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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Amon Düül II: Only Human


1) Another Morning; 2) Don't Turn To Stone; 3) Kirk Morgan; 4) Spaniards And Spacemen; 5) Kismet; 6) Pharao; 7) Ruby Lane.

It is as if, with these album titles, Amon Düül II were (sub)consciously giving away the real mo­tivations behind the questionable (to put it mildly) music. Almost Alive was bad enough, but On­ly Human? As in: «YES — we're only human, so there should be nothing surprising about the fact that we are taking our cues from the Bee Gees now. Please buy this record so we can afford our Weisswurst and Bretzel.»

Actually, I am not even sure about the «we»: the only remaining founding father on this album is Chris Karrer. Granted, the Amon Düül sound evolved gradually: as huge a difference as there is between Yeti and Only Human, there have been enough intermediate links in the chain so as not to view this record as some sort of wicked shock therapy. But the fact remains that Only Human is the band's blandest, least interesting album ever.

Technically, this is another attempt to cross the «commercial» styles of the time — soft-rock, arena rock, funky dance-pop — with an «artistic» spirit, ever more laughable in the face of punk and New Wave squeezing these old genres out of the picture even when they were done well, let alone tackled by a German band coming from an entirely unsuitable background. But at least the hooks could be strong, and the playing could sparkle — in theory.

I think that one good, attentive listen to 'Another Morning', the album-opener, is quite enough to form a reliable impression of the record. The same funky rhythms that the 1970s gave us in dro­ves, without any individuality; a Europop piano riff that crops up every now and then as the only «hook» to hang upon, but, in itself, being nothing but a very poor man's ABBA (!); vocals whose only advantage is the ability to sing on-key, otherwise, completely devoid of personality; and a thoroughly generic melodic backup of wishy-washy synthesizers and bleak funk guitar.

Objectively, I cannot say that the band makes no effort whatsoever at diversifying their approach. They do try out some Spanish guitar on 'Spaniards & Spacemen', a mildly curious, but generally failed attempt at marrying flamenco with electronica; some vaguely mid-Eastern chord sequences on 'Kismet' — a mildly curious, but generally failed attempt at marrying Arabic music with disco; they almost manage to turn into Supertramp on 'Pharao'; and there is a brief drum solo on 'Ruby Lane'. (Just to make everyone sure that I actually did listen to the album in its entirety).

But most of these tricks leave little or no impression, because a good composition needs to do more than just «be different» — there should be some sense of purpose, some sort of trigger to elicit a gut response. From that point of view, 'Kismet' is no 'Kashmir' — at best, it sounds like a silly, uninspired parody. At worst, I cannot even remember how it goes (I do remember there is a very, very ugly synth tone used on the «Eastern» bits).

With no sense of purpose, no commercial or critical viability, a dangerously close to zero level of creative songwriting, and a pitiable title, Only Human is, doubtless, the lowest point in Amon Düül II's career — the only consolation is that, from a strict point of view, it is not even a proper Amon Düül II album at all, rather «Chris Karrer and His So-Called Friends». Abysmal and unlis­tenable? Not really. Just simply utterly forgettable. Thumbs down.

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