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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cardiacs: Heaven Born And Ever Bright


1) The Alphabet Business Concern (Home Of Fadeless Splendour); 2) She Is Hiding Beneath The Shed; 3) March; 4) Goodbye Grace; 5) Anything I Can't Eat; 6) Helen And Heaven; 7) Bodysbad; 8) For Good And All; 9) Core; 10) Day Is Gone; 11) Snakes-A-Sleeping.

The Cardiacs suffered a few setbacks in between 1989 and 1992, mostly in the form of gradual loss of band members: saxophonist Sara Smith, percussionist Tim Quy, and keyboardist William Drake had all left in the interim, leaving the band so shaken that Tim Smith did not even bother looking for replacements. Instead, he hired an additional guitarist, Jon Poole, and opted to record the next album in a traditional four-piece format: two guitars, bass, and drums... well, not really. Most of the songs are still chockfull of keyboards and brass, with Sara contributing guest sax and somebody else providing the keyboards (not listed in the credits).

So I would not say that in terms of the overall sound, Heaven Born sounds any sparser or, in fact, all that different from the «classic» releases. Certainly this is not the impression that you get at the outset, when ʻThe Alphabet Business Concernʼ invades your room like a massive choral an­them, with the same level of ironic pomp and playful pretense as always. However, as the songs progress, you do get a gradual feeling of tiredness — could it be that the band is beginning to run out of ideas? Or, rather, not out of specific ideas (there's still more going on inside a single Cardiacs song than on a complete LP by zillions of less inventive bands), but out of The Idea it­self: somehow, if you reach this album in chronological order, this is, for the first time, where they seem to be hitting a brick wall. Objectively, the energy is still there, but they are not really saying anything they didn't say before.

As always, there's a bunch of fast, crazy, mad-organ-and-guitar-led prog-punk anthems with furiously fast, incomprehensible vocals (ʻAnything I Can't Eatʼ, speeding along like a friendly, more psychedelic sibling of Deep Purple's ʻHighway Starʼ); some overdriven power-pop with a hysterical edge (ʻDay Is Goneʼ); some echoes of classic British psychedelic pop with music hall and martial overtones (ʻMarchʼ); and some songs that combine all that in various manners. The main problem with that is that more than ever before, the basic mood behind each song is pretty much the same — a state of somewhat random exuberance, when the protagonist wishes to share his strong emotions with a world that is too busy trying to understand the reason for these emo­tions to partake of them. Tempos and tonalities may shift, but the drive remains the same, as well as the lack of hooks — because the melodies are way too twisted and unstable to ever sink in.

For some reason, Tim Smith has later stated that Heaven Born remains one of his own special favo­rites, because, to him, it had some special mystery to it. This opinion was not shared by the band's fans in general, who tend to see the record as a letdown, and unless we are all missing something, this does ring true: I fail to notice any special distinctive marks here (except for may­be a more pronounced guitar sound, which is hardly an asset in itself — who could ever be se­duced by a «prominent guitar sound» in 1992?), and compared to the previous two albums, the songs basically sound like self-repetition where the band, instead of keeping it natural, has to whip itself into a frenzy to artificially demonstrate that they have not really lost it. Well, tech­nically, they haven't, but you know the drill: «progressive» has the obligation to progress, and if it does not progress, it just rings hollow.

1 comment:

  1. I think the keyboards were mostly played by Tim on this one, maybe a bit by Jim Poole, too. At least it seems I read that somewhere.

    Pretty accurate in many ways, though I enjoy the spastic flailing of these guys more than you, so I naturally enjoy it a bit more.