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20 February 2016

Gong - 'Camembert Electrique' (Virgin)

Gong is one of those bands that you can imagine was more fun to be in than to listen to, but that's not true in the case of Camembert Electrique; their most popular album, I think, or at least the one that I listen to the most. This is the fun side of progressive rock, but it's not really that proggy - the songs are relatively short, mostly built around pop ditties written by Daevid Allen, and while we get some tape manipulations and sax solos and crazy druggie vocals, it's nothing like Yes or Crimson - but rather, a tight rock band with some odd flavours. This was recorded in France, as the title indicates, and you'd think this would bring a more continental atmosphere to these Canterbury boys, but I don't know; I don't think this sounds much like French or Italian prog of the time, and Allen is Australian anyway so it's not like the British-base of Gong meant they normally sound like Tenpole Tudor. Allen's exuberance carries through, whether it's chanting 'O mother / let's do it again', the elegance of 'And You Tried So Hard',  or the irrepressible glee of 'Fohat Digs Holes in Space'. And the band is pretty versatile - a rather tight-knit unit at the point, at least compared to the big messy groups I always think of as characterising later (and Pierre Morlein's) Gong. On 'You Can't Kill Me'  and 'Dynamite' they sound quite pointed, and almost severe - the goofiness is buried, or at least balanced by a harder psych edge, kinda like, I dunno -- Jane's Addiction? But then they also can slip into moments of sweet, sweet melody, such as the chorus of 'And You Tried So Hard', a song which feels like it's changing rock sub-genres with each verse. The album is structured around four sub-30 second experimental tape pieces, appearing at the beginning and end of each side (locked grooves at the end of course, and clumsy ones at that); the 'songs' of 1 finish with two medleys, with the beautiful 'I Am Your Fantasy' (led by the gorgeous, lush vocals of Gilli Smyth) being the standout track, possibly of the whole record. The best moments of swirling space rock use echo effects over a Czukay-like bassline; 'Fohat Digs Holes in Space' runs away with this concept, building up a creeping sense of malevolence until the hook/vocals come in to save the day. And it's got the obligatory drug reference, lackadaisical approach, and noodly sax solo, to make it a truely iconic track. You know, at their worst, Gong could be seen as the proto-Phish; not that Phish are all that bad (I got sucked into a wormhole watching them cover the VU's Loaded on YouTube one night, and it was all right!). But now, they already feel like such a relic, even though this type of goofy druggy prog-pop has never died, but merely evolved.

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