London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles... all the self-appointed centres of rock'n'roll, lifeless metres by which the medium is measured. All in the hands of an invisible dictatorship - the authoritarian rule of 'sophistication', style and fashion. Here today, gone tomorrow - the mind police of contemporary music making their dawn swoops, their nights of the long knives. Rock'n'roll is so nauseatingly centralised and bureaucratic it's no wonder it thrives on a contrived dynamic of inconsequentiality, of unwillingness to accept anything that doesn't in some way toe the party line. An expertly concealed domination - with oligarchies ruthlessly pacing rates of change (or no change at all). Any deviation is severely punished.
Wigwam have had the good fortune and good sense to have escaped this takeover by reason of their being well away from any such 'centres of rock culture.' The band are Finnish, with the exception of Jim Pembroke, an English expatriate who's lived in Finland for 12 years or so. Thus situated they're able to review events along a clear horizon, at an unforced pace, cautiously selective about their enthusiasms. They could, if they chose, remain their own best inspiration and make their way without any outside interference. In fact Wigwam manage something of a best of both, but without compromise, neither succumbing to sycophantic imitation of archetypes nor becoming introverted in grand isolation.
Although they haven't always been song-oriented as they are now. 'Lucky' is their eighth album, and the second from a lineup that only includes one original member, drummer Ronnie Osterberg. Time was that under the militant (Marxist) [sic] inspiration of Jukka Gustavson they recorded (rarely performed - the material was too complex) 'Fairyport' (1970) and 'Being' (1973), two sets of exemplary lateral thinking, achievements as advanced as anything the Softs or Zappa managed when at their best. (Albums that deserve British release at some date.)
Nonetheless, despite the changes in personnel and emphasis, Wigwam - who almost changed their name to Wigloo - have as much claim now to be distinctively idiosyncratic as then, 'Nuclear Nightclub,' their first release, was marred by overproduction and a paucity of really good material. Both problems have been eradicated. 'Lucky' was recorded at The Manor and contains eight songs by Pembroke and a much more assured Pekka Rechardt.
And if the album title is slightly reminiscent of Traffic's 'Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys'... Pembroke would probably list the Band, Traffic and Procol Harum among his loves. Three very musicianly groups, as are Wigwam, with everyone collaborating rather than outbidding - low profile virtuosity being the order of the day. In addition, instrumentation - with two keyboards, guitar, bass and drums - has obvious precedents in Procol and the Band: all weather capability.
Pembroke sings and writes most of the lyrics. His voice combines the deadpan satire of a Randy Newman with a more desparate, almost manic, edge. He has a remarkable ability to twist and inflect phrases around the melody and accent of songs. His lyrics reflect a determination to keep head above water, above the encroaching flood of what in the title cut he calls 'social termination.' But 'Lucky' isn't a formal, explicitly conceived 'concept' record, rather an inspired collection and interrelation of themes. And The World is Pembroke's lyrical stage, his wit that of the gravediggers in 'Hamlet' - black, wry and acerbic. His subject matter covers ecological imbalance, political intrigue, insanity, saviours and prophets, much more. As we all blithely trip along the high wire to apocalyptic oblivion.
Pembroke's ways of expressing such apprehension are at times very unsettling. Both he and Rechardt have a predilection for compulsive melodies, the very fibre of spontaneous bop. Osterberg and Mosse Groundstroem (bass) keeps things very strict and self-controlled whilst Rechardt sneaks in dense clusters of guitar chords. Thus you'll find 'International Disaster' innocently zapping along whilst Pembroke croons "there'll be waltzing in Vienna, fighting in Angola..." A simple trick of juxtaposition, but very effective.
'Sane Again' has, of course, little enough to do with regaining any form of equilibrium; it opens the album, the first of three bulletins from the asylum. The other components of this trilogy are 'Eddie And The Boys', another airy toon with echoed guitar skimming it by like a hydrofoil, and 'Nutshell,' the closing 'idiot' song.
And in a nutshell is where, Pembroke argues, we're likely to end up, ostrich people, to ignore the outriders of disaster, happily and manically insulated to the last. Both 'Nutshell' and 'Eddie' are graced with crazy marimba - a neat addition. Elsewhere are 'Timedance,' an instrumental dervish spree, followed by 'Colossus,' weird scenes in some northern castle. This and 'Never Turn You In,' a ballad about Christ and his betrayal, allow Hessu Hietanen to enshroud developments in chill, shimmering string organ. The total effect, allied with Pembroke's melancholy voice, is overwhelmingly anguished.
Rechardt, always a graceful soloist, offers his move to threaten checkmate in the title song's centrepiece, a low level jet strike of curling notes, and plays his most striking set of chords in 'June May Be Too Late.'
Enough detail. Wigwam are brutally honest, often very poignant. Sober up, whilst there's still time.