The first song is intriguing enough so I'm paying attention. The production is really good on this thing, it was mixed by Bob Drake so you know going into this that at least it's gonna sound good. I don't know how to describe the first song, the singer sounded mad at me for listening to his record. That was a good song.
Track 2-now im actually paying attention AND listening. I just heard a chorus that reminded me of Cardiacs and anyone who can remind me of Cardiacs has proven they do not dwell in wankerland.
3rd song was a nice enough folky poppy kind of thing that segues into whatever I'm listening to now. I'm feeling a fractured fairy tales kind of vibe, there's lots of interesting instrumentation and the arrangements were not done by someone who doesn't know what the fuck they were doing. This music is very visual, I'm not paying attention to the lyrics at all but the imagery is kinda creepy and cool. The singer is shouting at me again so I'm gonna look at porn for a bit...I ran out of porn to look at and it's a slow newsday. This song is still going, it's not bad I probably should've paid more attention but it didnt make me so I didn't. Something new is happening now. Cacophonous whirlwind dissipates into.............
A Bobby Conn sounding pompous pop thing that ends as soon as it begins. Weird instrumentation abounds. This song has had about three hundred thousand changes and I have no idea where it ends and the next one begins so I'm not going talk about it anymore. I think it's over now and it was weird and busy and good.
My phonograph is telling me I'm on track 9 which is the 3rd to last song. This is pretty theatrical and heavy, if I told you it was a little like Idiot Flesh you wouldn't tell me I was full of shit. I'm real impressed with the care that went into each of these songs, it sounds like this took twelve eternities to record. There's no reason to watch movies because there are records like this and music is better than movies. I get the impression that one guy is responsible for most of this and I also get the impression that he spent alot of money on this that he is never going to see again.
So here's the skinny. Next time someone you work with brings up the Polyphonic Spree again, you can say,"fuck that band, The Rude Staircase is way better". The reason why you can say that is because it is true. This is pretty ambitious but not pretentious, it's big and ugly and has friends over that you don't necessarily like but you deal with anyway and when it's all said and done you will be glad you listened to this from beginning to end with no interruptions like I just did.
(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
As many readers of this review will know, I'm a big Cardiacs fan. One question I've never really asked myself is what would happen if the next Cardiacs album was even more 'out there' than usual? I mean they're a pretty 'out there' kind of a band as it is but what if their next CD was that little bit more avant garde, that little bit more eccentric, that little bit more difficult to listen to? Would I still like it? Well, it looks like we'll have a bit longer to wait to find out what the next Cardiacs CD is going to sound like, but this debut album from The Rude Staircase may answer my hypothetical question for me.
Yes, The Rude Staircase have a very strong pronk rock sound to them and at times that sound is very reminiscent of Cardiacs (and Uz Jsme Doma), not so that you'd ever accuse them of being outright copyists but the influence definitely seems to be there (though any resemblance is apparently coincidental because the main composer behind the group hadn't even heard any Cardiacs until six months after recording this album).
Take the opening track, for example, the beautifully named “Variations on a theme by Michael Jackson”… well, it's not like anything by the Prince of Pop that I've ever heard; more like Cardiacs with more manic vocals, some violin that sounds like it's stepped out of Larks' Tongues In Aspic, and some more avant garde bits of experimentation thrown in for good measure. Yes, we are still talking about the opening track: five minutes and 37 seconds of musical madness that collectively and uncomfortably sits somewhere between genius and distinctly uneasy listening.
After that track nearly anything would sound more settling and second track, “A Gaggle of Swans”, is positively relaxing by comparison. There's yet more of a Cardiacs sound to this, particularly with the chorus, and amongst the strangeness there's actually a fantastic pop melody to this, albeit one wrapped up in Cardiacs clothing. It's much more my cup of tea, displaying less angular strangeness for its own sake but without losing all levels of oddity in the process. There's some nice sax on this track and some trumpet too, I think, and the track ends with a tribal chant. What more could you want?
Track three, meanwhile, comes across as something of a surprise as it's a number with something of a folky edge to it and it's by far the most tuneful and accessible track on the album. The violin returns but this time it's used in a much lighter, folkier and more engaging way – more Stackridge than King Crimson. Heck, you could even play this track to your mother and she'd probably love it (which is unlikely to be true of the rest of the album).
Track four, “Houses Are Burning” is much odder, taking very Cardiacs-like vocals but throwing them into something that represents more of a clash between a Danny Elfman soundtrack and something by Mr. Bungle, perhaps… or perhaps not. It definitely has that freaky 1950s sci-fi B-movie soundtrack thing going on, but there's other stuff happening too, stuff you can't put you finger on, or if you do put your finger on it you go, 'Urgh! What did I just put my finger on?!'. You know what I'm saying here.
Then there are two tracks called “Cranes” (“Cranes (detail)” and “Cranes”). Don't ask me why. I suppose there's no reason why there shouldn't be. “Cranes (detail)”, is short. It's just under a minute and a half long and I can't say it does a lot for me. The song (if that's what you can call it) sort of deconstructs itself about half-way through, turning into a mixture of strings and strange noises. It's certainly odd but doesn't really appeal to these ears. “Cranes” itself has a particularly interesting instrumental section, which starts almost exactly half-way through the track. We're treated to more sax, over drums, percussion and some scary noises, then a false ending, before heading into vaguely Nurse With Wound territory, and then we're back with more violin, sax and vocals. After a less than auspicious opening this track turns out to be definitely one of the better ones on the album.
“Here come the red teeth” is surprisingly tuneful, an almost jolly little swing ditty but with enough of a Rude Staircase twist that it doesn't stand out from the rest of the album. Then it's track eight, “We had our work cut out for us, Francis”, which is another of my favourites on the album. It's another strongly Cardiacs-sounding tune and is one of the more successful pieces of songwriting on the album, cleverly mixing the epic pronk rock sound with an excellent arrangement and some fine instrumentation.
It's followed by “Telephone, telephone”, the longest track on the album (at nearly six minutes), a manic mini-symphony that chucks Cardiacs, Elfman, Nurse With Wound and 1950s US cop show theme tunes into a melting pot, turns it up to 11, and sits back and watches the fireworks. Music to party to when the apocalypse arrives, perhaps.
Then we have “March of the D9 Caterpillar” (again, I have no idea what the title's referring to), which strikes me could be the Electric Light Orchestra's evil twin at times, but elsewhere reminds me again very much of Cardiacs (I'm thinking of the slow section to “Fiery Gun Hand” from the Sing To God album) and there's also a section that could have come from a freaky Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. This is another track that I particularly enjoy, with so many twists and turns within only four minutes and 18 seconds.
The final track, “Shut up!”, is effectively two minutes of something that isn't musically very exciting. It's in keeping with what's come before but it's certainly not the way I'd have chosen for the album to end (I think “March of the D9 Caterpillar” would have made for a more satisfying conclusion, but then it's not my album).
So the question I asked before still stands: would I like a more avant garde and challenging Cardiacs? Of course it's unfair to simply write The Rude Staircase off as that… they're as much the dark second-cousins of The Polyphonic Spree, crossed with Danny Elfman, The Residents and Nurse With Wound, but Cardiacs is still the single best point of comparison, even if there's much more to them than that. And do I like the album? Yes, very much. In places it's simply brilliant, doing musical things that impress and delight me in the way that prog (and pronk) rock is supposed to, and it's almost constantly surprising me, from track to track, and often within tracks too. At other points I feel like there's a joke been told but no-one's explained the punchline to me, or I feel like I'm listening to Cardiacs without the melodies or the sense of restraint (for me, no matter how weird and wacky Cardiacs have got, they've always had a tremendous sense of melody, albeit a wacky one, and know just how far to push an idea).
Of course Cardiacs have been doing their thing for over two decades and The Rude Staircase are only just beginning, plus at this stage I'd rather hear a band that are full of ideas and the urge to experiment, even if those ideas and experiments don't always work for me. This is pretty challenging stuff at times but there's much to recommend the album, particularly to fans of the artists I've mentioned.
Best tracks: “A Gaggle of Swans”, “In The Silo”, “Here Come The Red Teeth”, “We had our work cut out for us, Francis”, “March of the D9 Caterpillar”.