Review Summary: Gong go "back" to the "future".
Some bands get berated for continuing with a particular concept, and the main reason tends to be that the latter albums based around said concept simply get too stale for enjoyable listening. But not Gong. As 2000's Zero to Infinity
proved, the band could bring the Zero concept into the 21st Century without ever sounding like they needed fresh ideas or indeed a new direction. This was further proved by 2009's 2032
, the conceptual follow up to Zero to Infinity
. However, 2032
and its story seems to be bigger than just Zero. Reportedly, the story within 2032
is based around how the Planet Gong, home of the Pothead Pixies and Octave Doctors, will prepare to visit Earth in the near future. What's more" The year 2032 is referenced in the early 70s releases by Gong, so the title for the 2009 album seems all the more relevant.
Concept aside, how does 2032
match up to its story-based predecessors" Well, it's by far the longest Gong album ever (75 minutes!), and that's unfortunately the major flaw too. Whilst the album has the (un)usual Gong perks, there's also a lot of fat within the gargantuan running time. The thing is, the first four songs of the album are really just filler. They simply don't go anywhere. Opening song "City of Self Fascination" sounds promising enough to start with, but when Allen begins to do that questionable poetic semi-rap (or whatever you can call it), the song loses its core values. Yes, instrumentation is still bouncy and weird, but it's simply not enough to deal with that sense of disappointment. This follows with the far too lengthy "How to Stay Alive" and "Escape Control Delete", two songs which are indeed very light-hearted but fail to keep the listener engaged for the sixteen minutes which they are stretched across. "Digital Girl" attempts to break the monotony a little with its semi-romantic, semi-luscious atmosphere, but to little effect on the listener's impression.
Oh, but did I not tell you when 2032
truly begins to take off" No" Let me elaborate. From "Yoni Poem" onwards, the album seems to have taken a massive leap into space, where the band's graceful array of instrumental gusto and bizarre sounds comes into full force. The aforementioned song may only be a two minute interlude, but it's completed by Gilli Smyth's wonderful spacey presence. She's even more useful in following song "Dance with the Pixies", which is by far the best song on 2032
. Saxophones and electric violins sweep across wavy synths, Smyth's remarkable space whispers bringing the whole tone into a musical multiverse. And the song's only four minutes long. Yet there's so much more packed in this song than in the one-two fizzle of "How to Stay Alive" and "Escape Control Delete". From this point on, there are more notable songs. "The Year 2032", being virtually the title track, is a groovy yet serious number, remaining acoustic throughout but still hitting us hard with those weird synths and saxophone interplay. "Robo-Warriors" is influenced by electronica but ends up being so cheesy you'd expect Ziltoid to have at one point appeared as a guest singer, yet it doesn't take away from the conceptual relevance of the entire record. "The Gris Gris Girl" reminds us all of the Canterbury Scene heyday with its groovy, majestic song structure, and consequently making whoever listens to it fall in love with the overall romantic vibe coursing throughout. Matter of fact, it's almost the best love song Daevid Allen and co. have constructed.
So despite the rocky start, 2032
is still another great record to add to Gong's extensive discography. More important than mere musicianship however, the album simply proves that even at the tail end of 2000s, Gong could still carry the central band concept and pull it off aplomb, without ever sounding stagnant. Perhaps it isn't as in-your-face or eccentric as Acid Motherhood
, but the ensemble that produced that particular record was virtually different to the one we're talking about here. Indeed, Gong comes in many shapes and forms, but the most entertaining one is probably that which believes in the presence of the Pothead Pixies.