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Death Or Glory?—7
 
Released: 1992

1) Death Or Glory?  2) The War Came Home Tonight  3) Duty  4) Waiting For Godot Part Zed  5) Next To Me  6) The Methane Zone  7) The Tallest Tree  8) Miles Remains  9) The Fourth World  10) Why?  11) Evening Star  12) Cardboard City  13) One More Tomorrow  14) On Summer Day

 

1992 saw the end the ten-year marriage between Roy Harper and his wife Jacqui.  The break up was not mutual and left Harper mentally fragmented and in the care of psychiatric professionals.  Death Or Glory” was written and recorded in this atmosphere and as such, contains songs of great power and playing, but the overall effect each track demonstrates is dependent on your mood while listening.  There are protest songs dealing with war and the plight of native peoples…tribute songs to legendary jazz musicians, environmental crusaders, and Twentieth Century playwrights…parody tunes possessing that dry Harper humor…and of course, touching, remorseful love songs.         

 

Unfortunately, the title track gets things off to a cheesy start.  It sounds like a lame version of Pink Floyd’s “Young Lust” and takes itself far too seriously with its spoken word section…you’d think that Harper would realize by now that speaking in the middle of a tune ruins ANY creditability it might have had.  The War Came Home Tonight” is ten times better.  This protest song dealing with the broadcasting of the Gulf War on television ironically uses a military marching rhythm to set the mood and acute acoustic plucking to draw you in.  The melody is excellent, while the atmosphere, lyrics, and performance are tremendous—one of Harper’s best songs from the latter portion of his career, and a song that would fit in well with “Once.”  The military drumming coda of “The War Came Home Tonight” melts into “Duty,” one of the only times a Harper spoken word poem actually slightly works, as it is creepy and spoken with swagger. 

 

Waiting For Godot Part Zed” is named after Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot,” and just like that masterpiece, this is simple, but effective.  While it is a little slow, there are vocal hooks and enough atmospheric beeps to make the song pleasantly memorable.  Next To Me” begins with a beautiful acoustic run and a powerful, restrained vocal.  It is heartbreaking cry to his former lover with so honest it hurts lyrics, wishing her well, scolding her, longing for her, and loving her all at once.  Just the sort of song Harper wrote in his heyday: seemingly unemotional, but so cold it makes you feel. 

 

Harper, strangely borrows some lyrics from “In My Time Of Dyin’” and transposes them overtop of his generic blues romp, “The Methane Zone.”  In doing so he changes the mood of the lyrics from haunting to parody with lines like “If my wings should fail me lord, my arse will get me there.”  The song is short, and somewhat fun, but it loses its luster with repeated listens.  That is something that could never be said of “The Tallest Tree,” however.  This song gets better every time I hear it!  It is a poetic interpretation of the story of Chico Mendes, a Brazilian union leader and environmental activist, who was murdered in December of 1988 for protesting against the cutting down of the Amazon rainforest.  Harper uses a distinct South American melody in homage and his lyrics are a stirring tribute: “There are men who are more than just men.” The song isn’t some sort of dreary lament, but instead, a happy, celebration of Mendes’s ultimate sacrifice, with absolutely amazing guitar work by Harper's son, Nick.  Again, following “Once,” Harper is back writing politically charged, and most importantly, tuneful protest songs—you have got to admire that!

 

The next three songs should have been one tune, as they all flow into each other with cohesiveness.  Miles Remains” begins the should-be-song-suite with another tribute to a fallen hero, this time in acknowledgment to the legendary Miles Davis.  Like the marvel it portrays, the song isn’t the easiest of listening experiences, going on for almost nine minutes, but there are underlining beautiful hooks and phrasings that slowly seep into being and the atmosphere might be a little dull, but surely gorgeous.  The Fourth World” follows, and is just as long, but much more rocking, and pissed off.  This is the angriest Harper has shown in a long time as this primal scream of a song challenges Western Culture’s elimination of Indigenous Peoples.  It is a great message and wonderful playing, but again, the spoken word section makes Harper seem too self-righteous.  Still, the song is one of Harper’s all time best rockers.  Why?” follows, but is nothing more than a thirty second, virtually acapella, warning towards capitalistic greed. 

 

Evening Star” was written as a wedding song for Robert Plant's daughter, played with purpose and beauty, and sung with sentimental conviction.  The coda features some female backing and goes on for a minute too long, but the song is charming and pleasing.  Cardboard City” crushes the romantic vibe and replaces it with a Wild West feel, courtesy of some great slide guitar playing.  This bluesy, gritty, strut is moody and tough, and one of the best grooves on the album.  The closing two tracks are each gorgeous and heartfelt, but are also too long and dreary.  One More Tomorrow” is Harper’s original demo and the lyrics are so desperate and craving that they were probably just too honest to be recorded again.  Unfortunately, the tune doesn’t live up to the lyrics—it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really grab me like some of his other work.  It might grab you though, so give it a chance.  On Summer Day” fits the same mold…it is absolutely lovely, with moving lyrics, but the song is just a little too despondent and overlong.

 

Overall, this is another very good effort from Roy Harper, recorded in an emotional hell, but as diverse as any album he has yet released.  It is a little long and at times inconsistent, but “Death Or Glory” proves that Harper isn’t going to slowly drift into retirement and that his latter day work is worthy of your time.      

 

NOTE: Apparently Harper re-mixed this album and re-released it in 1994 with a different cover than the original.  This review is of the re-mixed version of the album.  The original cover work featured a black and white photo taken on the beach from the back of a naked man and woman clutching each other’s ass cheeks while kissing.  The man may or may not be Roy Harper, and upon seeing it, you may or may not throw up, depending on your taste for 60 year-old ass.

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