Neil Innes

Taking Off

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Taking Off finds a post-Bonzo Dog Band, post-Grimms, but pre-Rutles Neil Innes delivering -- for him -- a fairly straightforward '70s singer/songwriter album. Which is not to say that the album is without humor or without some offbeat stylistic detours from the expected path (notably the goofy hoedown of the opening number, "Crystal Balls"). But Innes' sense of humor has always tended toward the wistful and whimsical, and the mood-evoking, comparatively lush arrangements on Taking Off tend to complement this side of him better than on any of his non-solo work. Witness "Catch Phrase," which is lyrically clever enough to be a Bonzo Dog Band number, but is given a mid-'70s John Lennon-ish arrangement so that it becomes a legitimate pop song as opposed to a novelty record. And speaking of Lennon, there's more than enough affectionately inspired Beatles influence on display here to keep Innes' Rutles fans happy; Taking Off boasts everything from the tongue-in-cheek George Harrison spoof/tribute "God Is Love" to the McCartney mini-parody "Three Piece Suite," as well as the faintly psychedelic "Shangri-La," which the Rutles later recorded in a rearranged version that played up its most Beatlesque aspects. However, unlike the Rutles' recordings, Taking Off is first and foremost about proper songs, not pastiches (however spot-on those pastiches might be). As well, while the Beatles loom large as an influence on this record, there are other influences evident here too, particularly the lighter sides of Elton John and the Kinks. And finally (and most importantly), the most prominent personality on display here is that of Innes himself. While there are echoes of many other fine artists on Taking Off, Innes never lets those echoes overwhelm his own unique, often melancholy presence. This ultimately is what makes Taking Off a worthy listen, particularly for anyone interested in hearing the sound of the man behind the sound of the Rutles.

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