Erland and The Carnival - Erland and The Carnival
British bands are forever clawing back the years to the 60’s, a time when they ruled the world, looking for inspiration to create something new that we all missed first time round but would still be interested in the second time out. Folk music for example has risen and fallen in many guises, each wave drawing every last shred of influence from the likes of Bert Jansch and Davey Graham and pushing and pulling the genre into the light of today.
Erland and The Carnival, led by the mysterious Erland Cooper, are one band who make no mistakes about their aim here; to rifle off keyboard-laden sixties psych-pop interpretations of traditional Scottish folk songs. After a healthy stint as one of the most progressive and original guitarists of his time Simon Tong of the Verve and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, joins Erland here. So too does David Nock of the Orb/the Cult. Taking that line-up on paper, the mixture seems so utterly bizarre. But glance again and even the casual observer would surely acknowledge the fact that Nock and Tong together could quite easily prove a lethal combination. Tong was THE master of the aching, echoing guitar. Under his fingers, the instrument was strained to emotional capacity, as much as any guitar could go. He managed to make howling notes sound almost human; to fit in proportionally with Ashcroft’s similarly equated lyrics. At their peak, Urban Hymns, they had a succinct relationship rare in the music business.
For the most part, this album is at the very least, lovely and interesting in a rather pregnant sixties way. It is too clunky, too sixties possibly. Put it this way: do we really need an album sounding like a circus version of the Animals? Well, no one NEEDS it but where does it fit in today? Anywhere? Not really and it's a blessing and a curse. The sixties, in a manner of speaking, have been reinvented here in an explosion of colour but did almost every track HAVE to sound like an actual carnival?
The opening track 'Love is a Killing Thing' is a great little hailstorm. It is both bright and bumpy while show casing what the album is clearly going to be all about. The same is true of 'My Name is Carnival' which treads a path in much the same vein but sounds a little like Ocean Colour Scene (surely no one wants their return?) and again, the Animals. 'Tramps & Hawkers' is wonderful. It has a very fresh, brisk gravitas to it. A stand out number surely. It soothes and rides along at a pace enabling all of the members to shine as individuals. That is often the case with such ‘super-groups.’ Certain members get drowned out. So what of Tong?
Well overall, unfortunately, his guitar is diluted. Is he playing it safe on purpose? We’ll never know but there certainly are no aching notes here or howling frets. Possibly a conscientious move on his part but it is disappointing. He plays on here, for the most part, like any other ‘regular’ guitarist when we know full well he is anything but. It may help explain why the songs here range so vastly from the ragged beauty of 'The Echoing Green' to the unbearably annoying cowboy bop of 'Everything Came too Early'. Their's is a balancing act yet to be skilfully learnt. As for the mysterious Erland himself, he sings fine, nothing to cut him above the rest of the existing sixties-esque singers in Britain. His voice, like the guitars, is shrouded in clowns, elephant tricks and tigers. The carnival arrives and swallows up the town.
But in there somewhere, stand the ring masters cracking whips, waiting just waiting for their moment to arrive. It hasn’t come just yet but when it does; the audience is sure to stand and applaud.