Tentative Review #153

Amon Duul II
Wolf City

(released 1972)

1. Surrounded By The Stars ****1/2
2. Green-Bubble-Raincoated Man ****1/2
3. Jail-House-Frog ****1/2
4. Wolf City ***1/2
5. Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse ****1/2
6. Deutsch Nepal ****1/2
7. Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge ****




As a quick perusal of the aforementioned liner notes should indicate, the German progressive group Amon Duul II doesn't seem to have been bogged down by very many ego problems in their early years. On Wolf City, at least, the band appears to have cooperated with various guest musicians in a fairly open manner, shifting instrumental and vocal duties between various individuals with relative ease -- one might wonder, for example, if any other progressive group would allow their lead vocalist to play a lesser role than a guest organist on an officially released album.

This structure reflects the communitarian origins of Amon Duul II fairly well, and works perfectly in allowing the band to achieve the end results towards which they were striving. Rather than focusing on standout virtuosity, AD2 sought to create a hybrid of progressive and psychedelic styles in which mood and texture were the most important features -- to this end, the presence of various guests serves them remarkably well. The seven tracks on Wolf City are all imbued with a certain brilliance that transcends individual contribution -- the perfect sort of music for psychedelic dungeons of any description.

This radical communitarian structure is something of a double-edged sword, of course, and it may also help explain the one significant weakness of the release -- the actual songwriting isn't really anything special. This doesn't create too many difficulties on Wolf City, thankfully, though there are some who would point to the problem as an important factor in the band's fairly quick decline once they moved away from psychedelia. In any event, that's a story for another review.

Of the tracks on Wolf City, the obvious standout is "Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse", an early excursion into world-music fusion featuring drones, sitar and tabla in accompaniment with the psychedelia proffered by the other musicians. This track doesn't (yet) strike me all that it could have been -- it's pretty hard to go wrong with competent musicians performing a track such as this, but it doesn't quite reach the moment of perfect synthesis that the musicians were obviously aiming for. It comes pretty close, though -- and if it isn't quite a five-star track, it's borderline ... and it's virtually reason enough to buy the album on its own.

Another track which comes fairly close to fusion-perfection is its opening number, "Surrounded By The Stars". The spacey theme is only one of the many very obvious Floydian elements within the track, while the obvious "Arabian" themes invoke another possibility for the title, a figure standing under a clear Arabian sky. Remarkably high vocals, sound explosions, violins and a variety of keyboard effects work to create perhaps the most purely psychedelic track on the release. (I'm less certain about the merit of the lyrics, of course ... unless "sun on the kangaroo" has a specific Bavarian meaning, I'm tempted to think of it as a throwaway.)

"Green-Bubble-Raincoated Man" begins in a fairly poppy style (of the faux-innocent sort that Pink Floyd were notorious for), and it only really improves in the second half. Tempo tricks abound, though, and the bassline deserves being singled out for mention. "Jail-House-Frog", meanwhile (and goofy title aside), is a free-psych piece, with a few found sounds of a reptilian nature. The chorus, bizarrely enough, has a vocal line similar to that of Bowie's "The Bewley Brothers", while the guitar-line somehow manages to cling limpet-like to the rest of the track (note: this is a compliment).

I noted earlier that Amon Duul II's relative weakness as songwriters doesn't really hurt the album very much -- the title track is a semi- exception. "Wolf City" seems to flow somewhat aimlessly on its psychedelic underpinnings for the most part -- though, on the other hand, the guitar solo towards the end foreshadows Marty Willson-Piper's role in The Church by about twenty years or so.

"Deutsch Nepal" is an incredibly big-sounding piece, a heavy jam number with a curious recited overdub in German (of which, alas, I am unable to provide a translation). "Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge", the final cut, is the drummer's feature (more or less) -- and it shows, the kit drum presence being better here than anywhere else on the album. One annoyingly poppish section of this track creeps in towards the end, but the remainder of the number is solid throughout.

In the end, though, the individual tracks don't represent the full spirit of the album (as my cursory summaries may indicate -- it works much better when viewed as a comprehensive whole, a powerful statement of Euro-psychedelic creativity. It's certainly worth having, in any case.

Yeti would be an equally appropriate first choice, but there's no reason why fans of psych-prog shouldn't acquire Wolf City. Those with an inclination towards the "drone-gothic" edge of New Wave might find something of interest here as well.

The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 28 Jun 2000)

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