Friday, October 05, 2012

The Monks' Suspended Animation Best Left In Suspension

I really want to give the Monks' Suspended Animation a passing grade, because, like so many Canadians who came of age in the early '80s I am a drooling fan of their truly five-star first album Bad Habits. But honestly: Suspended Animation hits its marks too rarely for me to recommend it.

As I understand it, in their native England the Monks never surpassed one-hit wonder status (“Nice Legs, Shame About The Face”), so John Ford and Richard Hudson returned to their paying gig in the Strawbs and moved on. Across the pond in Canada, however, it was another story. Bad Habits attained a high cult status with its infectious hooks and sly lyrics that kept the artful balance of ironic observation without falling into easy parody. When the album went multi-platinum in 1981, management corralled Ford and Hudson back into the studio for another go as The Monks, exclusive to the rabid Canadian fans.

Suspended Animation is proof that sometimes you can only bottle lightning once. With the sole exception of the album opener, “Don't Want No Reds,” the album's song titles pretty much give away the game at first pitch. “James Bondage” “Don't Bother Me — I'm A Christian” and “King Dong” don't leave much room for the artist to surprise a listener with ironic insight, never mind clever turns of phrase. As for easy parody, the Monks often fail here, too, with subject matter that was never funny to begin with (“Ann Orexia” is a bad idea made worse by preachy finger-wagging).

There are flashes in the production that suggest these otherwise accomplished rockers were fishing for something meatier than what they were landing. “Space Fruit” is a nice reprisal of what “Skylab” first laid down. “Beasts In Cages” and “Lost In Romance” contain traces of the subtlty we heard in Bad Habits. But fans of the first album who haven't yet given this album a spin are best advised to resist the urge, and re-cue Bad Habits instead. Suspended Animation is for completists only.

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