EVER READ German rock mags like Muziek Express or Dutch ones like Popfoto? If you do, you’ll notice that besides the pictures of Alice Cooper, David Cassidy, whips and tits and chains and ass, there’s pictures of bands like Amon Duul II. Sound interesting? Sure it does, especially if you like music that expresses all the joy and good feelings of the Munich Olympics and combines it with a rhythmic undercurrent that sounds like nothing so much as the hissing of gas chambers. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Amon Duul II happens on a variety of levels, and I still haven’t gotten down to what they really are, or how I really feel about them. On the one hand, they’re almost complete primitives technically; one could not say, for example, that John Winzierl is a good guitarist, In fact, I think the weird sounds he gets from his axe are more accidental than avant-garde, which still doesn’t mean clover to an artichoke, ever since the pigs ate John Cage’s grandmother.
Then again, they use these synthesizers on top of their illiterately mixed and barely proficient instrumentation, which makes them sound like they could be the Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs of Saturn if they only had some decent material. Instead, they’ve got stuff like ‘Green Bubble Raincoated Man’ or Joni Mitchell meets Eva Braun. ‘Surrounded by Stars’ has some good eerie moments, Renate Knaup-Krotenschwaz again on lead vocals, but it still doesn’t compare to the unreleased tapes of Lotte Lenya singing with the Stooges, now rumored to be hidden in a tree trunk near the Paraguayan border.
Oh yeah, there’s clear Jefferson Airplane associations too, and more than one critic has been suckered into calling Amon Duul II Germany’s Velvet Underground or some other nonsense. It’s all part of the vanity behind the phrase ‘rock critic’s music’ – in other words, if it’s too obtuse for the masses, then it must have higher critical meaning we can drench ourselves in, and keep it to ourselves.
Get off it. Even if this is the kind of music critics are supposed to convince themselves they like, Wolf City is boring. It’s not nearly as good as the occasional flashes of punk-rock Stravinsky on Amon Duul II’s Carnival in Babylon, and I’m afraid the band is in dire need of a producer like Bob Ezrin or Jack Richardson or even Richard Perry, to literally whip them into shape.
Meanwhile, the occasional infectious despondency and textures of decadence never really catch on. But remember the sitar player’s name, Al Sri Al (known by his friends simply as Al) cause it’s a good name and don’t let anybody convince you there’s nothing more than a half-written Mark Spitz joke here, which I’d rather not hear the rest of.
© Wayne Robins, Creem, June 1973