Sunday, 31 December 2017

STEVE HARLEY & COCKNEY REBEL THE HUMAN MENAGERIE

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The Human Menagerie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Human Menagerie
Humanmenageriecockneyrebel.jpg
Studio album by Cockney Rebel
ReleasedNovember 1973
RecordedAir StudiosLondon - June and July 1973
GenreGlam rock[1][2]
Length44:18
LabelEMI
ProducerNeil Harrison
Cockney Rebel chronology
The Human Menagerie
(1973)
The Psychomodo
(1974)
The Human Menagerie is the debut studio album by Cockney Rebel, released in 1973. It was produced by Neil Harrison.[3]

Contents

  [show

Background[edit]

"Those first two albums were heavily orchestrated. I was 22 years old, at Abbey Road with a full orchestra and a choir for songs like "Sebastian". I'd busked with those songs for a year before Cockney Rebel signed to EMI, so to get all that was just... oh, it was magnificent for a young man."
 —Steve Harley recalling The Human Menagerieand The Psychomodo albums in 2013.[4]
After training as a journalist for three years, Steve Harley embarked on a musical career, beginning with "floor spots" in London folkclubs in 1971.[5] He also had a brief spell as rhythm guitarist and co-singer in the folk band Odin, where he met future Cockney Rebelviolinist Jean-Paul Crocker. It was during this time that Harley began writing his own songs, including those which would appear on The Human Menagerie. Most were penned at a time when Harley was on the dole, having left his career in journalism. He began buskingwith his songs in London in 1972, in subways and walkways under and in such places as Hyde Park CornerMarble ArchLeicester Square and Covent Garden. Harley would use busking to test his own songs on an audience, and to supplement his income from benefits.[6]
While in Odin, Harley felt he was not suited to the folk scene. He decided to form his own band Cockney Rebel in 1972, as a vehicle for his own songs.[5] With Crocker on board, the pair advertised and auditioned drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys, and guitarist Nick Jones. One of the band's first gigs was at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London on 23 July 1972 supporting The Jeff Beck Group. Jones was soon replaced by Pete Newnham, however Harley felt the band did not need an electric guitar, particularly with the arrival of keyboardist Milton Reame-James. Therefore, the band settled on the combination of Crocker's electric violin and the Fender Rhodes piano of Reame-James.[7]
During 1972, representatives of the band began to send demo tapes to various labels. Mickie Most discovered the band at London nightclub The Speakeasy Club, and offered them their first contract with his RAK Publishing. In turn, this influenced the A&R personnel at EMI Records, who then offered the band a contract in late 1972.[6] They signed to EMI after having only played five gigs together.[7]The three-album deal commenced with The Human Menagerie.[5] The album was recorded in June and July 1973 at Air Studios in London, which at the time was located in Oxford Street above a department store. It was mastered at Capitol Studios.
EMI hired their staff producer and A&R man Neil Harrison as the album's producer, with Geoff Emerick as the engineer. Harrison suggested that some of the tracks, notably "Sebastian" and "Death Trip", should feature a large symphony orchestra and choir. Harley agreed, and Harrison was then successful in obtaining a bigger budget from EMI to accommodate the use of a 50-piece orchestra. Andrew Powell was put in charge of the orchestral arrangements.[6] In the liner notes of the BGO 2004 CD release of The Human Menagerie, Harley recalled:
"In the backyard of a Chelsea bistro, under a blue sky, late summer seventy-three, Neil Harrison and I were sharing a pot of coffee when he told me he would like to record an orchestra and choir onto "Sebastian" and "Death Trip". The album was being recorded at Air Studios. We were about three-parts through, I should say, so Neil, my producer, must have known his announcement that afternoon would bowl the young Steve over. And it did. But seeing them in there, fifty-plus classical musicians, mostly old enough to be my dad, was a real shocker. We were young and full of dangerous ideas and adventure; ready to experiment without consideration for the consequences or cost. And Joop Wisser, EMI's head of A & R and the man who discovered us, was a consistently kind ally to Neil and myself; otherwise there would have been no orchestra or choir!"[8]
In the liner notes of the 2012 compilation Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974, Harley further recalled:
"I do remember where the songs came from. They came from a young man's dream, where the blending of musical literature and mad, formless imaginings, could hang out together at the same folk club and present him with an entire raison d'etre. As we entered Air London Studios to begin work in the summer of 1973, the news that our engineer would be the nigh-immortal Geoff Emerick brought wide-eyes excitement to those of us who knew details of Beatles' albums' sleeve notes. Neil Harrison came in as Control, and was himself fearless as he allowed my imagination to run loose. It was Neil who suggested orchestra and choir for so much of "The Human Menagerie". And Andrew Powell was brought in to write the arrangements. Such a budget for a new signing is pretty close to unthinkable today. I'm still not sure how Neil persuaded the money-men to sign such crazy big cheques, but his nous and his charm helped turn those big tracks into epics and I'll forever be in his debt for that."[6]
Preceding the album, the band's debut single "Sebastian" was released at the end of August 1973. Despite later becoming one of Harley and the band's most popular songs, the song failed to find success in the UK, and did not enter the UK Top 50. However, in continental Europe, the song performed much better and became a big hit in various countries.[9]The Human Menagerie was released in November, but like the single it failed to make an impact in the UK, though it did gain critical acclaim and cult status. AllMusic later noted that the album was "one of the most widely acclaimed albums of the year".[10] The failure of "Sebastian" in the UK led EMI to feel that Harley had yet to record a potential hit single. In response he went away and re-worked one of his unrecorded songs, called "Judy Teen", which became a UK Top 5 hit for the band in June 1974.[11] The same year, "Hideaway" was released as the second single from The Human Menagerie, but only in Denmark.[12]
On 24 November 2012, the band performed the album live at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. At this concert, Harley and the band performed their first two albums in their entirety, supported by an orchestra and chamber choir. The performance was released in 2013 as a CD album, and DVD release, under the title Birmingham (Live with Orchestra & Choir).[13]The same show was performed four more times in 2014; at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall, Sage Gateshead, London's Royal Albert Hall, and again at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.[14]

Song information[edit]

Before the formation of Cockney Rebel, Harley would supplement his dole money through busking and cleaning floors. "What Ruthy Said" was written after Harley had polished a parquet floor for a famous model. He later commented: "She wore grey and looked quite severe and beautiful as the smart set of pre-war Germany would have looked, and I got "What Ruthy Said" from that day."[8]
The song "Mirror Freak" was written about Marc Bolan. When Bolan met Harley later in the 1970s, he asked if the song had been written about him. Harley later recalled in 2004: "He was Narcissus personified and would have been looking everywhere for signs of his impact and influence."[8]
"Death Trip" was described by Harley in 2004 as being "a more complicated piece" than "Sebastian". Harley had originally planned for the preceding minute-long track "Chameleon" to be a full-length song. However, both he and Harrison later decided the song worked best as a preface to "Death Trip".[8] Both songs were inspired after Harley attended an inquest into a friend's heroin overdose.[15]

Release[edit]

The album was released by EMI on vinyl across the world, including the UK, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United States. In Canada, the album was released by Capitol Records. During 1974, the album was released by EMI in Yugoslavia and Chile.[16] In 1975, it was also released in Portugal, with an exclusive sleeve design. This edition of the album was made for the Portuguese club 'El Circulo De Leitores', who would press their own records and books with the permission of the original labels.[17] Later in 1979 and 1990, the album was re-issued by EMI on vinyl in Greece.[18] On 28 September 2015, the album was reissued across Europe on vinyl by Music on Vinyl.[19]
In 1990, the album received its first CD release through EMI, which featured two bonus tracks; the 1974 non-album single "Judy Teen", and "Rock and Roll Parade" which was the B-side of "Sebastian".[20] A Japanese edition of the CD was issued in August 1992, and featured the same bonus tracks.[21] BGO Records re-issued the album in the UK in 2004, again with the same bonus tracks.[22] In 2008, a digipack CD version of the album was released in Greece's Espresso newspaper.[16] On 13 May 2009, the album saw another CD release in Japan, as a remastered, limited edition version.[23]
The album was also included in its entirety on the remastered four-disc box-set anthology compilation album Cavaliers: An Anthology 1973-1974, released in 2012. This also included previously unreleased 'early versions' of many of the debut album tracks, as well as B-sides and live tracks from the period.[24]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Steve Harley.
No.TitleLength
1."Hideaway"3:53
2."What Ruthy Said"2:33
3."Loretta's Tale"4:14
4."Crazy Raver"3:47
5."Sebastian"6:59
6."Mirror Freak"5:14
7."My Only Vice"2:15
8."Muriel the Actor"4:11
9."Chameleon"0:49
10."Death Trip"9:54

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[25]
Billboardfavourable[26]
Cash Boxfavourable[27]
Classic Rock5/5 stars[28]
Mojo1/5 stars[29]
New Musical Expressunfavourable[30]
The Ottawa Citizenunfavourable[31]
Record Collector4/5 stars[32]
The Westmorland Gazettefavourable[33]
Upon release, Roy Carr of New Musical Express reviewed The Human Menagerie and stated: "Songs like "What Ruthy Said", "Loretta's Tale", "Muriel the Actor" and "My Only Vice" smack of a bygone era when rock became pretentious and punch-drunk from an over-abuse of psychedelics. Such claptrap could be palmed off as being "surreal" if it were not for the colourless and tasteless musical stew these raw dumplings have been dropped in. All The Human Menagerie proves is that Cockney Rebel are a hype and a rather effete one at that."[30]
American magazine Billboard listed the album as one of their "Recommended LP's". Describing the album as "very pleasant soft rock sparked by folky electric violin work and subtle percussion", the magazine believed "strong FM play action could come from this debut set."[26] Cash Box commented: "A devastating brand of rock and some very clever arranging highlight this great debut LP from Cockney Rebel. Featured on this LP are such fantastic tunes as "Hideaway," "Mirror Freak," "Death Trip," "Sebastian," and "Crazy Raver," each of which holds its own special magic. [Cockney Rebel] have done a splendid job and have earned their just reward."[34] Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen stated: "The Human Menagerie has some rather interesting ideas, approaches and styles, but they are all scattered throughout the never-changing mush of play-acting. The music has a multitude of low-key gimmicks but no real soul to hang them on. The David Bowie vocals seem programmed and have no edge. The instrumentation is cleverly diversified but comes out one dimensional and plastic - nice, colourful reproductions that lack the inner fire and conviction needed to make them glow with life."[31]
Of the 2004 BGO re-issue of the album, Joe Matera for Record Collector said: "Cockney Rebel's debut has weathered well - for many it's now considered an art-glam masterpiece. But though Steve Harley's compositions are peppered with the glam influences of his day, within its musical walls lie something closer to a dark cabaret that's laced with playful pop wit and subtle prog-folk tinges. With tracks such as "Sebastian", "My Only Vice" and "Death Trip", Harley demonstrated his masterful control of momentarily alluding to some serious lyricism before plunging into absolute lyrical nonsense."[32] Mojo stated: "Steve Harley's fourth-form-poetry and mannered delivery enraged non-believers. He thought it was Ray Davies meets Bolan. But it's Marlene Dietrich meets Rambling Syd Rumpo. Hilarious."[29] Geoff Barton of Classic Rock concluded: "Cockney Rebel were a brand new thing in futuristic satin suits and twirly bow-ties - and they didn't even have a lead guitarist. Instead, Harley's highly mannered, nasal, twanging voice was augmented by violin player Jean-Paul Crocker. A mass of quirky, unfathomable, psychotic lyrics added to the attraction. It's about time The Human Menagerie was recognised as a classic."[28] Andrew Thomas of The Westmorland Gazette wrote: "Cockney Rebel were big news in the early 1970s. Songwriter and lead singer Steve Harley's distinctive vocal delivery, the choice of electric violin rather than electric guitar and Milton Reame-James' inspired keyboards made for an inventive and new sound. The Human Menagerie includes two Harley epics - "Sebastian" and "Death Trip". One of the best things about Cockney Rebel songs is Harley's lyrics, which are often rather opaque but always intriguing. The album is real mixture of light and dark. "What Ruthy Said" and "Muriel the Actor" are bright pop songs, for example, while the epics' are loaded with hidden depths, both musically and emotionally."[33]
Dave Thompson of AllMusic retrospectively reviewed the album, writing: "Indulging for the first time in Cockney Rebel's debut album is like waking up from a really weird dream. A handful of Human Menagerie's songs are slight, even forced, and certainly indicative of the group's inexperience. But others - the labyrinthine "Sebastian," the loquacious "Death Trip" in particular - possess confidence, arrogance, and a doomed, decadent madness which astounds. The Human Menagerie is a dark cabaret - the darkest."[25]

Personnel[edit]

Band
Production
  • Neil Harrison - producer
  • Geoff Emerick – engineer
  • Andrew Powell – orchestral arrangements
  • Pete & Denny - tapes
  • Wally Traugott - mastering
Sleeve
  • Peter Vernon – photography
  • Star Trek Enterprises – sleeve design

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