GRAVE NEW WORLD - REVIEWS
QUINTESSENTIAL STRAWBS - Review by Marcia Zingman
"Benedictus" is the quintessential Strawbs, the band at their finest. If someone were to ask me to describe their unique sound, I would have to say "listen to Benedictus, then you'll know". The layering of instruments and vocals, strong use of mellotron/synthesizers, bass and especially organ (to evoke the cathedral) all say, "this is The Strawbs". The lyrics have recurrent religious themes: blessings for the highest to the lowest, the living and the dead, the wanderer/holy traveller, hero/saint, soldier/warrior. A benediction by definition is "the invocation of a blessing, especially at the close of a religious service". With its lyrics of forgiveness, saintliness and thankfulness, "Benedictus" shows the beauty of God's love in all of us. Dave Cousins' vocals at times are intentionally dystonic, perhaps to give the listener the feel of a Gregorian chant and to further reinforce the religious aspects of the song. Tony Visconti, who helped to produce "Benedictus", is well known in progressive rock circles for his work with The Moody Blues and many others.
In stark contrast to "Benedictus", "Hey, Little Man...Thursday's Child" is simple. Just voice and guitar, this song showcases Dave Cousins' expressive singing beautifully.
"Queen of Dreams" is an ethereal piece, brought about using intricate vocals/harmonies by the band members and the use of a synthesized squeezebox effect much like The Rolling Stones utilized in "2000 Light Years From Home" and The Beatles in "Sgt Pepper". As Grave New World was produced in 1972, most bands were dabbling in psychedelia and newly found special effects. An unusual piece for The Strawbs, decidedly experimental.
"Heavy Disguise" is a wonderful piece featuring John Ford's vocals and great guitar along with a lush orchestral interlude with lots of brass.
"New World" .... a favorite! Powerful, dramatic, angry, gut -wrenching. The strong use of mellotron/synthesizers, drums and strings all combine to become an overwhelming musical experience. The music cascades over you in waves...done as only The Strawbs can.
"Hey, Little Man...Wednesday's Child" is another deceptively simple little gem. A little beauty which offers some respite after the assault of "New World".
"The Flower and the Young Man" offers great harmonies and strong lyrical images. You can smell the salt air of the sea...a bluegrass/sea shanty feel.
"Tomorrow" is once again Dave Cousins at his finest. Bitter, angry...truthful. The quality of this track on the remastered version is fair-had a fading in and out quality (unintentional I'm thinking). Heard some left over riffs from the late 60's reminiscent of Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick" (a tongue in cheek jibe perhaps?).
"On Growing Older" describes the British love of countryside and nature in glowing colors. Sweet and harmonious.
"Ah Me, Ah My" light fluff...fun..vaudeville.
"Is It Today, Lord?" Eastern influenced music...use of sitar. Popularized by the Beatles and Ravi Shankar....other progressive bands using the sitar include Moody Blues (In Search of the Lost Chord).
"The Journey's End" a slow, simple song once again about a weary/lonely traveller. Strong use of piano instead of guitar/bass.
"Here It Comes" (extra track) another favorite... use of drums, congas, organ...strong beat, makes you want to get up and dance. Great back up/chorus vocals....simple, repetitive lyrics are catchy.
"I'm Going Home" - (bonus track)... good rocker... grainy sound to track...almost what one would expect from an LP.
Overall, the remastered Grave New World is a joy to behold and long overdue. The packaging is beautifully done and includes an insert with an interview with Dave Cousins and a history of the band, done by John Tobler. On some tracks I found the sound to be muddy/muffled as if overdubbed with too much bass. I did consider that this album was originally released in 1972, and as such, the technology would be considered primitive in comparison to today's. As such, even though digitally remastered, the CD still may suffer from the limitations of the analogue masters. In listening to another remastered CD, Ghosts, I found the sound quality to be far superior (much crisper/clearer) on the later.
IN A PERFECT WORLD THE STRAWBS WOULD HAVE BEEN AS BIG AS THE BEATLES AND CAT STEVENS - Review by Mark (aka Beatlehead)
The Strawbs Grave New World is a great CD. I remember the first time I heard it thinking how much different these guys were from most of the other bands that were around back then, I mean The Moody Blues were a good band but a lot of their tunes were a little flimsy, like "Ride My See Saw",and there were others they did that were as goofy. It makes you wonder why they got so big and The Strawbs didn`t achieve the same adulation. I like The Moody Blues but I think The Strawbs are a whole lot better.
Grave New World is a great CD with the exception of "Ah Me,Ah My": I know Tony Hooper wrote it as kind of a tribute to his father but it`s a goofy tune, the only one on Grave New World that I just can`t stand to listen to. "Benedictus" is a great tune - I like the dulcimer playing in it, Dave Cousins has a great dulcimer style.
"Queen Of Dreams", I like the trippiness of that one ,and the backwards instrumental parts. It also has some real good drum fills. I like the guitar parts in "Heavy Disguise": it`s just an unusual song and the horns are cool .
"New World" is Cousins at his best - he seems real pissed off in that one very cool tune. I like the harmonies at the beginning of "The Flower And The Young Man" - the whole tune is awesome. "Tomorrow" has some great keyboard work and I like the way it changes in the middle part with Dave Cousins singing and just the acoustic guitar; it gives a lot of depth to the song .
"On Growing Older" is another song with acoustic guitar very crisp and clear just great. "Ah Me, Ah My" - hate that one but my 4 year old daughter loves it: if I try to skip it she gets mad. "Is It Today, Lord?" - cool tune. The sitar adds a certain something to it.
"The Journey's End" is probably my favorite track: except that it could be longer! I love the whole concept of that song and Dave Cousins vocals on that are great. I play that track at least twice whenever I put on Grave New World. The piano is great too.
I never heard of "Here It Comes" or "I'm Going Home" until I bought the CD reissue. I like both of them. The packaging of the CD was real nice with a lot of liner notes and the artwork from the LP the sound quality was excellent any of my friends that I`ve played Grave New World for all seem to like it the only other artist I can listen to over and over to besides the Strawbs are The Beatles and Cat Stevens. In a perfect world The Strawbs would have been as big as The Beatles and Cat Stevens, well at least the Strawbs still play music together. If I were to rate Grave New World on a scale of 1-10, I'd give it a 9 because of "Ah Me, Ah My".
Comments from Witchwood - the Strawbs Discussion Group
I'm not going to give a detailed analysis of Grave New World, but just wanted to say this was the first Strawbs album I ever heard and it made a huge impact on me. I remember going to a schoolfriend's house and he put GNW on his parents' hi-fi. The opening bars of Benedictus just blew me away. By the time it got to New World, I was completely sold. He taped it for me there and then (reel to reel of course, in those days !). Compared with all the other stuff I'd been listening to at that time - mainly Radio 1 output - this was on another plain in terms of the level of sophistication in the music and lyrics. Within a couple of months, I'd gone and bought the complete back-catalogue !
A big thank you to Dave C. for this album alone. It changed my attitude towards music for life.
Hearing Grave New World for the first time was the defining moment of my musical life; this was music and lyrics on another plane. And it wasn't just the music either; the packaging was amazing - I actually bought two LPs in order to pin one, opened out, on my wall!! This wasn't easy for an impoverished university student, but it certainly impressed all the visitors to my room.
Grave New World has served me in many ways, but one of the most important was the day that my grandmother died and I found my mother crying beside the stereo - "where's that Indian music you're always playing? I need to hear it..." It took me only a couple of seconds to work out what she meant. So I pulled out GNW and played "Is it Today Lord?" and "Journey's End". She stopped sobbing and became very calm. We played the two songs again and she had recovered; the Strawbs had put into words the emotions and re-assurance which she needed. I can't help the tears welling up now as I remember this......
It's very interesting to see the 'defining moments' that people remember that were caused by this album. Very interesting, indeed, and certainly reinforces the impact that music plays in some of our lives...
Grave New World was also my introduction to Strawbs. I was in high school at the time (Education years 9-12 for those of you across the pond, I don't know what that corresponds to over there)..when I first heard 'Benedictus' played on the local progressive radio station. That's all it took. I just *had* to have that album. Immediately. No questions.
GNW is also interesting in that it can also be regarded, in my opinion, as sort of a 'transitional' album. Blue takes on a more 'gothic' role here, and so it begins. However, there are still the songs on the album ("The Journey's End", etc) that harken back to the bluegrass/country/folk/acoustic side of the strawbs, but if you listen closely, in there is a kick-ass rock band just waiting to break out of it's shell. This pattern was repeated to a lesser extent on Bursting, but I consider Bursting to be more of a 'rock' album, while GNW is more of a transitional piece.
Transitional or not, after I bought this album, I worked backwards, and just *had* to get my hands on everything this band ever recorded. Funny, all these years later, that hasn't changed at all...
Of all the Strawbs albums, of all the Strawbs music, this is the defining one for me. I had heard "Lay Down" and "Part Of The Union" on the radio, but basically I bought this because, oddly enough, I thought Rick Wakeman played on it, and I was a huge Yes fan. Well, Rick didn't play on it. I was disappointed to find this out, but listened to it anyway. On that fateful day I became a Strawbs fan. I had never experienced anything like that since first hearing Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd.
By the time the album was finished it felt like I had experienced an entire lifetime. I was overwhelmed, and blown away. For years I had admired creativity in all things, but especially music. This record took all my ideas about what could be done creatively in music, and folded them up neatly, to be stored away with my other childhood illusions. In many ways, it was an awakening. My eyes opened onto a wider world, and I have always held a special place in my heart for Dave Cousins and the Strawbs for making this album. Through good times and bad, through incredible heartbreak, and mind-numbing emotional pain, then through life-enheartening, boundless joy, Grave New World has been and always will be with me.
I know this sounds like a religious experience. Well, it is. No one album, no one record in all my large collection has moved me, and been as important to me, as this one. As a writer I have sought and found great inspiration from it; as a person I have found deep comfort and illumination from every aspect of it. The combination of the last two songs, "Is It Today, Lord?" and "The Journey's End" have touched me deeper than any other combination of songs. I don't know if it came about as a result of hearing these songs, or it came from somewhere else, and I recognized it in these songs, but through them I first came to terms with the knowledge of my own mortality. Through them, I no longer feared my own death. What a tremendous gift this work has given me. I plan to have these two songs played at my funeral, to comfort those who are left behind, for them to know I am at peace.
What more, what higher praise can I give any creative work? It is so rare, so very precious when we come across something we read, or something we hear, and can say it changed our lives. This one did for me. All I can say for Grave New World is thank you, Dave and the Strawbs.
Grave New World, is certainly a great batch of music that helps fill the void in our personal and spiritual upheavals of life. I enjoyed the original LP from '72, loved the inside cover artwork. and the lovely lyrics booklet.
Listened to it a few hundred times till it was time to replace the record. Wound up hanging the new cover in a frame and changing the worn vinyl. Yeah, I really beat the crap out of that LP but loved every minute of it. That was when I was 18 yrs old. Now that I'm 46 and listening to the re-mastered disc version, I'm still enthralled by the sound of the band, altho in hind-sight it appears that Grave New World was a transistional album, that didn't reach it's full realization until Dave's solo album Two Weeks Last Summer. In that I'm refering to songs like "Blue Angel", "Ways And Means", "The Actor", and the acoustic "We'll Meet Again Sometime". Had these songs been prepared for GNW it could have been the best album of the year. In listening to these back to back, there are fragments of songs on GNW that I would have left off in favor of stronger material. The two "Hey Little Man" songs are nice filler, but don't really add much to the overall experience. Also the tune "Ah Me, Ah My", that was recorded for their first album, just doesn't work on this album, in fact I find the song somewhat intrusive and irritating. A quick over-view finds most of the songs have stood the test of time.
The glorious "Benedictus" is a religious experience in itself. Now, I attend services on Sunday from time to time, and it would be a real thrill to hear the organist break in to the intro for the song. Seems like I'm hearing something like it, so maybe it will come to her, and surprise me. LOL. "Queen Of Dreams", "Heavy Disguise", "On Growing Older", are also great songs. To me the best moments are the title track, "The Flower And The Young Man", "Tomorrow", and the two final tracks "Is It Today, Lord?/The Journeys End".
For sure, the album had increased my 'awareness'. It's apparent that from the opening of the record to the final track, where Dave sings "Journey's End" with solo piano, that all was not in order with the Strawbs. While John and Hud turned in excellent contributions to the making of it, Tony's minimal involvement becomes a detriment, as his one song "Ah, Me Ah My" was already 3 years old and Dave wrote "The Flower And The Young Man", and let him sing it.
The bonus tracks on the disc are a nice addition, altho I'm getting tired of seeing "Here It Comes" in the track listing. Good song though, it shows up on the U.S. & U.K. Halcyon Days plus makes an appearance on By Choice '74 LP and the cassette version of Bursting At The Seams, and it was the A-side of a single.
GNW helped Strawbs break free of their traditional folk sound, Two Weeks expounded on this, and Bursting ' clarified it.
Adrian the Rock
Once I'd seriously got into the Strawbs, GNW was soon added to my collection and to this day it's still an album I enjoy a lot. I was impressed by the way that several tracks are written about particular stages of life: "Queen Of Dreams" about waking up to the world in general, "The Flower And The Young Man" about loving and inevitable loss, "Tomorrow" about an inspired revelation, "On Growing Older" about a realisation that one's life had been off course but with the glad appreciation that it's never too late to improve matters, "Ah Me Ah My" depicting reminiscence in old age, "Is It Today, Lord", the possible final moment - and "The Journey's End", a superb ending to an album. These were all feelings I could understand easily, and "Tomorrow" and "On Growing Older" particularly often sustained me during the darker moments of life.
I also enjoyed the hymnal "Benedictus" - very much against the grain for contemporary music in those days, when most people were pretty cynical about things they would associate too closely with conventional religion.
"Heavy Disguise" is the next in the line of politically aware John Ford standards, following on from "Thirty Days" on From TheWitchwood. I would particulary sit and play this, then just relax and let "New World" come on, because that track really did send me soaring, particularly that riff!
But I wonder if one can perhaps look back now and see "New World" as being the first true Strawbs 'rocker'. It unleashes an energy that is hard to communicate all-acoustically, something which for me is a key ingredient in great music and ultimately identifies me as a rock fan first and foremost rather than a folkie, and it presages songs like "Lay Down".
If only we could have had something like BATS with Rick! :( Ah well, dream on... But here's another great Strawbs album to listen to meanwhile!
I'm intrigued to read the 'spiritual' experiences that GNW has brought to some of the Witchwood collective. I'm intrigued as to whether the experiences were from those who heard the album when it was first realised, and if so, was it a reflection of the times. Was the timing just right for that kind of album?
Anyway, I'm 34, and so at the time GNW was released, I was still 'colouring-in' album covers, rather than devouring their contents for interconnecting credits from other albums etc. And therefore, my 'awakening' to the band and in particular, GNW, happened in the early eighties, in Maggie's Booming Britain. Yuppies, filofaxes, quick killings on the stock exchange, this was the background to my GNW, and hence my earlier question re. the relevance of 'when' an album is heard. Just curious, that's all. Now back to the album.....
If I try to describe the whole shooting match I'll repeat the same adjectives over and over, so I'll just highlight my favourites 'bites'.......
Anyway, for me GNW was not a transitional album. They'd arrived. This was their artistic peak, even down to the cover.
Grave New World was also the first Strawbs album that I was exposed to. Back in the bygone days of yore, when I was in High School in New Jersey in the early 70's, I had an English Teacher by the name of Joseph Curtis who used to play cuts from the Moody Blues, Dylan, etc. and then have the class analyze the lyrics as poetry. One day he threw an LP on the turntable by a "little band from England that he thought we would like." That LP was Grave New World; and I was hooked on first listen. Bursting was the current album at the time and Hero And Heroine followed shortly thereafter. The Strawbs actively toured on the East coast of US at the time; and I had the opportunity to see them three or four times before they seemed to fade away after Deadlines. It's a wonderful thing that the band are still active after all these years, that 90% or so of their catalogue is available on CD, and that this forum exists for us all to share our thoughts and memories.
Grave New World was my first Strawbs album too, even though I first heard it in its entirety a month before the release of Ghosts. In Oct or Nov 1974, my older brother, who was always introducing me to new music, most of which was lead guitar dominated kind of heavy and not particularly to my taste occasionally had weaknesses for more sensitive music. He came to me and said "Have you heard this song about bless the daytime bless the night and bless everything else. It's by the Strawbs. That was the first time I heard their name. I had heard the song but not paid alot of attention. I said what is with them.. are they religious or something? But I guess I must have given some positive feedback because shortly thereafter he called me from my room and asked me to switch to a particular station. It was during the instrumental electric dulcimer break which I found quite lovely but did not know what song it was until the chorus came back. I was smitten and "Benedictus" to me remains the greatest and most beautiful song ever totally unique and inimitable (although we do get pieces of the choral melody in "Simple Visions", kind of).
When I picked up the album in December 1974, I was worried they'd be some rock n roll group that had made one little foray into the pastoral so I started with Side 2 and was most reassured by "The Flower And The Young Man", a delicate piece of vocal harmony and organ contrasted with robust rhythm section.
The album works better as a unified work than anything else by the Strawbs, probably even better than Hero And Heroine. with "Ah Me Ah My" fitting better here than "Just Love" does on Hero And Heroine. In fact, the placement after the tingling "On Growing Older" was wise, given the similarity of the themes.
The only problem I have always had with GNW is the short duration of the recording, but at least there is no filler like on "Deep Cuts" which is also short. The "Hey Little Man" series works as well as the "Peace Trilogy" on King Crimson's In The Wake Of Poseidon, "Queen Of Dreams" is the launch pad from some of the experimentation on subsequent albums. "Heavy Disguise" is perennially stylish and upbeat, "New World" sounds better with every playing, "Tomorrow" a slice of fresh prog/folk that is delightfully unstructured (the two verses are completely different musically and Weaver's best work is here, in an over the top sort of way), "Is it Today Lord" and "Journey's End" are great closers. Why is Cousins voice almost distorted on the finale, like he is too close to the mike?
For people who are into concepts, serious music, and the overall package, this is the Strawbs album to recommend.
Grave New World appears to be the album that hooked a great many of the Strawbs permanent followers - it did me. "New World" must be amongst the 5 best songs ever written in my mind. Lyrically and musically, it has it all. For what its worth, I'd like to see the orchestral crashings mixed much higher in live performance (through keyboards) as it sets the emotional atmosphere of the piece. The Head of Programmes at BBC Scotland recently asked me to provide him with a copy of The Strawbs song which moved me most and which would help him understand my appreciation of their art. Bought him a copy of GNW.
I have resisted sending my thoughts about Grave New World because I was so taken aback by the place it has in the heart of so many Strawbheads. I like the album very much but have never thought it as great as some of the others. Aside from "Benedictus", "New World" and "Heavy Disguise" I thought the rest while very good to sound a bit dated in sound. Indeed I think that much of Blue Weavers' organ sounds harken back to the Nice and early Yes and it was already 1972 when synths had become the sound of the time. GNW sounds more like 1969. The dream sequence of "Queen of Dreams" is Floyd '68 pretty much old news by then. A pleasant performance but good for only #4 or 5 on my best of Strawbs list.