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16 April 2017

Roy Harper - 'One Of Those Days In England (Bullinamingvase)' (Chrysalis)

This record (which also has a different title in the US) more explicitly deals with issues of life in England, circa 1977, and while there's nary a trace of the punk sound taking over those shores at the time, it paints a portrait that is somewhat less idealised than the work of Ray Davies, while remaining true to Roy Harper's personality and past body of work. It also has some dudes from Wings playing on it. 'One of Those Days in England', the song, is split across the record; part one serves as a bouncy introduction to the whole LP, and is really just a love song; side two is given over to parts two through ten, which develop a bit like 'The Game' on the previous LP - a proper prog-rock suite, just not super proggy. Harper never gets into excessively jammy solos or fancy time signatures; I think after listening to all these records I can safely say he's confident with his technical skills and also likes the pop-rock format just fine, not seeking to tear it down with experimental musique concrete interludes or jazzy improvisations. Yet he still pushes the form in terms of duration and assemblage, making what I would call 'complicated pop'; parts 2-10 of the title track are maybe the best example yet of it all. The sheer length of it makes it feel slightly like light opera, but thankfully there's no central narrative. 'One of Those Days in England' is extremely English, sure, and makes no secret of the country's decline, but it's really a love song using the backdrop of nation, memory, and current events as a lyrical device. Coming when it does - before Thatcher took over and fucked shit up even further, there's a wistful nostalgia to the grumbling, like a little bit of decline is OK and who knew how bad things would get after this point. A Brexit anthem this is not, however; it's personal and idiosyncratic like everything of Harper's, resisting any possibilities for being co-opted as part of a movement or protest. I guess the first part of 'One of Those Days in England', standing alone on side 1, works not just as an introduction to the album but as potential radio single. It certainly sounds a lot more polished than anything on HQ; there's slick backing vocals and keyboards and a tendency towards a less 'hard' edge. The material in-between -- the rest of side 1 -- has some lovely parts; 'These Last Days' and 'Cherishing the Lonesome' continue the record's themes of love and loss and are quite Apollonian, moving through light, gentle melodies, towards a definitive rock and roll statement in the latter piece. 'Naked Flame' is the high point of the whole LP to me, a very crunchy folky piece which just screams with bright treble sonorities. A twelve-string guitar has never sounded better on vinyl, and there's also a close aesthetic similarity to some of the more traditional-leaning folkie Brits of the time, at least more than Harper tends to express. It's all dragged down by 'Watford Gap', which supposedly was left off some pressings because it was 'controversial', although it's about stopping at a roadside services and having a shitty meal. The meal was obviously so shitty that Harper was inspired to write a silly novelty song about it, but if you've spent many days in England you should have expected it, I would think.

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