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16 April 2017

Roy Harper - 'Born in Captivity' (Awareness)

And we finally reach the end of the Roy Harper gauntlet. It's been a fun ride, no? Born in Captivity was released in 1984, so we've skipped ahead a few years, right over 1982's Work of Heart of which this record is supposedly the demo tapes of. Not being familiar with that record, I can only go by this which is mostly 'stripped-down' in the sense that it's Harper and an electric guitar, except for the more fleshed out cuts like 'Drawn to the Flames' and 'I Am a Child'. Harper in the 80s takes on the aesthetic that seduced many at the time - 'Child' has a mid tempo backing band and crippled guitar tones, sounding a bit like Hall & Oates or whatever was floating around at the time. This sound isn't so poo-poo'd any longer though it still sounds to me like the music I grew up rebelling against in some way. But unaccompanied, or barely accompanied, it sounds like 70s Harper, for the most part. Both sides start with songs named after people. 'Elizabeth' appears in full form on Whatever Happened to Jugula? but here is a confident slow-burner, a touching and intimate hymn for hope. 'Stan' is a song (I think) about football legend Stanley Matthews and thus I sorta like it for that reason, as it elevates him to some sort of mythic figure. Hey, I like nostalgia, especially nostalgia for a British life I never led. And then there's 'Work of Heart' , the six part song suite that fills out side two. It's hard to click with this, as perhaps I've just heard too many really long Roy Harper songs in the last few days. Or maybe the lack of full instrumentation drags this down, as all of the others (even 'McGoohan's Blues') featured a backing band. The first and last parts are called 'No One Ever Gets Out Alive', and those are catchy enough melodies, but all the stuff in the middle is hard to focus on. There are some swirling, descending guitar riffs here that sound exactly like the Page-guesting on 'The Same Old Rock', and I wonder if it's supposed to be a quote or just a struggling artist returning to one of his greatest triumphs. This isn't a terrible record by any means, and I always like when artists release the demos of something. Going through all of these Roy Harper albums, a careful reader will notice that I'm not super fair to Mr. Harper. I celebrate him for his audacity, but then prefer the straight ahead folk songs; I commend his visceral lyrics about religion and society, but then chide him for his misogyny. But that's really what it comes down to with Harper - he's a complex, fucked-up contradiction of an artist, and that's what makes him resonate so much with me still. I'm sure there's great material throughout his 80s and 90s output, and I'd love someone to make me a mix of the best of that era.

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