Daevid Allen (aka Dada Ali for this release) comes full circle in his GONG universe and dishes out his brilliant last gift to the musical world in the form of the retro-Canterbury introspective litany and slickly packaged I SEE YOU, sounding like a true throwback to the 70s and the logical conclusion of the Radio Gnome Triology evoking the best psychedelic Canterbury that the classic era of progressive rock had to offer. In a sub genre that seems to have fizzled out somewhere incrementally during the 20th century and waned into a new golden era, Allen has rustled up yet another stellar team of gifted musicians to bring his final musical statement as well as proving that the Canterbury sound can still sound fresh and exciting while evoking the best of his heyday.
Right from the very first glance of the band lined up against a wall in the beautifully packaged gatefold digipak, it is apparent that the whimsical playful spirit of 70s GONG is alive and well with a new cast of characters. Most prominently in the fashionable and stylistic apparel of the Grand Poobah of musical mischief, Mr Daevid Allen with his styling striped spandex pants gracing his 77 year old body and a T-shirt boldly stating that “NOBODY KNOWS I’M A LESBIAN.” Apparently the cancerous tumors and endless surgical operations that had been plaguing his health hadn’t dampened his spirit and his love light shines through on this musical goodbye to the world in his most passionate display of musical mojo since 1974’s “YOU.”
The cast includes a veritable smorgasbord of seasoned musicians including Allen’s own son Orland (aka Flamedog Alien) who kicks, beats and crashes on the percussion but also handled the engineering, mixing and production duties at his Flamedog Records Studios back in the original Allen stomping grounds of Australia. Other musicians called to duty are bassist Dave Sturt (aka Unicorn Strut who has been associated with various artists including Steve Hillage and Jade Warrior), guitarist Fabio Golfetti (aka Fabuloso Golfcart associated with Violeta De Outono, Invisible Opera Country, Zero), saxist and flautist Ian East (aka Eastwinds i.e. Windows) and crunch box and scythe guitarist Kavus Torabi (aka Spiral K. Octoflash associated with a gazillion acts most notably for Knifeworld, Cardiacs, Monsoon Bassoon, Chrome Hoof, Guapo etc.). Torabi is purported to be the successor in the GONG family personally chosen by Allen to carry the torch into the next incarnation of the band after Allen’s musical and Earthly retirement. And i could hardly forget our favorite 70s sprinkled space whisperer Gilli Smyth who rejoins the GONG team to haunt us with her angelic and ethereal vocal talents as well as contributing the final farewell track “Shakti Yoni & Dingo Virgin.”
I SEE YOU is just chock full of classic GONG-isms and relevant contemporary ideas. From the very first words “I SEE YOU” on the opening title track we instantly get that Canterbury jazzy funfest that shows Allen’s playful nature fully unfurl and instantly brings back the Gnome Radio Trilogy days in a good way. The psychedelic rock married with jazz-fusion and satirical whimsy is firing on all cylinders once again and after the initial first spin which had me instantly addicted it was like finally hearing the long lost archival audio files that was supposed to be inserted where “Shamal” appeared in the discography, but the truth be told this was a current band effort where each member channeled the best aspect of the Radio Gnome 70s and added a newly energized take on it. For example, on the second track “Occupy” we get an extremely heavy guitar riff that could possibly qualify as metal accompanied by sizzling sax solos but still with that nary-a-care free spirit nature that Allen always brings to the table.
The tracks vary quite a lot with some like “When God Shakes Hands With The Devil” which brings the rapping vocal antics of Daevid Allen in cahoots with a slap happy bass, sax and flute attack while the hypnotic and totally spaced out “The Eternal Wheel” showcasing Gilli Smyth’s psychedelic siren skills complements it and one of the most classic sounding GONG tracks on board here with “Syllabub” which has all those wonderful musical gymnastic sessions with time signatures flying off of trapezes, stylistic changes, whimsical instrumental exchanges and of course Allen’s spaced out lyrics about wanting to go far away like to the moon or something! “The Revolution” is a veritable spoken word sermon accompanied by spaced out ethereal sounds with Allen elucidating the evolution of the 60s revolution and how it has become an invisible force that guides us on a subliminal level. Other mentionable tracks include my favorite track of the lot “Pixielation” which has one of the coolest hooks ever! The track celebrates the nature of pixies and nature spirits but has the absolute coolest bouncy flute riff with the rest of the band weaving their magic around it as the backbone of the track. Allen’s neo-Pagan lyrics are profound and celebratory with fun time signature changes, spastic bursts of energy and just chock filled with everything that makes progressive rock so much fun!
I have to state firstly that i did not first hear this album until after Allen had passed which occurred just a few months after its release and that obviously changes perspective dramatically regarding the depths and meaning of the lyrics as it is clear now that the album was designed to be a final farewell to the world of GONG and all those involved who jumped on the bandwagon decades earlier. No more is this apparent than on the final two closing tracks. “Thank You” is a heartfelt gesture of musical gratitude where Allen emphatically sends out his love under the guise of a steady rock riff, spaced out effects and interpolated progressive touches. After this nice steady jazzified rocker which gradually disintegrates towards the end into a more chaotic feel we reach the final track “Shakti Yoni & Dingo Virgin” which is a collaboration by Allen and Gilli Smyth creating one of the most haunting of sonic send offs of glissando guitar and vocally eerified pieces of music ever created which is perfect for bidding of farewells to Daevid Allen who would soon not only retire from one of the most famous collaborative band efforts in history but would pass away only a few months later after I SEE YOU’s release thus transitioning from the “Angel’s Egg” and being awarded that magic “Flying Teapot” in the sky. Not only is this album simply brilliant lyrically and musically but i can’t think of a better tribute album to the career of one of the most unique visionaries in the musical world. This one only keeps growing on me upon every listen and am very stunned that this one has gone unnoticed by the larger prog world as it is one of the few contemporary examples of reviving that classic 70s sound and breathing new life into it all the while a legend is on the precipice of his last days as a carbon-based life form. A modern unknown classic here.