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Western Culture Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered
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After Henry Cow's _In Praise of Learning_, the situation in the band was getting a little divisive. Lindsay Cooper and Tom Hodgkinson wanted to compose longer instrumental pieces, while Chris Cutler and Fred Frith wanted to focus on more song-oriented music. Unfortunately, they couldn't come to an agreement so Frith, Cutler, and Dagmar Krause released their song-based material as the first Art Bears album, _Hopes and Fears_, while Hodgkinson and Cooper's work was released as the final Henry Cow album, _Western Culture_.
And let me tell you, it's fookin' brilliant. _Western Culture_ is pretty much entirely composed, with only sporadic glimpses of the band's previous affinities towards improvisation. Hodgkinson and Cooper each compose one side of the album (1 and 2, respectively -- BUT, they both wrote "1/2 the Sky"), and while they are distinctly different, it all ties together nicely because of the consistent harmonic quality and dense, tight arrangements. Best of all, this music, while very strange and complex, is also very moving and evocative, all the while deploying twisted, angular melodies, intense textural colors, dissonant harmonic language, and shifty motivic processes. This is also the most 'classical' sounding of their catalogue, probably because of the emphasis on wind instruments. Hodgkinson's pieces are gritty and atonal, complex and energetic. The organ outburst opening "Industry" takes off with Cutler's drumming unpredictably shifting accents.Read more ›
This purely instrumental album is fairly prototypical henry cow (the non-vocals brand), yet, in my opinion, is the best written and performed of any of their recordings. It starts out with one of the most bombastic HC songs recorded (especially for the non-vocal era, they tend to rock it out a little more consistently on later/con vox recodings.), but for the most part, the tension in this album is communcated through compositional inference, rather than volume.
If you're like me, you find the sweet spot of this album comes in the second half, where the songs seems to take better advantage of the band as a whole, and feature some fairly awe inspiring interplay.
If you like your rock abstract, and played with fairly devious technical sensibilities this is it. If you want vocals, or something to seduce your partner to, you might wanna look elsewhere. Unless you wanna bump uglies in 13/8.
The core musicians on this album include excellent drummer and bandleader Chris Cutler (who also plays electrified drums, "noise", piano, and trumpet); Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, oboe, soprano saxophone, and soprano recorder); Tim Hodgkinson (organ, alto saxophone, clarinet, and Hawaiian guitar); and Fred Frith (electric and acoustic guitars, electric bass, banjo, and soprano saxophone). Other musicians that play on the album include Georgie Born (electric bass); Anne-Marie Roelofs (trombone and violin); and Irene Schweitzer (piano).
The seven tracks on the album are divided into two larger works including History and Prospects (Tracks 1-3) and Day by Day (Tracks 4-7). The three additional tracks include one taken from the Dagmar Krause (vocalist) period (Viva pa Ubu), an alternate take of Look Back, and an outtake from the 1978 Western Culture sessions. The three additional tracks are excellent.
Like all of their albums, the music on Western Culture is highly disciplined yet is almost anarchic at points. This strain of progressive rock is also extremely complex, atonal, jagged, and at times, quite abrasive - yet buried in there are moments of calm and deep reflection. I personally find the combination pretty exciting. Along with standard rock instruments (including incredible drumming by Chris Cutler) woodwinds are featured prominently, and the arrangements are dense and angular. In general, the compositions are essentially a whirlwind of sound that fuses elements of "post-war" classical, jazz, free jazz, and rock.
All in all, this is not a listening experience for the faint of heart. This is extremely challenging music that is also extremely rewarding. Highly recommended along with Unrest (1974) and In Praise of Learning (1975).
On top of that, for any RIO, Canterbury Prog, Zappa or 20th century music lover, this is a dream come true! The compositions are top notch. Creative and well executed. So if you are into plain rock, straight pop or other 'simple' kind of music, (more rhythm based music) stay away. The music of Henry Cow is music that HAS Melody , HAS Harmony and ROCKS, but it has other things too which might be complex to some one who has not been exposed to the genres mentioned previously. Give it a try with open ears and you will see this has much more groove than people say it lacks.
Why the 'almost did not happen' title? Well, this album got recorded when members of the bands were already in other projects (such as Art Bears) thus the absence of vocals and only 2 composers contribute to the whole album.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the only album by Henry Cow I've listened to, but I'm already in love. If you listen to it on;y once it'll probably put you off, but only because it's so far removed from... Read morePublished on September 5, 2010 by Lane Powell
Oops, I accidentally submitted a review for a Jimmy Buffett greatest hits album for Henry Cow's Western Culture. Read morePublished on January 9, 2009 by Bryan
For me, this is the most focused and cohesive Henry Cow album yet. Not much filler here, this one is far more composed than their previous works. Read morePublished on March 23, 2008 by dazamaru
This last studio recording with Henry Cow deserves far more attention then it usually gets. The arrangements are absolutely awesome. Read morePublished on April 13, 2006 by J. Gustavson
This is the last official Henry Cow album from the 1970's. It is a good record, but the ESD 1995 pressing in very tinny. Read morePublished on June 20, 2005 by Carl Johnson
My mother brought me this album when i was 18 or 19 , from a trip she made to NY. I had read about Henry Cow but had never heard them before. Boy, was i in for a shock! Read morePublished on February 3, 2003 by miguel hiraldo
Henry Cow is undeniably an acquired taste. As a long time fan, I cite " In Praise of Learning" & Desperate Straights" as two of my all time favorite albums. Read morePublished on December 19, 2002 by JNC
.....as evidenced by the little "war" going on between Mr. Plantation, Florida and Mr. Rubidium84. Read morePublished on July 31, 2002
If you live in Nebraska, where the highlight of a fun filled evening might be going down to the local bakery and watching the Cheeze-Wiz dry on the pastry, then I suppose you would... Read morePublished on May 7, 2002