Review Summary: Rejoice! Gong lives on.
When a vital member of a band has had to be replaced due to death or mitigating personal circumstances, I'm used to seeing a constant wave of backlash from the fans-particularly on social media-and some of the more devoted fans tend to bear a grudge whichever new member it is. Such is not the case with Gong however, and maybe it's because every one of Gong's fans were content with the news that if anything, Daevid Allen was overjoyed to have left Knifeworld frontman Kavus Torabi at the helm of the criminally underrated psychadelic/progressive rock act. Sure, it's been sad to see Allen leave this world and journey on to more adventurous, otherworldly frontiers, but at least we all know Gong is in good hands. And what good hands they are, as new album Rejoice, I'm Dead!
, the first without any dominant interaction from Daevid Allen himself, is the finest album that could have been produced given the circumstances. Whether it's the humorous album title, the quirky albeit relaxing musicianship, or the fact that Gong seem as youthfully exuberant as they were over four decades ago, something about this latest record gives off the impression that rather than mourning the loss of an outstandingly creative musician, his almost life-long musical friends are celebrating his spiritual presence.
Rejoice, I'm Dead
is riddled with the same creative and innovative force that Gong have always demonstrated. From the excessively hook-laden, ethereal musings of opener "The Thing That Should Be" to the closing space jam of final cut "Insert Yr Own Prophecy", there's such a fresh, organic vibe here that few bands in the same field can even hope to achieve. There's a lot to take in here, that's for sure. The album is thoroughly versatile, although "versatile" here can be safely attributed to moods and tones here, rather than actual musicianship or instrumental flavour. You see, whilst songs such as the title track and "The Unspeakable Stands Revealed" may sound
the same, they are in fact two different ideals. Both demonstrate mesmerising jazz fusion interludes, progressive song structures and haunting psychedelia, but their tones are very different. Whereas the title track is thoroughly uplifting, like a part in your brain, "The Unspeakable Stands Revealed" seems more serious and even at times menacing, despite the musicianship suggesting the exact opposite feelings. "Kaptial" is definitely a more intense affair, and sounds like a completely different side of Gong's musical repertoire, especially after the ethereal high of the title track. The rhythm almost plays out like an overture to some sort of operatic tragedy, and things don't exactly get happier from that point on. However, musically the band remain utterly consistent and fluent in their delivery: I.e., they balance intricate musicianship and emotional resonance in a way that it is usually hard to perfect. These few but vital examples, if anything, are primal evidence of a band demonstrating all corners of their repertoire.
It should be duly noted that Rejoice!...
is confident in its musical delivery too. There are a surprising couple of guest appearances on here, most notably Daevid Allen and long-time friend of the band themselves Steve Hillage. Daevid Allen merely contributes narrative presence to two tracks, the more haunting and inspiring number "Model Village" and its unfortunately more forgettable successor "Beatrix". Yet even when he's performing a narrative, you can still feel Allen's spiritual presence, speaking to you through the stereo as if you and him are indulging in casual conversation. The man was obviously writing music until his untimely death, and even at the behest of his passing, felt like a free child in such an unforgiving world. Steve Hillage offers a few of his amazing solos to the title track, and he's practically part of the whole reason why the song seems so fluent and engaging. Yet another underrated guitarist proving his well-deserved credentials thanks to one of his previous prominent bands inviting him for a good jam session. However, let's not forget that alongside Kavus Torabi is a carefully selected line-up: one which wouldn't have been chosen by Allen if he had no confidence they would perform to the best of their ability. Torabi himself adopts a multitude of vocal performances, providing versatile emotions to every song and adapting to different tones. Even with the most intense cut of the record, "Kaptial", a tune which wouldn't sound out of place on an early-era King Crimson album, Torabi presents a vocal tone which seems to spiral downwards into an ever-expanding void of terror. And then again, on the following track, the beautiful, ethereal "Model village", his voice suddenly shoots upwards and flows through a river of tinkling keyboard rhythms and spacey synthesizer work.
One thing which could probably be seen as a flaw for the fans of Gong's older material but absolutely nobody else is how that unmistakable Knifeworld influence seems to be rearing its head on more than just a few occasions. That said, you'd have to either be a religious fan of Knifeworld or really not like Gong without Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth or even any of the band members who played on the 70s albums, but that's quite a stretch as you can imagine. The point is, yes, there are Knifeworld influences here, but it's all for such a good cause there's really no reason to be annoyed. It's really with the jazz fusion-centric moments that Knifeworld's influence is at its most prominent, but the musicianship is simply too enjoyable to be disliked. The title track itself is enough to sway you from such niggles, because of its fluent and consistent delivery more than anything else. I mean, who's to say Gong wouldn't have sounded like this had Allen lived a few more years"
Admittedly, there are a couple of filler songs here ("Beatrix" and "Visions" if we're being picky here, mainly because of the filler material they present), but nothing which gets in the way of an otherwise confident and (un)surprisingly fresh record. It's a real beauty from start to finish, but it does indeed depend on whether or not you can stand to listen to a Gong record without the main drive of its own legacy. Yes, there are moments here where you think it is Gong by name only, but what really matters is that even if Allen isn't here in bodily form, his spirit has still inflicted a large amount of innovation on Rejoice! I'm Dead
-something which few bands dealing with the loss of a vital member can claim to have done these days.