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Garden of Uranium—7 


Released: 1988

1) Laughing Inside  2) Garden of Uranium  3) Still Life  4) Pinches of Salt  5) Desert Island  6) Government Surplus  7) Surplus Liquorice  8) Liquorice Alltime  9) Maile Lei  10)  Same Shoes  11) Descenfants of Smith  12) Laughing Inside-Rough and Ready Version


Following “Whatever Happened To Jugula,” Roy Harper entered into what he has called his “creative peak,” and in fact, he has labeled that album the beginning of the second wind of his career.  The late 80s were obviously a period of happiness and calm for Roy, as his money problems and stresses were finally under control, and he was totally immersed in the relationship with his wife Jacqui.  This album was recorded at home in Lincolnshire and was originally entitled, “Descendants of Smith,” but Harper hated the cover sleeve so much, when he released the album on CD, he re-titled it “Garden of Uranium” with the new cover and a bonus track.


Regardless of its title, the album opens with “Laughing Inside,” and immediately drowns in keyboards, sounding like a Hall and Oats song or something.  Harper has recently said that the tune “[is] Haunting me…a failure and an embarrassment.”  It isn’t even close to being that bad, particularly with a great guitar solo at the middle break.  It is way more mainstream pop than Harper usually ventures, but the grove is tight.  The second title track, “Garden of Uranium” is a quiet, slow, political piece, dealing with the use of nuclear fuel.  It is a wandering work, lacking a true hook, but the coda has a cool little acoustic run, and the mood of the overall tune is just tremendous.  Another atmospheric piece, “Still Life” is far creepier, submerged in strange, off-putting production.  This isn’t really a song; it is more of a sound poem, and at almost five minutes, it just drags.  However, it does leave a dark, foreboding impression, freaking me out, but calming me down all at once.  The acoustic guitars somewhat return on “Pinches of Salt,” a modern day, less than three minute fairy tale.  One of Harper’s all time favorite “songs,” it is really another slow sound poem, concentrating more on vocal projection than instrumentation.  These pieces are definitely literary works to be admired, but as songs, they have no real beat or melody. 


Desert Island” picks up the tempo ten fold.  The track is actually a small section that Harper salvaged from his less than amazing, twenty-minute plus single, “Burn The World,” which he left off this album.  There are dueling saxophone solos and strange kettledrum sounds, making this one of the most usual tunes Harper has ever released.  It isn’t dynamic or catchy really, but it is entertaining enough to not totally dismiss it.  Government Surplus” is much more my style, and much more traditional Harper.  Featuring just Roy and his son Nick on guitar, this is a great political song, moving, and poignant.  The Harpers really show their musical chops and this tune is two minutes of pure attention glue. 


Surplus Liquorice” is just a thirty-second sound-effects lead-in to “Liquorice Alltime,” Harper’s all time most bizarre offering.  This tune amazingly features Roy Harper raping.  Yep…raping.  It isn’t a rap song, but he is, without a doubt, raping.  Harper has labeled it, “Punchy prose with an edge, in many ways more me than most of the other stuff I write.”  Whatever…this is overtly funny, with some great lines, but what a weird ass tune!  Maile Lei” is an acoustic ballad written about his marriage to Jacqui in Hawaii.  It is too long, but is beautiful, impressive, and heartwarming, and has my favorite Harper lyrics to any of his love songs—straightforward, but elegant. 


Same Shoes” is strange and quirky, inspired by a Cuban shoe shiner.  It isn’t immediately catchy, but it has something about it that stays in your head…maybe the voice modulated chorus, the ridiculous background sound effects, or the unusual piano tone.  Regardless, it is a compellingly odd song that Harper considers “one of my good songs.”  Roy goes beyond that for the next track, claiming it to be “one of my best songs.”  It is hard to argue, as the first title track, “The Descendants of Smith” is truly great.  Moody acoustic picking, with singing to match, this has a great melody, poetic lyrics, and is a fine album closer.  Well, the re-release actually closes with a sparse, solo, acoustic version of “”Laughing Inside.”  Harper apparently hated the original so much that he deemed it necessary to record this version, and I’m glad he did, because this is one hundred percent better than it was, and Harper’s acoustic picking is bouncy, almost jazzy.  The “Rough and Ready Version” is clearly the better of the tunes and actually an album highlight.        


Roy Harper considers “Garden of Uranium” to be his second best album of all time, something that I cannot understand.  It is interesting and does have some great songs, but overall it is lacking in melodies and hooks.  This isn’t even his best album of the 1980s, and although it is still a more than worthy purchase, most of the tracks here are not indicative of his sound.

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