Review Summary: "Jemeaux Camembert? Momox Camembert...Gonggggga" -Daevid Allen, 1971, conferring with the pot-head pixies for a possible future collaboration.
Creatively speaking, I like to think of 1970's Camembert Electrique
as the first true Gong album. Yes, Magick Brother
was the debut album released under the name
, but Gong have always been known as a creative force in the world of psychedelic and progressive rock, rather than just by name. Hence why Magick Brother
is often forgotten and Camembert Electrique
is consequently referred to as the band's first real foray into the world of weird. No qualms with that then, because Camembert Electrique
is a real powerhouse of jam sessions, psychedelia and Allen's seemingly bottomless hole of creativity. Indeed, the album is something of a legacy release for Gong's detailed history. The album was originally recorded in France (hence the French title), and eventually remastered by Virgin Records in 1974 for UK release, when it was retailed for little more than the price of a single back then (59p!). When you listen to Camembert Electrique
however, you realize that it's worth so much more than that particular price.
The strange half-minute instrumentals aside (even calling them instrumentals is something of a stretch), Gong's second album is so much more cohesive and concentrated than its predecessor. From the very beginning of "You Can't Kill Me" to the closing epic saxophone notes of "Tropical Fish/Selene", Gong on this release seemed to already be stepping out of their comfort zone into somewhere almost unreachable. The multi-part tunes ("I've Bin Stone Before/Mister Long Shanks/O Mother" and "Dynamite/I am Your Animal" as well as the aforementioned album closer) are perhaps the most notable cuts from the record here, but not by much. You see, this was where Gong decided to start making use of the eloquent saxophone sound, which has control over pretty much every song bar the shorter instrumentals. In songs such as "You Can't Kill Me" and "O Mother", the instrument is utilized effectively to present a nice crutch for Allen's dreamy, hypnotic vocal delivery, whereas in others, the saxophone is presented as a contributor to a very memorable jam session. Yet all other instruments are just as prominent too. The guitar sound is heavier (with a slightly raw feel) in Canterbury Scene-esque "(And You) Tried So Hard", the drums bring more of a jazzy influence to the forefront in "Fohat Digs Holes in Space", and the swirling synthesiser techniques used in the Gilli Smyth-controlled "I am Your Fantasy" are just beautiful.
However, vocal and instrumental capabilities aside, the album does indeed lose itself sometimes. It's almost as if a few of the songs here are lost in space-the sometimes lengthier approach proving a little tiring to the listener. The one-two fizzle of short instrumentals "Wet Cheese Delirium" (closing side A) and "Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen's Heads" (Beginner of side B) really seem as if their sole purpose is to fill up the remaining time. When you're just getting into the album as well, thanks to the excellent quirkiness of "Dynamite/I am Your Animal", the two instrumentals simply cut the flow. Of course, they don't even amount to one single minute in total and it feels like a wasted placement. The album thankfully retains its solidity and consistency with the three closing tunes (if discounting the final instrumental "Gnome the Second") in "Fohat Digs Holes in Space", "(And You) Tried So Hard" and "Tropical Fish/Selene", where Gong's sense of instrumental experimentation is fully realized, and is kept consistent until the very last second. These three songs demonstrate different parts of Gong's musical direction too. "Fohat..." borders on the epic, "(And You) Tried So Hard" is so easy going it's the perfect accompaniment to a dimension-hopping spliff and "Tropical Fish/Selene" leaves that fruity taste in your mouth days after you've listened to the song.
is often overlooked thanks to the Pot Head Pixie/Radio Gnome Invisible album trilogy, but as a record in Gong's career, it feels like it is just as important when regarding the band's legacy. Still far from perfect of course, but Gong's second release (or creatively speaking, the first) really hit home about which direction the band were heading in, because the amount of creativity and quirkiness on this album was undoubtedly in spades.