON DÜÜL II: ALMOST ALIVE (1977)
1) One Blue Morning; 2) Good Bye My Love; 3) Ain't Today Tomorrow's Yesterday; 4) Hallelujah; 5) Feeling Uneasy; 6) Live In Jericho.
I am not quite sure what kind of hole would be ready to accommodate this pigeon. Technically, it is even less of a «sellout» than Pyragony X. The compositions are longer, the melodies less trivial, meek attempts at sounding «rootsy» mostly purged. But even if we manage to call this stuff «art-rock», what consolation would that give? My ears only hear a band that has completely lost its original vision, and is now blindly struggling to find a new one, with no success whatsoever. Almost Alive? Frankenstein-style, you mean?
The marginally new direction that the band, here represented by the exact same lineup as in 1976, sets out to explore is funk, which, at least on one track ('Hallelujah'), veers dangerously close to disco. It is as if someone in the group had become a major fan of George Clinton — or the Average White Band, because, although there is a big difference between the two, it's not like it matters for Amon Düül II, a band that could do many things, but hot syncopated grooves were never among them. This takes care of about half the album: 'One Blue Morning', seven minutes of boring riffage that neither rocks nor makes you want to dance; 'Good Bye My Love', which sounds like a cross between the Bee Gees and Boston-style arena rock; and 'Hallelujah' — danceable, but why should anyone, way back in 1977, prefer to dance to Amon Düül II when you could have Donna Summer and Boney M all to yourself?
The two soft-prog mini-epics are nothing special as well. This is simply not this band's emploi, never has been. Renate is not here to trigger the band's psycho-folk inspiration channels, and the dark Gothic blasts are equally a thing of the past. What we get is just more substandard riffage, autopilot-mode Moog solos, and, in the case of 'Tomorrow's Yesterday', an attempt to mount an Anthemic Progressive Coda, with grand piano, swooping strings, and choral vocals, which could be resonant if only the actual song to match it were of any value. As it is, it's an anthem to nothing, hopelessly lost in the din.
Thus, the only track of passable interest to hardcore fans of the band would be 'Live In Jericho', on which, for the last twelve minutes, the band decides to try and go back into «improv» mode, the way they used to cut it seven years back. Even then, they all but kill off the initiative by beginning the track with a drum solo (remember that classic Düül valued democracy way too much to ever allow their drummer a moment of self-indulgence), and only somewhere around the six-minute mark start barely recapturing bits of former glories. Even then, there is too much generic guitar and keyboard wanking to finish the recapturing properly.
In short, consider me stumped, because I have no idea why on Earth a band as original and inventive as Amon Düül II would one day decide that they'd rather be a combination of Funkadelic, Boston, and ELP instead. Almost Ridiculous would be a far more precise title for this record — «almost», because most of the tracks are pulled off with just enough competence so as not to sound like parodies. But in such cases, «awful» records at least may leave an imprint in the mind: Almost Alive, tottering on the lowest rungs of «simple mediocrity», is not guaranteed to produce even that effect. BORING! Thumbs down. (And let's not even talk about the album cover — their silliest one to-date).
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