You Can't Kill Me is the title of an early Gong song from the album Camembert Electrique (1971) where Daevid Allen sang that you can kill the body but not the spirit. In a sense it is also the essence of this new album, to have his spirit live on in the music.
Back in October 2012 when Gong played at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer Allen introduced his band as the new generation of Gong. And shortly before he passed away in March 2015 in a statement published on his website he specifically encouraged the band to continue without him. He always wanted the band to be a collective, not depending on one or more individuals including himself. He had left the band before, in 1975, and after his departure Gong carried on for a few years led by Steve Hillage, Didier Malherbe and Pierre Moerlen.
But even with Daevid Allen's blessing it is a hard thing to do. Whether he liked it or not, Allen was the frontman: his typical guitar playing, his voice, he wrote most of the lyrics and was also involved in writing many of the songs. He was also the only constant member since the reboot of Gong in the 1990s. They could have chosen a different name. Like in the past there were New York Gong, Mother Gong and Pierre Moerlen's Gong, offshoot groups that had their origin in Gong but had a different sound.
Long term fans will listen critically to the album. If the new band takes a new direction, some may consider it sacrilege. If it is a weak album, some will say that they can't do it without the headmaster. Inevitably the spirit and the shadow of Allen's death will hang over it. It will always be remembered as the first album after his death.
The new band could have embraced the past. They could have used some rest material from earlier albums and rework that, using Daevid Allen's recorded vocals. But they didn't do that (with a small exception). They could have done the opposite, pretend that this is a regular new album, business as usual. But they didn't do that either.
Instead they responded in the best and typical Gong way, to embrace it with a sense of humour (where humour is much wider than making a joke, it has a laughter and a tear).
Musically they returned to the sound of the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, in particular the third part You (1974). An obvious choice since this album is still regarded by many as their best ever. The typical slide guitar, a lot of flute and sax playing.
The new Gong consists of Kavus (vocals, guitar), Fabio Golfetti (guitar, vocals), Dave Sturt (bass, vocals), Ian East (sax. Flute) and Cheb Nettles (drums, vocals). Furthermore there are guest appearances of Steve Hillage, Didier Malherbe and Graham Clark and even the voice of Daevid Allen, recorded in an early song rehearsal.
The album has some fine moments, although as a whole it is not as strong as You. Rejoice was the album they needed to make. Not more and not less. It marks the end of an era and is the beginning of a new one. The spirit of Daevid Allen will not disappear. It will always be with Gong. But it will no longer be a burden, but a blessing. From now on there will also be room for change. Gong est mort. Vive Gong...
The album is available as regular CD, or as a limited double LP edition or a deluxe 12” hardback book / 3CD edition.
*** Erik Gibbels (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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