GRATEFUL DEAD – A WINNER
For those of you who haven’t heard, “Anthem of the Sun” is an unusual record. It brings to mind such past hits as “Sergeant Pepper” and the Electric Prunes “Mass in F Minor.” Basically, the structure of the record comes across as a mini-opera, with individual numbers having distinctions only in the ears of the listener. There is literally no separation, either on the grooves or in the sound. However, the changes can be heard, even if only gradually. The record can be termed a cross between a jam and composed playing – it often seems as if the group will start with a score, and gradually ignore it more and more, occasionally losing the listener in the process.
Side one is made up of three numbers. The first, “That’s It for the Other One” is divided into three sections: Cryptical Envelopment, Quadlibet for Tenderfeet, and The Faster We Go, the Rounder We Get. These three sections are rather self-descriptive. The first might be described as an addictive process, in which the record rather gets you hooked. After that, you proceed through the beginner’s stage, to the basic message, which is that the group gets rounder (less square) the faster they get. However, there can be too much of a good thing, as is demonstrated when the end of the number (which is not particularly defined as such) dissolves into a gray fog of sound, utterly without form or meaning.
The second and third number (New Potato Caboose and Born Cross-Eyed) are much in the same vein. The former is a blending of jazz and hard rock, not at all unpleasant. Born Cross-Eyed has a freer form than rock allows for. It is interesting to note that the beat remains the same throughout side one (except in the cases when it disappears completely), but the tune and form changes. The end of side one is one of the few points on the record where the group resorts to singing, however, even the words (“Seems like I’ve been here before”) take the listener back to the beginning of the side, to listen to it all again in about a one-minute space.
Side two is primarily devoted to Alligator, a cut which is an excellent combination of instrumental and vocal phrases. The outstanding part of this is the intermittent kazoo solos which keep cropping up at various places. Basically, the words are a southern blues song made up of anecdotes about alligators, then set to a rock beat. Once again, the group does not feel constrained by either the music or the beat, however. This time, as the tune evaporates, it leaves a series of jungle calls, indicative of the theme of the cut. Alligator, despite its length and depth, tends to be somewhat boring at times. This is especially noticeable in the section of the record immediately following the jungle calls. If there is variation in this segment, it is too small for the equipment the record was being played on to pick up.
One good reason for putting up with this is the guitar work between Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir which immediately follows this, which is some of the best to be found anywhere. Then is a section which is essentially the word “alligator” alternating between the two sides of the stage. This comes through as might be expected on a stereo system.
The second cut on this side is Caution (Do Not Stop on the Tracks). The drum becomes a train, and the story line (the only time this occurs on the album) is about a fellow who consults a gypsy about his girl. However, this rapidly disappears, and moves into another formless mass.
Basically, this album represents a step forward in the total record world. It is definitely one which should be on the shelves of fans of the West Coast sound.
(by Tony Lima, from the MIT Tech, October 11 1968)