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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Amon Düül II: Vive La Trance


1) A Morning Excuse; 2) Fly United; 3) Jalousie; 4) Im Krater Blühn Wieder Die Bäume; 5) Mozambique; 6) Apo­ca­lyp­tic Bore; 7) Dr. Jeckyll; 8) Trap; 9) Pig Man; 10) Mañana; 11) Ladies Mimikry.

Although, after the brief disturbance of the «Utopia» project, the original band managed to re­group and put their troubles behind them, Vive La Trance continues the «normalization» trend that Utopia started. In fact, it more or less finalizes the band's transformation from a «far-out kos­mik rock» act into a «glammy weird-pop» one. No wonder the ratings on prog-related sites usual­ly start plummetting down around this time.

I would say, however, that the major problem about the record is not with individual tunes, but with the album as a whole. Having shortened, «normalized», and diversified their compositions, the band pretty much lost face — without the mystical jungleland atmosphere of the early phase, and without the «Gothic-Babylonian» vibe of the middle phase, the very purpose of their exis­tence is now unclear. Vive La Trance is actually bursting with ideas, but only a few of them are given a fully convincing, well-finalized expression.

The only tune here that should truly deserve «classic» status is 'Mozambique', supposedly dedica­ted to the memory of «Che Guevara avenger» Monika Ertl. After going through a lightweight «doo-wop» opening section, and then a brief folk-rock vocal part, at about 2:35 into the song they hit upon a fast, dense, powerful groove that builds up fat and muscle for a mind-blowing five mi­nutes, during which it rivals, fair and square, everything in the hard-rocking vein they'd ever put on record before — maybe even beats it, because they'd never, as of yet, taken it up at such a fast tempo. This is prime-time Düül blasting for eternity.

The rest is never bad — but always confusing. Why is the ominous syncopated groove of 'A Mor­ning Excuse' so oddly thin, supported only by an occasional annoying croaking noise rather than the band's trademark Inquisitional organ and spooky harmonies? Why does 'Fly United' bring to mind 'Fly Jefferson Airplane' – and not just because of the title? Why does the six-minute 'Apo­calyptic Bore' try so hard to justify the second word of its title, but not the first one — and why does the vocalist attempt to sing like Bob Dylan? Why is there a catchy, but pointless garage ro­cker about Dr. Jeckyll? Why is there another pointless garage rocker ('Pig Man') that is taken in a slightly more comic manner, so it sounds like The Lovin' Spoonful instead of The Who? Why does 'Ladies Mimikry' make me suspect that they'd liked the first two Roxy Music albums?..

On an even odder note, how come Renate's vocal spotlight 'Jalousie' sound like early Kate Bush five years before anyone could ever get the chance to learn about Kate Bush?..

Of course, let the fact that I am asking all these questions not lead you into mistakenly assuming that Vive La Trance is a poor record, undeserving of your attention. Most of these songs are fine enough — more often than not, saved by intelligent melodic twists, professional arrangements, and plenty of energy. It's just that the band does not seem to have enough confidence in itself to try and go for their own White Album: as diverse as the record is, most of the arrangements are still made in the «Amon Düül II spirit». Basically, if you really want to do stuff like 'Pig Man', just don't put it on the same LP with 'Mozambique', guys — your sense of humor and/or integrity isn't that strong.

Other than that, a fine piece of entertainment. So 'Fly United' is 100% derivative; that does not mean it cannot be evocative and transcendent, with all these pianos and violins and desperately aggressive electric guitar solos. Also, check out the colorful power pop guitars on 'Trap', so smooth and pretty. If you are a modern-day fan of revivalists like Black Mountain, remember – even that sort of rock revivalism was really born more than thirty years ago. Thumbs up for all the noble revivalists out there.

Check "Vive La Trance" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Vive La Trance" (MP3) on Amazon

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