Klaatu: Klaatu (a.k.a. 3:47 EST) (1976)

This is one weird-ass album.  

But about half of it is also pretty great and absolutely worth checking out.

Klaatu, a Canadian duo (later trio), merged some experimental proggy compositions with surprisingly catchy power pop, kind of an unholy cross between early 10cc and Gong and the Beatles.  Indeed, their Beatlesque harmonizing on a couple tracks actually led to some rumors at the time that John and Paul were secretly behind the mysterious band (which did not name its members anywhere on their albums).  It seems a little far-fetched, but given the strangeness/inconsistency of some of Paul's 1970s work, it's not entirely indefensible.

The opening track is best known for being inexplicably covered by the Carpenters.  It's a crazy, utterly bizarre sci-fi track, starting with some unearthly radio chatter before slipping into a stunningly catchy message to our alien brethren.  It's great and astoundingly odd, and hard to imagine why the Carpenters of all people decided to cover it (leaving it pretty much intact other than sweetening it up a bit).  The other highlight is "Sub-Rosa Subway," one of the greatest 70s pop songs nobody's ever heard, and presumably the basis for those bizarre secret-Beatles rumors.  There's definitely a McCartneyesque vibe to the song (a somewhat detailed narrative of the early construction of the NYC subway, I think), but it's also just relentlessly infectious in its own right.  Is it prog?  Is it power pop?  Dunno.  But it's fabulous, in a way that only 70s proggy pop could be.

Beyond those two obvious standouts, there's the relatively straightforward sun-drenched Brian Wilson-influenced West Coast summer pop of "California Jam," the freaky boogie-rock of "Anus of Uranus," the glam rock of "True Life," and the goofy, disjointedly proggy "Doctor Marvello."  (The final two tracks on the album are far more problematic; one sounds like a Muppets outtake, and the other is some drawn-out spacey, orchestrated weirdness.) 

Their follow-up album, Hope, was comparable -- partly pretty good, partly too damn weird, but the song "We're Off You Know" is another crazy-great McCartneyesque pop song.

Here's a weird lyric video for "Sub-Rosa Subway":
Here's a live take on "California Jam":
Here's a video for "Interplanetary Craft":
And hey, what the hell, as long as we're here, here's the Carpenters' cover, with the DJ intro and everything and damn if this isn't quite simply the greatest thing ever recorded, or not, depending on how you look at it:


Comments

  1. Thanks for the review! One if the greatest albums of all time... Way ahead of its time!

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  2. That's some fine writing about an album that's not easy to encapsulate. Particularly your evocation of Sub-Rosa Subway. Absolutely A+ insight and eloquence. I think you missed the irony of California Jam, however. It's a horror story cloaked in Beach Boys harmonies. The weirdness you ascribe to Doctor Marvello and Little Neutrino and Rugglesby are to my mind wonderful, unchecked uses of Klaatu's imagination which are also beautiful to listen to. Try and convince me that you can see the clammy fingerprints of record-company executives on any of those tracks. Still and all, I think you did a nice job reviewing this classic record. Especially liked how you conveyed the oh-so-odd, but oh-so-satisfying hybrid of pop and prog that the 70s delivered. Every week, it seemed, something matching your description would hit the FM air waves or the record shelves, without the air play. It was fun figuring out from the song titles and the album art which might belong to your pop-prog classification. Klaatu did so Marvello-usly.

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    Replies
    1. Always nice to find someone else who appreciates this strange little record. Have you heard Beagle Hat, also written about here? https://www.jitterywhiteguymusic.com/2020/02/beagle-hat-magical-hat-2006.html. Much more pure pop, but still has a baroque, prog feel to a few songs that reminds me of Klaatu.

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