HEY! Get updates to this and the CD and 7" blogs via Twitter: @VinylUnderbite

8 April 2017

Roy Harper - 'Folkjokeopus' (World Pacific)

I wish I had the UK edition of this because the cover is nicer - this has a circusy typeface that jars against the moody, moustache-heavy photo on the cover here. Actually, Harper looks like Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh on this sleeve, though the sounds herein are far from the scat-jazz stylings the fictitious Mr. Moon would endorse. This is Harper's third album and I'm sad not to own the second as Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith is a fantastic album where the Harper sound begins to come together and emerge as a distinct vision, rather than a 'product of the times'. But Folkjokeopus ain't bad at all, probably one of my overall favourites, and Shel Talmy's production is really evident - generally a good thing, except that  some of the rockers start to sound the same. The unnamed rhythm section has a real boogie-woogie bass player and several songs' reliance on minor key strummed acoustic chords before a major resolution leads to a samey feeling throughout. One would be forgiven for confusing snippets of 'Seargent Sunshine', 'Zaney Janey' and 'She's the One', although they are pretty different compositions. The first two are fun and pleasant pop songs, one the perfect album opener and the second perhaps Harper's counterpoint to Nick Drake's 'Hazy Jane' - I like to think they are about the same woman and reflect the dispositions of the songwriters and how they interpreted her. 'She's The One' is the all-time most-played Harper cut in this house. My vinyl is worn a bit thin here, but it sounds great, and I just want to keep listening to it over and over. A paen of jealous appreciation to a friend unhappy with his marriage, it seethes with fantasy, passion and life, even with cryptic lyrics I've struggled with for a decade ('She's the one who buys the comics, drops the kids and knows the con', but maybe I'm trying to read in too much). It's major hook ('Ah how can any man talk like you / with a wonderful wife like yours?') is impossible to not sing along to, bursting with such exuberance. The momentum keeps this going and it doesn't even begin to wear out its welcome despite it's seven minute length - but if we want to talk about duration, well this is the album with 'McGoohan's Blues', the 17 minute epic loosely inspired by The Prisoner. As length Harper compositions go, this is one of the strongest, built mostly around a stark, tinny strum and his voice. This is borderline conspiracy theory soliloquising, with the Prisoner imagery slowly fading into a full-fledged psychedelic mess (rainbows, toadstools, silver water, etc.). Because of this, it's not that easy to grip onto, but clearly lashing out at social conventions, religion, conformity, and government - what else ya got? It's not as much as protest anthem as a Theory of Everything, and it helps that the song is pretty great too, with the nearly shrieked chorus anchoring the long slow journey til when the band finally kicks in. But the full band part of 'McGoohan's Blues' isn't some payoff, just a plateau, and not what I tend to remember. As a whole, Talmy holds Folkjokeopus together well, and there's very little throwaway beyond 'Exercising Some Control', about a dog (which does sound the most like the music-hall influenced Kinks of anything here). Eastern raga influences rears its head on 'In the Time of Water', though it's too brief to really notice; 'Ballad of Songwriter' casts the songwriter as the bringer of light, and may be the predecessor to the 'Dayman' song from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; it's also where, on this listen, I started to hear a similarity to another eccentric English Roy from the same era, Mr. Wood, who shares the slight hint of the carnivalesque with Harper. 'Composer of Life' is another nearly forgotten cut, a twee, falsetto sketch that is actually fucking beautiful and one of the other underrated gems on this record. I gave this three full listens just now, which may seem a bit silly since I have 8 more Harper LPs to plow through, but I keep wanting to go back to 'She's The One'. Maybe because of the presence of 'McGoohan's', this would be my pick for the Roy Harper album to get, if you are only seeking one, since it feels pretty evenly dispersed over all of his different approaches. The one thing this lacks is some of the stunning fingerpicking from Sophsticated Beggar, but Stomcock lies ahead....

No comments:

Post a Comment