Review Summary: If anybody thought 1992's Shapeshifter was a bit of a fluke rather than a proper comeback, Zero to Infinity will impress you.
As gracious as it was for Gong to spring back into action with Daevid Allen, 1992's return-to-form release Shapeshifter
was much more relevant conceptually than it was musically. Of course, the album still had its quirks, but it didn't quite feel like the band that brought the Pothead Pixie trilogy and Camembert Electrique
were here to stay. The fact that it took eight full years to bounce back (in time for the wake of the 21st Century, incidentally) with 2000's Zero to Infinity
is inevitable, given the band were still trying to find a way to continue the Zero the Hero concept and pull it off aplomb. With this album, Gong did it in just the right way however.
Whilst the sound is evidently more self-indulgent than the band's early 70s releases (certainly not in a bad way), Zero to Infinity
is so nostalgic you'd be forgiven for thinking that Daevid Allen had gone back in time to 1974: As if You
wasn't actually the last album to feature him. The main reason for this is that Daevid Allen's Gong has THE concept to rule them all, even if instrumentally things don't remain all that consistent or memorable. Now, here's the story, if you can't quite make out the narrative storytelling of space whisperer Gilli Smyth. Zero the Hero died according to the story on 1992's Shapeshifter
, and Zero to Infinity
details the afterlife of the character. Like all the most interesting Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels however, Zero on this album is basically left to enjoy a spiritual presence-one that is body-free and essentially free from the confines of life itself. This is probably why the majority of Zero to Infinity
is such an easy listen. Now don't believe for one minute that easy here means "simple" or "ineffective", because it is certainly not that. Indeed, the softer likes of "Tali's Song", "Infinitea" and the album's centrepiece, "The Invisible Temple", among others largely complement the few quirkier numbers here, particularly "Magdalene" and "The Mad Monk". What's best about it, is that it all works relatively well, even if the still impenetrable shadow of You
or indeed Shapeshifter
doesn't seem lost.
Now the main flaw (the only one in fact) of Zero to Infinity
is pretty obvious: It's too long. At just over a solid hour, yes, there's plenty to like here, but whatever bits you fall in love with seem somewhat extensive-more so than one should like, which even applies to Daevid Allen's most ardent fans. "The Invisible Temple" is essentially a psychedelic jam session in the same vein as "You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever", but the former happens to be less concentrated than the latter. Comparisons aren't in question here, but those who enjoyed the early 70s releases will take note of how wasteful "The Invisible Temple" seems to be towards the end. Problem being that Gilli Smyth, as effective as her otherworldly presence on the album is, only provides narrative input for the first four or five minutes. After that, it seems to get a bit monotonous, even with the gliding synthesisers going in and out of focus.
Putting this aside, the rest of Zero to Infinity
is a real treat, if you let your brain go deep enough into the concept. "Tali's Song" is a lovely, light-hearted little number to indulge in, particularly because of its almost folky influences and Canterbury Scene-esque structure, where Daevid Allen sings as if he is still in his early 30s. Which is a big difference, given the guy was in his 60s when Zero to Infinity
was release. Another notable song "Magdalene" presents a different, more experimental side to Daevid Allen's musical vision. The wispy saxophone usage is simply amazing from start to finish, and the groovy beat, to which even the most miserable fellow can get up and dance, is full of irresistible flavour. Elsewhere, the album retains its focus on Zero, almost to the point where you can confidently believe the character himself is speaking to you. Allen presents this idea very effectively in "Zeroid", a song which is upbeat and quirky but with a more serious tone, as if the instrumentation has been ordered to channel our eardrums' weakest parts into oblivion. Put simply, this song is a bit of an eargasm, just like "Magdalene".
I could go on, but Zero to Infinity
, whilst not quite a spectacular release, was further proof Daevid Allen's Gong could continue the concept of Zero the Hero and pull it off aplomb. Hell, it's almost as if they decided to record straight after You
was released. That's how fresh the ideas on this album are, and fifteen years later, Zero to Infinity
still manages to remind us all of the legacy Daevid Allen left upon this world (or universe, even). Gong's reputation preceded them on every release up until Daevid Allen's unfortunate death earlier this year, and this fact is reproduced solidly on Zero to Infinity
among other releases.