Fergus & Geronimo - Funky Was The State Of Affairs
When you hear the words 'concept album', what comes to mind? Ludicrously pretentious, self indulgently theatrical art-rock based on an obscure Tolkien novel wrapped up in a double gatefold sleeve with a design by Storm Thorgerson? I know I do! However there was a time before the pomposity of Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rick Wakeman, Genesis and Rush gave concept albums a bad name. A time when such albums were exciting, new and packed to the rafters with brilliant songs. A time when the strength of the song was more important than the concept. A time before musicians started disappearing up their own backsides at a rate of knots. A time when concept album gems such as S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things , The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks, The Zombies' Odessey & Oracle, The Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, and, of course, The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were released onto an unsuspecting world.
Funky Was The State Of Affairs the latest album from Brooklyn band Fergus & Geronimo, who, despite their name, are not an Irish American Indian duo, is a concept album. It may not be in the same league as S.F Sorrow et al but it certainly isn't pretentious or overblown. Imagine Liars, Devo and Wire collaborating on an avant jazz concept album about an alien invasion and the subsequent earthling resistance movement and, if your brain hasn't disintegrated, you're as close as you'll ever get to understanding this weird album.
You know you're in for an interesting ride when you hear the strangely titled opening track, 'Planet Earth Is Pregnant For The Fifth Time', 25 seconds of white noise, muffled nasal voices and what sounds like an original vintage space invaders game going on the blink. Thankfully second track 'No Parties' is a much more traditional art pop song which sounds like Wire let loose in a stylophone factory. 'The Strange One Speaketh', a personal ad from one Heather Strange looking for someone who's "cerebral capabilities haven't been fried by LCD screens," blends perfectly into the album's stand out track 'Roman Tick', a short sharp blast of straight up New Wave that would feel at home pogoing around the stage of CBGBs in the late 70s. The spiky 'Roman Numerals' sounds like Devo throwing a saxophone out of a skyscraper.
It's not all late 70s avant art pop however. 'Spies' sounds like a refugee from Nuggets, it could easily be a long lost original artyfact from the first psychedelic era. 'Marky Move' and the title track recall long forgotten avant jazz post punkers Rip Rig and Panic. 'Earthling Woman' is alien electro funk avant jazz it's freaky, atonal but strangely captivating and utterly hypnotic.
While the eccentric mix of art pop/rock and strange, occasionally discordant interludes makes the album stand out from the dull, boring, run of the mill crowd, it doesn't always work 'The Uncanny Valley' sounds like the Avalanches channel surfing on an alien's tv. It's little more than two and a half minutes of randomly generated noise that'll leave your ears in need of some TLC. Listening to 'The Roman Stuff Is Where It's At' is akin to sitting in a bar ear wigging multiple simultaneous conversations, which may be a voyeurs idea of a good night out but doesn't work on record.
Funky Was The State Of Affairs is a concept album Jim, but not as we know it. It's a peculiar mix of traditional old school art pop, avant jazz and odd, occasionally grating, vignettes that unfortunately don't always work. Despite this, it's the album I've most enjoyed listening to this year so far. It may be a little self indulgent at times but It's certainly not dull, and has enough top notch art pop to satisfy the most discerning of palates.