Songs for Ships and Irons



by pulseczar USER (67 Reviews)
December 11th, 2005 | 10 replies

Release Date: 1991 | Tracklist

Odd (or at least seemed odd at the time) pairings have always been joined in music. Some for better, like say electronic and rock for industrial (vague example of what the genre actually is of course), and some for worse, like “actors” and singing (anyone fancy some Hilary Duff? Thought so.) But the history of the marriage between progressive and punk has always been murky. Some people are stupid enough to say that Green Day were the first with American Idiot. But it’s safe to say that it begun with the obscure band Cardiacs. Somewhere in the tides of snotty British punk bands from the late 70s, they emerged, equally as snotty, but submerged in the complex chord sequences influenced by 70s classic prog bands like Gentle Giant and the perplexing time signatures reminiscent of Frank Zappa. These traits betray their punk roots and sets them into sounding like RIO (Rock-in-Opposition) bands like the legendary Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band.

And like most RIO bands, Cardiacs cut the crap that the pompous classics had like Yes and Pink Floyd, and too much for their own good. The sax player and keyboardist hold the heavy task of shaping the fast-paced and straightforward structures of the songs, while the other instruments seem to sink down, not contributing anything interesting to the mix of craziness. For the very sped up songs, the wide range of keys from piano to organ to Mellotron takes over fully for these zooming jams that sound like a Genesis instrumental put on fast-forward. Such grandiose traits of these instruments just give a cheesy sound to the punk rockish songs, like Joey Ramone frantically mashing some keyboards to squeeze into Teenage Labotomy. While undeniably awkward and quirky, Songs for Ships and Irons creates good melodies.

Unfortunately, with such an eclectic style you expect the songs to vary a lot, but they all follow the same formula, save the couple of unnecessary filler tracks. The songs all begin with some sort of keyboard and saxophone tomfoolery before vocalist Tim Smith, who sounds like a Johnny Rotten impersonator begins to spit out outlandish Syd Barrettesque lyrics. It follows that cycle, going through small various interludes, the songs not having any real verses or choruses. Ironically these song formulas aren’t really structured at all. In the end, the album does not flow well at all, most of the songs are difficult to tell apart because they all sound like a collage of manic instrument frolicking.

In all the sharp keyboards and densely packed horns and harmonicas, Cardiacs manage to churn out one really enjoyable song, Stoneage Dinosaurs. Instead of leaping about frantically as if it were going to self-destruct, the song flows smoothly accompanied by a Mellotron and backing choir, though the mood is somewhat ruined by Smith’s bratty English kid vocals. Unfortunately, only one song like this throws the already volatile Songs for Ships and Irons even more out of balance, but is a nice break in the madness of these twisted rhythms and chewed out melodies. The album is an interesting listen, but whatever interest one had at the beginning of the album had long since disintegrated by the end due the band’s habit of making the music hard to listen to or follow. Worth checking out (if able to be found) if one wants an album of frustratingly unique prog, or frustratingly unique punk. Either way, the key word is frustrating. Like a guy who spits when he talks, Cardiacs didn’t make it easy for someone to like their third album. Perhaps with some taming of the gnarly yet bland guitars and some more direction, they’d be the cooler kids on the block. But then I guess they wouldn’t be called Cardiacs if they did so.

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user ratings (34)

Comments:Add a Comment 
December 12th 2005


nice review, i like the intro especially, but i'm a bit annoyed that you posted your review right after i posted mine :upset:

December 12th 2005


Album Rating: 2.0

that's been happening a lot to ya lately hasn't it? haha, thanks for reading, I was pretty sure I'd get no comments with this one.

December 12th 2005


Probably your best review ever. You get many a thumb.
:thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb:

November 3rd 2019


how about a 14 year bump huh?

well big ship sure is an amazing song

idk if this rating holds up lol

also this is a compilation album

November 3rd 2019


Album Rating: 3.0

"also this is a compilation album"

Yep, I changed it so it's proper now.

Odd that big ship EP or whatever isn't on the site

February 27th 2020



February 25th 2021


Made me realize just how crazy the original was, which Park posted a year ago ^^

February 25th 2021



February 25th 2021


also RIP tim :[

February 25th 2021


The man was a genius

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