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GONG 2032 G-Wave AAGWCDP001 (2009)


Like many enduring rock bands before them Gong embody an elemental signature sound that depending on the prevailing musical environment of the time can always be potentially revived to influence a new generation of musical styles. And as 'Gong 2032' thrillingly suggests the time is now.

There can be very few bands like Gong who have successfully endured the unforgiving changes in musical fashion by embracing such disparate elements as Punk, Trance, Jazz Fusion, Dance and Psychedelic Rock. How else do you explain away the re-emergence of a band whose best work was in the early 70's and whose continued existence is probably only due to founder Daevid Allen's fleeting references to their conceptual history which he describes as 'Gong Mythology'?

Apparently Gong are celebrating their 40th anniversary, but the former Soft Machine member David Allen's involvement goes back earlier to 1967. But it was the early 1970's albums 'Camembert Electrique', 'Angel's Egg' and 'You' (aka the 'Radio Gnome Trilogy'), which increasingly shifted the band's emphasis from psychedelic whimsy towards a more jammed out fusion style, that cemented Gong in the annals of rock. Indeed two decades later their more instrumental space fusion style found new expression on the Trance scene.

As with all signature sounds nothing much changes. Gilli still delivers her 'space whispers', Hillage continues to explore his trademark ascending guitar glissandos and Allen conceptually oversees 'Planet Gong 'by pulling some beautiful musical tensions into beautiful new unexplored territories

'2032' ('the year Planet Gong makes full contact with earth') is an album that cleverly updates both the Gong mythology and the band's music. There's still plenty of whimsy and absurdist lyrics based on a vague notion of all things psychedelic. But even Gong has moved with the times albeit in the shape of utilising new forms of expression be they Rap ('City of Self Fascination'), electronics ('Wave And Particle') Celtic influences ('Dance With the Pixies'), Kraut Rock ('Guitar Zero'), Acid Folk ('The Gris Gris Girl') or updated Dance music ('Pinkle Ponkle'). However, the staples of psychedic and jazz rock fusion remain, with soprano sax player Theo Travis alternatively exploring a mix of sonorous tones and Ornette Coleman style dissonance.

Conceptually Gong sometimes seems to stand in stark contradiction to the reality of running a band. Thus while 'Robo-Warriors' can apparently 'resolve the conflict of opposites by absorbing and transforming conflict into a single unified field'( the music here need not detain us), you do wonder how this piece of philosophy sits with the two creative/power camps of the psychedelic nuances of Allen/Smyth and dance leanings of Hillage/Giraude. After all, in the past Gong gradually shifted their focus from the former duo's whimsical style to the latter duo's more psychedelic jazz rock fusion and Trance leanings.

Perhaps a sense of balance is provided by the band's anchor man/ bass player Mike Howlett and the combination of original member and multi instrumentalist Didier Malherbe with the magnificent sax playing of Theo Travis. Both bring real musical gravitas and several notable highlights to the album.

'Gong 2032' is in effect a workable compromise from the opening Zappa style 'Central Scrutiniser' voice-over of 'City of Self Fascination' and the unlikely funky Rap foundations of 'How To Stay Alive' to the impressive mellow Trance style of "Escape Control Delete' and 'Wacky Baccy'. The latter number embodies both the core Gong elements of whimsy and musical brilliance. Opening with a pompous overture it leads into some characteristic eclectic absurdist lyrics via Hillage's fiery ascending guitar lines and Giraudy's sympathetic synth voicings.

Gilli Smyth adds sensual vocal swoops over a fragmented jazz rock style collage that is beautifully glued together by an ethereal soprano line. Perhaps only Gong and Zappa could have been so relaxed while shifting from anarchic humour to musical brilliance in the space of one fast changing song.

And the thing that will please most long term fans about 'Gong 2032' is that it offers something for everyone. Perhaps the band has finally found its musical resting place. For while 'Gong 2032' can't strictly be regarded as the successor to the 'Radio Gnome Trilogy' - this would be to ignore the extant 1992 'Shapeshifter' - it certainly does bring together the strongest line-up and best album since 'You'.

All seems happy and tranquil on Planet Gong, but Hillage has the last word on the final track 'Portal', delivering several trail blazing ascending guitar lines over some backwards sounding drums. And as Gilli whispers the closing words to the album's conceptual resolution, 'The Portal is open', all that seems to be missing is a Todd Rundgren's production credit!


Review by Pete Feenstra

Best of 2009

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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