This 1975 album by the avant garde
rock group Henry Cow is in fact the band's second, collaborative release with
another band - Slappy Happy; but whereas Desperate
Straights - which was released just a bit earlier the same year - featured
shorter, avant-pop oriented material that evolves
from the Slappy Happy body of work, In Praise of
Learning is a definite Henry Cow output, with all its adventurous and
oppositionist characteristics intact, and even enhanced due to the striking
vocal presence of the German born Dagmar Krause. Krause retains her German
diction and style when she sings in English here, giving the lyrics the
admonition, the totality and visceral idiosyncrasy that the music calls for.
"Living In The Heart Of The Best," in
particular, is a definitive composition which defines the Rock In Opposition
movement of avant garde
rock that Henry Cow founded a few years later. This composition features 16
minutes of the darkest music made to that day, and possibly the darkest until Univers Zero emerged (with albums such as the 1979 Heresie). Univers Zero may
have mastered the fuzzy bass and its dialog with the piano, but these were already
highly convincing and articulate when practiced by Henry Cow here.
There is pure violence in "Living In The Heart Of The
Beast," as Krause lends her vocals to a song which calls for active
resistance ("We shall seize from all heroes and merchants our labour, our lives, and our practice of history") with
a spine chilling performance.
The introduction of this piece features - besides the distorted rollicking
guitar line - a melodic bass playing and a narrating drum work, sounding like an
early version of technical/progressive metal, soon counterpointed by heartfelt
piano playing which is joined by delicate guitar tones. Similarly, clashing
drums are joined by subtle xylophone work, and overall the sense of threat and
aggression tango with the sensitive throughout.
Later, an organ and violin duet leads a sorrowful (perhaps even threatening)
scene which evolves into absurd, before alarming guitar and bass lines spawns a
somewhat jazz-rock midsection (even though jazz-rock rarely, if ever, sounded
so harsh; and we did mention "technical metal" earlier...), fueled by
fervent drum work. This, in turn, makes way to a classical music influenced
movement, which maintains tension while Krause's hysterically verbal unloading
occurs, and culminates (or rather fades away) with a finale which carries a
modern sounding prog-metal vibe and is enhanced by a
definitive, harmonious arrangement of woodwinds, strings and percussions.
The astounding thing about Henry Cow's archetypical prog
metal is that it is not a stylistic decision. It is a natural consequence of
the angst which drives this work, and as such it remains relevant and vital to
[In memory of Lindsay Cooper, 1951-2013]