Gong - 2032
I may not have personally fought in the punk wars but I did watch them whilst perched precariously on an orange box behind the school bike sheds. Spattered with the patchouli scented blood of hippies I watched agog as punk rockers took hold of the music industry. That being the case, I find it somewhat surreal that I’m sat here in 2009 about to embark upon a review of the latest Gong album while, on the television in the background there is a car insurance advert fronted up by Iggy Pop. I mean, what’s that all about?
So, this album marks the 40th anniversary of Daevid Allen’s Gong and is apparently the fourth album in the Radio Gnome trilogy (no, I don’t understand that either!). The basic premise of the album is that 2032 is the year that Planet Gong, a highly evolved and peaceful planet, makes full contact with Planet Earth in order to offer us their assistance. Let’s just say that listening to the album requires one to have a sense of humour and to suspend a certain amount of disbelief.
The album begins as one might expect, with a couple of tracks which are vaguely reminiscent of Syd Barrett, albeit with a modern twist. Digital Girl, for example, gently mocks the voyage of ‘self discovery’ by applying it to a ‘21st Century super fast thinking female’ who looks inside her software and finds a php on her hard drive. At this point things start to get a bit weird and, talking of punk, remind me of nothing so much as the prancing Malcolm Mclaren in The Great Rock n Roll Swindle. This begins with the stilted rap of How to stay alive before the septuagenarian Allen is joined by fellow founder Gilli Smith in the role of a Yoni, a poetic witch whose spoken word delivery is painfully close to that of Irene Handl in Metal Mickey. Yoni’s Poem is a new age oddity which is essentially a monologue about the lives of witches, a sort of hippy oral Wikipedia article. Naturally this is followed immediately by a song entitled Dance with the Pixies. Quite.
The album is brought back to the realms of reality by Allen in his role of ‘The Switch Doctor’ who here takes the form of a merchant banker. Wacky Baccy Banker is delivered in the raw style of the Television Personalities and obliquely deals with the issues of the credit crunch while managing to rhyme banker with wanker within the first verse. The counter point to this 3 chord trick is 2032 a rock opera vignette which forms the central point of the album and explains our place in the Gong universe; the underlying theme, naturally, being that we are destroying the planet. Guitar Zero labours the point rather with its incessant anti war message which somewhat detracts from one of the musical highlights of the album which features the sublime talent of Steve Hillage.
The album continues in this vein, with Gilli’s mad monologues fading in and out of the mix in a way which suggest that the listener may actually be suffering from some dreadful fever. It has to be heard to be believed really. The best is saved for last though and in Pinkle Ponkle (I know, I know...) and Portal the album builds into a powerful tribal rhythmic melting pot before exploding into outer space with the mind altering psychedelic guitar heroics of Hillage. Depending upon your state of mind this album could be viewed as a work of ecological genius, a farce or a devilish torture. Certainly not for the faint hearted this album will delight ageing hippies and appall ageing punks in equal numbers. As for me, I’m staying sat on the fence behind the bikesheds my little fruitbats.