Messy breakup albums or songs are manifold throughout popular music's recent history, from Marvin Gaye to Kanye West, so JW Farquhar's home-recorded 1972 acid rock curiosity is not unique thematically -- as the liner notes to the 2008 reissue explain, he had recently "extricated" himself from a marriage that left him more than a little on edge. Yet The Formal Female does deserve individual consideration thanks to its sound and place in history -- if utterly unknown at the time, its implied impact has grown more with the years. Recording everything himself, with three goofily named "sidemen" providing accompaniment ("Slash Mullethead" definitely predicts some sort of future somewhere), Farquhar let it all out over two sides of vinyl, and the resultant combination of rough-edged home recording limitations -- Farquhar notes the trouble he had to go through to soundproof his urban apartment -- and rambling but relatively focused performances and singing sounds incredibly prescient today, a forerunner to everyone from R. Stevie Moore and Jandek to any number of lo-fi artists. With basic drum machine work anchoring much of the songs, Farquhar's half-sung half-mumbled vocals, distanced harmonica (sounding almost more like a dub melodica effort at points), and queasy soloing are both of their time and still somehow fresh, an effective combination of elements that often surprises. Farquhar's jaunty, clearly vocalized folksinging on "The Want Machine" transforms into a bizarre jive-talk/growl dialogue while rhythm pulses and spindly feedback coast along, while the reappearance of his voice toward the end of "My Bundle of Joy," understated as it is, still adds a strong blast of drama to what might be the album's strongest track. When Farquhar concludes the three-part title track with a fuzzed-out take on the familiar wedding march that sounds like an ominous, bitter sting, it's little surprise where his sympathies lie, but there's a bit of balm as well with "Where Have You Been," a vocal/guitar-only number that shows Farquhar's knack for raspy, bluesy folk, straight up.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett