Legendary prog rock reissue is a hoax. But an instructive one, claims Gary Steel
WHEN the whole music world seems to be available online, via download, for free, there’s not a heck of a lot to get excited about anymore. Somehow, the ease of acquisition, together with the lack of physicality, or attendant mythology, just dampens one’s imagination.
That’s why it was so cool earlier this month to get wind of a seemingly completely unremembered, unheard-of, and resolutely unavailable European prog-rock classic from 1975 getting the lush reissue treatment by a New Zealand label.
The so-obscure-it-can’t-even-call-itself-legendary release by IMMRAM, The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone, was supposed to have been issued in a limited edition of 200 copies back in ’76, but due to a bunch of mysterious and tragic circumstances, became an artifact not only lost in the physical realm, but to historical fact as well.
The reissue of this lush work (limited edition, natch) comes in a fabulous hard-cover, book-style 12-inch LP replica with 60 gloss pages of fantastical illustrations, lyrics, essays and ephemera, all attesting to the authenticity of the album. (Note: the disc itself is a CD attached to a rubber dongle inside the tome; it’s also available to download).
Search the net and you will provide plenty of stuff about IMMRAM and The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone, but nothing that gives any veracity to claims of authenticity.
When the album was launched a few weeks back, there was plenty of discussion about this mysterious discovery, together with some rave reviews, and none of them seemed to smell a rat. More astute observers – and those who work with instruments and recording studios – could tell that the album was not a product of the ‘70s, but a remarkable forgery.
I met up with the album’s architect, New Zealand-based musician/songwriter Paul McLaney, who explained his intentions behind this humorously fraudulent exercise. McLaney is a fan of prog-rock-era bands like Jethro Tull, Genesis and Yes, and feels that the present era has yet to provide a platform where the listener is encouraged to relish in the splendiferousness of a music project. Those ‘70s bands wouldn’t just make immersive, epic songs for stoners to play over and over again, until the grooves wore out, but they would write dense and imaginative lyrics that provoked the listener’s imagination, and cap it all off by packaging the album with incredible artwork that the listener could also stare at and peruse while listening to said artifact.
It was a deep listening experience, not something to casually dip into while checking the latest Facebook posts or Tweeting.
The idea of The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone came from this sense of loss; the lack of imagination, the loss of immersive time. And the best way to really get people to notice, thought McLaney, would be to make an album that pretended to be a lost prog-rock classic that no-one had ever heard of.
I’m not going to go into the depths of the album’s themes and lyrical and musical tributaries, but suffice to say that it achieves its aim.
In truth, the recording has a crystal-clear, digital sound, and there are several things that give it away as a forgery. Some of the drum programming, synthesiser sounds and glitchy electronic effects are clearly the product of post-‘70s technology.
The producers obviously weren’t looking to fool the public for long, but to simply provoke some thought, and some dialogue, about the rather odd state we find ourselves in, and whether there’s a way back, not to a past we know we cannot return to, but to a future in which music again becomes a rich, immersive experience.
Is it any good? Yes, actually. McLaney is a fine singer and lyricist, and his vocal cadence does beautifully mimic the mysticism of those ‘70s prog icons. The tracks generally last around 10 minutes, so they take their time establishing an atmosphere and a natural flow.
The main musical hallmark of prog-rock is missing: virtuosic musicianship, odd time-signatures, dynamic changes between soft acoustic and hard-rock passages. It’s really much closer to space-rock bands like Pink Floyd, and at times, it mixes its mystic atmospheres with rhythms and textures reminiscent of industrial and post-industrial groups like Dead Can Dance and even Nine Inch Nails – although I need to add that the sound is always spatial, not hard-edged, or lyrically narcissistic.
It’s an opaque, watery world (well, the story is about a water-borne journey, after all) in which the guitar figures have a little touch of The Edge, and the overall sound is impressionistic.
I don’t know who McLaney’s partners in musical hoax-crime are (rumour has it that Jeramiah Ross aka Module was the other main co-conspirator) but all parties can be proud of an effort that asks philosophical questions about the nature of listening, objectification of packaging and mythology, and how to move forward without becoming simply magpies nervously picking over the carcass of dead downloads. GARY STEEL
Note: This story was originally published in 2011, but ‘disappeared’ after a nasty hack attack. Now reloaded but not remastered.