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Alice in the Underworld; some random thoughts about the album
Topic Started: Nov 26 2008, 05:58 AM (1,101 Views)
tomiboo
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Offal Manipulator
There must already be a thread about this album somewhere, but as it's obviously buried somewhere in the archives, I thought I'd start a new one...

I've already written a little bit something about Gatekeeper earlier, so now it's time for a little review about Alice in the Underworld [which I will refer to as AITU from now on]. I will compare it to Gatekeeper every now and then, but that's because it's the only other SW album that I've heard (so far)...

As Gatekeeper turned out to be such a positive surprise, my expectations were very high with AITU as well. One of the first things that I noticed was that these two albums are quite different - Gatekeeper is easier to get into (but still somehow more complex) and more fun, whereas AITU seems much more atmospheric and dark. Of course there are some more uplifting songs on AITU as well, but nothing like 'Piepentube' that just makes me smile every time I hear it.

The album cover is, once again, a fantastic piece of art. I think it's even better than Gatekeeper actually, the black & red colours look very nice together. The booklet is great too, although I think I prefer the Gatekeeper booklet as it was a bit more colourful, and I love the little "pocket" where you put the booklet... it's just a small thing but for some reason I think it's an excellent idea! If I have to complain about something, then I could mention the glossy paper used on the album sleeve... Maybe it looks better that way, but now there are my fingerprints all over it. :P All in all, both the album cover and the booklet seem to go perfectly with the theme of the album.

I kind of like the idea that all the members of the band are singing on the album. It also makes the album a bit more difficult to follow though, I wouldn't call it a problem, but as all the singers sound so different, some of the songs sounded a bit out of place on the album at first. I'm not sure whether the reason for that is the melody of the songs or the vocals though, and after a few listens this doesn't even bother me anymore, in fact it's just another thing that makes the album more interesting. Anyway, whichever is the case, it doesn't of course mean that the songs itself are bad in any way. I'll try to explain this in more detail in the song reviews.

Even though I've mentioned the "theme of the album" a couple of times already, I'm actually not even sure what the theme really is. After the very first song I was expecting the rest of the album to follow some sort of a pirate theme, but then came the wolves and demons and the strange avian creatures and much more. So currently I'm imagining "the Underworld" to be some enchanting but dark place with all sorts of strange creatures... it actually reminds me a bit of tales of Edgar Allan Poe or H.P.Lovecraft, which is exciting of course! The lyrics seem to be even more poetic (and difficult) than on Gatekeeper, so I think I need to really concentrate on the lyrics next time and read them from the booklet while listening. I also think that I need to get some of the other SW albums before I can fully understand the story behind the songs... if that's even possible!

Right, let's move on to the interesting part... the song reviews!

1. The Return Of The Hesperus
Ooh Pirates! That's the first thing that crossed my mind when I put AITU on my CD player and this song started playing. It's a really good song as well, a great opening track for the album that gets you in the right mood. I won't even pretend that I understand all the lyrics as they get quite complicated at times, but that's probably just another thing that makes this sea shanty such a charming song.

2. Night Of The Macaw
'Night of the Macaw' continues the "maritime" theme from the first song, but I'm not sure what to think of this one. It's another good tune, but the refrain (Peanut, Peanut, Peanut, Peanut Island! etc) makes me think of some paradise holiday island advertisement rather than something fearsome. But maybe that's the idea, I don't know.

3. The Ballad Of Johnny Freak
I absolutely love this one, the lyrics are delightfully freakish and the melody and the vocals are uplifting and lovely. I think this song is my current favourite on the album, it was an instant favourite of mine, but I don't think I'll get bored of it any time soon, as the lyrics seem to be quite interesting too.

4. River
'River' sounded like a simple song on the first listen, but I think it's just lovely as well. It has a nice Gaelic feeling to it and I was expecting Bid to break out with a fantastic bagpipe solo somewhere in the middle... (ok, I may not have been totally serious about the latter)

5. Dream Love
I didn't care about this song at first, but I'm warming up to it and I actually quite like it now. In my opinion it still sounds a bit out of place on this album though, I don't know if it's because of the vocals or the song structure, but as it's still a good song I suppose I should just be glad that it's there. :P

6. Mr Mystery's Mother
Another excellent song! This, together with 'The Ballad of Johnny Freak', is my current favourite on the album. The "wolf wolf wolf wolf + howling" bit especially sounds so eerie that I find it awesome, and it's something that I always look forward to on this album. The tuba on the background is what keeps the song rolling along, and the chorus and the violin make the spooky atmosphere. Very unique and interesting stuff, I love it.

7. Purple Rushes
If 'River' was lovely, then this one's insanely pretty. It sounds very sad but stunningly beautiful too; lyrics, vocals, melody, everything. Definitely one of the highlights of the album, I can't think of anything that would improve this song.

8. Death
This was another song that I didn't like at first, but it's still growing on me as well... It's a sign of a good song definitely. Lyrics-wise it's one of the strongest songs on AITU, and the vocals sound good too now, although it took a few listens to get used to them.

9. Dream Land
The name fits the song very well, as this is indeed a very dreamy song. The guitar bits and the lyrics are the best things about this one, and even though I do like the song, it fails to make a lasting impression on me. It is the perfect song to listen to if you want to travel to the Dream Land though... (I think that's a compliment, by the way!)

10. Cerberus
Bid is a great singer and I was hoping that he would sing the lead vocals for more songs on AITU... not that there's anything wrong with the lovely ladies (Alice, Zarif, Julia, Elisabeth, Naomi and Lydia) of course, not at all! Bid just manages to make the songs sound a bit... different... um... in a good way! The lyrics sound crazy and fun, and together with the high tempo and all the different instruments they make an uplifting song that was indeed needed after three slower ones.

11. Diary Of An Edwardian Beetroot
As a song this one's not particularly memorable, but I suppose that it's still a very good ending track for the album.


So, all in all I do think that AITU is an excellent album, although it needed more time than Gatekeeper to get into, but isn't that always the case with truly innovative albums? I'm still discovering new exciting things in the songs, so my comments may have been even more positive after a few more listens. I don't think that AITU is as good as Gatekeeper, but not too far away from it.

One thing that I really admire about Scarlet's Well is that they're a truly unique band, I didn't seem to realise that when I started the "bands that sound like SW" thread a few weeks ago. It's not common that bands manage to write songs that are both innovative and catchy, but with SW the success ratio is remarkably high. I love how they use all these different musical instruments as well, perhaps not so much on AITU, but it still sounds refreshing.

You'll be pleased to hear that Alice in the Underworld and Gatekeeper both deserve a special place on my record shelf from now on - I'm not posting all this just to please the readers of this forum, but because I actually really like the albums. :P

Well, that's it! Any comments? :lol:
I'm now really looking forward to my next SW album, what would you recommend? (I know you'll say "all of them!" but I want to get them one by one)
Oh, and as I missed the old thread about AITU, I'd be interested to hear your comments about the album, and some of the songs too, if that's not too much to ask... Of course I would dig up the old thread from the archives, but I'm sure that your opinion has changed during the years, so maybe your comments would help me discover even more interesting things on the album.
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Jürgen
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Lop-eared Delinquent
Thanks again for the review- I took the occasion and listened to the cd again - will keep it short though -my favourites are Death,Mr.Mystery´s Mother and Night of the Macaw ( the organ reminds me very much of Tommy James and the Shondells´Crystal blue persuasion which again reminds me of the summer 1969...) ,agree that Dream love sounds a bit out of place ...which one next ?..don´t really know , I would start at the beginning if I were you , as a great Monochrome Set fan I was very happy at the time to hear something new from Bid and Strange letters really took me by surprise , or maybe work your way backwards , throw a dice ....anyway I´m sure you will enjoy all of them
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C's M
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Heel Scratcher
I totally agree that Purple Rushes is "insanely pretty", and that the band doesn't sound like any other.

I would check out Strange Letters next if I were you, then Isle of Blue Flowers.
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tomiboo
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M's M
Nov 26 2008, 10:54 AM
I totally agree that Purple Rushes is "insanely pretty", and that the band doesn't sound like any other.

I would check out Strange Letters next if I were you, then Isle of Blue Flowers.

And only partially agree or disagree with everything else that I said?
Nah, I'm kidding of course, I'm just trying to get people to join the discussion... Maybe I should have said something more controversial. :P

So, perhaps I'll check out Strange Letters next, thanks for the recommendations.
Was the band a lot different back then? (compared to the line-up on AITU, for example) I've only heard 'Sweetmeat' so far but if the whole album is that good, then I won't be disappointed.
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C's M
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tomiboo
Nov 26 2008, 08:53 PM
And only partially agree or disagree with everything else that I said?

Those were simply the main three points I felt moved to make, that's all!

I liked Sweetmeat so much that once I reached 1000 posts, I chose a forum name from the lyrics...
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tomiboo
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M's M
Nov 26 2008, 09:46 PM
Those were simply the main three points I felt moved to make, that's all!

I liked Sweetmeat so much that once I reached 1000 posts, I chose a forum name from the lyrics...

Hah, like I said above, I wasn't completely serious. ;)
Sorry about the confusion.

I've actually been wondering where the name M's M comes from, but maybe I'll find the answer in that song then...
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C's M
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Heel Scratcher
Heel Scratcher is the name taken from the lyrics...

M's M stands for Miro's Mum, Miro being the name of my cat (who is possibly not long for this world on account of his rapidly worsening arthritis - his hobbling gait is quite pitiful to watch).
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tomiboo
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M's M
Nov 26 2008, 10:37 PM
Heel Scratcher is the name taken from the lyrics...

M's M stands for Miro's Mum, Miro being the name of my cat (who is possibly not long for this world on account of his rapidly worsening arthritis - his hobbling gait is quite pitiful to watch).

Ooh, I thought that "Heel Scratcher" only had something to do with the amount of posts that you have, just like "Macaw Mucker" in my case. But as you have more posts than anyone else here, I guess you deserve a special name. ^_^

All the best for Miro!
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Dr. Sticky
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For me the 1st three records (SL, IotBF, AITU) are all sister albums. Dream Spider is the transition album, and the last two are the band albums.

Last summer, while doing yard work w/ headphones on, I listened to all of them in reverse order: from most recent to earliest (including Unreal). They are all very good with their own personality.

The 1st three albums feature the talents of Orson Presence (who also flavored the later Monochrome Set albums). Although, he had already moved to Cananda by Dream Spider of the Laughing Horse, the fourth album is still a bandless studio project.

My two favorite tracks on AITU are Night Of The Macaw and Mr Mystery's Mother. When I saw SWell live in 2004, the version of MMM was insanely great and different from the album version (which is still great, but different). I'm hoping for a nice live recording to surface one day, and I wonder how it's changed live over the years.

You can't loose going for Strange Letter's next!
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Hogfysshe
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Tomiboo wrote
Quote:
 
...Alice in the Underworld...which I will refer to as AITU...

wikipedia said
Quote:
 
In Polynesian languages the word aitu refers to ghosts or spirits, often malevolent. ......In the mythology of Tonga..., ʻaitu or ʻeitu are lesser gods....They often take the form of plants or animals, and are often more cruel than other gods. These trouble-making gods are regarded as having come from Sāmoa. The Tongan word tangi lauʻaitu (literally: cry like the ʻaitu) means: to cry from grief, to lament. In Māori mythology, the word aitu refers to sickness, calamity, or demons; the related word aituā means misfortune, accident, disaster. In Tahitian, aitu (syn. atua/raitu) can mean 'god' or 'spirit'; in other languages, including Rarotongan, Samoan, Sikaiana, Kapingamarangi, Takuu, Tuamotuan, and Niuean, aitu are ghosts or spirits.  In the Nude Islands tradition Aitu is also the name of ancient tribes who came from the east
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aitu
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Well, that is an intriguing titbit you have unearthed there, H - Underworld, AITU, malevolent spirits - spooky or what?

"Why do spirits haunt me in the day and in the night?"

(though that is admittedly from a different album).

And now you have got me wondering what life is like on the Nude Islands. They had better not have a climate like Berlin, that's for sure.

;)
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C's M
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Oops, Internet crashed, and must have logged me out.
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Hogfysshe
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Tomiboo wrote
Quote:
 
Even though I've mentioned the "theme of the album" a couple of times already, I'm actually not even sure what the theme really is. After the very first song I was expecting the rest of the album to follow some sort of a pirate theme, but then came the wolves and demons and the strange avian creatures and much more. So currently I'm imagining "the Underworld" to be some enchanting but dark place with all sorts of strange creatures... it actually reminds me a bit of tales of Edgar Allan Poe or H.P.Lovecraft, which is exciting of course! The lyrics seem to be even more poetic (and difficult) than on Gatekeeper, so I think I need to really concentrate on the lyrics next time and read them from the booklet while listening. I also think that I need to get some of the other SW albums before I can fully understand the story behind the songs... if that's even possible!

a pretty good reaction. Since the Captain admits not completely understanding some of his own lyrics, your assessment fits the fiendish "plan."

Tomiboo wrote
Quote:
 
11. Diary Of An Edwardian Beetroot
As a song this one's not particularly memorable, but I suppose that it's still a very good ending track for the album.
El Roacho helped me recognize that this is perhaps two things. The full title is "Diary Of An Edwardian Beetroot (Day Three: Mousseron Steam Fair)" and it does seem to be two pieces. The final minute-and-ten-seconds stands nicely on it's own and is semi-antiqued carnival theme. That is preceded by the final aitu lyrics
My mother said that I shouldn't acquaint
The squirrels of Mousseron Wood with a saint
They'll trip up his donkey and drown it in seeds
And then they will drink all his mead

which is a conclusion to the character studies of the song, the song as a whole offering perhaps ...important travel advice? and insight on the scene.
So, it is a double or triple conclusion, or more...the music, lyrics, and all together.
and maybe there's a review within the song
...I'll...play
a Feathered Fandango
Piping in cacophonus keys
And dissonant breves
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Falhawk
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Hogfysshe
Nov 27 2008, 07:33 PM

My mother said that I shouldn't acquaint
The squirrels of Mousseron Wood with a saint
They'll trip up his donkey and drown it in seeds
And then they will drink all his mead


I just relistened to Beetroot (I'd not heard it for a long while for some reason, shame on me).

The lyrics are a work of genius.

"My mother said that I never should
Play with the rabbits of Mousseron Wood
They'll cut off your trousers then bounce on your shoes
and then they will sing you the blues"

Lovely!
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bid
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Well, the last track on Strange Letters had the ship sailing off from Mousseron...at least some of Blue Flowers was either set on the ship or on the island, which was, er, possibly (^_^ ) off the coast of Venezuela (hey, Curacao, I just realised)...the last track, Fragment Of A Parchment, on Blue Flowers had Lord Fishgarlic (for it was he) entering an Underworld of sorts.

Some of the songs (not all, as in BF) on AITU represent a return to Mousseron from this island- some of the crew via the Underworld, and the (empty, but sentient) ship by sea. The last song, Beetroot, is just a relaxing return from a foreign madness to a devil they know.

Actually, the rest of the crew return in Dream Spider, in the song Big Dipper, by walking back on the ocean bed.
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