CARDIACS: ON LAND AND IN THE SEA (1989)
1) Two Bites Of Cherry; 2) Baby Heart Dirt; 3) The Leader Of The Starry Skies; 4) I Hold My Love In My Arms; 5) The Duck And Roger The Horse; 6) Arnald; 7) Fast Robert; 8) Mare's Nest; 9) The Stench Of Honey; 10) Buds And Spawn; 11) The Safety Bowl; 12) The Ever So Closely Guarded Line.
Listening to this album, which many regard as the band's ultimate masterpiece, is pretty much the aural equivalent of going, at irregular, but immediate, intervals from 40mph to 80mph to 120mph to 80mph to 40mph to 80mph... you get my drift, and I have serious vestibular problems, too. In other words, it's cool, but... could you slow down, please? Oh, that's right, not slowing down is an integral part of being cool. Well then, like John Lennon said, "count me out... in".
No matter how many times I listen to this stuff, I cannot properly tell one song from another, for the simple reason that almost each of these songs is, in itself, three or four songs, cut up, mixed about, and re-spliced at random (or so it seems to the poor, undefended, naked ear). This is not something they invented on this album, of course — but this is where their song-twisting craft truly reaches its peak, and they juggle these melodies around with such energy and ease as if they all really understood the deep meaning of such juggling.
Unfortunately, this achievement of total perfection in the art of «pop trigonometry» has a nasty trade-off — the songs all collapse together in a flurry, blurry kaleidoscope of craziness that leaves little, if any, place for emotionality. Not even surrealist emotionality, where black is white and wrong is right — these songs are just convoluted hysterical blasts, awesome when taken in in small portions but really wearying down the potential listener (or the actual me) when swallowed all together in one go. Something like ʻThe Duck And Roger The Horseʼ, for instance, gallops along with tremendous force and makes great use of the collective power of hard rock chords and organ barrages, but when placed in between half a dozen songs on both sides that also tax your nerves to the extreme, the typical reaction might just be «enough, already!»
Exhausted and nerve-wracked, I find myself instinctively searching for something simple, repetitive, unpretentious... and I kind of find it with ʻArnaldʼ, a triumphant power-pop tune that is almost too repetitive, with an eight-note martial refrain and a brute hard rock riff to bounce it off; and then, maybe, with ʻThe Ever So Closely Guarded Lineʼ, the obligatory «grand finale» that closes the curtain with slow tempos, majestic keyboards, and a (feeble) attempt at an epic crescendo. Apart from that, the songs just daze and daze and daze me with insane numbers of costume changes from bar to bar, which sometimes make Frank Zappa and Gentle Giant come across as pathetic failures. Then again, it was up to Tim Smith to beat their records, not vice versa, and he seems to have done nicely — coming out with probably the most complex pop record of 1989.
Would it be justified to say that On Land And In The Sea makes absolutely no sense? One probably shouldn't be rushing to give an answer, but I am pretty sure I will never like it more than A Little Man, if only because it has no equivalent of ʻIs This The Life?ʼ — a straightforward, understandable, tumultuous song that stood out very sharply from the rest — and because sometimes too much is too much. I cannot even comment on any of the individual songs because it would have to be a lot of comments on each, and then they would all be the same in the end. To say that this record is «crazy» or that it is a «document on insanity» or anything like that would be too cheap and stereotypical, yet I have no idea of how to expand on that. I totally admire the effort, and as far as «achievements» go, the album totally deserves its thumbs up — especially since I can sense the dedication and the energy sweating from every pore. But then again, you can also go out in the mountains and dedicatedly crush rocks with a sledgehammer until your arms fall off, too, and sometimes I get the uncomfortable feeling that this is what Cardiacs were doing, too, on land and in the sea.