Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Disclaimer: All of the lyrics and song titles on this album are in Russian, so for the sake of convenience, I will refer to their English translations. Also, since I am not able to understand what’s being sung, I am aware that there is most likely a lot of critical details that I’m missing out on. Sorry.
Aquarium are an underground Russian group that I had never known about before taking part in this reviewing game. In 1983 they released this album called Radio Africa, and it was a huge deal because they had to bribe the owner to record in a mobile studio and they were super controversial and did stuff and things and they werasijeflamsef I honestly am too tired to think creatively about my introduction, so let’s just get this review started.
To cut to the chase, the biggest flaw of this album is the flat, under-cooked, and half-hearted production that runs through each song. I understand that the group didn’t have the opportunity to record in a luxurious studio, and I can tell that the band really tries to do as much as they could with their limitations, but either way a good amount of the songs actually sound like outtakes you might hear as bonus tracks as opposed to actual finished products. In other words, the production on this album sucks out much of the lot of the sonic depth, texture, or atmosphere these pieces potentially could have had, and although I’ve been able to ignore this on repeated listens, I still can’t help but feel that a better mix would have been a vast improvement to the album.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about the music! The good news is that on subsequent listens, almost all of these songs have grown on me. Basically, Aquarium fearlessly dive into as many musical styles as possible, so you get a melting pot of pop, rock, lounge, funk, new wave, ambient, reggae, world, etc. all segued together by shortwave radio broadcasts. In many ways, this album draws parallels to “The White Album”, though I think a better comparison would be “The Who Sell Out”, due to the radio concept behind both albums, or perhaps even “London Calling”, due to the political overtones in the music and lyrics, and also because neither album sounds anything like Wire.
Although, as a whole, the album plays together very well, there doesn’t seem to be much of a consistent musical theme that I can describe in greater detail, so I’ll just talk about a few tracks that I thought were pretty awesome. First, the albums boots off on a really jolly note with “Music of the Silver Spokes”, a fairly straightforward pop tune with a rhythm and melody that just sounds…swell! I can just imagine some happy-go-lucky person whistling this tune while strolling around on a stress-less, sunny day. And man, I don’t understand those lyrics, but they sure sound cool.
Up next, comes my second favorite track on here, “Captain Africa”. Of all the genres that are represented on this album, prog seems to be significantly lacking (along with punk), but this tune is the closest resemblance to that style. What we have here is a funk-jazz-rock-pop fusion number that is fueled by a funky, yet laid-back rhythm, which is mixed in with some delicious saxophone playing and a groovy chorus that will be forever stuck in your head by the second or third time you’ve heard this song.
However, the award for “Favorite Song on The Album” goes to to “Vana Khoya”. A gorgeous, exotic tune that takes you on a journey to a beach along the coast of a small, cast out island, this is the only case on the album where I feel the lo-fi production actually enhances the quality of the music, giving the piece a very serene and breezy atmosphere. I love the beautiful flute that flows in, out, and around the music, the airy guitars that conjures up images in my head of waves crashing against a sandy shore, and the tranquil melody that I can imagine being chanted by some ethnic group of tribal men along a fireside as the sun sets down. Simply put, this is an extremely aesthetic song that I highly recommend you listen to.
Anyways, there is a lot more I could talk about, such as the pretty ambient track entitled “Radio Shaolin” that sounds like Asian Animal Collective, or the fact that “Rock N’ Roll Is Dead” and “The Art Of Being Humble” are both fabulous songs with gripping melodies and intelligent lyrics, or how “To Your Star” is an experimental track that aimlessly goes nowhere, or how “The Time Of The Moon” is so very incredible but has a sad mix that sounds like it was recorded in a basement on a twenty year old cassette tape, however I’m just not in the mood to write anymore. So deal with it B)
Overall, I find this album difficult to grade, because I would say content wise, this album deserves like an A or A-, but the production lowers it to a B. That’s kinda too bad, because this album shines brightly of potential, and it’s these guys without a doubt were highly talented artists. Maybe it will get better on further listens…Either way, though, I still highly recommend giving this album a chance, especially since I’m sure many of you probably won’t care much about how it’s mixed.
Best track: Vana Khoya
Worst Track: To Your Star