Harvest 1975 / Esoteric 2019
Great deception as an artistic statement: British situationists serve up a symphony of trouble and confusion.
Decades after its release, “Futurama” remains a unique record: an art-rock entity devoid of progressive pretense, the second album from Bill Nelson’s ensemble is still as ahead of its time as the World’s Fair exhibition that gave this song cycle its name – and ideology – was. The concept of immediacy in realism has rarely crossed temporal barriers in terms of forward-thinking, let alone been applied to sound so impressively to smell of dada. With stylistic uncertainty of “Axe Victim” conscripted to the past within a year of the band’s debut, their sophomore effort – laid down by a new line-up, a tight trio – started a creative curve which took them to the disenchantment of "Modern Music" through the heat of "Sunburst Finish" and basically determined the collective’s course.
There might be some apprehension in Bill’s six-string orchestra that opens “Stage Whispers” until belligerent gallop blows such cobwebs away to allow Charlie Tumahai’s bass and Simon Fox’s drums engage in infectious samba, yet it’s difficult to overlook the philosophical defiance of “Jean Cocteau” – a jazzy homage to Nelson’s hero whose name would later lent itself to his own label – and see this track’s acoustic translucency pass you by. But if the honeyed blues behind “Love With The Madman” flows rather briefly and evaporates on the cusp of a full bloom, the album’s first epic “Sound Track” unfolds into a series of effervescent, phonetically captivating pictures – the team’s first and last explicit tribute to the genre they’re regularly associated with – and forms a space in which guitar can explore the farthest reaches of fantasy.
Although the heavy ballad “Sister Seagull” soars from the same celestial spot where “Starship Trooper” landed, and the short “Maid In Heaven” touches there as well before its fluid licks give way to riffs to rock as hell, it’s these two cuts that define the group’s mainline from now on, while the brass-caressed, retro-colored “Music In Dreamland” serves as an artistic statement they were to pursue for years to come. Still, the cinematic stampede of “Between The Worlds” sets the predatory piano-splashed urgency at the record’s end, like a sting in the tail, and the real finale “Swan Song” dips Dylanisms in psychedelic erotica, phaser effects bringing on waltz and march and once again sacrificing cosmic patina for artsy freshness.
With a couple of alternative versions and the B-side of “Lights” – a pure pop rapture – this reissue, especially the record’s stereo mix, done by Stephen Tayler, which accompanies the original album on a separate disc, should become the ultimate realization of what “Futurama” set off to accomplish. It’s an achievement, however deceptive these songs pretend to be.