Spooky Tooth & Pierre Henry: Ceremony LP
One of the best things about Dominic working at Sorry State is when he hands me a record and says, “here, take this home.” The latest record he’s hipped me to is this 1970 LP, billed as a collaboration between the blues rock band Spooky Tooth and French avant-garde / musique concrete composer Pierre Henry. I was coming to this blind as I wasn’t familiar with either artist’s work.
Boy, is this a weird one! Spooky Tooth is admirably heavy and grimy here, approaching Sabbath levels of heaviness without degenerating into the BBQ blues that I have a hard time with. The lyrics, strangely, are overtly—even aggressively—Christian, and normally that would irk me, but the entire enterprise is undercut by Pierre Henry’s contributions to the album. Rather than being a true collaboration, Spooky Tooth completed their recordings and sent the master tapes to France where Henry overdubbed his own contributions… bleeps, bloops, tape loops, and other tricks of the avant-garde trade. Sometimes these sounds create a subtle background texture to Spooky Tooth’s songs, while at others they dominate the mix with the band’s music in the distant background, barely audible.
In reading about the album online I found many people who insist that Henry ruined what would have been Spooky Tooth’s greatest album, but not being invested in Spooky Tooth’s career trajectory, I think what exists here is fantastic. There’s an unresolved tension between Spooky Tooth’s and Pierre Henry’s contributions to the album, as if they are fighting a bitter battle for the listener’s attention rather than trying to work together. This also works with the album’s lyrical themes. Spooky Tooth envisioned their tracks as a rock-and-roll mass, while Pierre Henry cast his abstract and non-linear contributions as field recordings of pagan religious rites. It’s like the soundtrack to one of Captain Cook’s exploratory missions making first contact with a remote Pacific island civilization. It is truly wild, and while it’s unlistenable in many respects, I also find myself unable to turn away.