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10 April 2017

Roy Harper - 'Valentine' (Harvest)

This has weirdly been one of my favourite Roy Harper records, despite it being pretty uneven by design, being built around odds and ends, and shorter songs written over the previous few years. Oh, and it's also really dodgy in terms of political correctness, in more than few places. I had hoped upon embarking on this project all those years ago that giving a studious re-listen to all of these records would encourage me to re-evaluate them, and to hear new things and maybe reconsider my opinions. But to be honest, it's mostly reinforced my feelings and in cases like this where I have heard the record so many times, I feel like I'm not able to properly concentrate on them. With that in mind, Valentine is still lovely and still uneven. I am really a sucker for the soft, straight fingerpicking folkie tunes and the examples on here are stunning. 'Forever' from Sophisticated Beggar is somewhat reworked; 'North Country' is a take on the Dylan song (or rather, 'steals it back' as one live spoken intro declares); 'Commune' is about the most perfect, beautiful work of magic ever committed to vinyl. And let's talk now about the opener, 'Forbidden Fruit', which as the title might hint, is about wanting to fuck a 13-year old girl. Now, I firmly believe one can write a song from a different point of view than the songwriter, and that a narrative can be fictionalised, etc - and I like to think that Harper was doing that, rather than confessing to the whole world how much he lusted after a schoolgirl. It's an interesting situation to write about and to try to find empathy in the situation and I think he did a good job, but the added dynamic of music and melody makes this even more complicated, because it's one of the more catchy and graceful tracks he's given us. It's hard not to love this song, even if it's shady as hell. And it recasts the 'little girl' subject of the closing track, 'Forever', in a new (creepy) light. This masculine tendency rears its head throughout, veering into straight-up misogyny at points. I find that when it's masked in something delicate and twee, like on 'Commune', I love it; when backed by a more hard rock section, I don't. 'Male Chauvinist Pig Blues' is clearly tongue-in-cheek and easy to ignore but 'Magic Woman (Liberation Reshuffle)' is not so forgivable. Filler like 'Acapulco Gold' is mostly forgettable (though that's a lovely lounge piano pantomime!) than 'Magic Woman's lyrics about 'unconscious castration' and 'I need a man to plug into me'. It really is a testament to the power of the great songs here that I rate Valentine so high as an overall album and choose to ignore the odious material. 'Twelve Hours of Sunset', written from the window of a plane, is eerie and magical; it can make goosebumps rise and the electric guitar sound from Lifemask returns here, only this time, it's perfect. And 'Commune', 'Commune', well,  I don't even know what I can say except it's just fucking incredible. This is maybe more proof of why I see Harper and Neil Young as analogous; they both have sometimes questionable social stances, they can flip between rockers and folk songs in the same record, and their surrealist tendencies are a nice complement to each other.

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