Ludicrous, serious and (if the truth be known) much more seditious than the Pistols...
Peter Marsh 2004
Not long after bassist John Greaves parted company from seminal politoco-avant-prog superstars Henry Cow, he hooked up with guitarist, lyricist and Renaissance man Peter Blegvad (also a Cow alumnus) and singer Lisa Herman to produce one of the great lost albums of the seventies. Surreal, infuriating, complex and silly in just about equal parts, Kew Rhone was probably never going to set the world alight, but the fact it was released on the same day as Never Mind The Bollocks didn't do it any favours.
Kew.Rhone is a singular record, but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are faint whiffs of the Cow and their forebears (Soft Machine, Zappa etc); there's a hint of Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill too. In fact Bley and then husband Mike Mantler are on the record (as well as providing the studio facilities); this association marked the continuation of the pair's interest in British art rock and probably accounts for the presence of free jazz giant Andrew Cyrille on the drums.
With such a line-up, the music probably couldn't have helped but be a bit odd. But when you add Blegvad's luminous (or should that be numinous) poetry to the mix, things get a whole lot weirder. Kew.Rhone's texts are stuffed full of anagrams and assorted wordplay; some songs refer to themselves or other songs on the record. And I can't think of any other songs anywhere that invite you to examine the illustrations on the sleeve for clarification ("Pipeline"). Peel's foe, not a set animal, laminates a tone of sleep.
Those who feel that obvious displays of intellectual prowess involving references to archaeology, pataphysics and other arcana have no place on a rock record may have trouble with this sort of thing. But there's plenty more to hold the attention; Blegvad's laconic drawl and Herman's pure, unaffected tone make a nice double act, plus there's the complexities of Greaves' musical settings to consider. These are every inch the equal of the texts in their complexity; tidily anarchic, stuffed with blunt, vaguely jazzy harmonies and melodies that wander unpredictably. "Twenty Two Proverbs" could almost be from a Bernstein musical. Sort of. There's something that's simultaneously catchy and ungraspable about the whole thing, which just might explain its appeal. Ludicrous, serious and (if the truth be known) much more seditious than the Pistols ever were.