Underrated prog-rockers invent their own unique world
The Australian music scene in the late 1960’s early ‘70s had no shortage of progressive rock bands brimming with talent, who would do the rounds for a couple of years, record one album, before disappearing altogether into the musicians equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. Tamam Shud was no exception. Originating from Sydney, Shud were one of the few groups at the time who seriously embraced the acid rock movement that was coming out of Britain and America. Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, even The Grateful Dead were all highly influential and somehow made their way into the band’s overall sound. And what about the name itself, Tamam Shud? Apparently it originates from the Persian, and means “the ultimate end”. Not exactly what I’d describe as a catchy title but hey, maybe after four or five bongs, I might start to think otherwise.
Not surprising is that these imbibers of mushroom recorded a concept album, called, wait for it, Goolutionites and the Real People. Now imagine that one appearing in the Billboard Top 10 for a change. OK, silly album title aside, this is one serious LP, full of quality compositions, some well crafted melodies, and above all, superior playing.
We begin with the brief title track, all wobbly, eco-friendly vocals, before suddenly things leap out of the gate with the Ian Anderson inspired “They’ll Take You Down On the Lot”. And no sooner have you passed on the communal joint, than “I Love You All” comes in with its acid-rock guitars and bluesy, progressive rhythms. Things take on a more reflective note on “Heaven is Closed”, the band’s own effort at making their epic, if you will, in a Deep Purple kind of way.
The heavy riff dominated “A Plague” is more convincing, even if Bjerre’s vocals and lyrics betray at times an all too obvious Jack Bruce/Martin Sharp influence. Still, it’s worth hearing just for the guitar work of Gaze alone. “Stand in the Sunlight” is nothing more than a pop song in prog-rock clothing. Nothing bad, but nothing especially extraordinary either.
Now listening to a song like “Take a Walk on a Foggy Morn” gives one the impression that hippies always woke up in the morning feeling great, no matter whether it was rain or shine. From personal experience one gets the feeling that that wasn’t necessarily the case.
It wouldn’t be a true concept album if we didn’t have an extended and thematically long-winded ending. “Goolutionites Part I” acts as a sort of coda in the way that “Pigs on the Wing” served as a brilliant bookend to Animals by Pink Floyd. However “Goolutionites Part I” just seems to go on and on, dragging the listener down into an almost existential state of ergotism, that is until “Goolutionites Part II” kicks in, with its swinging rhythm section and blues-rock guitar, which is reminiscent of early Allman Brothers Band, particularly the way they effortlessly sway between tempos, one moment jazz, then back to blues again.
The good people at Aztec Music have once again afforded us with a plethora of bonus tracks, most of which are nice to have although several of which probably add little to the original LP itself, with exception perhaps to “Sea the Swells”, originally off 1972’s “Morning of the Earth” soundtrack, whose flute and bongos led excursion bears virtually scant resemble to the line-up on the record I’ve been talking about, to the extent that it sounds like an entirely differently group altogether.
I guess for those who love to delve a little deeper than Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, it’s enjoyable to hear something that hasn’t necessarily been divulged and analysed by the masses, at least not on the scale of the previous two behemoths. I’d bet that very few critics in the future will be writing about Tamam Shud any time soon. The band created little if any commercial ripples in their time, so why should they now? Still it’s nice to know that Aztec have taken the care to preserve their achievements all the same. Just the sort of thing to make a few old musicians proud, wouldn’t you think?