Review Summary: Cardiacs at their peak
Not many people will know who these guys are, but ask members of bands such as Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, Blur, Opeth and experimental weirdos Mr Bungle and you’ll see just how influential this little known English band really is. Always at odds with the music press and a true marmite band who were either adored or loathed, even to the point that NME’s editor allegedly banned any mention of them in their magazines during the 90s, Cardiacs found their home in the odd niche of highly challenging progressive rock with strong punk echoes. After losing all but two of the “classic” lineup in the early 90s culminating in the underrated but transitional album “Heaven Born and Ever Bright”, the Smith brothers Tim and Jim returned as a 4 piece rounded out by second guitarist Jon Poole and drummer Bob Leith to collect everything written in this period and release their double album opus: Sing to God.
Right from the off you know you’re in for an eclectic barrage of pure unadulterated Cardiacs patented chaos, with the into “Eden on the Air” slowly gearing up into “Eat It Up Worms Hero” with simple keyboards and unusual vocal effects to give it that demented twist, before the following track completely throws everything up in the air with heavy metal riffage combined with Queen-on-steroids vocal performances and stylistic shifts that would make Mike Patton proud (and likely played a key role in Patton’s musical development), and before you know it, the track’s over, with the first of several quirky interludes (which often provide hints as to what later tracks will sound like). Heavy metal is a new element to the Cardiacs sound, likely brought in by Tim and Jon’s spell in thrash band Panixphere in the very early 90s (some tracks from this album were originally written for said band, such as “Bell Stinks”, “Bell Clinks” and “Angelworm Angel”). As well as this, the Britpop boom of the mid 90s (which Cardiacs themselves influenced) has clearly affected the softer tracks, with “Bellyeye”, “Odd Even” and “Manhoo” sounding a lot like Blur in parts.
However, it’s when the band is at their most crazy and progressive where they’re truly in their element. “Dog-Like Sparky” and “Nurses Whispering Verses” (a re-recording of the “Toy World” classic) are magnificent in their own ways; “Nurses Whispering Verses” in particular adding an extra sense of urgency to the original and adding a whole new element to just lift it to pure majesty. Then there’s the track which can only really be bettered by “Is This The Life?” (from their debut album): “Fiery Gun Hand”. Tim Smith’s childish energy just breathes so much life into the track and the musical complexity, if anything, furthers its accessibility and appeal to those who appreciate this sort of music. The multi-faceted keyboard layers and twisted guitar solos from Poole and Smith combine to make this track pure perfection and the definitive Cardiacs song.
There is honestly no weakness to this album. There is a wide range of styles on display here with the album spinning off in all sorts of directions at unexpected times but it’s never ‘too much’ for the listener, with the softer tracks coming in at perfect times to provide a break after the chaos of Tim Smith let loose, and the closers on each disc do their part perfectly to end proceedings (“Wireless” being a simple (by Cardiacs standards) piece with a magnificent orchestral ending an “Foundling” bringing a suitable end to the double-album). The only complaint is that it’s impossible to properly talk about every track within a certain amount of text. There are so many tracks worth a full examination such as the beautiful and haunting “Dirty Boy”, the double whammy of “Bell Stinks”/“Bell Clinks” and “Billion”, allegedly the first song Tim Smith ever wrote. If you want to know about these tracks, I can only suggest that you check them out yourselves. Definitely one of the albums you must listen to before you die.
Top tracks: Fiery Gun Hand, Nurses Whispering Verses, every other track.