Written by Fantasma el Rey
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page unite for the second time on Jugula, a futuristic science fiction project with Harper at the helm. Page turns in some fine guitar mastery but don’t expect anything as hard rocking as his Zeppelin work. Harper runs the gamut on this album from rock to folk while displaying his lyrical and vocal talents; he even gives his son Nick a shot at showing off his guitar skills, making it a family outing. It’s a ride that I took with little knowledge of what to expect, only knowing of Harper as the guy who’s in the title of Zeppelin’s “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” but I’m glad I took the disc off of El Bicho’s desk.
The whole album has an Orwellian tinge of warning and despair, which I dig in general. I enjoy these kinds of outings packed with interesting lyrics and driven by guitars, acoustic or electric, and both are covered here with great detail and ease by two of rock’s best. Track one is an Orwell-inspired tune, “Nineteen Forty-Eightish.” Yeah, it’s a bit in reverse but you get the idea. Harper bends his voice around the words he sings and Page’s guitar madness, adding to the whole sound and feel of the tune. Harper at times hits an odd high-pitched tone and sometime warbles but on the other hand he can be very smooth and almost operatic, lending depth to his tale of a dark future as he pours out lines such as “Welcome to my nightmare/ I’m the Father, Son, and Whole Polluted System.” Not only a look to the “future” but a sideways glance at the current world and times, then (1985, when the album was originally released) and now.
“Bad Speech” is Harper doing a quick spoken-word piece putting forth a bit of his philosophy in his own poetic way. “Hope” is a drumbeat-laden track with more good guitar work and Harper’s vocal magic and deep haunting lyrics, such as “When you look at me/ from your own century/ I may seem to be strange archeology” and “When I caught you there in tomorrow’s mirror.” All the while the guitar hits strange licks, space-odyssey keyboard trip, and other percussive instruments soar and swirl in the background, heightening the hopeful sense of flight and falling.
“Hangman,” “Elizabeth,” and “Frozen Moment” continue on the set path Harper has chosen for his tip o’ the hat to science fiction writers the world o’er. “Hangman” is the nightmare tale of a man standing on the gallows pole about to swing and “be murdered in cold blood” and when you read deeper into the lyrics, you’ll see the tune reveals more than the simple story of an execution.
“Elizabeth” is the most hard rocking this CD gets while not straying from the rest of the odd little ditties and really only taking off in intervals. Page gets to bend some notes and make his axe weep as well on this one before it ends on an odd keyboard bass, wind-chimes note. “Frozen Moment” is a quite reflective piece with its “looking back through my dreams” theme.
“Twentieth Century Man” is almost a “Hope” reprise as it has much of the same instrumentation and overall vibe but it works well as a sort of bookend to the whole science-fiction affair. The closing track, “Advertisement (Another Intentional Suicide),” is filled with odd humor. Harper sings of his member “squirting the loo” with sounds of the pub playing in the background, and on the rocking chorus he informs the listener “I’m Really Stoned.” For a twist this number has a pop feel to it much like radio hits of the day, in a stretch (and I may catch hell for this one) Harper pulls off a “Beatles meets Huey Lewis” sound which truly is oddly interesting as is the whole damn recording.
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page’s work on Jugula may be a hard pill to swallow at first but if you can make it all the way through to the very end past the laughing girl and yakking man (complete with ground splash sounds) you may find the same amused interest that I did and you may enjoy the spinning of this CD. You may also dig the lyrics the way Fantasma has or you may not like it or even hate the thing but that is for you to decide. All I know is one of these days I have to head over to Fumo’s place and listen to this one again.