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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Amon Düül II: Bee As Such

AMON DÜÜL II: BEE AS SUCH (2009)

1) Mambo La Libertad; 2) Du Kommst Ins Heim; 3) Still Standing; 4) Psychedelic Suite.

As it turns out, the Amon Düül II story is not quite over with the passing of the millennium thre­sh­old. On the heels of various new compilations and CD re-masters, the original band made one more effort to reconvene — this time, featuring four of the founding fathers and mothers (Renate, Karrer, Meid, and Weinzierl). Sessions were held in April 2009, but the results, so far, have not been issued in CD form: the «album» was made officially available only on the band's site, and, as far as I can tell, Bee As Such does not even have its own album art.

It is, however, accompanied by a short and slightly ungrammatical press release, reading as fol­lows: «... a highly sensitive performance, of finding back to the roots – not in the past, but es­sen­ti­ally – seeking the new sounds and contents at the same time. No ‘kraut’, no ’70s’, but the music of the new millenium. This sound painting is one more of our unique works, containing the spirit of our time.» Meaning that, just as it was with Nada Moonshine #, the band is still more worried about being perceived as an «irrelevant oldies act» than about... uh, making good music?

Besides which, they are simply lying. Even on a fully formal and objective basis, how is it that there are «no '70s'» here, when 'Still Standing' essentially merges 'Hawknose Harlequin' from Car­nival In Babylon and 'The Wolfman Jack Show' from Utopia? And on a non-formal basis, the very fact that Bee As Such is, essentially, a set of lengthy studio jams, will automatically re­mind one of the days of Phallus Dei and Yeti. If anything, Nada Moonshine # was far more re­flective of the «spirit of our time» than this recording (although even that is not saying much). If the press release genuinely reflects the way they feel, this is fairly pathetic — an open acknowled­gement of the fact that they have no idea what the «spirit of our time» really is (not that I serious­ly blame them, but it's one thing not to know the truth and another thing to assert a lie). If, how­ever, this is just a dumb «marketing ploy», it's even more pathetic. How many incoming custo­mers has it managed to offend?

Still, let us forget about silly words. It certainly must be praised that, almost fourty years since the band was last involved in brave, unpredictable jamming, they came together to give this approach one more try. It is at least brave — and it endorses the idea that 1969-72 were, in fact, the years of Amon Düül II; that dark experimental jamming has been and will always be at the heart of the­ir legacy. Compare the idea with that of a Genesis reunion to record another Foxtrot, or an Aero­smith attempt to blacklist their outside songwriters and record another Rocks — things that never came to pass, even though they were expected so hard.

But, once again turning to the negative side, Bee As Such is not at all impressive. Frankly spea­king, most of its fifty minutes sound like kitchen rehearsals, fit for inclusion as bonus tracks on special editions of «proper» albums rather than having any serious autonomous value. They are authentic «jams», almost completely improvised (or, at least, seemingly so) around simple themes and usually appearing out of nowhere and disappearing in the same direction after a while (do not be alarmed by the 26 minute running time of 'Psychedelic Suite': it is really three separate jam parts that do not have any coherent links in between themselves). But the jamming has nowhere near the power, the concentration, and the density of, say, a 'Yeti Talks To Yogi'.

It may have to do with the fact that there is no keyboardist in the band: only Weinzierl is credited for «synthesizers», but most of the time he just plays guitar, with Karrer accompanying on violin. But even those guitar parts are perfunctory — rhythm chords, mostly, with the instrument never really leaving the ground. The band members still remember how to keep a groove together, but they seem to have forgotten how to develop that groove, or how to make their individual persona­lities impressive within the groove.

And, finally, as much as I respect Renate Knaup-Kroten­sch­wanz for her immeasurable services to Amon Düül II in the past, I have to admit that on this re­cord she is simply the biggest pain in the ass. I could have stomached the music more easily, were it not infested with her tuneless croaking. Whatever thin nuages of atmosphere the players might have been able to conjure with their jam­ming, they are immediately blown apart by Renate's thoroughly anti-atmospheric vocalizations. It's okay by me if she simply cannot sing any more, but whatever made them think that the inabi­lity to sing should be compensated with unlimited freedom of quacking and croaking?

In brief, I tip my imaginary hat to the band's decision to succumb to nostalgia (and Bee As Such, no matter what the press release tells us, is first and foremost a hardcore exercise in nostalgia), but if the album never makes it to CD format, this will not be a reason to shed serious tears. I could be mistaken, but I think the album clearly shows it's high time to pack it in — or, at least, high time to stop deluding themselves into thinking that they can still reflect «the spirit of our times» by producing watered-down imitations of their glory days. Granted, they may still have another Nada Moonshine # in them, but only if they stop being so serious about it. As it is, the sheer inadequacy of this product requires a thumbs down.

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