Recalling GERMANY CALLING and DEUTSCH ROCK - Part 2 (Revised illustrated version)
(Text by David McConnell)
Published in Background Magazine, The Netherlands
First part of this text
MacDonald's Part Three
This intended final part appeared in the issue of 23 December and occupied only half a page, with a sub-heading of "From Amon Düül II to Faust's new sound-world" and accompanied by a photo of the individual members of Faust. Continuing with Amon Düül II, MacDonald referred to the dual leadership of the band in Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl, and to the double-album "Dance of the Lemmings", with these band members' respective compositions "Syntelman's march of the roaring seventies" and "Restless skylight / Transistor child" – both side-long strings of continuous ideas, neither of which are totally convincing, if readily distinguishable, stylistically”. And for the second record of the album: "Of the improvised tracks, the freeform "Marilyn Monroe memorial church" stands out as beating Tangerine Dream at their own game, whereas the rest sinks without memorable trace." It is strange how he could see nothing positive about the three excellent and intricate guitar-based instrumentals that made up what he had referred to as "the rest". Then he introduced "Carnival in Babylon" in that "whilst sweetness and light only by comparison with the three preceding records, it is certainly a more relaxed album, showing the Düül, for better or worse, trying to marry certain Anglo-American compositional ideas with their uniquely Germanic sound". He amplified his view: "The end-product, partly the result of shaky, ensemble work (German rhythm-sections tend to be either inflexible or very wobbly, and Amon Düül's can manage the extraordinary feat at being both simultaneously), leaves one wondering whether the group have any clear idea of what they want to be. Personally, I'd prefer they opted for the harmonics and time signatures of Weinzierl numbers like "CID in Uruk" and "Kronwinkl 12" rather than open-ended rambles like "Hawknose harlequin" and, on the evidence of their latest and most successful release "Wolf City", that's just what they’re doing. MacDonald's remaining statements about Amon Düül II were both quite positive and slightly negative, describing them in the former aspect as "a bold and inventive organisation", such that ""Wolf City" shows them gaining in confidence and ability with great strides". However, some negativity followed. The only reservation I have is that they may be striding towards a point at which it will no longer be possible to hear them unawares and identify them instantly as German, but this modest tendency may just be the outward manifestation of a long-deserved holiday from having borne the cause of independent German rock these five years. Still, one can't help wishing that some of their better titles ("Gulp a sonata", "Flesh-coloured anti-aircraft alarm", "Rattlesnakeplumcake", "Overheated tiara", "Sleepwalker’s timeless bridge", and "A short stop at the Transylvanian brain surgery") concealed music of comparable inspiration. By world standards, a group to watch, even so."
Thus, with Amon Düül II having been hazily praised, he then declared: "The best, you'll be relieved to hear, has been reserved for last." He referred to Faust, in that they "are a single-handed justification of all the ballyhoo that's been kicked up about Krautrock in recent years". He firstly mentioned, without opinion, their second album, "So Far", that was only available in Germany, and then a third album, a double, that was projected for release early in 1973. Of the latter, he added that "advance hearing of some of the tapes that might form sections of it have convinced me that it could be a masterpiece". He was also impressed in hearing "Meadow meal" from Faust's first self-titled album. "Using only self-designed equipment (no synthesizers), the group have, in this track, produced the first genuine example of rock that Britain and America could not only never have conceived, but which they would, at present, find technologically impossible to emulate. This is truly avant-garde music, played with a panache and an amiable humour duplicated by no other German band." Again, it is beyond my comprehension how he could be such a fan of Faust and yet be so against nearly all the bands of the new German rock; but, strangely, in spite of his great interest in Faust, he did not devote a proportionately large amount of space to them. He said much more about Can, for example, and he was "not a Can person".
MacDonald’s Part Three: "Late Arrivals"
Part three was intended to complete MacDonald's IN-DEPTH examination –- at least, for the time being. However, in contrast to the overall positivity in the main part, a mostly-negative “Late Arrivals” section was added at the end, where he was back to his usual negative attitude -- for he couldn't very well be positive for long, now could he? "A brief glance [Yes, more in the nature of a glance than a proper listen?] at the very newest releases and imports from Germany does little to alter the generally gloomy scene portrayed in the preceding article" was his introduction here, even if he didn't realise that he had not actually been particularly negative, unless, with ambiguity again, he was alluding to part two. Then he outlined the several new releases individually in his more expected uncomplimentary manner, beginning with Amon Düül II's "Disaster". "Sounding no better than "Collapsing" and "Paradieswaarts", it lives up to its name." Yes, with a title like "Disaster" gifting him such an opportunity, he couldn’t resist saying something like that. "Duisburg's Broselmachine [actually Bröselmaschine], believe it or not, are a kind of Teutonic Steeleye Span. They do what they do with skill and restraint, but the final aim of the exercise eludes me." But why did there have to be a final aim of an exercise? Three other bands were then unfavourably summed-up in just one sentence: "Wallenstein’s "Blitzkrieg" (Pilz) is a tasteless exhibition of flash-rock in the manner of ELP; Gash sound like a rather grandiose German Wishbone Ash; and Os Mundi, on their Brain album "43 Minuten", present a stodgy evocation of early Colosseum and Graham Bond." So, then we knew, for example: Wallenstein sounded just like ELP. Oh dear, Mr MacDonald!
For the next band, he couldn't tell his readers anything informative. "Stuttgart's Kraan don't sound like anybody in particular, not even themselves [whatever that was supposed to mean] –- but their record company, Spiegelei, is new to me and has a fried egg for a logo. I'm quite partial to fried eggs." The NME readers would, I am sure, have preferred to know something definite about Kraan, rather know about one of MacDonald's eating passions. Oh, I know... he just couldn't be bothered to take a real interest -– a recurring feature with him throughout his IN-DEPTH examination.
Two further releases concluded the series. "From what I've heard of it, Popol Vuh's debut album, "In Pharaoh's Garden", is conceptually par for the 'cosmic' course, if rather more subdued than its stablemates. Synthesizer-player Florian Fricke fails to live up to his reputation and Holger Trulzsch is a boring and clumsy percussionist on this showing." I wonder just how much he heard of this album too -– a few minutes, or even seconds, here and there? What was his procedure? Well, let's see. Maybe it was this. Lift the stylus forward a short distance and see whether the next bit registers immediately? No, it doesn't –- so this bit's no good either. Try again -- a little further -- and so on. No, it's still no better. Oh well, thumbs down. That gets rid of another album. And then he was on to the next one... and so on... until he reached the last one for his "Late Arrivals" of part three. ""Canaxis 5" by the Technical Space Composers' Crew is an Inner Space Production dating from 1970 and released on the private Music Factory label. It features Roland Dammers and Can's Holger Czukay playing with loops, electronics and field recordings of Vietnamese peasant songs -– which could have been very interesting but, through self-indulgence, isn't." Then MacDonald's name appeared, and that was the end of his series -– or so the NME readers thought -– but it wasn't.
MacDonald's Part Four
Whether or not, by the end of part three of "Germany Calling", Ian MacDonald intended to follow up his IN-DEPTH examination of the new German rock scene was not known at that time by the NME readers, but a fourth and, ultimately, a fifth part did appear in the spring and summer of 1973. What became, in effect, the fourth part of his Krautrock series was incorporated within a separate two-part series called "Common Market Rock", classed neutrally as "An NME Consumer’s Guide" and negatively sub-headed unjustifiably "Or just what have we let ourselves in for?" Part 1 of the two-part series, in the issue of 28 April, featured France, Italy and Germany, while part 2, in the following issue of 5 May, referred to Denmark, Holland and Ireland. MacDonald covered France, Germany and Denmark, and his NME colleagues Armando Gallo, Tony Stewart and Steve Clarke covered Italy, Holland and Ireland respectively. The section on Germany was even smaller than in part three of the original series, and a repeated photograph of Faust, from part two, formed the only German illustration.
So off went MacDonald again, mostly negative as usual. "I've little to say about Krautrock that I didn't say in my 98-part series "Germany Calling" (December NMEs), except that recent releases seem to indicate that -– with the loosening of record company prejudices –- German rock is becoming complacent. Aside from brief hearings [so what was new?] of new groups like Brainstorm and Tomorrow's Gift, both of which are potentially onto something interesting, and the promise of equally stimulating stuff from names like Agitation Free and Association PC, most of the recent product of the German scene seems to consist, in varying degrees, of copies of Anglo-American styles. The steam appears to have gone out of the experimental side of the country’s output -– which is, after all, the particular facet of the music British listeners find most intriguing. Rejects on this score include new releases by Drosselbart, Iblis [Ibliss], Walpurgis, Hoelderlin, Wallenstein, Ihre Kinder, Emtidi, Emergency, Message, Epsylon [Epsilon], Marz, Jeronimo, Wyoming, Pell Mell, Frame, Sameti and (despite the presence on the session of jazz musician extraordinaire Mal Waldron) Embryo's second album "Steig Aus"." Again, in addition to MacDonald’s IN-DEPTH examination failing to reveal the existence of Embryo's true second album "Embryo’s Rache", and their third release, "Father Son and Holy Ghost", his opinion about "Steig Aus" was bizarre, for this distinctive and innovative jazz-rock album had a definite European sound; and, ironically, three Americans –- Mal Waldron on electric piano, Jimmy Jackson on organ and mellotron, and Dave King on electric bass –- contributed to it.
Curiously, MacDonald mentioned that a band called Scarecrew, "recently signed to United Artists, are recording their first album in Germany", and that, "shrouded in mystery, the only information on them is that their line-up includes ex-members of Tangerine Dream". He made a reasonable conjecture about them: "They could, in fact, be Conny Schnitzler's Eruption under a new name." However, it seems that the band could have been one called Scarecrow, formed by the notorious John L (real name Manfred Brück) of previous Agitation Free and Ash Ra Tempel connection, though no band named Scarecrow, Scarecrew or Eruption ever made any recording -– or, at least, one that was released.
His advice to the NME readers was that the first German record that they should think of buying was Faust's first self-titled album. "The best-selling release by any German band, it gets more awesome on every hearing and could be among the most important rock records ever made. Their follow-up, "So Far", is not in the same class but it still cuts any other German group dead." He added that "a cut-price collation of some of Faust's unofficial material entitled "The Faust Tapes" will shortly be available on the new Virgin Records label".
He summarised his overall opinion with these words: "In the wider view, however, German rock still seems to be missing its own point: which is that it can only really succeed in the area outside the Anglo-American zone, in which it has arrived too late and with neither tradition nor originality sufficient to rise above the earnest plagiarism. We don't ask for phoney nationalism, Herren und Damen. Just something new and real."
Third part of this text
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