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Robert Calvert: Lucky Leif and the Longships

Album Notes

Robert Calvert's second solo album followed in the conceptual footsteps of its predecessor, this time extrapolating upon the Viking discovery of America to picture a nation that retained its Norse characteristics to the exclusion of all others. It is a vivacious scenario, as vivid in the churning psychedelic primitivism of "Storm Chant of the Skraelings" as in the ultra-modern Beach Boys parody "Lay of the Surfers" (key lyric: "bar bar barbarians"), while the liner notes are punctuated with enough historical interjections to firmly establish the outline of the tale. Backed by what amounts to a British underground supergroup, including the Pink Fairies' Paul Rudolph, Hawkwind's Nik Turner, and author Michael Moorcock, all bound together by Eno's crystalline production, Lucky Leif is a far cry from the jam-heavy miasma of Calvert's earlier work with Hawkwind. Indeed, the reliance on tight song structures predicts the vast sea change that Calvert would wreak on the Hawkwind mothership following his return in 1976, while anybody schooled in the joys of Eno's own first two solo albums will certainly find much to rejoice in here. From hot Viking calypso-jazz ("Volstead O Vodeo Do") to apocalyptic metal-funk ("Ragna Rock"), Lucky Leif conjures the entire spread of modern music -- elsewhere in the cycle, "Magical Potion" offers a throbbing variation on the old "Willie and the Hand Jive" riff, while "Moonshine in the Mountain" is as sh*t-kicking country-colored as such a title demands. Only the multi-layered spoken-word incantation "The Making of Midgard" and the radio-dial dynamics of "Phase Locked Loop" truly jar the album's continuity, but even those flaws are promptly remedied by "Brave New World," a triumphal ballad with a chorus to make your toes curl. With its cover portrait of the Statue of Liberty clad in a Viking helmet and a dragon ship flying the Stars and Stripes, with both the Indian wars and Prohibition raising their own ugly heads in the narrative, the ultimate point appears to be that American history itself would have remained much the same no matter who colonized the country first. But the hats, at least, would have been a lot more interesting. ~ Dave Thompson


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