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HENRY COW - In Praise Of Learning - CD - ReR - 1975

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 this day.

[In memory of Lindsay Cooper, 1951-2013]




In Praise Of Learnin ...

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