Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 17. 19th July 1972
Spirit : Feedback — Epic
Well most of you will never have been treated to a taste of this group, but those who have tasted can skip a few lines while a few details are filled in. Spirit started in California in the summer of 1967 with a little help from Lou Adler. the founder of the Mamas And Papa's. Although the sound of this group is quite remote from the Mama'S And Papa's one and shouldn't be confused with it. Nobody knows much about Spirit except that they have a shaven-headed, dark sun-glassed drummer who had been playing jazz for fifteen years before he got into rock, a bassist who played with Canned Heat and I beautiful lead guitarist by the name of Randy California who happens to have a black magic box that emits incredibly long wavering horizontal lines, though nobody can actually work out what's inside it. It was rumoured that they were going to play at the Isle of Wight and that's why everyone was turning up but they didn't so everyone got it on with Bob Dylan,
They're given out four L.P.'s before Feedback (Spirit, The Family Thar Flays Together, Clear Spirit, Dr. Sardonicus) but with a different lineup to the one on this L.P. Of the original five, two remain: Ed Cassidy on drums and John Loche on keyboards, and they are joined by the Stachely brothers who add the lead guitar, bass and lead vocals. The two other ex-Spirit members joined another group called Jo Jo Gunne whilst Randy California seems to have disappeared from the scene.
Mention must be made of the four L.P.'s produced by the original Spirit, because Feedback is wholly uncharacteristic of their previous work. This is probably due to their split and the passing of a few years. The basic Spirt was one of a blend between jazz and tight hard rifty rock. They in fact produced a very individual sound to which no other rock group came close. They were especially noted for their slow moody peaceful horizontal instrumental tracks (on Clear Spirit) but were only listened to by a few people who got hip to them and consequently were one of the many bands who deserved recognition but didn't get it even though they produced tracks like Aren't You Sad on Family That Plays Together that went beyond the realms of pop and into new horizons.
The first thing about the reorganized Spirit is that they're into a different trip that's quite remote from a feedback one; the title does not have any connection with the music. They're not as hairy as before. Their rockers all written by the Stachely Brothers, concern Chelsea Girls.
They say that Dylan Thomas drank himself to death
But I do better with Chelsea girls
Gonna give that boy no rest
Just getting that Chelsea lovin
You can shake my earth for what its worth
But don't leave your curse on me
You see them everywhere you go
They're the ones that won the west
They wear their spurs just for show
All contain hard brutal riffs with good of rock 'n' roll guitar and bluesy piano interspersed.
The LP. also contains one country trip called Mellow Morning.
Picking in the morning with my friend Matthew
Drinking Cowboy Coffee
And thinking of something to do
The cat's on the table a-crying to be fed
But I can't put this guitar down
While there's a tune in my head
The instrumentals which Spirit are quite famous for still occur but the ones on this album Puesta Dec Scam and Trancas Fog although still retaining the jazz piano have here simply fallen into junk No more of the beautiful horizontals to fix on!
Most of the other tracks are not worth talking about. The same applies to most of the above tracks. Their first four L.P.'s really showed what the original lineup could produce, but they're hard to get hold of. The thing about Spirit now is that 'they've eased up, things must have got too heavy, which is a pity because on this L.P., besides the occasional inspired moment they've degenerated into another same old rock 'n' roll band and it's not hard to lend a hand.
Gentle Giant Aquiring the Taste
Gentle Giant's stated goal is the expansion of the frontiers of contemporary popular music. They attempt to acheive this by recording compositions that are "unique, adventurous and fascinating" (to use their own words), abandoning all notions of commercialism. Between them they command a fair range of instruments, including the whole set of electrified keyboards and electronic synthesis. How-ever, they don't make it.
This failure is in part due to their reluctance to forsake the musical styles of the past, though this malady is not singularly theirs. Some years back when the "progressive" scene was new, groups tried to explore new ideas and idioms. It seems that now the structures they built have collapsed, leaving an aura of depression that is relieved by fondling historical genitals.
Which brings me to the point, it is pointless to embark on a new synthesis using the materials of earlier attempts. Gentle Giant have both a moog synthesizer and a mellatron at their disposal, yet they sink into masturbatory crap with vibraphone and xylophone. The title track evokes perhaps the most disgust — a minute and a half of solo moog relegated to a quasi-sixteenth century dance Triviality itself. If the music is banal, there can be no word to describe the ability of the lyricist!. Consider this jewel from Black Cat.
There's a cat prowling through the streets at night
And she's black and her eyes are burning yellow fierce and bright
The lights are darkened;
Perhaps I've been unequivocally harsh, for there are odd patches of transcending excitement. Pantagruel's Nativity is an interesting track, for example. The album is well-structured, and the production (Tony Visconti) quite exceptional, but as a progressive group Gentle Giant have run aground somewhere between popularizing classics and formalizing rock.