Saturday, 24 October 2009

Better Than the Beatles #234: Cardiacs


30-year-old (and counting) cult institution from my old hometown of Kingston Upon Thames, brought to you by the ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN.

Despite the fact that Tim Smith (the brains of the operation) has always vehemently rejected the 'progressive' label (he prefers simply 'pop' or 'psychedelic') it is a reasonable point to raise: in Cardiacs' music there is a fondness for unusual chord progressions, chord modulation, and compressing the equivalent of a prog epic into 4 minutes or less... All with the energy of a '77 band. Cardiacs also opened for Marillion in the 80s, apparently Fish was heartbroken when the fans did not take to them...
It's natural that an amateur such as myself who can't write for toffee should always seek to pigeonhole a sound for n00bs, but the Cardiacs are infamous for being one of those idiosyncratic oddities who sound remarkably similar to nobody except Cardiacs. The only comparisons I can come up with are the more anarchic, ambitious New Wavers like XTC and Split Enz (particularly the latter's early years), mixed with the avant-rock of Henry Cow... Infact they straddle all types of 'progness' whenever they feel like it, perhaps playing symphonic Yes-ness one minute and unhinged Gentle Giant sing-songs the next. That's the remarkable quality of this band, there are seemingly no limits. But you can always relying on the delivery being OTT to the point of ridiculousness and bewilderingly melodic - you know that this is Tim Smith's idea of how pop music should be.
They are also obscenely tight live. Unfortunately Smith suffered, erm, a cardiac arrest in 2008, and it's unlikely you or I will ever experience a 'religious' Cardiacs performance.

I think this is as clear-cut a case of love 'em or hate 'em as you will ever encounter on this blog... Unacknowledged genius or bad acid trip in a fairground? Or are they just trying too hard? I don't think so personally, plus buried in the lyrical abstractions are some statements somewhere I am sure of it, which keeps me listening.
Presented here is 'Sing To God', a 1995 double album which will leave you laughing hysterically, then slack-jawed in disbelief as each track reaches new heights of structural insanity and musical prodigiousness. And then the injustice of it all hits you, that by this time the 'classic' Cardiacs line-up had shrunk to a quartet, and they actually somehow played this shit onstage, constantly, to comparatively tiny audiences of loyal fruitcakes. It's just not fair. God bless Cardiacs.
This is from the album, easily the most insane piece of music I have heard in a long time

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