Ginger’s Secret History of Rock’n’Roll (pt. 7)
The Wildhearts man on the deranged glory of The Cardiacs. Check out Ginger’s past Secret History Of Rock’n'Roll entries.
On Land And In The Sea
1989, Alphabet Business Concern/Torso
Where do you begin to describe Cardiacs to someone who hasn’t heard this magnificently deranged band?
Imagine Frank Zappa, The Kinks and Devo forced into a sonic blender and you’re almost there. Have the results played by the most talented residents of an asylum for punk musicians and you’re getting warmer.
On this, their fifth (and arguably best) album, Cardiacs created the final masterpiece to utilise the dubious charms of classic line-up William D. Drake (keyboard), Sarah Smith (sax), Dominic Luckman (drums), Tim Quy (percussion), Jim Smith (bass), and Tim Smith (guitar/vocals). On their next album, Heaven Born And Ever Bright, they would turn in an awesome slice of twisted genius featuring a trimmed down 4 piece line-up, featuring Wildhearts/Silver Ginger 5/Ginger And The Sonic Circus stalwart Jon Poole, but it is on ‘On Land And In The Sea’ that the full circus effect that was their legendary live show is finally captured forever.
Under the protective genius that is Tim Smith the band are guided by a talent every equal to Frank Zappa.
Mr Smith’s day-glo nightmare vision of the world is one where time signatures are given no welcome and subject matter resembles the remnants of a rapidly-fading fever dream. Where lyrics inhabit a realm that David Lynch can be seen sharing anecdotes with Salvador Dali. This is a very adult fairy tale, boys and girls.
The world of Cardiacs can be a very disturbing place, albeit one where evil is created by smiling children.
The sprawling cacophony that is opener ‘Two Bites Of Cherry’ sets the scene for the entire opus. Deafening organ blasts sit in eerie comfort with scratchy punk guitars as blaring saxophone outbursts barge into the scrum, leaving seemingly scant space for Tim Smith’s car alarm vocals, yet the entire production works perfectly in a manner not unlike an explosion in a toy factory. Nothing is familiar to the ear, from the off-beat rhythms to the sudden stabs of chamber instruments, and still the ever present pop factor lend a classic and timeless quality throughout.
‘Baby Heart Dirt’ and ‘The Leader Of The Starry Skies’ expound on the theme where chorus gang vocals suggest a World War 2 stiff British upper lip canoodling with demonic angels in perfect harmony, leaving ‘I Hold My Love In My Arms’ to delve into more sinister, nursery rhyme territory.
Disoriented, the listener barely has time to regain any sense of reality before ‘The Duck And Roger The Horse’ throws all linear narrative into swirling chaos. Even with the benefit of countless airings this song still retains the ability to leave a person with the feeling of being spun around a few dozen times before trying to walk in a straight line.
‘Arnald’ and ‘Horsehead’ release the band’s frantic grip just long enough to begin some kind of coherent thread to the amount of info that the brain is attempting to digest, while ‘Fast Robert’ begins to intensify the attack again.
‘Mare’s Nest’ refuses to let up on the majesty that is Cardiacs in full, overblown glory, and ‘The Stench Of Honey’ maintains the nuttiness while retaining an almost comfortable groove.
I do, however, use the term ‘comfortable’ in the context of this particular acid trip. Moments of relaxation are as fleeting as a 4 bar rhythm on this album. They exist, but only in the way that a sudden gust of wind might stop you falling directly from a 500 feet building.
The album ends all too soon with ‘The Everso Closely Guarded Line’, a huge theatrical affair that would fit perfectly in a Tim Burton production of Les Miserables.
It’s a ride recommended for lovers of rollercoasters. Sunday drivers and casual speed freaks might want to stay away just as they would avoid bungee jumping without rope. This is the equivalent of being beaten with a feather pillow just enough to cause the exact amount of damage as a breeze block.
But for those with the disposition sturdy enough for high velocity rides through severe aural battery, this is bliss. Absolute and almost unbearable bliss.
Cardiacs would enjoy another eleven years in various incarnations, releasing another three albums (four, if you include the double album, Sing To God parts 1 & 2) of glorious insanity, none of which would be a bad purchase once falling in love with Tim Smith’s talent and vision.
Though it is, with everso slight hesitation, that I would heartily recommend On Land And In The Sea as a perfect starting ground on which to fully experience the might and madness that is Cardiacs.