Together with the eponymous debut this brace of albums represents a certain zenith in early 70s progressive music. Much of the music was instrumental, although the lyrics and singing were excellent, and it still stands up as highly involving music, 35 years after it's release. Apparently the New Eclectic Discs label have released remasters of The Polite Force (from 1971) and the self titled debut from 1970. They were originally released on Deram (on good old vinyl of course) and then on CD.
As a keys / bass & vocal / drums line-up you might expect a sort of ELP affair but don't. The original lineup included guitar but became a trio prior to their first album. All in all the two albums are highly recommended. (The re-union effort The Civil Surface was a weaker affair, as I recall). A recent band that put me in mind of Egg was Helmet of Gnats, specifically "Almost Babylon"; strong, dark music with tremendously tight playing.Dave Stewart went on to do pop type stuff, Clive Brooks joined blues rock legends The Groundhogs and Dirk "Mont" Campbell returned to music studies I think (although he did release a solo album (Music From a Round Tower).
(All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
The Polite Force starts with 8:25 of “A Visit to Newport Hospital” with masterful use of piano and organ, Montgomery Campbell’s bass playing is articulate and intelligent, Clive Brooks’ drumming sensitive and sympathetic. Nearly 3 minutes in the ‘classical feel’ changes as the nostalgic autobiographical ‘song’ comes in and, while you don’t see it coming, it’s impossible to mind. (The harsh Stravinsky influenced ending is another surprise).
The ‘harder’ organ sound used by Dave Stewart is glorious, similar to the registers employed by Mike Ratledge of The Soft Machine, the ‘Canterbury organ sound’ in fact. Parts bluesy, parts soulful, parts jazz, parts classical, parts rock, “A Visit To Newport Hospital” an amazing piece of music that still sounds fresh today. It’s surprising that it’s seldom quoted as a prime example of progressive rock.
The 4:21 of “Contrasong” is played in 5/8 and 9/8 time with a brass quartet of Henry Lowther and Mike Davis on trumpets and Bob Downes and Tony Roberts on tenor saxophones. Dave Stewart is responsible for some of the best constructed keyboard breaks I’ve had the privilege of hearing and the interplay between the various sounds Stewart teases from his instruments and the brass section is stunning. “Contrasong” is also about something, it was another ‘song’ on voyeurism, the media, illness perhaps.
“Boilk” (The same title was used on Egg’s first LP) is a splendid piece of experimentalism taking its lead perhaps from The Beatles’ “Revolution #9” or, more likely, from earlier influences such as Karlheinz Stockhausen. This piece alludes to Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata “Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt” in its chromatic chords. As progressive rock writer Paul Stump says, ‘polytonality becomes atonality’. Tone generator, mellotron, avant-garde electronics and backwards tape effects are all used to create an eerie sound collage ‘trip’ that begins with running water and has a ‘helicopter’ type of effect near its conclusion.
It may be Ed Macan who wrote “The band’s real originality derives from the creation of a distinct harmonic language from inter worked themes, fragments and full blown melodies.” He points especially to “Long Piece #3” which rook up all of side two of the album.
“Long Piece piles additive rhythm upon additive rhythm to underpin a series of harsh, often jarring melodies which seemed to have been conceived simultaneously with the rhythm figures.”
“Long Piece #3” uses a similar approach to ELP on the Tarkus Suite, and in similar vein to “Symphony #2” from the Egg album, (We are told on the Polite Force sleeve that the outer parts of “Long Piece #3” are rhythmically based while the inner parts are harmonically based).
Part One starts with dreamy rippling piano with organ themes to be further developed in “Germ Patrol”, a part of Egg’s live act that was later to appear on The Civil Surface. Part Two finds the band at its most fluent and fluid. There is an effervescent beauty about the music and Brooks’ drum fills and Campbell’s inventive bass lines never cease to amaze. When the French horn (played by Campbell) comes in Stewart’s organ playing is reminiscent of his work with Steve Hillage on Khan’s Space Shanty. The main theme itself is glorious, ripe for orchestration. Part Three begins with ‘classical’ bass and piano, the closest Stewart sounds to Emerson on the album before the ‘Canterbury organ’ sound returns. The drama of this music is palpable and palpitating when the tone generator appears sounding like a demented police siren.
Part Four- listen to Dave hold down one chord while executing a mesmerisingly fast shimmering solo while poor Mont has to cope with a fast but repetitive bass line of ‘Rondo’ proportions (The Nice that is!)
The definitive CD version of The Polite Force is now the Esoteric Recordings remaster with the usual informative and interesting booklet. There are no bonus tracks but then again, none are required. The catalogue number is ECLEC 2036 and it’s an essential purchase for any serious progressive rock fan.