Boomaga – Thing of UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

May 25, 2009

Obscure Music, Insensitively Reviewed: Grace – “Grace” (1979)

Filed under: Entertainment — boomaga @ 2:48 am
Grace - a band behind its time

Grace - a band behind its time

I found an album you’ve never heard of, and I’m going to assassinate it.     It can only gain me bad karma, but dammit, I was trained to critique cruelly.

Once upon a time, apparently there was a band from the UK that set out to sound like Peter Gabriel era Genesis, formed and got signed and put out an eponymous album in 1979 – “Grace.”

(Noooo, I’m not going to post a link to any actual torrents.  Why ?  Because I officially don’t know anything about torrents. )

I’ve seen two band pics, and only a scant description (it’s a bad band name to search for).   But here’s the thing – if you search for Prog Rock, Genesis, etc. on torrent searching sites, “Grace” is ALL over the place, on every single torrent tracker site, which for a band as unknown as them is phenomenal and leads me inescapably to the conclusion that someone affiliated with the band, or at least someone with an unhealthy fixation, is actually dumping this album torrent and the tracker info everywhere s/he can.

It’d be a terrific set up for a discovery of something brilliant.    Why, just read this from the torrent description:

 

Grace - (eponymous) 1979    Clay/MCA

Grace - (eponymous) 1979 Clay/MCA

 

This album very rare now but if you like Peter Gabriel period Genesis you will probably love it.
… [T]he songs played showed all the eclectic influences mentioned above, but they were also interwoven with the best elements of English folk rock. Grace rapidly developed a reputation for strong songs and a dynamic stage presence, and as a result the audience grew, and record companies became interested.

… Reputation of the band as major exponents of what was now dubbed Progressive rock’ was growing rapidly, both as a recording band and as a superb live act…  All was set for the breakthrough into mass acceptance  … And then – nothing.

Maybe it was the advent of punk maybe it was the bickering amongst the band members, maybe the band was frightened of success. Whatever the reasons, Grace split up in 1981, much to the shock of their hundreds of staunch followers.   (Emphasis mine – boo.)


What went wrong, why was this supposed early promise of this band snuffed out ?

Well, problem number 1 shouldn’t elude ANYONE who has the slightest idea about pop history – they were trying to sound like Genesis 10 years after Genesis, long after Genesis had stopped sounding like Genesis – and several years since prog rock itself had LONG been out of fashion.  I mean, by the time disco was dead and buried, prog rock fans would be too embarrassed to look each other in the face for years.

Even so, and even if they didn’t bow to zeitgeist pressure, they at least may have been granted grudging  respect for their intricate, virtuosic playing skill, storytelling in their lyricism, and careful, thoughtful music which owes as much to composition as pop songwriting tradition – a band which is determined to take the genre in new directions.  But…

Grace inflicting live music somewhere in the UK

"Grace" inflicting live music

Oh, let me point out the positives…   The mix isn’t horrible through and through, there are a few good sounds.  The singer deliberately cops Peter Gabriel or Jon Anderson styles, but you know, I actually give him props for singing on-key, and with some emotion in some places…  And the guitarist seems adequate, and the bass and drums are acceptable.

The problem is EVERYTHING ELSE.

All things taken as equal, what’s obvious right off the bat when listening to it is that the music is piss poor.   It’s Prog Rock that makes no Prog.   Not one song stands out – they all slide into each other as one big major chord.

The mix is below-par, even if a dated production sound can be forgiven for not aging well.  The balance is WAY off in some sections – and there’s some inhumane abuse of rotten outboard effects (know what this needs ?   a phased chorus !), the out-of-phase guitars (not the good Brian May kind), sore-thumb keyboard parts which should’ve been strangled in the crib, using timbres that sounded crappy even then…

Grace - Billy Boy (1981 album)

Grace - Billy Boy (1981 7")

Then there’s this completely superfluous flute/sax player, whose skill in tuning and playing his instruments sounds like he’s new to music, which is funny since their bio seems to indicate that he considered himself the leader of the band.  His sax contribution to the track titled (get this) “Cyril Dingle” stinks up the song like an unflushed turd in a john.

The lyrics are baffling. I’ve heard stanzas in these songs which I had to rewind and re-hear to make sure I wasn’t crazy:

Oh La La Noid don’t eat my heart,
My soul will surely fart.
Oh La La Noy I am your stain.
A life that can be saved

Fireside, Ironside, five-oh-one
Give me my arrows, I’ll give you a run
You throw for your money, I’ll throw for my wheels
Heartfelt breezes, hopes and dreams.

You may think, if you like, that I’m deliberately mishearing the lyrics for comedic effect.  Think that all you want – I know what I heard.

But what has me most mindboggled is the song “Laughing Policeman,” which has to be heard to be believed.

It’s not the old British novelty song “The Laughing Policeman,” which actually described a jolly cop who goes ha ha ha ha and ho ho ho ho. It’s much more weird.     It’s an indictment of police brutality, abuse of authority, misogyny – from a 1st person POV.   The lyrics are disturbing, creepy, weird, inappropriate, apparently about S&M, sexual sadism, assault and degredation of a woman.  And it seems the lyricist wishes to condemn these practices while lovingly detailing them in an inner dialogue of a rapist.

Yet the music for “Laughing Policeman” is a driving beat with a very simple major key sound, a very summer sunshine type of song – a sound that says, “I’m gonna break free and drive this convertible down the road so fast with wind blowin in my hair, gonna rock ON and never gonna STOP !”

And now I reach the point where I have to sit back, look at what I’ve written, and ask who am I to criticise – it’s so easy to tear down, and fun, too.   Not so easy to build.  And it’s one thing to kick around a band that’s inexplicably popular and modern, a high-profile band who are touted as brilliant – that’s easy and fun to write, and to read.   But to dredge up a flop album from some little-known band from 30 years ago, that’s just cruelty.

It would be only full disclosure, then, to say that maybe I see myself in “Grace.”
I’ve played in bad bands.   Really bad.  Worse than “Grace.”    I played drums and helped produce recordings for bands that had trouble getting FREE gigs.   We were wrong on so many counts – we were musically ambitious as far as crafting musical hooks and melodies, we were constantly working up new songs, rehearsed all the time, recorded ourselves constantly, and played loud and fast or loud and slow.   But we were third-rate musicians when the type of music we were trying to play demanded at least competency, couldn’t tune or control our sounds, had no idea why our instruments weren’t pro-quality, did nothing to research the music business and were constantly being taken for a ride, had no stage presence, and our lyrics were clumsy, impenetrable, or at best just hopelessly bleak.  We split up before the internet, before mp3s, before CD burners.  But, despite suspecting in our heart of hearts that we sucked, we would’ve taken a label’s production money in a split second.

So, “Grace,” your album sucked, but never mind, here’s to you – you got further than I did, and whoever is putting the album up on torrent trackers is keeping it alive.

EPILOGUE:

Turns out “Grace” put out a live album in ’81,  reformed in ’92 and have put out 3 more albums and a double live album on a couple of their own record labels.    And a couple of blokes who apparently were the heart of Grace, Mac Austin and Harry Davies, have another band project, “White Door,” that they worked on through the 1980’s.   Judging from the number of their releases, “White Door” could be argued to have been more successful.

Check it out on this little hole-in-the-wall Italian site:  http://www.electrocity.it/Discografie/white_door.htm

And here’s a write-up from a prog-rock fan site:  http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=131

Clay Records, a trunk-of-my-car record label which did mostly punk music, made “Grace” their first LP release.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_Records

If there were ANY other link to listen to the mp3s, buy it on Amazon, watch them on YouTube, anything…   I would want to help them out.

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