AMON DÜÜL (UK): MEETINGS WITH MENMACHINES (1985)
1) Pioneer; 2) The Old One; 3) Marcus Lead; 4) The Song; 5) Things Aren't Always What They Seem; 6) Burundi Drummer's Nightmare.
When you first see the full title of this record — Meetings With Menmachines, Unremarkable Heroes Of The Past — the probable association is «Kraftwerk meets Uriah Heep» or something like that. In other words, a fine enough title for something that tries to fuse electronic Krautrock with fantasy-prog, and the very length of the title also brings to mind Tyrannosaurus Rex. Besides, it is a sequel to the highly avantgardist Hawk Meets Penguin, from essentially the same lineup, so bizarre music fans in 1985 should have been intrigued.
But instead, what we get here is a relatively straightforward, almost predictably constructed, and perfectly «accessible» collection of traditional art-pop tunes. The entire approach of Penguin's Side B has been jettisoned, and the style of Side A has undergone sharp budget cuts to placate listeners with short attention spans. No need to work on your intellectual skills here — most of the melodies rest on fairly traditional chord sequences... in fact, they are almost instantaneously catchy, which is why prog fans tend to brand Meetings as the same kind of pathetic sellout that was the «big» Amon Düül II in the late 1970s.
However, there is a big difference between an album like Only Human and this one. Where Amon Düül II were clearly looking for a way to «blend in», to find new styles of expression that would make them hip to record buyers, the UK-based incarnation is simplifying its sound in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with current tastes. There is a New Wave-like strain in this collection, mainly due to the heavy use of keyboards, but the whole thing is neither synth-pop nor hair metal nor adult contemporary nor any other «hot stuff», typical of 1985. The album sounds timeless — it could just as well be recorded today by some cool indie act.
And, like every inspired album released by a truly cool indie act (as opposed to boring poseurs), I happen to enjoy it thoroughly. Although Julie Waring is not a strong singer, and her voice has an immanently odd link to kindergarten, this somehow puts it in line with the melodies — which are, in and out of themselves, sometimes so simple you'd never even guess this band inherited any of Amon Düül's family genes. 'Things Aren't Always What They Seem', for instance, is an acoustic folk ballad that you'd rather expect to hear from the likes of Peter, Paul, & Mary, with appropriately communist lyrics and Pete Seeger marching on Washington, instead of a kiddie-mystical attitude, courtesy of Julie's vocal stylings. But isn't it charming? We all like to associate female art rock singing with Sandy Denny or Joni Mitchell; why not try out a Shirley Temple approach instead, from time to time? That's, like, so post-modern.
The more fully-arranged numbers run the gamut from alluring mid-tempo blues-pop ('Pioneer') to psychedelic mid-tempo hard-rock ('The Old One') to gracious, elegant folk-art-whatever ('Marcus Leid', the closest number in spirit to the «beautiful» part of 'One Moment's Anger'), to fast-paced power-pop in the vein of Blondie ('The Song') and, finally, straightforward rock'n'roll with a tongue-in-cheek «evil» edge ('Burundi Drummer's Nightmare', with Weinzierl playing the role of an Alice Cooper-ish evil clown next to Waring's «damsel in distress» — not so much humorous as it is bizarre, but bizarre enough to pardon the failed attempt at humor).
All of these songs are at least catchy — some, in addition to that, are quite gorgeous, and even if 'Nightmare' is overdrawn (too monotonous for us to waste nine minutes of our life on the exact same nightmare pattern; wake up!), for most of its duration, it rocks hard enough to keep us headbangers satisfied. The «progressive» stamp is consciously commemorated by beginning every single track with a brief, usually unrelated keyboard instrumental — almost in a joke fashion, as in... «okay, here is our next tribute to Journey because we know how much you expect us to finally get serious... nah, let's just boogie in the sandbox some more». I like that attitude.
I like it even more once I remind myself that the album was released in friggin' 1985, at a time when Asia ruled supreme on the commercial sector of the so-called «progressive» market, and that helps skyrocket its already well-established reputation. Of all the «lightweight» albums associated with «Amon Düül» that way or another, Menmachines is easily the least offensive to good taste and the most adorable for those of us who can learn to be undemanding. Unless you happen to be a prog Nazi, rocking your kids to sleep by humming dramatic arias from Brain Salad Surgery, Make an effort to look it up somewhere — it's well worth your while. Thumbs up.
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