Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ed Kuepper - Rooms of the Magnificent 1986

Having a good time with this record now it's summer. Even in a time before Ed Kuepper's catalogue became the massive sprawling monster that it is today, this LP tended to be a little overshadowed. Nestled unobtrusively between the First Solo Album (Electrical Storm) and the Big Commerical Push record (Everybody's Got To), I think it is probably better than either and in with a decent shout of being his best solo effort.

Electrical Storm appears to be a reaction to the death of the Clowns, with stripped-back personnel (Kuepper played almost all the instruments) and featuring vastly simplified song structures. It's a cool record with some great songs but I don't listen to it much. On a side note, one of the pleasures of Kuepper's epic run of shows with Jeffery Wegener over 2005-2008 has been hearing him play Electrical Storm songs with the Clowns drummer, one of those intriguing little snapshots of an alternate history that never was.

Anyway, for me Rooms of the Magnificent is THE great post-Clowns solo LP. It features a lot of what made that band great (cool horn lines, smart band, off-kilter song structures) yet sits comfortably within a more classical pop/rock idiom. It is a natural progression from the last two Clowns records, which were pushing towards a "straighter" sound after the awesome cartoon excess of the Uddich-Smuddich period.

The Rooms... band is AMAZING! Various Clowns alumni are featured (bassist Paul Smith, horn players Glad Reed and Diane Spence, and dead set hero legend pianist Chris Abrahams). It is also Kuepper's first recorded outing with key drummer Mark Dawson, who turns in a great performance - able to provide a more "technical" rhythmic backbone when required, but here displaying a bit of swing and skitter that is at times reminiscent of Kuepper's jazz-inflected past. Also you have Melanie Oxley on backing vocals, which is a lovely luxury. The playing is warm and intelligent with plenty of space left in the arrangements; somehow this allows bright Sydney sunlight to shine through the gaps and suffuse everything with a lovely summer glow.

And yeah, the arrangements are teriffic. If Kuepper gets any popular acclaim these days, it seems to be as a Good Songwriter or a Good Guitarist. Both of these are true enough, but I think his definitive strengths lie in being a FUCKING GREAT ARRANGER. Whether we're talking about the dynamic depth charges hidden within Laughing Clowns songs or the definitive punk soul horn arrangements of Know Your Product, or even the hypnotic extended jams of Honey Steel's Gold, these carefully constructed passages of ensemble playing are where Kuepper truly shines.

Without Your Mirror is a good example, with a stately 50-second intro that has nothing to do with the slightly twitchy anxiety of the rest of the song. It is these idiosyncracies that make the album, as with the Clowns Kuepper's musical intelligence seems to be working at a frenzied rate and able to weave disparate segments into coherent structures.

More straightforward is Also Sprach the King of Euro Disco, the perversely named "hit" single from this LP that's one of those songs that people who were around at the time recall with great fondness. Great Morricone-esque twangy guitar, great horns, memorably odd lyric.

Anyway, it's all great. It's one of the few Kuepper solo albums that I reckon is entirely without duff songs. Oddly, he doesn't seem to draw much from this album when playing live - I think I remember "Without Your Mirror" being played at a Honey Steel's Gold-era show, and Sea Air features on one of his late-90s solo CDs. It would be an excellent cantidate for a Don't Look Back kinda show, although I can't see this ever happening.

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