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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 199 - 11/28/12

Peter Blegvad & Andy Partridge
Gonwards
Ape House Ltd.

Two agreying gentlemen with impressive CVs and back catalogues.

Peter Blegvad is an American whose family took refuge in England when he was in his early teens. He started the avant-pop-trio Slapp Happy along with English Anthony Moore and German Dagmar Krause. They released a couple of highly recommended albums with some help from the German avant-collective Faust in the early 1970s before they joined forces with the English avant-rock-collective Henry Cow. Their joint efforts Deseperate Straights, that leans more on Slapp Happy than the Cow, and In Praise Of Learning, that is more Cow than Happy, rank among my all time favourite albums. Later, Peter has released numerous solo albums and some where he has collaborated with people inside and outside the Slapp Happy/Henry Cow-circuit. Slapp Happy has also had some short-lived come-backs in the 1980s, 90s and 00s. Andy Partridge, of course, used to be the general of the praised punk-pop (in the beginning), and pure-pop (later) specialists and sadly missed XTC. The band imploded around 2005. The duo released the album Orpheus - The Lowdown in 2003, recorded at Andy's garden Shed in Swindon between 1990 and 2003. The album is a bit of a challenge, including very few melodies, sharp instrumental edges with Peter's spoken words up front.

Gonwards is not quite the same. Peter's lyrics and spoken words are still there, but he sings in addition and the instrumentation and melody lines by Andy are much more conventional. There lies my main objection. The melodies includes laid-back blues, schmaltzy lounge-jazz, AOR pop and a go at something close to a combination of a Nino Rota Italian and Leonard Cohen Canadian ballad. The songs are occasionally not that far from what Bob Dylan or Tom Waits might be up to, but the production and arrangments lack some stings and hooks. Well, there is a blistering harmonica solo here and some grinding guitar licks there, but all in all the album sounds too slick and indifferent to keep me on the alert. It works best in the opening track "The Devil's Lexicon", a viscous, energetic, quite original blues with spoken verses and sung chorus, and "Cryonic Trombones", the closest to the non-conform, non-melodic Orpheus - The Lowdown.

The album comes in two different physical formats. An ordinary CD and a luxurious autographed box including an additional DVD with surround sound and a card game, illustrated by the artists, mainly Peter Blegvad I suspect. The additional disc also includes two extra songs, "You Broke It" and "Zombie Tots". The latter has some nice Mellotron sounding keyboard and soaring guitar. Here's also low budget videos for five of the ordinary songs. Three of them made by young students at Lucerne School Of Art and Design in Switzerland and two by New York short filmmaker and director Ladd Kessler.

I'm afraid Gonwards won't set the world on fire. Especially supporters of XTC's brilliant pop tunes might in for a disappointment. It seems like a better idea to check out the duo's first attempt Orpheus - The Lowdown that has been relaunched in connection with the release of Gonwards or the two gentlemen's back catalogues. That should keep everyone busy and happy for months to come.

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