Review Summary: One of the most laughably transparent attempts to cash in on a trend the hard'n'heavy world has ever witnessed, and a rightful embarrassment to all involved.
So-called 'supergroups' are, by their very definition, volatile. What starts out as a more or less organic meeting of creative minds often finds itself mired in the participants' individual egos, or even simply hampered by their main careers, resulting in an often frustratingly short lifespan. So much so, in fact, that fans of supergroup-type ensembles have come to know better than to expect life beyond a single album; when this does happen, such as with Audioslave or Velvet Revolver, it is seen as more of a pleasant bonus than the natural order of things.
Even within a realm with this
low of a bar to clear, however, certain supergroups are notorious for having a particularly
short lifespan – and in this regard, it is hard to argue against Gogmagog as the poster child for volatile projects. With their life cycle comprising a scant few weeks, their portfolio spanning a grand total of three songs, and their total recorded output clocking in at under twelve minutes
, this mythically-named British supergroup appears to provide an apt and glaring example of everything that can go wrong with a setup of this type.
And yet, the failure of this project was not the musicians' fault – at least not entirely. In truth, the members of Gogmagog never really planned
to work together, the whole project being the artificially manufactured brainchild of notorious British music impresario and hack producer Jonathan King – a man as famous for discovering and christening Genesis, whose first album he also produced, as he is for writing some of the worst novelty songs in music history and somehow getting them to chart in real, actual music billboards. The Gogmagog concept was his declared attempt to break into the hard rock and heavy metal market, which, at the time of the 'band's' conception, was experiencing its second big big boom.
To this end, King gathered a handful of (former) worthies from the NWHOBM movement, came up with a suitably cinematic concept to frame their work around (complete with a flashy, theatrics-heavy stage show), and talked KISS hitmaker Russ Ballard into donating one of his songs for the newly assembled group to perform. The project had all the trappings to be a success, if not for one, small, nearly insignificant factor – namely, that King knew next to nothing about the genre or its associated movement. The result is one of the most laughably transparent attempts to cash in on a trend the hard'n'heavy world has ever witnessed, and a rightful embarrassment to all involved, even to this day.
And yet, it did not have to be that way. In truth, the way Gogmagog's first and only EP is presented actually shows a glimmer of promise, and hints at a potentially worthy final result. The song titles are, admittedly, a mouthful - each being about three times as long as they would have to be for a DJ or VJ to rattle off their title during their morning show - but the cover artwork definitely has the right idea, being more akin to a movie poster than an album sleeve, with the performers billed at the top (as principal players usually are in film and theatre) and the inlay even offering up an attempt at a plot synopsis of sorts. When coupled with the actual talent assembled to perform the material within, this provides an undoubtedly solid base from which to flesh out a fairly interesting project. The problem, then, is that at no point does any of the three songs contained on this offering so much as attempt to run with the presented narrative; to add insult to injury, each constitutes nothing more than an inane, fluffy, lightweight slab of mid-80s radio-metal, complete with the sort of fake-crowd-insert chicanery KISS were abusing in their own output at the time.
The overall result is every bit as embarrassing for the average fan to take in as it must no doubt have been for the all-star musician cast to record. Indeed, assembling the likes of Paul Di'Anno, Janick Gers, Pete Willis, Neil Murray and Clive Burr (some of the most famous and technically skilled heavy rock interpreters of their generation) and straitjacketing them with assembly-line material like the one presented here is more than a criminal waste of their collective talent – it is borderline insulting to their credibility. Fortunately for King, each of the five musicians was cash-strapped enough that they saw the project as an easy gig; however, the mercenary nature of their involvement may also go a long way towards explaining why nobody – with the possible exception of Janick Gers, who serves up all the best purely musical moments on the EP – is taking the material even the slightest bit seriously. Even Ballard could not be bothered to contribute more than a single, previously released (and fairly mediocre) track. After all, when the producer and creative director himself – the very man who pulled the strings to bring the project to life - cannot be bothered enough to check how a musician's name is spelled before printing the sleeve, why should anyone else put in any effort?
To be honest, the most surprising element about the five-piece's performance across these twelve minutes of music is the fact that King never cottoned on to how little his hired talent cared. The musicians' blasé
attitude towards the material seeps through every second of each of the three songs presented here, reaching its zenith on the gloriously devil-may-care final track (the cumbersomely-titled It's Illegal, It's Immoral, It's Unhealthy, But It's Fun
) where everyone stops even pretending to care about the inane drivel they are being forced to perform and chooses instead to go nuts with it - resulting in four minutes of glorious, nose-thumbing, so-bad-it's-good hijinks. Paul Di'Anno, in particular, appears (for once) to be having an absolute blast, putting on a funny voice to roleplay a stuffy moral guardian during the verses, then gleefully snarling the chorus back at himself in his best cockney-accented punk sneer. Unfortunately, the fun is quickly dampened by the horrendously repetitive song structure; by the fortieth repetition of the single-sentence, repeat-the-song-title
-style chorus, the listener's patience is tested to such an extent that all the goodwill accrued by the musicians' openly jokey performance is gone, exposing the song for what it is - a third-rate KISS pastiche fronted by a second-rate Johnny Rotten impersonator, and complete with fake-live samples so bad they would make the WWE SmackDown sound design team blush.
Sadly, this is just the cherry on top of the glam-metal trainwreck that is Gogmagog's first and only EP. Not only do the two preceding songs fare no better than It's Illegal...
, the enforced seriousness of the performance strips them of even the fun factor that song managed to drum up. The title track - the only one penned by Ballard - is particularly bad in this regard, juxtaposing Hair Metal For Dummies
instrumentation with a cringeworthy performance from Paul Di'Anno, who strains his famously limited range to the point of secondhand embarrassment. The end result ends up sounding not unlike the efforts of a particularly try-hard karaoke enthusiast put to tape – a perception in no way helped by the song's overtly simplistic backing track and total lack of any sort of solo. With that said, Di'Anno's register does
help add a dark, somewhat sinister twist to the song's equally uninspired lyricism towards the end - though one suspects that may just as well have been an accident, as opposed to a deliberate and conscious choice on the part of the singer.
Follow up In A F*cking Time Warp
(...why not simply Time Warp
...?) fares a little better, sounding the most like a 'real' song out of the three cuts contained here - but then, only by virtue of ripping off Judas Priest's vastly superior Living After Midnight
. Well, that and the efforts of Janick (or Jannic
...) Gers, who makes the most of his only opportunity to showcase his ability by letting loose with a loopy, Zappa-meets-Maiden solo halfway trough. Even still, the song sounds not so much like the product of five first-rate instrumentalists at the top of the game as like the kind of featureless, generic rock-by-numbers track a no-name AOR group might record for use as a backing track in a 1980s road-trip montage; never once are anyone but Gers' capabilities challenged even in the slighest, and one cannot help but feel Di'Anno's droning lament of 'boring...so f*cking boring...'
may well be somewhat genuine.
In the end, then, it is not hard to see why the hasty three-hour session which yielded these tracks ended up being Gogmagog's only legacy. The concept itself, while not bad, is woefully misused, and the performers, while fantastic in their own right, are saddled with the sort of mind-numbing, Baby's First Heavy Metal Album
material which shows just how highly King regarded the demographic he was attempting to fleece. The end result sounds like the sort of second-rate parody of a parody a band like Steel Panther would be too proud to produce, and was rightfully panned by every respectable recording label to come within ten feet of it at the time, resulting in the permanent shelving of the project. Thirty-five years later, this EP has gained a second wind as fodder for the post-millennial, ironically-minded so-bad-it's-good crowd - and, to that extent, it is somewhat effective. Under no circumstances, however, should it ever be approached as a serious piece of music, or even a worthy addition to the portfolio of any of the deservedly well-regarded performers involved. After all, they
never took it seriously – so why should the listener?
In A F*cking Time Warp