Sunday, July 6, 2008

Area: Maledetti (Cramps, 1976)

"Maledetti" is my favourite album of one of my very favourite bands ever. I think it's their definitive masterpiece. "Arbeit Macht Frei" is surely a great album but this is way more deep, self-conscious and accomplished.
It is a concept album based on a socio-political fiction hypotesis: what if "historical memory" were a fluid preserved in some Swiss bank and it suddenly evaporated ("Evaporazione") leaving civilization without memory of its past? Area go through three scenaries: power to the old ("Gerontocrazia"), power to the women ("Scum") and power to the children ("Giro Giro Tondo").
The albums starts with the buzz of an electric razor and the heraldic announcement of singer Demetrio Stratos: "We've lost the memory of XV Century". It's the beginning of the evaporation of historical memory. As the memory keeps fading, Stratos begins to permute and decline the words of his message leaving it with no sense at all. A terrorized scream leads into the funky synth and bass interplay of "Diforisma Urbano": the historical fluid is flowing out of its safe and is spreading around accelerating its own evaporation. It's one of the jazzier episodes in Area's career, a frantic jazz-fusion magma scorched by terrific bass shreds and balcanic synth ostinatos.

"Gerontocrazia" is the first hypotical society explored: a petrifying greek lullaby supported by a mesmerizing txalaparta (something close to a xylophone) work illustrates the social paralysis induced by an oligarchy which thinks the only usefulness of children is to become man.

Sleep, that take children away, take away this one too.
I've brought him to you when he was so small, bring him back to me just when he's grown up.
Big as a mountain, tall as a cypress, he will dominate from East to West.

Then the music shifts to a 5/4 double-bass rhythmic pattern and Stratos starts singing with his usual emphatic abstractism:

With the power of things I can control your life: this is called "freedom".
The daily experience of terror leaves you no one but me.
The violence consumed in love pushes you towards me.
If you look to the past you'll find everything planned: this is called "truth".
No more history nor memory, let me write your steps for you.
Live your life in peace, don't think, but dream of happiness.
Look at the past, you'll find everything planned: it's called "freedom".
No more history nor memory, let me write your steps for you.
Live your life in peace, don't think, but dream of happiness.

The central instrumental section indulges on the main theme, accentuating its Balkanic roots with call-and-response synth riffing. A great bassline leads into a jazzier 7/8 sequence, always on a Balkanic theme exposed by the synth. It's one of the thickest episodes in Area's carreer, terrificly groovy and both rhythmically and melodically enthralling.

"Scum" starts with a fragmented 9/8 sequence of piano chords, broken by isolated drums and bass incursions, then gradually builds a furious free-jazz piano solo, cut by more melodic hammond passages. Stratos recites in a very expressionist way a feminist manifesto by Valerie Solanas:

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

No separation between "Scum" and the classical parenthesis "Il massacro di Brandeburgo numero 3 in sol maggiore", a desacrating revisitation of J.S. Bach's "Brandenbrurg Concerto #3 in G major" performed by Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli's string quartet. The liner notes say:

Demolition of the musical corporativism through the progressive cancellation of the most important parts for Bach's counterpoint developpement in the first 46 bars. The attack to J.S. Back has nothing to do with personal aspects of the composer or about him: it's a critic to classical music in general. Bach pays for all the other ones. Any Kubrickian reading of this attitude should be avoided.

The piece starts as the original one but gradually skips passages and ends with the most forbidden cadence, the tritone. Apart from that, this is not enough to spoil the beauty of Bach's music, and the track is really pleasant and enjoiable.

"Giro Giro Tondo" means "ring-a-ring-o'roses". The song explores the consequences of giving power to the children. The absence of responsibility, of self-control and the unknowing of the concept of "death" gives no limit to the child's individualism. During a concert Demetrio said about this song:

Children are seen in a different way in our music: the child fries his father for breakfast because he was a pain in the ass.

I play, I play with your world
I can dominate you.
I turn, i turn
forever in circles
I can control you.
I look, I look
Down to the bottom
I can subdue you.
I laugh, I laugh
of your time
I must grind you.

The introductive freeform lagoon of Stratos vocal experiments and spar Tcherepnin synthetizer squeals rapidly switch to a 6/8 balkan jazz-rock which is one of the albums most straightforward moments, with its driving bass/drums dynamics and e-piano soloing.

The last track is (again) a bit different. "Caos (parte seconda)" is a performance of structured improvisation with special guests Paul Lytton and Steve Lacy, inspired by an idea of John Cage's, who was once asked by by some free-jazzers how he thought they could be more free: he answered that they shouldn't listen one each other while playing.
"Caos (parte seconda)" is composed of distinct sequences of a fixed lenght (30 seconds) during which the musicians had express a basic emotion written on a small card randomly chosen at the beginning of the sequence. The basic emotions available were irony, sex, hypnosis, violence, silence. The performers were supposed to improvise their part without listening to what the other ones were doing.
The episode would lately be repeated for the occupation of the University of Milan (the recording is published under the name Event 79). That time it extended for about half an hour, and the duration of the sequences was set to three minutes instead of 30 seconds. The interviews made during the break are available as a bonus track in "Maledetti" and show that the public was largely unsatisfied. Both Area and Steve Lacy would remember the concert as one of the most exciting moments of their career, though.

  1. Evaporazione
  2. Diforisma urbano
  3. Gerontocrazia
  4. Scum
  5. Massacro di Brandeburgo numero tre in sol maggiore
  6. Giro giro tondo
  7. Caos (parte seconda)
  8. # Extra tracks [bonus track]

Download (192 kbps)

2  :

Max said...

Thanks--always interested in something on Cramps I haven't heard before.

Dusty said...

perchè? perchè ci deve essere quella traccia in quel formato orribile? :(