Review Summary: Sounds like nothing else - still. An exquisite progressive soundscape.
How this album was ever released by a major label (CBS) is one of those puzzling mysteries that populate the world of popular music. Hugh Hopper was, at the time, bassist with label teammate Soft Machine and that may have been enough. Soft Machine themselves were humming along towards the obscure end of the commercial/obscure continuum but at least they had a dedicated following and considerable critical acclaim. Nonetheless, a Soft Machine fan picking up this LP (and anyone buying this was more likely to be a Softs aficionado than not) would find themselves almost as much at sea with the extraordinary sound world within as a complete novice. For "1984" sounds like very little else labeled as 'rock' or 'progressive' at the time. Not completely unlike anything though - a listener coming from the world of experimental electronic music, the beginnings of minimalism (think Terry Riley and Robert Reich), with some familiarity of the free jazz pioneered by the likes of Albert Ayler and perhaps with an appreciation of the deep funk of James Brown would find him or herself at least on the same page as Hopper. Still "1984" only exhibits tangental similarity to the work of those artists, ploughing instead into a deeply immersive exploration of the capabilities of the electric bass guitar - electronic manipulations, detuning, string scratching with only rare reference to the conventional mode of playing. Overlaid with tape loops, percussion, breathy flugelhorn, this meditation on bass guitar technique breaks only briefly into conventional song structure and solid rhythm (James Brown sneaking through here) during the short "Minipax I".
"Minipax I" - followed by the again short but freer form "Minipax II" and preceded by the first lengthy extemporization on the album "Miniluv". These newspeak song titles are the only direct reference to Orwell's novel. Unlike David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" - emerging only two years into the future - there are no lyrical references to the book. Purely instrumental, this album seeks to create an unsettling musical environment that puts you into the mood of Orwell's "1984". Except, at least in my case, it really doesn't. Despite the free form, noise and dissonance, I find these pieces to be quite beautiful soundscapes. Particularly so on side two of the LP, with the suite "Minitrue","Miniplenty" and "Minitrue (reprise)" filling the grooves both jazzily and electronically in a meditative exploration that remains a highpoint of progressive music and still completely without comparison.
As you might have expected, "1984" did not sell many copies. I found my copy in the bargain bin at the Virgin Megastore in London in the early 1970s. It took me about ten listens before I really got it. But each one of those listens was enough to draw me back to the album. A truly unique record it remains.