Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Egg - Egg (1970)

Before digging into Egg's eponymous debut, it's important to discuss the journalistic sub-genre known as Canterbury scene. Canterbury scene is one of those genres that journalists have created in order to have a shorthand for a particular sound. Really Canterbury scene seems to be an attempt to classify those bands that follow in the musical or historical traditions forged by the Canterbury band Soft Machine. Egg has the whimsical nature that many progressive rock bands around the Canterbury area had at the same time, so they are often incorporated into this sub-genre. However, this was not a term used by musicians at the time and due to the fact that the London-based Egg had no real geographical connection to Canterbury, it could be very difficult to substantiate this claim that Egg is indefinitely a Canterbury scene band. In saying that, I will review it as a progressive rock album while making allusions to the "Canterbury scene bands." My personal favorite and the track that screams high progressive rock is a treatment of Bach's Fugue in D Minor. "Fugue in D Minor" is executed magnificently by keyboardist Dave Stewart, whose playing is consequently the highlight of the album in general. "Fugue in D Minor" is a perfect example of Stewart's classical training, as you can hear that he is indefinitely using the correct fingering. Interpretations of classical pieces were not uncommon in the 1970s in general, but "Fugue in D Minor" is an excellent example of a modern interpretation that does not take too much artistic liberty with the original. The drums are simply outlining the beat without complicating or making the rhythm sounds muddy. The bass is also simply outlining a sort of figured bass albeit incorporating modern elements. "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano" starts out with long, sweeping piano runs that can't help but make the listener think of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Yes, this track predates that one, but it's true and quite funny. Along with "Bulb" and "Boilk," these tracks make up the atonal "noise rock" part of the album. It's for tracks like "I Will Be Absorbed," "The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous," and "Seven Is a Jolly Good Time" that Egg gets the Canterbury scene moniker. The strange lyrical subjects combined with unexpected musical transitions combine to create the whimsical nature that is known as Canterbury scene. For instance, "Seven Is a Jolly Good Time" uses the lyrics to anticipate the rhythmic changes to come up. However, in general they are in strange time signatures. "I Will Be Absorbed" begins in 9/4 with a transitional section in 7/4 grouped in two bar phrases. "The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous" is primarily in 5/8 while "Seven Is a Jolly Good Time" begins in 4/4, progresses to 5/4 with the chorus arriving in 7/4. Later in the track there is also a section in 11/4. A good portion of the album is Symphony No. 2 making good use of classical themes from such material as Grieg's Peer Gynt (specifically "In the Hall of the Mountain King"). In fact, the Third Movement was not originally included due to copyright issues with the Stravinsky estate. Overall, this album has a lot of overlying trends in progressive rock throughout it, and while I'm hesitant to call it Canterbury scene, that term can be helpful in explicating the album. Typically in music history when we use a term such as Canterbury scene or the Viennese school, we are talking about a particular group of musicians confined to a geographic location. However, Canterbury scene does not fit this fold and rather tries to use the term despite geography. This can be quite problematic as it is possible that similar trends develop independently. Perhaps Egg's sound is derived from the sound of Canterbury band Soft Machine, but doing more than speculating is problematic.