I think I should begin by telling you that I like Crippled Black Phoenix’ cover EP Horrific Honorifics immensely. It is great. One could write a novel about it. In fact, it might be a novel, or a biography, in musical form, but to understand and appreciate that you must have lived half of your life already.
In order to explain what I mean by that, I will have to back up a bit. So, please, bear with me.
The other day, I read an article in The New Yorker. It was a review of a book titled “Midlife: A Philosophical Guide”, written by Kieran Setiya, a philosophy professor. In the book, the author, as the article puts it, “examines his own freakout”, experienced when he was thirty-five. He wrote the book in an attempt to help himself. His research involved finding out since when people have been writing about going through difficult, reflective, evaluating episodes in midlife. He could trace this back into antiquity, but the first mentioning of something like that in our time (1965) was in a book by an American psychologist, Elliot Jacques. He cites one of his patients as follows: “Up till now, life has seemed an endless upward slope, with nothing but the distant horizon in view. Now suddenly I seem to have reached the crest of the hill, and there stretching ahead is the downward slope with the end of the road in sight.” I remember finding the picture of standing on the crest of the hill of life, looking back at what has been, and looking ahead at what is to come, very fitting and it stuck with me.
When I was assigned to review Horrific Honorifics I wasn’t keen on doing it. A cover EP? Boring. But then I listened to it. And I was intrigued. I went to reread the lyrics to No Means No’s Victory, one of the songs covered on Horrific Honorifics, and I found, to my surprise, a striking resemblance to the quote above: “When I set out on this journey / I thought it would never end / When I started down that road / I could not see the end.” (…) “And some day I know, no matter how hard we try / We are all going to have to lay down and die.” The resemblance of the two quotes, the fact that this particular song had been chosen from a plethora of songs No Means No have written in their career, shone a clarifying light on Horrific Honorifics, and instead of being just another album out there, it became special, something I could relate to it.
Horrific Honorifics is a moment “on the crest of the hill”, looking back – a moment of reminiscing, about musical influences and life in general. It covers a wide range of artists and subjects. There is False Spring by Arbouretum, The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By The Sea by Swans, Will-o’-the-wisp by Magnolia Electric Co., Victory by No Means No, In bad dreams by The God Machine and Faith Healer by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
I think that the subjects the songs deal with are as important as the bands who wrote them. Will-o’-the-wisp, for example, is about about wandering around and not finding what you are looking for, about being led astray and putting your hopes into something unsubstantial. Belinda Kordic does a fantastic job interpreting it. In bad dreams deals with regret, with carrying around stuff from the past, not getting rid of it and not being able to change the past. Faith Healer, the last track, speaks about stardom, and the, often unrealistic, hopes miserable people put in spiritual leaders.
I like every song on the EP, but my favourite is No Means No’s Victory. I’m impressed by the range of human experiences referred to in that song, and by Crippled Black Phoenix’ interpretation of it. The lyrics speak of nasty surprises, of disappointments, of failure, of continuing, although you don’t want to, of being left alone, of having to ask for forgiveness, of having to forgive, of having to die, and most of all of the dual nature of life. In defeat, victory. In victory, defeat. This makes it the perfect song for a moment “on the crest of the hill”.
What I like most about CBP’s version are Justin Greaves’ drumming and Daniel Änghede’s singing. The drumming I like, because it incorporates an interpretation of the lyrics. It starts out slow and regular, then it picks up pace and becomes more complex and more intense, only to be followed by song passages without drums. But the best thing about the drumming is that it, in intervals, has a quality of enduring, of persevering, of pushing through, especially when accompanying the chorus. Phenomenal. I could listen to it over and over again. The vocals I favour for a similar reason. They enhance the meaning of the lyrics, because there is nothing triumphant in them. Instead, they have a level, worldly-wise character. I like that very much, since, if you think about it, what do we really have to be triumphant about, even if we experience some kind of victory? The tide will turn sooner or later.
Over all, the sound of the EP is melancholy, the track Faith Healer being somewhat of an exception. Some tracks, for example False Spring and Victory, feature a rich, full, ripe, deep and heavy sound – very fitting for describing a life bursting with experiences. On other tracks the sound is more minimalistic and has a sad, even tragic nature, as in Will-o’-the-wisp or In bad dreams.
And the cover design? What about the cat? Well, cats are tough creatures. They can survive falls from impossible heights. As the proverb says, a cat has nine lives.
Horrific Honorifics is great. I think you will like it, especially if you’re middle aged, and grew up with some or all of the bands covered. Go get it. And tell your friends.