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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Arthur Brown: Journey


1) Time Captives; 2) Tri­angles; 3) Gypsy; 4) Superficial Roadblocks; 5) Conception; 6) Beginning Of "Spirit Of Joy"; 7) Spirit Of Joy; 8) Come Alive.

Kingdom Come's last album was its oddest one, and for that, is a particular favorite among the se­lect few who have chosen to receive their daily dose of truth and light from the likes of Arthur Brown. And I do have to say that, out of all of Arthur's output, Journey is perhaps that one re­cord indeed that might work better out of context than within it. I can imagine people who are not too familiar with Mr. Brown enjoy it more than those who already know him well.

To begin with, Journey is often named as the first album ever to rely exclusively on drum machi­nes in the percussion department. If this is true, it was one of those «accidents», like the several in­dependent inventions of hard rock through defective amps that are well documented in history — here, the «accident» was somewhat more trivial in that Kingdom Come, at a certain point, were simply left without a regular drummer, and instead of bothering with session musicians, Arthur and keyboard player Victor Peraino decided to handle all the percussion duties themselves with the aid of the «Bentley Rhythm Ace», an early invention from what would go on to become the Roland Corporation.

On the other hand, all the «pssht-pssht» percussion noises here do match the album's atmosphere, which is very different both from the crazy megalomaniac R&B of Zoo Dossier and the comic overtones of Kingdom Come. For some reason, guitarist Andy Dalby retreats into the back­ground and lets Peraino completely dominate the proceedings with the newest wonders of tech­nology: although old-time organs and Mellotrons still occasionally break through the walls, most of the sounds are produced electronically.

In a way, that makes Journey almost stupendously ahead of its time — an ice cold, shivery ce­le­b­ra­tion of the robo-digital ideology in pop music that not even Kraftwerk were fully capable of at the time, let alone all the New Wave and synth-pop artists of the times to come. With one excep­tion: it does not really look like there was any conscious effort here to break genre boundaries. Melodically and «ideologically», Journey does not constitute any significant departure from the old style of Kingdom Come. It just so happened that the melodies and ideologies had to be deli­vered through drum machines and synthesizers rather than actual drums and guitars. It could have easily happened otherwise. Is it a good or a bad thing that it didn't?

Hard for me to decide. Journey seems to take itself quite seriously, and, as I already said, it is ea­sier to agree with that seriousness for people who have it as their first Arthur Brown experience rather than those who have followed him from the burning helmet days. There is a «global» theme present here — the artist is breaking away from the problem chains of mankind and zoom­ing into open space, a subject for which electronic sounds are, of course, most appropriate, what with their connection to elementary particles of matter and all. But despite the appropriate sounds and the overall coldness, darkness, and «distant» nature of the music, its ability to carry you, the listener, away with it is somewhat questionable (of course, by «you» I mean «me», but who else could I put in the listener's seat? my cat is not much of a pop music fan).

In a small part this is because, having inadvertently fallen upon a New Sound, Arthur was so hea­vily seduced by it that he abused it on more than one occasion. ʽTime Captivesʼ, for instance, be­gins with almost an entire minute of nothing but rhythmic electronic percussion counting out time — yes, it ties in with the song's message, but maybe if so much of our time wasn't wasted by lis­tening to an electronic metronome, we could be somewhat less captivated by time? Four of seven songs go over seven minutes without presenting enough melodic content for three — in honest hope of setting your mind under the hypnotic power of the instruments, yet there is nowhere near the care here that, for instance, Pink Floyd would invest into their lengthy atmospheric numbers, meticulously, almost pedantically, alternating build-ups and come-downs. It is true that Journey sounds more calculated than its predecessors, with fewer of those spontaneous, sometimes irrita­ting wannabe-Zappa cuts-off and musical non-sequiturs, but it is still an Arthur Brown album, and that means it might be jumping off the pier any time now.

I would also like to add that, contrary to certain reviewers who dared to praise the use of the drum machine here, I personally find it quite dated. In 1973, these sounds were, first and fore­most, weird and otherworldly; today, they are silly and wimpy compared to what the subsequent evolution of electronic percussion has led us to. Likewise, some large chunks on ʽTime Captivesʼ, ʽGypsyʼ, etc., seem more intent on telling us «look at the real cool tone this box of knobs and cords can produce!» than on creating a cosmic mood based on suggestions that the cosmos itself is whispering into the musician's ear. If you know what I'm talking about, that is.

But none of this is to say that Journey is worthless — aside from being a genuinely unique al­bum for 1973, a totally out-of-bounds progressive experience for a year already rife with prog watermarks, it does have its share of memorable and inspiring moments. In its second part, ʽGyp­syʼ gains in fury and becomes an unstoppable cosmic rocker (the second song titled ʽGypsyʼ to use the title as a metaphor for space travel — after the Moody Blues). The wild screams, issuing out of the bass-heavy musical jungle of ʽConceptionʼ, still have an ability to shock. And ʽSpirit Of Joyʼ, despite only being three minutes of length, is an excellent attempt at fitting a happy R&B anthem within this tale of frightening cosmic darkness. Perhaps it should have been chosen as the album conclusion, instead of the overlong blues-rocker ʽCome Aliveʼ (where Dalby finally gets to come out with some blazing guitar work, but not for too long).

Altogether, Journey, like every other Kingdom Come album, is not a record that I would «trust» — and by «trust» I ultimately mean «enjoy», since it is fairly hard to honestly enjoy an album that one does not trust — but it has enough of puzzles in its sleeve, even coming off its already puzzling two predecessors, to still warrant a thumbs up. On my own cosmic journeys, I prefer to be taken by guys like Hawkwind and their B-movie visions of such things; but if a little bit of musical metaphysics conducted by a drum machine is right up your alley, give it a try by all means. After all, it's never been scientifically proven that Arthur Brown is not the ultimate source of knowledge on the universe.

  Check "Journey" (CD) on Amazon


  1. I got my copy of this on vinyl and I actually thought the record was skipping at first cus that electro percussion at the beginning goes on for so long. While I agree that the drum machine sounds dated, I still wouldn't want the album without it. It just helps the album sound more unique.
    I also like my copy in particular because it's got a hilarious alternate album cover featuring a naked bearded wizard guy who seems to hold mastery over the cosmos surrounded by stars.

  2. pssht-pssht! pssht-pssht!

  3. The Hawkwind connections can't be a coincidence; the two acts were sharing the same bills together as early as 1971.