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.