Kevin Ayers & the Whole World / Kevin Ayers

Shooting at the Moon

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Following the release of his solo debut, Joy of a Toy, Kevin Ayers created the Whole World to take the album on the road. In retrospect, the band was a kind of Brit supergroup, comprised of young Mike Oldfield (bass/guitar), Lol Coxhill (sax), Mick Fincher (drums, occasionally subbed by Robert Wyatt), and David Bedford (keys/arrangements). Following the tour, the band found itself in the studio, and in October 1970 Ayers introduced the world to the Whole World with the release of his follow-up, Shooting at the Moon. A snapshot of the era, the album is saturated with original ideas, experimentation, and lunacy, all powered by the bottled grape. It is this very "headiness" that propels and simultaneously hinders the work, resulting in a project overflowing with potential, much of which remained underdeveloped. Flushed and flustered, the band dissolved a little more than a year after it formed, leaving only Moon as its legacy. Somewhere on The Moon is a solid, unique pop record; however, Ayers and producer Peter Jenner (known for his production of Roy Harper's best '70s output) have presented the material in the guise of progressive, arty rock. Shorn of its excesses, meanderings and filler, Moon is easily one of Ayers' better releases. As it stands, the album serves more as a curiosity piece peppered with some of Ayers' best pop tunes in early stages, not yet molded by later collaborations and live performances. Ayers' music is at its zenith when he's crooning (in his lovely, flat baritone) warm, daft ditties, so simplistic yet singular in nature. Moon is blessed with several of these: the uninhibited concert staple, "May I?"; "The Oyster and the Flying Fish," a folky duet with Bridget Saint John that foreshadows Ayers' 1974 collaboration with Campbell Cramer (aka Lady June); and Ayers' timeless classic, "Clarence in Wonderland," in one of its shortest (at only two minutes) incarnations. Written on the beach in 1966, this whimsical ditty is a carefree summer's day in a capsule. No songs in Ayers' discography are more representative of his amiable musical nature than these. But Ayers' pop songs are embedded in lengthier structures, overwhelmed and obscured by the framework of the album. The band's prog-like excursions -- "Rheinhardt and Geraldine," "Pisser Dans un Violon," and the atmospheric "Underwater" -- are interesting at times, but ultimately come off as unfocused filler that serves to frustrate the listener (note the end of "Rheinhardt"). In particular, "Pisser" and the album's title track (a reworking of the Soft Machine's "Jet Propelled Photograph") are very much in the tradition of early British avant-garde fusion; ripe with free or loose structures, providing a fertile ground for unbridled improv that often lacks payoff.

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