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Roy Harper - Whatever Happened to Jugula?

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Artist: Roy Harper

Album: Whatever Happened to Jugula?

Label: Science Friction

Review date: Oct. 7, 2008


Roy Harper - "Hope" (Whatever Happened To Jugula?)


Idiosyncratic folk-rocker Roy Harper never became a household name in his native Britain, despite the efforts of high-profile backers including Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. The former has invited Harper to join him onstage many times over the years, and even asked him to sing lead on Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” bringing his voice to millions of listeners who probably had no idea it wasn’t Roger Waters. Page, for his part, lent his fretwork to several Harper albums, and named a Zeppelin ditty, “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” in his honor.

Following several commercially soft albums (including an electric set with Zep’s John Paul Jones and Yes/King Crimson sticksman Bill Bruford), Harper found himself in a rut. “There is no doubt in my own mind that the early ‘80s were the nadir of my life in music,” he later said. To alleviate his creative malaise, he teamed up with his old pal Page for a series of folk festival appearances throughout 1984. Liberating for both men, the gigs ultimately led to a studio effort, Whatever Happened to Jugula?, which was released the following year.

At the time, Jugula fostered a renewed, if temporary, interest in Harper, whose ‘70s work rates among the most interesting, song-based music of the era. By giving Page equal billing, Harper ensured the attention of Zep heads, although there isn’t much on Jugula to satisfy those craving the cock-rock wizardry of Page’s early daze.

Instead, Jugula offers eight mid-tempo folk-rock numbers, performed on tinny plastic Ovation guitars and ornamented by Page’s wiry Telecaster (the one with the G-string bender) and sundry synthesizers. Harper’s once bracing tenor had by then become a reedy whine, giving extra acidity to his customary remonstrations of hypocritical society.

Opener “Nineteen Forty-Eightish” is classic Harper, filled with paranoid depictions of “lemmings” who “push their pens and rush in hordes of crashing stupor,” and the “unrelenting drudgery” of “cops and bureaucrats.” Page pierces the chintzy acoustics with irritable electric, proving that, despite a heroin addiction that robbed him of crucial motor reflexes, he was still the hippest axeman to emerge from the 1960s Brit-blues academy.

The Gilmour-penned “Hope” would’ve sounded better performed by faux-Floyd, while “Hangman” benefits from some crafty Page trills and irresistibly morbid lyrics. “Hangman oh hangman / How sleepless is your bed I can’t believe my own ears / My heart is full of lead That you’d apply and get the job / Of pulling off my head / And leave me kicking in the darkness / Splattering the walls with blood,” Harper cruelly croons.

“Advertisement (Another Intentional Irrelevant Suicide)” is a revved-up groove-rocker that features the repeating refrain, “I’m really stoned” – a declaration requiring zero suspension of disbelief. Page turns in a rousing solo, with country-inspired bends and the wafer-thin electric tone that marked many a Zep LP. If only he were backed by John Bonham’s bricklayer beats, and they might’ve been onto something.

Comparable in sound to Harper’s finest work from the previous decade, “Frozen Moment” is the record’s strongest cut. Chiming, finger-picked acoustics are met a mournful vocal from Harper and tasteful embellishments by Page.

Although it may have helped Harper regain some commercial footing in a particularly avaricious era, Jugula hasn’t aged well. The re-issue is a welcome goody for collectors, but neophytes would be advised to start elsewhere (see Stormcock).

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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