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Music Review: Gong – 2032

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Of all the bands who have come and gone over the past 40 years, it is mind-boggling that Gong are still around. Their music was strange, their live appearances were infamous, and their psychedelic appetites were legendary.

Gong have remained so far past their sell-date that their upcoming UK tour is shaping up to be an event of epic proportions (for ticket information, go here). It is in support of their improbable, and impeccable new recording 2032, scheduled for release September 21st.

The Radio Gnome Trilogy is Gong’s best known work. The three albums comprising the set are Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg, and You. They were all released between 1973-’74, and remain the high point of the group's career. At the time, Guitarist extraordinaire Steve Hillage had just joined, and brought with him a high level of musicianship which improved their sound immensely.

In 1975, the inevitable dissolution began, with the departure of founding guitarist Daevid Allen. Hillage followed suit in 1976. Like so many psychedelic/progressive bands of the era, Gong blithely soldiered on, shifting line-ups and styles for an ever diminishing audience.

There have been a few reunions recently, but 2032 is the first recording by the archetypal grouping since 1974, and is billed as a continuation of the Radio Gnome story. 2032 is quite remarkable in a number of ways. For one thing, these old hippies sound is state-of the art. It also seems as if Planet Gong has been visited by Dr. Funkenstein.

The opening track, “City Of Self Fascination” is total white-boy funk, and establishes a groove to be maintained for most of the record. While 2032 is certainly no funk record, elements of the genre persist in the ever present beat of drummer Chris Taylor.

Gong‘s trademark psychedelia makes it‘s first appearance on the eight minute tour de force "How To Stay Alive".

Then comes “Escape Control Delete” which really cranks up the psych, while paraphrasing Robert Heinlein: “If you feel like a stranger in a strange land, it’s probably who you are.”

Another 2032 highlight is “Wacky Baccy Banker” (wonder what they are talking about here?) The bombastic, trademark early Seventies progressive rock opening sets the listener up for a blistering Hillage guitar solo. Theo Travis, who has played with Porcupine Tree and Brian Eno, follows with a saxophone solo every bit as powerful.

There are so many great moments on 2032, it becomes difficult to catalog them all. Taylor’s drums on “Pinkle Pockle” are outstanding, and the token straight-ahead rocker “Guitar Zero” is also something to hear. The electro-funk of "Robo-Warriors" is the most surprising sound to appear on 2032. It could have been a track left off of Funkadelic’s 1982 LP The Electric Spanking Of War Babies.

Fittingly, it is the final song that commands the most attention. The instrumental “Portal” is Steve Hillage at his finest, and Didier Malherbe’s sax solo serves to contrast and complement the song as well.

The whole Gnome mythology is far too complex to go into here. Call it an outer-space Tolkien fantasy if you like. A visit to the Planet Gong is an essential element of the tale. So when the final words, spoken by The Good Witch Yoni (Miquette Giraudy) are uttered: “The portal is open,” you may be excused for assuming that the story has finally ended.

Just remember though, 2032 is only 23 years away. For all we know, Gong may have a record and tour already scheduled for then too.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Pretty silly video…LOL

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    Thanks for running tho – Gong are weirdly great.

  • James Hampton

    I’m definitely picking up the 2032 album. Love their new animated video “How To Stay Alive” on YouTube. Solid.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Which, uhhh, the author also has included here.

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    James,

    Thanks. I think this is a really fun record, the vids are great too!

  • GIBBY

    HILLAGE AND GONG WERE FANTASTIC AT 2009 NEARFEST. I JUST GOT THIS CD AND WILL LISTEN THIS EVENING. THE TRILOGY AND THE LIVE STUFF ARE JUST IMMENSE!!!!!!!!! HAVE A CUPPA TEA, INDEED!

  • Greg Barbrick

    Gibby,

    I would love to see them live. Enjoy the CD, it’s a great one!

  • dazzy b

    saw them at beautiful days fest and they rocked man …the new album has exceeded all of my expectations fantastic cant wait to see them in nov at manchester ……..dazzy b

  • Greg Barbrick

    I wish they were coming to the US.

  • Kris Nelson

    Just a few points – This is technically Radio Gnome Invisible Part Six – Part 4 was 1992’s Shapeshifter, and Part 5 was 2000’s Zero to Infinity.
    I think the line is “If you feel like a stranger in a strange band” – great Heinlein reference!
    Gilli Smyth is the Good Witch Yoni (as much as a universal principle can be applied to a single person) – Miquette was usually known as Bambaloni Yoni, I think.
    Daevid Allen (and contributors Gilli, Didier, Mike Howlett and Steve Hillage) created the iconography of the Gong mythos as a way to teach people about the occult without all of the awful hype that is carried on about it. The Mystery is the Mystery and it’s not all so mysterious – it’s more about natural science and philosophy that has been handed down for thousands of years. It was a way of opening people’s minds through deliberate silliness (“It’s all too serious to be serious about). Important messages for the current age.
    And finally, Gong never really had a “heyday”, except for the Virgin Records years – which is partly what split the band up. It was never meant to be a “popular” band (although it’s tenets are aimed globally) but it has never died out, existing as a grass-roots fan supported umbrella of related groups since the late sixties. Hard to say that about a lot of commercial groups.
    Whew! Sophomoric nitpicking over!
    See you on the Oily Way!

  • Stevie D

    Just bought it today and what can I say; the magic lives!!!!! Planet Gong and Earth are back in alignement! I beleive that the alignement was prompted by the Massive Attack showcase in London. Can’t wait to see them in Novemeber.