Thursday, October 4, 2012

THE UNDERGROUND FAILURE – The Underground Failure (Black Light, 1971)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

The Underground Failure album is best known for showing the unusual talent of John Holm for the first time. Only a year later, he released the classic ”Sordin” which properly launched his irregular and often intriguing solo career. Other members also became well known although not as musicians. Lasse Ermalm became a record cover designer on many a label's payrolls, and Stefan Wermelin later on became one of Sweden's most prominent radio producers.

The Underground Failure started out in the late 60's, and as John Holm's first solo single was released in 1971, it's a safe bet that they disbanded the very same year. Their sole album was recorded in Wermelin's apartment between 1968 and 1971, and most notably features Holm's mellow and reflective songs. Many, if not most, people consider ”The Underground Failure” a weak effort (even Tobias Petterson, author of ”The Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music” dismissed the album in an interview), but I disagree. Although not on par with Holm's later achievements as a solo artist, it certainly has an original feel that is strangely addictive. The primitive recording circumstances makes for a certain otherworldly atmosphere. Compared to Malaria's album which served as the main inspiration for The Underground Failure to release their own album, this is a stunning masterpiece. But then again, that doesn't say much.

Apart from Holm's slightly Dylanesque tracks, there's a slew of twisted country songs that have a charm of their own. It might be that selections such as ”Boil On My Mind”, ”All Night Looking Lonesome Blues” and the admittedly overwrought blues of ”Make Your Own Kind Of Music” disappoint the progg and folk psych diehards, earning the album its less than favourable reputation. The main part of the album however is an introspective and intimately recorded affair with John Holm's acoustic guitar at the core. A track like ”How Unpleasant To Meet Mr. Elliott” is nothing short of excellent and wouldn't have been out of place on some UK folk private of the highest order. ”The Weekend Masquerade” suggests the excellence to come in John Holm's near future, showing many of his melodic typicalities he's recognized for. ”Spring” sounds like a Fugs track in the vein of ”Morning, Morning” and ”Ah, Sunflower Weary of Time”, i.e. mysteriously serene and lysergically romantic.

The biggest problem with the album isn't the material but the decision to sing in English. Quite honestly, it's one of those examples of Swedes trying to speak English ending up sounding like complete fools. The pronounciation is a thorough disapproval of the Swedish schools' English language education back in the day.

The album was released in an original edition of 150 copies, never sold in shops, but a further 70 were pressed in 1974. The paste on cover showed a bunch of Russian musicians; the picture came from a postcard. There was also a bootleg reissue in the 80's, but it didn't do much for the album's availability. It's an extremely rare album today, as it was upon its release, but thankfully it can be heard on a limited edition CD nowadays.

Contrary to the general opion, ”The Underground Failure” is an appealing, and sometimes excellent, example of early underground singer/songwriter folk from the time when psychedelia was folding and progg was yet to properly flourish.

Outtakes from the album were released on the John Holm retrospective box set "Främmande natt" in 1997, along with a couple of solo demos in the same vein.


 The Weekend Masquerade

Spanish Sunday Adiell

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