Tentative Review #84

Intergalactic Touring Band
Intergalactic Touring Band

(released 1977)


Track:Rating:
1. Approach****
2. Silver Lady***1/2
3. Universal Zoo/Why?**1/2
4. Starship Jingle**1/2
5. Heartbreaker***1/2
6. Reaching Out***1/2
7. First Landing**1/2
8. Space Commando**1/2
9. Robot Salesman**1/2
10. Love Station**1/2
11. A Planet Called Monday/Epilogue***
12. Keeper Keep Us***

Personnel:

Credits:


Comments:

This, to say the least, is an odd one.

As should be obvious from the songwriting and personnel credits, the Intergalactic Touring Band was not even close to being a "band" in the convention sense of the word. Determining what they were is a bit more difficult.

To judge by the aforementioned credits, the following seems the most likely supposition: Two orchestral arrangers decided to create a pop album, equally amateurish and parodic in their intentions. They managed to unite five session men as a "front" for the project, and thereafter acquired the services of numerous other musicians (many of whom were constituent members of the progressive scene) as guests. If anyone else has a better theory to explain this release, I'd be interested in hearing it.

Despite the fairly high number of musicians on the album with prog credentials (Fast, Cousins, Haslam, Phillips et al), this release is seldom mentioned in discussions of the genre. And there may be a reason for that.

To summarize briefly, the premise of the "Intergalactic Touring Band" project is this: at some point in the distant future (certainly after 3000), mankind has settled on various planets. Government as it is presently known no longer exists, and all practical power belongs to an organization known as the VIBRA CORPORATION (most famous for its invention of VIBRACON GLOBES, a device capable of harnessing the psychic energy of those individuals around them). As a means of establishing a peaceful order between the various human planets (for alien races exist in this universe as well, though this album scarely mentions them) the VIBRA Corporation created the Intergalactic Touring Band, whose mission it was to tell the stories of mankind's journeys throughout the colonized lands.

Although this concept is presumably a parody, in part, of the increased powers of musical executives within the record industry by 1977, it isn't quite enough to base an entire album on. While the banality of many of the tracks on this release may have been "part of the act", one wonders if the organizers of this project might have been able to make the same point with better music.

But let's take this one step at a time ...

The first two tracks describe the arrival of the Intergalactic Touring Band to the "magnificent OED", wherein the concert is to take place. The very brief "Approach" sets the tone for his moment, as both Larry Fast and the LSO create a fairly impressive "Imperial" theme. The orchestral parts aren't earth-shaking, but are fair enough as modern classical filler. Fast's "space noises" are a bit silly, but his subsequent performance isn't that bad (if vaguely similar to "The Great Gates At Kiev").

Sadly, that's about as good as the album gets. "Silver Lady" is more typical of the release as a whole -- a rock-oriented piece (and not entirely prog-rock, at that), this number describes the mechanical awakening of the IGTB for their performance. Interestingly, Larry Fast's keyboard lines sound similar to those which he later used in Peter Gabriel's "On The Air"; although with Sobel's bass performance, this actually creates a fairly decent musical setting. Less impressive is Rod Argent's singing, and the vocoder parts are just downright silly. At heart, this isn't really much of a song -- a bit similar to Starcastle (or perhaps even The Buggles), but not as good as the real thing. This particular number has enough going for it to quality as "good" (barely), but many of the tracks which follow cannot share in this honour.

"Universal Zoo/Why" is the first song in the IGTB's set, concerning a, well, universal zoo in which humans are kept as part of the exhibit. This track provides strong evidence that Arthur Brown wasn't really much of a singer; it also provides further evidence that Malone & Beckerman weren't world class songwriters. As clever as the Mary Poppins-esque chant of "Interstellar Federated Universal Zoo" may be, it isn't enough on which to base the song. Still, if it isn't that bad, which is why it falls to "Why" to ultimately bring down the rating for this track. This track, lamenting the loss of human dignity in the IFUZ, is a fairly unspirited ballad (and Percy Jones doesn't really do very much). Still entertaining from a parodic perspective, I suppose, but not really notable musically.

From here, the IGTB launch into "Starship Jingle", a track honouring the publicity campaign which accompanied the first human space probe, selling the concept to many skeptical humans. The song has an (obviously deliberate) inane pop ethos, and would probably be unbearable if it were meant to be taken seriously. The vocal harmonies almost suggest a parody of Hair-era 5th Dimension numbers. Pepe Marchello's voice has a nice vibrato effect to it as well, which is about the only other thing of significance that I can say about this track.

Sadly, the first space mission was a failure; the ship was never heard from again, and popular legend suggests that the crew members still turn in "infinite sleep" to this day. For some reason, the song which corresponds to this part of the story is "Heartbreaker", featuring David Cousins (of the Strawbs) on lead vocals. The song is essentially of the "romantic desire and loss" variety, having nothing specifically to do with the alleged plot. That said, it is one of the better songs here, with Cousins's distinctive voice bringing the rating up a bit. The musical arrangement isn't so spectacular, never quite reaching its apparent potential, but Cuomo in particular is fairly good in his role. The overall feel of this song is rather similar to that of a Strawbs number, actually [though it should be noted that the "Heartbreaker" which appears on their Burning From The Inside album is a different track entirely].

Continuing the policy of emulating the styles of their famous guests, "Reaching Out" (featuring Annie Haslam) is essentially akin in structure to a Renaissance track, albeit not quite at the same level of quality. This song tells the story of the brave men and women who travelled through the second ship to the New Earth (always feeling a strong yearning for their home world), with Haslam's vocals and the corresponding orchestral bits adding as much dignity to this track as is possible (though even she seems to stumble somewhat over lines like "our guidance control lies aloof and dismembered/our ship has forgotten, but we have remembered"). Anthony Phillips and Peter Sobel have a tastefully minimal role on acoustic guitar. This track doesn't quite live up to the potential of the musicians involved, but it's fairly good nonetheless.

From there, it's straight downhill again. "First Landing", as the titles implies, concerns the arrival of the colonists on the New Earth after ten generations. The song begins with a fairly good guitar riff, which largely saves the work from an even worse rating; the track has an annoying "Song For Europe" (the contest, not the Roxy Music song) feel to it, which no amount of parody can entirely justify. The sudden sinister turn of the music in the "Burn the ships! Burn the ships!" chant is a nice touch, but not much more.

The "plot" of the album breaks down at this point, and the IGTB start focusing on unrelated aspects of human live at this late stage. "Space Commando" is a rather lame tribute to the titular policeman. The lyrics are unbelieveably stupid (as you'd imagine), and the only interesting thing about the music is that it seems to be parodying Santana (down to the "liquid" guitar solo). Another one that parody can't save.

"Robot Salesman", describing the life of one of the most coveted VIBRA positions, is a downright disturbing number. The track features an extremely decadent voice offering his "magical men" for sale, to fulfill the duties of household life and planetary security. Oddly enough, the lyric doesn't actually specify that these "magical men" are robots until the final stanza; I'm sure that a more sinister interpretation could easily be gathered from the rest of the lyrics in a different context. This song might ultimately be best regarded as a parody of the Disney corporate mentality, taken to an absurd extreme. Unfortunately, once you take the "disturbing" elements aside, the song which remains isn't really that notable (and the vocoder bits are perhaps best forgotten). This song has its charms, but doesn't quite make it as a work of music.

And then we turn to "Love Station", a parody of disco-funk stylings which features a guest appearance from the VIBRA-backed music deejay Romeo Jones (starring Ben E. King in a puzzling career move). This is so obviously a parody of such cheesy "Dr. Love" type radio characters that it almost isn't funny (but, thankfully, it is, mostly due to their parody of corporate support of such figures). The soul guitar line isn't bad, but is hardly the focal point of the song. A keyboard solo (I believe it's by Fast) is simply absurd. I can't rate this too high from a musical standpoint, but the intentions are clearly on the right side.

Two members of Status Quo join for the somewhat-tuneful "A Planet Called Monday", focusing on a planet in which members of the population voluntarily ascend to the atmospheric level and allow their bodies to burn, thereby granting the planet the heat that it otherwise lacks. It's a fairly ordinary "proletariat rock song" aside from this absurd theme (dealing with the usual "Monday Morning" themes in a manner which vaguely describes the more enigmatic nature of the endeavour), though it isn't bad as such. "Epilogue" is less notable; at least it's short.

As a means of ending the album on the most absurd, over-the-top note imaginable, we then have "Keeper Keep Us", a closing track intended to consolidate the faith of the audience in a mysterious being who controls their lives from his domain beyond the gates of time. To this end, they enlisted a pre-Bat Out Of Hell Meatloaf to provide the inspirational gospel theme that has required. The end result is completely absurd, but not as wretched as one might expect [ML's problem isn't so much his voice as his level of taste -- with someone else taking care of the latter part of this equation, he performance actually isn't bad). For those curious, the image of "The Keeper" depicts an aged man making a secret hand gesture similar to that used by Byzantine Popes in Rome in and around the 600s (or it could be half of the "arms crossed with the index finger of each hand pointing out" position favoured by John Wesley and others -- it's not quite clear).

*

This album is not the sort of album that one would buy to be musically enlightened. This album is so absurd in its themes, so utterly preposterous in its very nature, that it would be impossible to me to dismiss it outright on the basis of the low quality of many of the songs.

If you find that the nature of this album will probably be to your liking (from a parodic standpoint or otherwise), then I would not dissuade you from buying it on the basis of the weak songwriting material. Certainly, this album could easily be an interesting novelty for many progressive fans. Whether or not any would want to listen to it all the way through for a second time, however, is rather less clear.

The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 26 March 1998)


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