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.
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.
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.
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.
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.