The Shamen – Hempton Manor

After many different incarnations, The Shamen‘s penultimate contribution to the world of music was with the entirely instrumental, fundamentally doped out Hempton Manor, released this week two decades ago.

Opening the album is Freya, built around a small warbly synth sequence, and clocking in at almost six minutes. It’s strange to think that this followed so soon after they were last seen chasing the charts with Axis Mutatis, and it’s not difficult to understand why their label One Little Indian found it difficult to promote this release – a fact which ultimately led to The Shamen going off to a small indie label, disappearing into obscurity, and never really being seen again.

Apparently all the titles of tracks on here are inspired by weed in some way, and so Urpflanze (“ancient plant”) is perhaps no surprise. Musically, it’s much more chilled out than its predecessor, although still driven by frenetic beats. Roughly halfway through, you do get a few reminders of some of the duo’s previous work as the countermelodies come together, but it’s still something of a departure.

In many ways, the lack of vocals helps, actually. I’m not sure lyric writing was necessarily ever The Shamen‘s strong point, but by the mid-1990s they had definitely lapsed into semi-mystic (possibly drug-addled?) drivel about crossing the Rubicon, and fun though that is, it does have its limits.

Trying to describe some of these tracks will inevitably make me look stupid. Cannabeo is a sweet drum and bass track full of electronic warblings and churning bass. On they come – after a while, Khat seems to blend into Bememe and already you’re halfway through the album.

Wikipedia, despite not containing any references, does reveal another fascinating fact about the titles on the album – it turns out they’re an acrostic, spelling out “Fuck Birket”, as a reference to their record label boss Derek Birket. The suggestion that the whole thing was intended to release them from their responsibilities therefore seems particularly likely.

Consequently, there was no single from this album – the closest they came was with the beautifully catchy Indica, which appears on their subsequent singles album The Shamen Collection and also led their promo Hemp EP, accompanied by a number of tracks which I’d assume are reworkings. It should have been a huge hit, but that was clearly never going to happen.

But if this whole release was intended as a bit of a joke at their record label’s expense, it’s still far from a waste of time as a listener – proof, were it needed, that The Shamen had a lot going for them in their day. Rausch is another chilled out piece, and Kava is certainly the closest this group had come to an acoustic track since the 1980s (possibly ever). There’s really nothing bad here.

El-Fin is, contrary to the name, the penultimate track on the album, and plods along very nicely, leading us through to the actual closing track, The Monoriff. By the end, you’re left wondering quite what went wrong for The Shamen – Axis Mutatis is great, Hempton Manor is too, UV is… questionable at best, and that was it for their career under that moniker. Or alternatively, you could just enjoy sixty minutes of great instrumental music, and not worry too much about it.

You can still find Hempton Manor through all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 29 October 2016

Here are this week’s top ten albums:

  1. Delerium – Mythologie
  2. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  3. Air – Twentyears
  4. Yello – Toy
  5. Cicero – Future Boy
  6. Shit Robot – What Follows
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  8. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  9. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Q Awards 2016

It may be a little late for this round-up, but I’m afraid that’s the way things go round here these days. The StubHub StubHub Q Awards took place in London on 2nd November, and these were the results. As always, the award names are ridiculously long and corporate and almost all of them were identical, but let’s go with it…

Q Best Act In The World Today, presented by The Cavern Club

  • Biffy Clyro
  • Coldplay
  • Muse
  • The 1975
  • U2

Winner: Muse

Q Best Solo Artist presented by Help Musicians UK

  • James Bay
  • Noel Gallagher
  • PJ Harvey
  • Michael Kiwanuka
  • Skepta

Winner: James Bay

Q Best Breakthrough Act, presented by Red Stripe

  • The Amazons
  • Blossoms
  • Christine and the Queens
  • Gallant
  • Jack Garratt
  • Lady Leshurr
  • Let’s Eat Grandma
  • Nothing But Thieves
  • Rat Boy
  • Spring King

Winner: Jack Garratt

Q Best Track, presented by Jack Daniel’s

  • Bastille – Good Grief
  • Catfish and the Bottlemen – Twice
  • Biffy Clyro – Howl
  • The 1975 – Somebody Else
  • Skepta – Man

Winner: Bastille

Q Best Album, presented by Absolute Radio

  • Bastille – Wild World
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine
  • Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams
  • The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

Winner: The 1975

Q Best Video, presented by Boxplus

  • Beyoncé – Formation
  • Coldplay – Up & Up
  • PJ Harvey – The Community of Hope
  • The 1975 – A Change of Heart
  • Wolf Alice – Lisbon

Winner: PJ Harvey

Q Best Live Act presented by StubHub

  • Coldplay
  • Muse
  • Savages
  • U2
  • Wolf Alice

Winner: U2

Q Hero, presented by Conker Spirit

Winner: Meat Loaf

Q Classic Songwriter, presented by Pretty Green

Winner: Ray Davies

Q Classic Album

Winner: The Charlatans, for Tellin’ Stories

Q Innovation In Sound

Winner: M.I.A.

Q Gibson Les Paul Award

Winner: The Edge

Q Outstanding Contribution To Music, presented by Buster & Punch

Winner: Blondie

Q Hall Of Fame, presented by StubHub

Winner: Madness

Which just about ends our awards coverage for another couple of months. You can read Q Magazine’s own coverage here.

Enigma – Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi!

By 1996, Michael Cretu‘s Enigma project was well established, and was nearing the end of the trilogy that he initially intended. From humble and monastic beginnings, to his mid-1990s human era, and whatever was going to come next.

His third album Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! was released two decades ago this week, and represented something of a change of direction. Primarily, we’re spared a repetition of the opening from both MCMXC a.D. and The Cross of Changes, instead getting a science fiction opener about a biosphere, or something.

Morphing Thru Time, despite the ill-advised spelling, is a beautiful piece of music. You do get the feeling it’s supposed to be timeless, with its combination of choral pieces and samples, and for once Cretu’s rasping rock vocal does actually seem to fit.

The miniature third track, clocking in at just nineteen seconds, is where things get a bit confusing. It’s called Third of Its Kind, and features just the spoken lyrics “The first is the father, the second is the mother, and the third is the child.” Which is surely religious nonsense, sexist and offensive, or just plain wrong, depending on your perspective.

Opening single Beyond the Invisible is next, with Cretu’s then-wife Sandra turning up to deliver a great vocal on a truly magical track. The video which accompanied it is a sight to behold as well. It mixes into the confusingly titled Why!… (which seems to use every form of punctuation except for the right one), a dramatic but very good track. This is the single that amusingly announces, in red, “on this record there are no remixes that violate the original song.” You would almost think that Cretu was trying to make some kind of point.

Just before the halfway point, we get the adorable Shadows in Silence, a melodic and ethereal instrumental which might have benefitted from a lengthy extended version on the back of one of the singles – you can easily see how this might have been drawn out to ten minutes or so without too much pain.

Unusual for the mid-1990s, there was no vinyl release of this album (although there was a cassette, so it would be interesting to know what happened midway through), so sixth and seventh tracks can just merge into one another. The Child in Us, with its intriguing foreign language vocal, is another beautiful moment, although this time Cretu’s own vocal delivery towards the end is a bit out of character.

Arguably the most notable thing about Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! though, is not the music, but the artwork, with its curious images of people with funny hats, printed on translucent material so the whole booklet merges together – it’s really quite intriguing.

Second single T.N.T. for the Brain comes next, with another vocal from Sandra. You get the sense slightly here that this wasn’t quite the sound that Cretu was going for – if this album is supposed to be the futurist one of the series, then surely he would have aimed for something much darker sounding. It’s not a criticism – for me, this album is still far and away his finest hour – but it does feel as though he didn’t quite meet his own intentions.

The spiritual instrumental Almost Full Moon follows, perhaps one of the closest tracks in sound to the Enigma we knew on the preceding two albums, and then the rumoured but unreleased third single The Roundabout, which, despite mainly being made of the lyrics “ah-yay, ah-yah,” is a very competent piece of music.

Closing the album – for the most part, at least – is a gentle choral piece, Prism of Life, which brings some of the threads together nicely. Others seem to have been left hanging – if this release was intended to have a strong overriding theme, I’d suggest it was a little confused. But if you take it purely on face value, and enjoy it for what it is, there’s some extremely good music on here.

I would always argue that Enigma‘s repetitive intro and outro pieces are a little too much for me, although hearing the intro backwards for Odyssey of the Mind is quite pleasing. This album may leave you with a few reservations, but if you close your eyes and enjoy it, it’s one of the best chillout albums that has ever appeared.

You can still find the original release of this album at all major retailers, with its rather wonderful booklet.