mercoledì 21 novembre 2012

AKVARIUM - "TABU" (1982)

Original band's name: Аквариум
Original title: Табу

Since their foundation in 1972, Akvarium represented the history of Russian rock music more than any other band. It is basically an open project, which changed a lot of members through the decades, with the only constant presence of leader, singer and guitar player Boris Grebenshikov.
Before writing about this album, their fifth, I will summarize their adventurous history.

The Seventies were the era of the harshest rock repression in Soviet Union. In the first years Akvarium played only some acoustic concerts in small apartments and clubs: they didn't use electric instruments to avoid control and problems with the authority. 
Their first public concerts were played in 1976, but still with acoustic instruments (a strategy to obtain invitations at the various Popular Music Festivals organized in Russia at the time). 
Anyway, they were still not allowed to release albums. Everything they recorded from 1972 to 1979 was realized in poor studio-apartments, with no equipment and no budget. This material remained in the shadow for decades until it was released between 1996 and 2001: it's basically a mix of horribly recorded folk tunes and ingenuous tape manipulations. You can live without it.

In 1980 an event changed the history of Russian music. "Vesennie ritmy, Tbilisi-80!" was the first Rock Festival in Soviet Union. It was organized by the Georgian communist party to show an open mind, and hopefully to sedate the students' riots of 1978-79.
Akvarium were expelled after their performance was considered scandalous, but the festival was a big success and it started the liberalization of rock music (officially, rock albums were still banned, but the authorities let the bands release and self-distribuite them through concerts, festivals and black market: that's why Russian rock albums of the Eighties were released on home-made magnetic tapes).

In 1986 Melodiya, the official Soviet label, signed Kino and Akvarium under contract, giving them the possibility to sell their albums with a regular distribution. This was probably due to the fact that they were both enormously popular, and the authorities feared the impact that they had on young people. The majority of other bands had to wait until the birth of the C.I.S. to reach major distributions.

This is basically all you have to know to understand the political situation of the time, and to understand how much this band fighted for its music: it started in 1972, it was allowed to release its first album in 1981, and it had to wait until 1986 to obtain a regular professional contract.

"Tabu" is the album that I've chosen to start with Akvarium because it is the first one which is musically interesting: three of their first four albums ("Siniy al'bom", 1981; "Treugol'nik", 1981; "Akustika", 1982) were basically folk music in the style of early Bob Dylan (just adding some flute here and there), while the remaining one ("Elektrichestvo", 1981) was probably out of focus (on the first side some electric boogies recorded live in concert, on the second a collection of reggae tunes recorded in studio).

In "Tabu" Grebenshikov decided to improve Akvarium's musical power. Helped by Sergey Kuryokhin's brilliant piano improvisations and Alexander Lyapin's powerful electric guitars, Grebenshikov created a personal universe that englobes without distinction post-punk rhythms, blues scales, local folk, free-jazz fragments, and the aristocracy of art-rock. The best tracks here are probably "Segodnya noch'yu kto-to" (a nearly gothic piece), "Pepel" (a cold post-punk song admittedly inspired by Gary Numan), and "Synov'ya molchalivykh dney" (an epic ballad dedicated to David Bowie since its title, which means "Sons of the Silent Age"): three extraordinary rock numbers that show a band at the height of its musical creativity, with nothing to envy to Western music's giants.

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