Steve Harley

& Cockney Rebel

Review of Human Menagerie - www.notlame.com

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" 4 1/2 stars... A handful of Human Menagerie`s songs might seem slight today, maybe forced, certainly indicative of the group`s inexperience. But others - the labyrinthine "Sebastian," the locquaicous "Death Trip" in particular - possess a confidence, an arrogance and a doomed, decadent madness which still astounds, all these decades later. Subject to ruthless dissection, Steve Harley`s lyrics are essentially nonsense, a stream of disconnected images whose most gallant achievement is that they usually rhyme. But what could have been perceived as a weakness - or, more generously, an emotionally over-wrought attempt to blend Byron with Burroughs - is actually their strength. Few of the songs are about anything in particular. But with Roy Thomas Baker`s sub-orchestral production driving strings and things to unimaginable heights, and Cockney Rebel`s own unique instrumentation - no lead guitar, but a killer violin - pursuing its own twisted journey, those images gell more solidly than the best constructed story. We may never learn the significance (in the song of that name) of somebody calling the singer "Sebastian." But after hearing his confession, we wish we were him. The Human Menagerie is a dark cabaret - the darkest. Though Harley has furiously decried the band`s historical inclusion in the Glam Rock pack, there`s no separating the nocturnal theatrics of "Muriel The Actor," "Mirror Freak" or "What Ruthy Said" from at least the fringes of the movement. The difference is, other artists simply sung about absinthe and Sweet Ipomoea. Harley actually knew what they were. Unquestionably he drew from many of the same literary, artistic and celluloid sources as both David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, the only performers who could reasonably claim to have pre-empted his vision. But he went far beyond them, through the Berlin of Isherwood to the reality of the Weimar; past the Fritz Lang movies which everyone`s seen, to the unpublished screenplays which no-one has read. And though Harley might not have been the first cultural genius of his age, he was the first who wasn`t content to simply zap the prevailing zeitgeist. He wanted to suck out its soul. And he very nearly succeeded. " -AMG.

http://www.notlame.com

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