Cardiacs - Sing to God (Cover Artwork)


Cardiacs: Sing to GodSing to God (1995)
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Reviewer Rating: 5

Contributed by: Skibz777Skibz777
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One could end up writing a book merely attempting to explain the Cardiacs. Really, how do you succinctly summarize a band so unique that critics had to collectively conceive an entirely new genre just to describe them? Since their formation in 1977 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Smith, the Cardi.
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One could end up writing a book merely attempting to explain the Cardiacs. Really, how do you succinctly summarize a band so unique that critics had to collectively conceive an entirely new genre just to describe them? Since their formation in 1977 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Smith, the Cardiacs have both perplexed and divided critics and audiences alike with their sound, a schizophrenic blender mix of the sonic assault of punk rock, the experimental textures of post-punk, the grand orchestral harmonies of psychedelic pop and the occasional rabbit-punch burst of manic ska, all set against enough complex instrumental passages and ridiculous time signature changes which might recall a drunken brawl between Frank Zappa, Syd Barrett, Crass, Madness, Wire and Public Image Ltd. on the set of Eraserhead. Puzzled critics had little choice but to coin their own term exclusively to describe the Cardiacs: "pronk," the seemingly oxymoronic mix of progressive rock and punk.

Still with me after that last sentence? Alright, then.

Any one of the Cardiacs' albums are deserving of attention, each a brilliant oddity in their own right, but it's their seventh, the 1995 double album Sing to God, which commands the attention of both fans and the uninitiated. Right from the start, this album makes itself known, thrusting the listener into a one-two-three punch of Cardiacs 101: "Eat It Up Worms Hero" starts with an aural assault of short blasts of hardcore before shifting into a complete jumble of instrumental discord and stop-start melodies, somehow segueing into the slightly more coherent "Dog-Like Sparky," which has actual verses featuring Smith's sneering vocals yelping over a staccato guitar rhythm and a sing-songy chorus with huge multi-layered vocals and an odd time signature that gets progressively faster, while the outstanding "Firey Gun Hand" rips along at a jittery punk rhythm before escalating into a swirling instrumental hurricane of organs, brass and clinically insane guitar lines (which are allegedly a studio amalgamation of over 40 different solos). Whew.

This isn't to imply that Sing to God is an incomprehensible cacophony of instrumental self-indulgence. The Cardiacs may violently mash meters and rhythms against each other, but their methods are precise and calculated: there's not an ounce of insufferable prog noodling or weirdness-for-the-sake-of-randomness "experimental" pretentiousness. Even at their most avant-garde, there's a consistently overlying pop sensibility which keeps the Cardiacs' experimentalism in line, providing more melody than the outright dissonance of John Zorn's Naked City and more cohesiveness than the clashing fusions of Mr. Bungle. The result is both chaotic and melodic, a very focused unfocusedness which never gets too weird for its own good but still manages to be completely unhinged, unpredictable and--most importantly--never, ever boring. It's a listening experience that's unlike any other, far more compelling than it is confusing.

The scope of sounds on this album is amazing. Following the punk fury of the opening tracks, the rest of disc one is rounded out by heaping doses of alt-pop psychedelia, highlighted by the very catchy "Bellyeye," a Britpop-influenced tune which feels much like something Blur would perform if Damon Albarn was in the midst of a nervous breakdown, and the euphoric "Manhoo," a crunchy Beatlesque track peppered with "Penny Lane" trumpets which gets progressively heavier before erupting into a combination metal breakdown/orchestral sting. The second disc shifts focus onto fuller, longer, and more cohesive arrangements and atmospherics, peaking with the absolutely stunning "Dirty Boy," an intense nine-minute post-punk epic setting Smith's quivery vocals and multi-layered harmonies against a sonic wall of droning guitar distortion. The disc continues into "Odd Even," an airy dip into baroque pop incorporating lush string arrangements, and further foray into abrasive art-punk: the awesome "Bell Clinks," with its tremolo guitar picking and operatic multi-tracked vocals, I could only attempt to describe as the meeting point between the Dead Kennedys and early Queen, while the 10-minute climax "Nurses Whispering Verses" is a killer track featuring some great riffs and eerie keyboard lines which fade into the gorgeous closer "Foundling", a spacey Floyd-ish song which ties everything together on an impossibly sublime note.

Obviously, words won't ever do this album justice. The Cardiacs have created some of the most original, challenging, compelling, ambitious and truly out-there music I've ever heard, showcasing more ideas within one album (and often within one song) than most bands do in their entire careers. There's little--if anything--in the whole of popular music that even comes close to the insanity contained within their albums, and as such, they're practically the textbook definition of "love it or hate it." One seems to either despise their experimentalism ("shrill," "unlistenable" and "absolute fucking nonsense" being among their detractors' favorite adjectives) or praise it with quasi-religious devotion (veritably dozens of fans and critics have favorably compared Smith to Beethoven). It's entirely subjective, and there's never any middle ground: you may love them, you may loathe them, but you will never forget them. Sing to God is, in every sense of the word, a masterpiece, and under no circumstances should it ever be overlooked.


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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
Skibz777 (April 30, 2012)

The last paragraph is more a summation of the Cardiacs as a whole rather than this specific album. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a diehard fan, at least not to the extent of some people who literally consider Tim Smith to be in league with Beethoven, but taking into account their entire body of work from 1980 onwards, I'm prepared to firmly stand behind my claims. People wouldn't believe any praise about The Beatles if the only album you had to show for it was 'Help!'.

In all honesty, this is not my favorite Cardiacs album, it's my fourth. However, it's their most traditionally punk-oriented and what I felt was most appropriate to review here. In retrospect, though, doing an album from 1995 makes about as much sense as trying to praise the Ramones as a whole with a review of 'Mondo Bizarro'. I think if I had tackled one of their earlier albums, which placed this music within perspective of the late 1970s and early 1980s, my bold claims would probably hold a bit more water. Plus, there's always the fact that I'm just a shitty reviewer. ;)

I'm not trying to turn this into an argument, either, nor am I trying to divert anyone's opinion...I know plenty of people who fucking *hate* this band with every atom, and that's fine with me. I would just hate it if I personally tainted anyone's opinion of any band because of my own biased viewpoint. I'll admit I may have gone overboard with the praise - although, in the context of their entire discography, I feel some elements of such do ring true - but frankly, I couldn't conceive any other way to draw attention to an album which I assumed 3/4 of this website would ignore just after reading the first paragraph.

dodger (April 30, 2012)

Thanks for trying to give me homework, but I'll pass. I'm not about to dig further into the back-catalog of a band so that I can prove to myself they're as interesting as you say... especially when, in my esitmation, this release did not live up to your hype.

I didn't want this to be an argument. I don't think that this is a bad or boring record. The only reason I left a comment at all was to point out that I found this review misleading. The music which is so special to you might not hit someone else the same way. This is why it's best to put forth some effort to be objective in a review, rather than opening the floodgates on fanboy gushing.

Skibz777 (April 29, 2012)

I'm an overzealous Cardiacs freak (though not to the degree of *some* people), so obviously I mildly disagree...after all, your primary point of comparison is Mr. Bungle, a band which would not exist without the Cardiacs' influence, as Mike Patton has even organized benefit shows on behalf of the band. Detractors are quick to unfavorably compare them, quite ironically, with modern bands who would not exist without the Cardiacs' influence. Taking away any point of comparison, this album is still an insanely bold and original piece of work.

'Sing to God' is easily their most accessible release, yes, embracing the alternative rock of the time. That's pretty much why I chose to review it here. There's no question their earlier work is far more psychedelic and experimental, right from their early cassette demos, but I wanted to go for the more "punk"-oriented. If you'd really like to dig further into their more experimental territory, I suggest either 1984's 'The Seaside' or 1988's 'A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window'. If you can listen to those and say "Yeah, yeah, I've heard all this stuff before", then...well, I doubt that would actually happen.

dodger (April 29, 2012)

I got this album based upon this review. It's an OK record, but the review oversells this record in a huge way. To read this review, this album is the most mind-blowing collection of music ever released. In reality, it's fairly accessible psychedelic rock with a few aggressive passages. It has a Mr.-Bungle-meets-ELO vibe, without being as good or as interesting as either of those bands. It's decent, but "some of the most original, challenging, compelling, ambitious and truly out-there music", this ain't.

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