Book Reviews

The On Track series: Book Review

Sonicbond and On Track hit a half-century of publications as the titles keep on comin’. This time we have a couple of artists who hover under the radar…

ON TRACK: Gong – every album, every song – Kevan Furbank

A band that’s been through as many lineup changes as they have in creating Gong offshoots, Kevan Furbank takes on the challenge of assessing the output of a highly influential outfit.

He’s a genuine fan obviously, including comments from many personal interviews and I’m heartened to read that he shares my thoughts in his rating of the current incarnation of the band – “the current magnificent Gong line up” he calls them. Very gratifying and always a tricky one when the band playing the music onstage and recording new music contains none of the original members of the group. Imagine a band called The Beatles sans Lennon, McCartney, Harrison or Starr…

It exposes the overarching principle that ultimately, it’s all about the music and even as the band implodes or regenerates, Dr Who-like, from one incarnation to another, great art is still created. The evidence – Angel’s Egg declared as “Gong’s finest moment” and Tim Blake’s self-confessed ‘best album’ from his time in the band.

Touted as the perfect introduction to Planet Gong and the theme of the pothead pixies (not forgetting to include plenty of tea) it’s a fascinating journey that even at a time when personnel issues were causing some angst the resulting music is great fun. It’s hard not to focus on the classic three-album run – The Radio Gnome trilogy – that really defines Gong, but there’s an exceptionally vast world to discover if you’re new or casual.

The intros to each album provide a potted history/biography of the band. It’s necessary too as the comings and goings are as convoluted as any soap opera. Some may be thankful that the eighties were skipped – what would Gong have come up with during that decade of decadence. However, there’s good reason to be thankful for the fact that in 2020 the band (whoever that might be) are still active and continuing the legacy in the true spirit. In the several offshoots and associated recordings, the live output is well defined, with a suitable call for the next album to be a live one (here, here).

Massive kudos for stepping up to the plate/into the breach to Kavus Torabi (“a perfect fit” according to Gong overlord Daevid Allen) who now steers the good ship. A true believer who’s continued the amazing legacy of Daevid Allen. As Ian Anderson is seen by many as Jethro Tull, Allen surely is Gong. We must also mention in dispatches the now-infamous prog fan Steve Davis who played his part in the awakening of the new Gong. With the recent Rejoice! I’m Dead! and the psych tour de forceThe Universe Also Collapses (Kavus – “all the best music is psychedelic“) , the music goes from strength to strength. I have to own up to being terribly fond of the latter; very much a contemporary version of Gong which too is the perfect starting point for backtracking. Don’t be surprised to see another clutch of musicians still reinventing Gong in another few decades down the line.

ON TRACK: Aimee Mann – every album, every song – Jez Rowden

Oh yes, we’ve all heard of Aimee Mann… She was a guest on Time Stand Still, a track from Rush’s Hold Your Fire album and anyone who reads At The Barrier know how we and our friends all hold Rush dear to our hearts. And to be honest that’s about it. Fortunately, Jez Rowden (previous On Track author for Steely Dan and for whom Time Stand Still was also his first Mann encounter), gets to set the record straight and embarrasses us (ie, me) about a lack of knowledge about a musician whose work classes as ‘deserves to be more widely recognised’.

A master of her craft,” and songs that are “dripping with melody and filled with her wonderful words” nails the Rowden colours firmly to the mast of Aimee Mann and off we go to find out what all the fuss is about. Loading up one of the streaming platforms and heading to the contents page, we adopt the mantra to read and listen, read and listen.

We follow the tale via her first band, the punk, noise-art Young Snakes (singing in falsetto),’Til Tuesday and the solo career in which Jez struggles to find fault. Not that he should; we’re used to On Track authors having that element of objectivity, so can trust his considered judgement when it comes to assessing the consistently high quality of Aimee Mann’s songwriting and performances. Even the Christmas album emerges unscathed and if anyone can make me listen through the gruesome Winter Wonderland as she does, then they’ve done a job.

A brief ‘Aimee on songwriting’ passage reveals a humility that pervades her work and lyrics are regularly quoted to make a point as well as alert the reader to the insight in her writing. She’s portrayed very much as a songwriter whose words are the medium through which she works. Through eleven solo albums to her most recent (2017) album Mental Illness that strips things back, even now she may be viewed as something of an underdog despite being a double Grammy winner. A nice alternative subject for On Track that errs towards the male-dominated classic rock outfits. Mark under widely undiscovered and vastly underappreciated.

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