Second Hand

Death May Be Your Santa Claus

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Among the many obscure British prog rock albums of the early '70s, Second Hand's Death May Be Your Santa Claus has to be one of the strangest, though not necessarily one of the best. While it's the kind of record likely to fire up genre enthusiasts, it's equally likely to inspire scorn from more general rock listeners unlikely to take a shine to its over the top frivolous absurdity. The title track (which certainly has nothing to do with the far more famous Mott the Hoople song of the same name) gives fair warning of what's ahead: jerky irregular tempo changes and tense unhummable melody in the verse, comically low gothic vocals on the chorus, and burbling churchy organ. While the rest of the record is certainly unpredictable, it's no more accessible. A bunch of more celebrated peers are incongruously echoed throughout the program: the snickering not-quite-pop avant rock arrangements and song constructions of Frank Zappa, the operatic shriek of Arthur Brown, even the harmonies of psychedelic/progressive-era Pretty Things. The percolating organ is probably the most impressive element, but the songs often seem to have no particular point other than to be as simultaneously surreal and complex as can be, usually with a fairly dark aura. Certainly songs with titles like "Hangin' on an Eyelid," "Lucifer and the Egg," and "Cyclops" aren't apt to stir the emotions. As impressive as the playing and unusual compositions are on some levels, it's a rather unappealing, downbeat listening experience. [The 2017 CD reissue on Esoteric Recordings adds a booklet with an essay and interviews along plus three bonus tracks on the CD: "Funeral," which was included only on the first pressing (and is perhaps uncoincidentally the most accessible song with its grandly anthemic prog rock sweep), the pretty disgustingly titled "Dip It Out of the Bog Fred," and "Baby R U Anudder Monster?," the latter marked by a Captain Beefheart-ish vocal.]

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