THE BONZO DOG BAND: LET'S MAKE UP AND BE FRIENDLY (1972)
1) The Strain; 2) Turkeys; 3) King Of Scurf; 4) Waiting For The Wardrobe; 5) Straight From My Heart; 6) Rusty; 7) Rawlinson End; 8) Don't Get Me Wrong; 9) Fresh Wound; 10) Bad Blood; 11) Slush; 12*) Suspicion; 13*) Trouser Freak.
For one of those «contractual obligation» albums that usually turn out to be predictably disappointing, the sardonically-titled Let's Make Up And Be Friendly actually isn't half-bad. Not only is it the longest Bonzo Dog Band record up to date (although that is mostly the result of two intentionally drawn-out and overlong tracks), but it is clear that quite a bit of imagination and work was involved in its production — even despite the fact that Stanshall, Innes, and bassist Dennis Cowan were the only regular Bonzos to oversee all of the recording (ʽLegsʼ Larry Smith and Roger Ruskin Spear make guest appearances on a few tracks). In spirit, Let's Make Up is closer to a «comedy» product than an «experimental» release, but it has its parallels with just about every single other Bonzo Dog Band release, so, as a career wrap-up, it is fairly adequate, and, in my opinion, quite unjustly maligned by fans.
Arguably the major miscalculation was to open the album with ʽThe Strainʼ — a comic blues-rock ode to constipation that many people logically consider way too crude and unworthy of these guys' reputation. I mean, toilet humor? Come on now! But on second thought, there is really nothing that wrong with toilet humor if it is done well (the major mistake of 99% of toilet humor being in that people somehow think that the subject is always funny per se, and does not need any special intellectual input), and ʽThe Strainʼ is done well to the point of genuine hilariousness — with Stanshall singing it in a Captain Beefheart voice and, of course, ʽThe Strainʼ itself being a mock-analogy with a popular dance ("Hey hey human gonna do The Strain / I'm gonna grip the seat I'm gonna pull the chain"). Throw in a kick-ass guitar solo, the most authentic «straining noises» possible in a human being, and you really get the best song about constipation issues the other side of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' ʽConstipation Bluesʼ (which may have very well served as the basic inspiration for the Bonzos' polite British answer).
Nor does the album sound particularly out of time or out of touch — even for these contractual purposes, the Bonzos still keep their eyes and ears open, so that the inspiration, production, and mood-setting touches are very much reminiscent of the early 1970s or, at least, very late 1969. ʽRustyʼ, a tragicomic spoken monologue about a homosexual couple breaking up, is set to a slow soulful arrangement, with deep gospel harmonies and a blazing wah-wah lead part all the way through, as though it were influenced by Funkadelic's ʽMaggot Brainʼ. Roger's ʽWaiting For The Wardrobeʼ begins as a somber avantgarde number, all electronic noise and percussion, before turning into a schizophrenic electric blues-rocker. And ʽDon't Get Me Wrongʼ is naturally reminiscent of ʽDon't Let Me Downʼ, although the melody is a bit more Otis Redding.
On the «serious» side of things, there's ʽTurkeysʼ, a curious instrumental that shows traces of interest in avantgarde jazz and not-too-modern classical (of the Bartók and/or Shostakovich variety, I'd say), and ʽRawlinson's Endʼ, mostly resting on a series of piano improvisations, from ragtime to impressionistic to completely free-form — although the track essentially functions as a musical introduction to the character of Sir Henry Rawlinson, a favorite character of Viv Stanshall's whom he would later explore in greater detail in his solo career. The spoken-word monolog, very much in the vein of the nonsensical ʽBig Shotʼ from Gorilla, may be freely ignored, but the accompaniment is not without its merits.
As a matter of fact, there is not a single track on here that I could just call «plain bad». Where they are saddling old warhorses like Elvis-style balladry (ʽStraight From My Heartʼ) or write very straightforward parodies on specific genres (the country-western ʽBad Bloodʼ), the results are at least mildly fun, and ʽKing Of Scurfʼ is one of their best stabs at old-fashioned teen-pop, though, admittedly, this one is a bit outdated by the standards of 1972 (and it was probably way beneath their contempt to try a stab at The Osmonds). One really strange thing, though — why write and perform a song that intentionally sounds like mediocre John Lennon circa 1963 (ʽFresh Woundʼ)? (There is also an explicit Beatles reference in the song, when Neil says "come on George, snap out of it" — apparently, a «hidden message» to a then-currently depressed Harrison).
Finally, the two-minute coda of ʽSlushʼ is probably the sweetest-funniest way of saying goodbye to the fans imaginable — leave it to the Bonzos to «spoil» a sweet, innocent, pastoral soundscape, written as if specially for a romantic movie soundtrack, with their zany looped overdub: a ridiculous and symbolic gesture. Or you could go even farther and say that the echoey looped laughter is the voice of Pan, The Great Satyr himself, always happy to conjugate beauty with mischief at the most improper moment in time.
It is said that, when pressed into their «contractual obligation», their first bitter move was to go into the studio, set a timer for 45 minutes, and make a record out of anything and everything they recorded in the meantime — but then the next day, they relented, repented, and decided that they couldn't be that cruel to their remaining loyal fans. Maybe it was all for the better, because that way, they were able to let off steam, then sleep on it and gather some inspiration and good sense by the morning. That way, from ʽThe Strainʼ and all the way through to ʽSlushʼ and the farewell message of "...dada for now!" on the back cover, Let's Make Up And Be Friendly is consistently busy tying up loose ends and, occasionally, maybe even indicating new ways of development for the future. Not that it really is the Bonzos' Abbey Road or anything, but it is quite a graceful way to go out all the same, well worth a thumbs up and a get-it recommendation — particularly if you are not afraid of a little bit of high-quality toilet humor.