Review Summary: A fitting end to a remarkable group.
By late 1977, during Henry Cow's last years, all members went to focus on other musical projects, Cutler, Frith and Dagmar formed a song-oriented band called Art Bears
, and Cooper co-founded the Feminist Improvising Group, while Hodgkinson would go into the post-punk scene. Western Culture
is an instrumental album which came about as a result of disagreements in the band as to what the composition of their next album should be. As a compromise it was agreed that two albums would be made: one of songs, released soon after as "Hopes and Fears" under the name of a new group Art Bears, and one of purely instrumental compositions. The group split up shortly after recording this album.
As for the music, Western Culture
marked a drastic change in sound from their previous albums, being Henry Cow's most coherent album and the only one to feature only composed instrumental pieces, on which Lindsay Cooper emerged as a talented composer in her own right. Each vinyl side is entirely composed by either Tim Hodgkinson or Cooper. On side A, Hodgkinson's three separate parts blend into a continuous whole with brass and reeds having a prominent part here, with relatively little electric guitar but with acoustic guitar. These compositions are a continuation of the musical style first heard on "Living In The Heart Of The Beast", but with more of a jazz element. On side B, Lindsay Cooper's compositions are lighter and a more diverse selection, drawing on contemporary classical and avant-garde influences. "Falling Away" is very reminiscent of Frank Zappa
's late 60's style, and her compositions continue in a playful vein, a great contrast to the dark rigid terseness of Hodgkinson's side.
Overall, Western Culture
is a fitting end to one of the most important avant-garde bands of the 1970s, even though the key players in Henry Cow continued to work together in various configurations over the years, released a lot of fine music and exerted a massive influence. Although, this album doesn't follow the path left by the Slapp Happy/Henry Cow collaboration, it still is an excellent instrumental album that bonds avant-garde jazz with contemporary classical music.