Artist: The Bevis Frond
Title: New River Head
Format: Double LP Gatefold
Catalogue Number: WOO16
Year of Release: 1991
A1 White Sun (3:47)
A2 Drowned (6:58)
A3 She's Entitled To (5:04)
A4 Waving (3:17)
A5 Down In The Well (2:38)
A6 New River Head (5:22)
B1 Solar Marmalade (8:22)
B2 Wild Jack Hammer (5:27)
B3 He'd Be A Diamond (2:46)
B4 Undertaker (2:11)
B5 Stain On The Sun (8:40)
C1 Motherdust (5:33)
C2 Cuvie (2:32)
C3 Thankless Task (2:58)
C4 The Miskatonic Variations II (16:25)
D1 It Won't Come Again (6:21)
D2 Blurred Vision (6:35)
D3 Son Of Many Mothers (3:20)
D4 Chinese Burn (2:50)
D5 God Speed You To Earth (7:18)
Opening with the only sample used on the whole album, a BBC RP voice from a scratchy old record congratulates you on your purchase of a new gramophone, and invites you to enjoy music of varying styles...
It would be fair to say that my main criticism of this sprawling behemoth of an album is that it isn't varied enough, but when you're putting out high-quality psychedelic rock of this calibre is maybe a little churlish of me to complain about lack of variation.
Opening instrumental White Sun sets the mood perfectly - a faintly arabesque riff, layered fuzz guitar, organ, and the odd (for Bevis) inclusion of guest musician Cyke Bancroft playing saxophone. And playing said saxophone in a free-jazz squall of a way. It fits surprisingly well, lending a King Crimson/ late-Beatles feel to the track which says, "You thought you knew Bevis Frond, but..." What's more the production values have gone up a notch further from Any Gas Faster. A clear, bright, and beautiful sound throughout, even in the deliberately muddy numbers.
Drowned follows immediately from White Sun's implosion, all low-strummed vibrato guitar and softly-sung vocals. For Bevis, the backing is positively modern, albeit modern prog. At times it even goes a bit shoe-gazery and baggy sounding. For a man who normally gets his influences from 20 years previous this is impressively forward-thinking. Lyrically, the metaphor of feeling drowned for being depressed plays out well, and there's a typical down-to-earth flourish:
That shape in the distance, is it some kind of bag?
It flaps in the wind like a battle-torn flag
You're inclined to ignore, but your dog keeps sniffing round
Don't you try to revive me, I just drowned
One of the first of several straightforward rock numbers follows, but is notable for Martin Crowley's much improved drumming, reminiscent of John Bonham.
Another guest features on track 4, violinist Barry Dransfield, and he really makes the number. It's slightly sentimental folk, but with a pessimistic edge I liked.
The title track ends a very strong opening side. Multiple electric and acoustic guitars, more quality drums, and lyrically as good as Bevis gets. Even the long guitar solo that finishes the end feels spot on.
Unlike Solar Marmalade. With that kind of track title is never going to be a winner really, except maybe with Hawkwind fans. Lots and lots of guitar feedback, and dragged out interminably. Luckily it's followed by a cracking blues number, with another guest Bari Watts on guitar. A solo musician in his own right, Bari has also worked with Nick Saloman in the wonderful (if similarly over-indulgent at times) Outskirts of Infinity band, whose Lord Of The Dark Skies I can't recommend highly enough, especially if you like Cream (before they went and ruined it by reforming). That album also has an even better version of I've Got Eyes In The Back Of My Head from Inner Marshland, which is saying something.
Lyrically Wild Jack Hammer shows some of the bitter edge of the majority of songs on Any Gas Faster, but in defence of someone else this time, which takes the edge off. The following two tracks are short, pithy, and excellent versions of love/regret songs (He'd Be A Diamond, with some nicely off-kilter vocal delivery) and garage-rock (Undertaker). But Stain On The Sun lets the side down, literally, by dragging on for about 9 minutes. The slower, ballad part at the start is fine, but the lengthy, poodle-haired-rocking, over-wrought guitar solo and pedestrian backing that makes up the remaining 5 minutes is just too much.
The third side is really all about (vaguely H.P. Lovecraft-inspired) The Miskatonic Variations II (number one being on The Auntie Winnie Album, and credited to The Pathenogenetick Brotherhood Of Woronzow). A near 17-minute jam featuring all guest musicians mentioned to date, David Tibet from Current 93 doing 'Tibetan Chant' and Nick Saloman himself on a heavily echoed recorder(!). It is a great track, and starts in a free-jazz fashion before building into a big wall of overdriven guitar noise that reminded me of Vibracathedral Orchestra. The drums slowly fade in and a great bassline brings the whole thing together. Bass, drums, and guitar chords chug along with everyone soloing over the top, and it sounds like a lot of fun. My one niggle is with David Tibet's chanting. He sounds more like Daevid Allen than a Tibetan monk, and I half expected him to shout "Look, up in the sky! A giant teapot!" at any moment. Fortunately you can only really hear him at the beginning and end of the track.
I shouldn't forget Motherdust from this side either. One of the tracks that was, unfairly in my opinion, relegated from the first CD release of New River Head to the Gathering of Fronds compilation, although a double CD was put out in 2006 making it the opener to the second CD, giving it a more rightful prominence. Anyway, it's a mother-son dialogue with real venom on the mother part, and alternating knowingness and neediness on the child's. Excellent stuff, sparsely furnished with an affecting piano riff that adds to the tension nicely. Thankless Task gets a quick mention for its ABCB rhyme in the verses. Don't really know why, but it stood out, so I thought I'd mention it.
The final side opens with the knowing and self-explanatory It Won't Come Again:
And it won't come again
It's a joke to pretend
The coloured lights and groovy clothes
They only illustrate that no one knows where it's gone
And it won't come again
You're a fool to pretend
You might look mean with your teardrop axe
You think you're cool with your hipster slacks
But you're wrong.
Matched only for lyrical knowingness in Son Of Many Mothers, "I won't play the game/but I'll do what I can". Which I think sums up the Bevis approach to music nicely, perhaps along with the slogan I've thought of for him, ".. with more guitars than are strictly necessary".
Chinese Burn has a mighty two-chord organ and blues-harp breakdown, and God Speed You To Earth wraps things up in the quietest manner Bevis has ever managed, finally building on the final line "Don't you look back".
A very good album, all told. You really should have a copy.