|1. Can't Get My Motor To Start|
|2. I Was Wrong|
|4. Hot River|
|5. Boo To You Too|
|6. Do Ya?|
|8. I'm A Mineralist|
Fictitious Sports is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Nick Mason solo album. It is a collaborative effort between songwriter Carla Bley, Robert Wyatt, Karen Kraft, and assorted brass players. Mason merely provided drums and percussion, and was for some curious reason granted top billing as a result.
It should be noted that, despite various listings to the contrary, this album is billed as Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (ie. similar to "Bill Bruford's Earthworks"), rather than as "Fictitious Sports, an album by Nick Mason". This may justify the crediting to a certain extent, but still provides precious little consolation for those wondering why Bley and Wyatt were shut out of the top billing. It is possible that the creators of this album hoped that Mason's membership in Pink Floyd would result in boosted album sales; if this was the reason behind the curious crediting job, however, it proved to be of little avail.
NMFS has generally not received favourable reviews from its listeners, and there is a very simple reason for this: the music herein is generally far removed from Pink Floyd's recordings, and curious PF fans who came across this album probably had no idea what to do with it. This album does have a potential market, however, in fans of the Canterbury scene (and fans of Carla Bley's jazz-humour recordings might find it a worthwhile purchase as well). As such, despite its general separation from the Pink Floyd legacy, this album does not deserve to be entirely ignored by progressive fans.
The album begins on an odd note with "Can't Get My Motor To Start", the only track to feature Karen Kraft as the primary vocalist. The track begins with a catchy guitar riff and a drum line which is more notable for its high presence in the mix than for anything which Mason is actually playing. Kraft's vocals are sung-spoken jazz lines of the Annette Peacock variety, and they fit this track fairly well; whether or not the bizarre lyrics contain double-entendres or not may be left to the discretion of the listener. The song is a bit rough-hewn in parts, largely due to the presence of many of the "additional voices" thrown in to a generally chaotic result; the music, moreover, twice shifts to a simple bass/drums pattern which allows solos (of the harmonica and trumpet, respectively) to develop. Ultimately, the irritating and clever elements generally cancel each other out, leaving a fairly good pop-jazz number as the result.
This track, however, is something of an anomaly on the album. The rest of the work features Robert Wyatt on lead vocals, and is generally less "upbeat" than the leadoff track. "I Was Wrong" is the first track in this trend; once again, the drums and bass provide the foundations from which other instruments (notably the brass section) are occasionally granted the spotlight. The lyrics, however, are the primary feature of this track; Wyatt's deadpan vocals are perfect in describing a skeptic's encounter with alien life in the form of music. One wonders if the "space guitars" reference could relate in some way to Allen Bryant's album of the same name (from 1977). One also wonders if a parody of PF was intended. Either way, it's an interesting number.
"Siam" is even better. The music features vaguely "eastern" keyboard lines, a very good recurring guitar riff, steady drum lines, and lyrics which are amazingly bad in a clever way. Wyatt's voice is deadpan as ever, reciting the absurd lyrics without ever missing a beat; a strange (and long) brass solo before the second verse seems appropriately absurd in context.
"Hot Water" is something of an "odd song out" on the album, in that it actually *does* come fairly close to the mainstream of 1970s progressive music. Chris Spedding's guitar lines are remarkably Floydian, and the concluding solo is too close to Gilmour's style to be coincidental. Wyatt sings the number in a more "progressive" manner as well, as might be expected (although some might claim that he sounds a bit too much like an Alan Parsons Project vocalist in this context). The song, however, is marred by (i) the fact that Karen Kraft's duet vocals don't fit the style of music very well, and (ii) the fact that the entire "song" section of the track seems underwritten. Still, this is only a few notches away from a four-star rating, and is a good way to end the first side.
Side Two begins with "Boo To You Too", a novelty number advising musicians to respond in turn to heckling from their audiences. This reviewer could do without the low brass notes at absurd moments, but the track is fairly good otherwise. Much of the song involves Wyatt singing unintelligible lyrics over a ludicrous boogie-woogie piano line; the guitarist is here closer to Steve Howe than anyone else in the progressive world, and provides two decent solos as such. A decent diversion.
"Do Ya?" is a relative lull. The performances are still fairly good, with Bley, Wyatt and the horn section presenting notable efforts. As against this, even the fact that it was written as a transparent parody can't disguise the fact that the "unironic ballad" sections of the track aren't very interesting, and Wyatt's absurd accent towards the end doesn't provide the comic relief that was presumably intended. Kraft, once again, sounds out of place.
"Wervin'" returns the album to an upbeat, pop/jazz-oriented mode. The musical foundation for the track sounds oddly similar to the Talking Heads's "I Zimbra" at times; the bass is mixed extremely high, and takes an extremely extroverted role at times. An extremely long trumpet solo appears in the middle of the track. The lyrics, sung by Wyatt with the cast of additional voices, are not actually clear as to what they're describing -- nonetheless, the singing falls into the "catchy if meaningless" category.
The album concludes with it's most bizarre track, entitled "I'm A Mineralist". This number consists of Wyatt -- again using his most deadpan voice -- describing a cradle to grave fetish for minerally-based objects. The musical accompaniment takes the form of an absurdly out-of-place requiem/lament piece. The lyrics once again return to the depths reached in "Siam" -- although some credit must be given for "Erik Satie gets my rocks off, Cage is a dream/Philip Glass is mineralist to the extreme" (which, of course, leads to an instrumental passage of Glass-esque repetition). While some might find the project a bit dubious, this song certainly succeeds within its intentions.
As regards Nick Mason ... well ... he doesn't really do very much. The drums are mixed rather high throughout the album, but aside from a few percussion rolls at the end of "Siam", he doesn't do terribly much of note.
Pink Floyd fans are cautioned, but Canterbury fans are strongly recommended to check this album out. General progressive fans may find it an interesting side-project (in the careers of all artists concerned) as well.
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 28 September 1997)