Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The Strawbs - Grave New World (1972)


Released February 1972

As a glam-rock loving schoolboy in the seventies I hated The Strawbs and the boys who liked them. Their hippy/trippy/prog rock folky material was anathema to the glam majesty of Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music, T. Rex and David Bowie that floated my young boat. I was intrigued as to why these boys liked them, though, and now, all these years later, I find I can fully appreciate this inventive and appealing group. Their early material was in the folk vein, their post 1972 stuff crossing over into “prog rock”. That crossover in full began with this album. They were actually quite unique in many ways.


1. Benedictus
2. Hey Little Man... Thursday's Child
3. Queen Of Dreams
4. Heavy Disguise
5. New World
6. Hey Little Man...Wednesday's Child
7. The Flower And The Young Man
8. Tomorrow
9. On Growing Older
10. Ah Me, Ah My
11. Is It Today, Lord?
12. Journey's End

“Benedictus” was very much a folk rock singalong number with airs of Steeleye Span in its chorus and a killer guitar solo. "Hey Little Man... Thursday's Child" is a brief, rather perplexing vocal number. Who is the "little man" singer Dave Cousins is singing to? His son who he doesn't get to see much? Maybe. “Queen Of Dreams” is an intoxicating, beautifully psychedelic piece of pretentiousness, with lyrics about Queens, forests, mountains and pine needles. More Beatles sound effects abound and some great guitar too. In true "prog rock" style, the track undergoes a complete change of mood and pace half way through. This is what I hated at the time. Now, I have to say that I quite like it. It ends with heavy rock riffs and Deep Purple-style organ. It all sounds most spectacular. The latest remastering of the album is truly outstanding. The bass is warm and infectious, the acoustic guitar crystal clear, the drums full and resonant.

“Heavy Disguise” has crystal clear acoustic guitar, some appealing brass soloing (French horn? or trumpet). It also sees the group getting political in their lyrics in a way they had not really done before. “New World” has a huge, slightly over-the-top orchestration over its acoustic and vocal foundation. The sound is slightly muffled on this song’s production. There are some more Beatles hints in the wild “Walrus” strings and the Starr-esque drumming.

"Hey Little Man...Wednesday's Child" is more quiet addressing of the unknown young child. It was this whole vague "concept" thing that irritated me at the time. It even did so with "Ziggy Stardust"'s supposed "concept". Anyway, on with the show - "The Flower And The Young Man" shows that the group have not completely eschewed their folk beginnings, with a Steeleye Span-style intro. This quickly morphs into a powerful, majestic piece of rock, however, with a sumptuous "With A Little Help From My Friends" style bass line. "Tomorrow" is the heaviest number on the album, with some huge electric guitar and thumping drums but it is let down somewhat by some awful vocals from Dave Cousins. The band go full on Deep Purple, complete with madcap organ fills at the end of the track.

"On Growing Older" is catchy and melodious, but Cousins' voice, not for the first time, grates for me. Did you think The Beatles did twee whimsy? You ain't heard nothing yet. "Ah Me, Ah My" is positively awful, unlistenable. The album, by now has lost it for me. The old "side one" is definitely far superior. Some George Harrison-esque Eastern instrumentation redeems things on "Is It Today, Lord?" The instrumental bit at the end is pure "Within You Without You", however, five years later. "The Journey's End" is a plaintive vocal and piano farewell to this "concept" album, which was both impressive and indulgent at the same time. Founder member Tony Hooper left after the recording of the album, unhappy that the group were veering away from their folk roots. I can see how he felt. Personally, I much prefer their folk material.

Incidentally, the bonus tracks "Here It Comes" and the wonderfully riffy rock of "I'm Going Home" would have been far better on the album than some of the material, or even just added to it. The latter is one of the group's best tracks, in my opinion.


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