AMON DÜÜL II: VORTEX (1981)
1) Vortex; 2) Holy West; 3) Die 7 Fetten Jahre; 4) Wings Of The Wind; 5) Mona; 6) We Are Machine; 7) Das Gestern Ist Das Heute Von Morgen; 8) Vibes In The Air.
This could have worked. A last-minute desperate attempt to get their act together — and a reunion of sorts, with Renate back in the band, along with organist Falk Rogner; original members John Weinzierl and Lothar Meid also make guest appearances. This way, some conditions are met to try and give the old rusty engine another kick, and see if the good old Amon Düül II still have it in them to survive the Eighties.
It is undisputable that the album is a major change in direction after the last three records. The band has dropped all attempts to suck up to disco (none too soon, given the date), and the sound gets denser and darker, in strict accordance with the classic «jungle» philosophy of the band. At the same time, they rely rather heavily on up-to-date synthesizers and electronic drums — an inevitable evil at the time, perhaps, but one that heavily affects the response to Vortex today. Too stiff. Too mechanical. Too Eighties!
Ah, but the main problem isn't even the decade. The main problem is — will the atmosphere be back? If, stylistically, this is supposed to be an Eighties' update of Wolf City and Vive La Trance, will these new songs be as evocative and penetrating as their elder brethren? My simple answer — no, they won't. For one thing, the playing throughout is fairly crappy. Jörg Evers, who is handling most of the guitar work, is, at best, just a passable player, and Rogner's synthesizers do not begin to compare with the moody organ work on early Amon Düül II records. For another thing, most of the compositions on Vortex are «songs», not «jams», and, as «songs», they mostly suck. Where are the cool electric riffs? The catchy choruses?
Your inner Amazon.com should tell you that, if you like the album opener (the instrumental title track), you will probably like the rest as well. It shows that the band has finally opened its eyes to New Wave and its electronic brethren; 'Vortex' sounds not unlike stuff from Peter Gabriel III, with the same potentially eerie contrast between crashing electronic drums and «The-Inquisition-is-after-you» synthesizers. But neither the drums nor the synths form particularly interesting or unpredictable patterns. The sound is dense and murky without being genuinely scary or depressing — and that is a pretty bad scenario.
Already the first vocal number, 'Holy West', is really a very simple pop-rocker, hanging upon a very simple and very senseless melody; just because Renate's voice is separated from the melody with an echo effect, and just because someone has bothered to add some chimes and extra guitar overdubs, the song is not going to fare much better. At least it is nowhere near as embarrassing, though, as the band's misguided stab at anthemic arena-rock à la Queen ('Wings Of The Wind'), wasting a perfectly healthy slab of bombast for nothing. And nowhere near as disappointing as the grim electro-rocker 'We Are Machine', which formally justifies its title — and does nothing else. Who needs it when we have Kraftwerk?
In the end, paradoxically, it is not until they get to the lightest, softest, and most optimistic of the tracks — 'Vibes In The Air' — that I am able to feel at least a small bit of involvement. Essentially a «power ballad», this one, but a well-arranged one, with acoustic and slide guitars, harps, the works. A suitably fine conclusion, but coming in way too late to save the album from ultimate failure. Yes, it is an attempt to gain back some credit, but a half-hearted one; a far cry from a certified «comeback», as some have dubbed Vortex just because Renate and Rogner's return has prompted them into self-deception. No wonder, then, that the follow-up to Vortex never came, and that Amon Düül II was finally put on hold soon afterwards.
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