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15 April 2017

Roy Harper - 'When an Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease' (Chrysalis)

I have the North American edition of this album, which is called HQ in the UK, but to be honest I like this title more. I think of this (roughly) as Harper's Rust Never Sleeps, with one side being electric and one side acoustic, but it's actually not true - the rock numbers have acoustic interludes and the second side actually rocks a bit on 'Hallucinating Light'. Yet there's something of a duality here - maybe because side A is largely uptempo songs about big topics, and side B is a bit more delicate, pastoral, and romantic. This feels like the summation of everything Roy Harper explored between 1968-1974, synthesised into one masterful album, yet despite this cohesion, I wouldn't call this his best record (but certainly a good one). 'The Game (parts 1-5)' opens it up, a 13-minute epic investigation of the mysteries of existence. He's done these deep, rambling philosophical numbers before ('McGoohan's Blues', 'The Lords Prayer') but here, the whole work is built around a Kinks-style 'You Really Got Me' riff, which keeps everything from spiralling out of control. I'm not sure which parts are which, but somewhere in the middle, things take a nice shimmery folk turn, and it builds up to the climactic, inevitable rock-out ending. The final lyrics are 'Please leave this world as clean as when you came', and this is reflected in the composition itself which is relatively tidy, closer to Zeppelin than to Yes. It sounds a bit like Harper has shifted beyond melancholy to a sense of resignation; the feeling of 'The Game' is of a narrator trapped in structures beyond his control, trying to determine what art means, what his relationships have been worth. It's much more existential than sci-fi, and it works pretty well, even if you won't find yourself with a catchy melody stuck in your head afterwards.The big themes continue on 'The Spirit Lives', which starts off pontificating over a slidey steel guitar bed before starting to rock out. Here, Christianity is his target, and his atheistic, humanistic assertions rank up there with Burma's 'New Nails'; Roy Harper is more punk than anyone realised, perhaps because he rarely wraps his observations in easy slogans. Anyway, I'm always up for some religion-bashing, so I like it. The weak part of side one (and the whole record, really) is 'Grown Ups Are Just Silly Children', which ends the side, again reminding me of Roy Wood and Wizzard in particular. This rave-up is a throwaway number but it's okay, because side two is so lovely. 'Referendum (Legend)' I guess is some reboot on Sophisticated Beggar's 'Legend', or maybe its just a totally different song. 'Forget Me Not' is a truly beautiful, psychedelic work to immerse oneself in, a totally simple love song where the chorus/echo effects of John Leckie's production work wonders (finally). These days, I tend to gravitate towards the more simple, strong 'songs' instead of the ambitious prog-experimental jams, and this is just fucking stellar. 'Hallucinating Light' is long and trippy, yet very subdued - it precedes mellow minimalist rock bands like Low and the Clientele by two decades and remains a haunting presence even once the record segues into the title track, which is a slow yet fierce dirge about aging, I guess, filled with sports metaphors. The back cover of this outlines the rules for cricket, I guess since us Americans wouldn't know, but I would have rather had the lyrics printed. I don't know if Chris Corsano's Young Cricketer is somehow a reference to this - the album artwork is a little bit similar.

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