The Muffins - Open City. 1977; 1979-1980 USA (archival)

For my tastes, The Muffins are an entirely frustrating band. Their best work IMO is the archival material pre-1978, which is heavily influenced by the Canterbury movement, and is mostly represented on the fantastic Chronometers CD that came out some 17 years after the fact. The Muffins proper debut, Manna/Mirage, is an album of contrasts mixing lucidly composed, highly melodic, jazz rock tracks - with some of the most annoying tuneless/structureless improvisations ever put to vinyl. In effect, The Muffins moved from Soft Machine II to Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning.

And now we review Open City, which is in reality another archival release. I've owned the CD for many years, but never the LP. This is an important distinction because up until today, I hadn't paid much attention on how different they are - at least in terms of how to approach the album and its final result. As it turns out, the first 7 tracks are (mostly) unique to the CD and come from a concert in 1980. They're in full blown Henry Cow territory here. Since it's compact, it does bring out some of the better attributes of said band, that is to say there are actual songs here to enjoy with wonderful passages and even some fuzz bass, a vestige of their Canterbury past. But it also contains the mandatory checklist that includes monotone female vocals, noisy improvs, and a certain melodic structure that is so predictable, it's laughable - and yet that audience will tell you it's radical and unique and no one else has ever done it. LOL, yea OK clique boys. Tracks 8 & 9 are from 1979, and again, we're treated to the Manna/Mirage side of the band. So as I was earmarking the CD for my next sale comes....

The lion's share of what was on the original LP, itself an archival release from Cuneiform back in 1985. Tracks 10 to 14 are from 1977, and is a wonderful warm and sunny, yet complex, jazz rock with Canterbury overtones. I thoroughly enjoy this era of The Muffins. What a contrast to the edgy atonal later material. 'Not Alone' is the highlight of the entire disc, and it comes at the very end, nearly 50 minutes into it. No wonder I could never figure out why I kept this CD!

In some ways, Open City may be the definitive Muffins album. It captures both of their styles at their best, and is likely to please one or the other type fan, and in many cases both. For me, it's only the jazz rock/Canterbury side that works.

From a rating perspective, I will keep two grades: The LP is a half point higher than the CD - though I recommend the latter oddly enough to obtain the whole experience.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Cuneiform

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