CARDIACS: THE SEASIDE (1984)
1) Jibber And Twitch; 2) Gena Lollabridgida; 3) Hello Mr. Sparrow; 4) It's A Lovely Day; 5) Wooden Fish On Wheels; 6) Hope Day; 7) To Go Off And Things; 8) Ice A Spot And A Dot On The Dog; 9) R.E.S.
Finally! A Cardiacs album that does not sound as if coming to you out of the depths of a concrete bunker — despite also having originally been produced only in cassette form. The original track listing contained 13 titles; however, when the album was finally released on CD in 1995, four of them were omitted under the pretext that the master tapes were lost. More likely, since three of these four songs would later be re-recorded for other Cardiacs albums, the omission was intentional (assuming Smith may have thought of the earlier versions as inferior). In any case, the real early versions of ʻIs This The Lifeʼ and ʻNurses Whispering Versesʼ can be found on Toy World, in all their lowest-fiest glory.
Anyway, 9 tracks with a total running length of 35 minutes seems quite appropriate for a record like this, because The Seaside is far from the best that the band has to offer. A key problem here is monotony: most of the tracks are speedy ska-punk ditties with similar-sounding keyboard tones and similar-sounding hysterical vocals, distinguished only by the number of different unpredictable interludes that Smith and co. throw in seemingly at random. And while the speedy delivery makes things superficially fun, sometimes the songs zip by (even the long ones!) in such a flurry rage that you find it very hard to concentrate on the melodic aspect.
As you slowly get adjusted to the «jibber and twitch» (name of the first track, but I wouldn't mind if it were the title of the entire record), the fun aspect eventually prevails over the monotony, but the album remains a pretty lightweight affair — like an incessant ping-pong game with occasional detours into other sport areas, or like a corny vaudeville show locked in a state of hyperdrive. I have no idea what the songs are «about» (lyrics are not included, and there's little hope of ever making out Smith's words), but in any case, words are clearly much less important here than the music, and the music does not lend itself to inspired description.
Even when you come across something that could be defined as a «catchy riff», for instance, the little bouncy organ phrase that drives ʻR.E.S.ʼ, its catchiness does not matter much on its own, because you could very well encounter any such phrase on Sesame Street or the opening credits to a comic TV show. What matters is that within the same ʻR.E.S.ʼ you also have a couple of tricky jazz interludes with varying tempos and a slow-moving progressive rock part with a moody guitar solo that sounds right out of Steve Hackett's textbook. By the end, as you go into drunk waltz tempo, there's hardly anything left in the world that could surprise you.
Essentially, it's all fun, but it's all also rather shallow — once you get over the amazement at how nifty these guys are (and they are still no niftier than Frank Zappa, whose Absolutely Free album from as far away as 1967 could be called a distant ideological forefather), the tunes do not prove much of anything, except that there's, you know, a reason why people do not usually combine ska, punk, jazz, and classical influences within the same track — just as there's a reason why you rarely put meat, fruit, vegetables, and chocolate in the same dish. It's curious and instructive to take a taste, but eventually you'll probably just have to accept that some things don't click too well when forcefully synthesized.
That said, there are different ways to synthesize stuff, and The Seaside is, after all, the Cardiacs still in their original stage, youthful and enthusiastic and overdriven and experimental beyond measure. In addition, this is also a transitional album, with Marc Cawthra on his way out and William D. Drake on his way in, so some of the fussiness may be explained by a generally confused state of the band at the time — although, granted, that is a flimsy excuse, because Cardiacs are by their very nature an eternally confused and confusing band.