November 21, 2014 Leave a comment
Some years back, English singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Pond created a brilliant online reminiscence of The Glory Days of British Glam Rock, to which he was a first-hand observer and participant as a music-loving youngster. While he certainly recognized and appreciated the visual and sartorial excesses of the era, he also nailed a key tenet of what made the music itself so special, and I quote him on this topic, below:
[Glam's] main identifying mark wasn’t the clothes worn or the name of the singer (Larry Lurex anyone?) but the rhythm of the music. A very basic tribal four on the floor pervades glam rock, sometimes played on the floor tom tom a la Gary Glitter/Suzi Quatro, sometimes the whole band just stomped along on the beat like Slade or T-Rex, but this was rock n’ roll, pure and simple.
That same type of stomping mighty tribal beat — amplified by amphetamines — also underscored the work of pioneering space rockers Hawkwind, who at the peak of their powers merged thunderous, monolithic rhythms (courtesy Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister on bass and woefully under-appreciated drummer Simon King) with science fiction storytelling and free-form squalls of synths and horns and guitars, creating a style that’s come to be known, in certain musical circles, as BLANGA. (Full disclosure: Steve Pond and I both played long-ago roles in the creation and dissemination of that descriptive musical term, documented here).
While glam largely shifted into the purview of mildly embarrassed nostalgia in the aftermath of the punk cataclysm of 1977, Hawkwind soldier on to this day, still dishing out the BLANGA, still widdling the synths, still in search of space. Steve Pond himself went on to craft a fascinating musical career that orbited between the twin touch poles of Glam and BLANGA, working for many years with erstwhile Hawkwind frontmen Nik Turner (in Inner City Unit) and Robert Calvert, whose Pond-fortified backing band was called Krankschaft. And now, long after Calvert’s untimely death in 1988 and a long series of personnel-driven fits and starts (documented in this brilliant Pete Frame-style family tree), 2014 finds the former glam kid and space-rocker fronting a new three-piece incarnation of Krankschaft, and issuing the band’s excellent third album, fittingly called Krankschaft Three.
The album’s brilliant artwork (courtesy one Dr. Foxon; see example below) explicitly makes the BLANGA connection in an apt onomatopoeia inspired by two fist-fighting robots, and Krankschaft Three should no doubt appeal to the unreformed, badger-loving, caravan-camping crusties at the heart of historic Hawkwind fandom. (I count myself as an honorary member thereof, so that’s in no way an insult!) But, oh, there’s so much more to this album than just the BLANGA, and I hope that it gets a fair hearing from fans of, as Pond wrote, long ago, “rock n’ roll, pure and simple,” because this is a shining example of the form, delivered with style and zeal.
Bassist Alex Tsentides and drummer Kevin Walker both make their Krankschaft recording debuts on this disc, and they are a crackerjack rhythm section throughout, driving each song with their propulsive playing, often creating a sense of some sentient perpetual motion machine, hammering against its housing in a display of pure kinetic enthusiasm. Pond serves as quadruple threat here, rocking the guitar riffs, laying on rich layers of synth and sequencer squiggles of all shapes, sorts and sizes, leading his comrades in the shouty singalong choral bits while taking the lead vocal turns on the verses, and penning six of the eight great songs on the album. The trio work fantastically well together, and the clarity and punch of the recording puts you smack in the center of the formidable energy they create, front row for the riffs, middle seat for the melodies, strap in, hold on, blast off!
The two cuts not penned by Pond include a previously-unrecorded Robert Calvert number called “The Day of the Quake” and a reclaimed ’70s gem from the long-forgotten Nebula called “Come Fly With Us.” These two lost lambs are seamlessly herded into the sonic and lyrical arc of the record, which loosely chronicles the tale of three friends who travel in time from the early ’70s to the future, bringing “rock n’ roll, pure and simple” with them, much to the dismay of the Engrish-spewing multinational marketing and manufacturing conglomerate, Kranky Corps. For those of you who remember how much fun it was to purchase albums in the ’70s to relish all of the posters, stickers, and other swag that fell out once you tore off their shrink-wrap skins, I heartily encourage you to buy a physical copy of this disc, because Krankschaft remember those days fondly, too, and they’ve been more than generous with the masterpiece graphic design goodies you’ll receive in exchange for your hard-earned dosh.
What ultimately makes this record so absolutely successful are the ways that Krankschaft deftly weave disparate elements together in ways that clumsier, less accomplished bands are never likely to achieve. There are crunchy riffs by the bucketful on Krankschaft Three, but they’re balanced by equally memorable melodies. There’s a well-developed narrative arc that links the songs, but every one of them stands strong alone, completely realized works in their own right. There’s evocative, soaring synths sparkling across the open spaces above the dense metronomic rumble of a nuclear-grade power trio magneto. And there are some serious social themes (is it surprising that the three mates from the idealistic ’70s find themselves thinking “I hate this future we’ve been sold?”) that are delivered with such a sense of good will and flat-out fun that you just want to put this thing on endless repeat and relive the journey, over and over and over again.
At least that’s what I’m doing today. And probably tomorrow, too. And then for some time after that. And then some more. If you’re a fan of “rock n’ roll, pure and simple,” (and who isn’t, really?), then you owe it to yourself to strap on your jet back and zip over to the nearest Kranky Corps outlet near you to score a hot-off-the-press copy of Krankschaft Three. We may hate the future we’ve been sold, but this album celebrates and modernizes the best of our musical past, and that makes the present a much better place to be.