Gong, the progressive band born during the 1968 Paris student riots, has released some wild jazz fusion space funk over the years, but 2009 marks the band’s 40th anniversary and the first time Steve Hillage has recorded with original Gong founder Daevid Allen since the band’s 1974 You album. The 2009 release 2032 builds on the band’s famous ‘Radio Gnome’ album trilogy, which includes the albums You, Flying Teapot and Angel’s Egg — all considered classics of the prog rock genre.
2032 itself? Well, it’s funky man and I’m not sure the concept, which is about space aliens coming down to Earth in the year 2032, always works. Still, most of the tunes here are better than the sum of their parts. “City Of Self Fascination” is pretty much the set-up of the alien contact, a wavy groove of a tune that more or less meanders. “Digital Girl” is utterly fantastic, with all the right Gong elements of funk, silly lyrics, tight playing, horn bleats — you name it. “Escape Control Delete” is another great one with drummer Chris Taylor providing that solid snare pop that appears throughout this record, along with the subtle keys of Miquette Giraudy. The great syncopated guitar playing on this soft rolling tune is reminiscent of Pink Floyd in their gentler moments.
I’m not sold on the talking female voice on “Yoni Poem/Dance With The Pixies,” but the band is in great form. “Wacky Baccy Banker” gets us back to the big loud Gong thing. Based around the story of fictional character ‘The Switch Doctor’ (it’s a concept album, right?), there’s some wonderful electric guitar work from Hillage and lead vocals from Allen on what turns out to be a pretty heavy rock tune. And just when you think the song has gone on a bit too long, we get into some heavy space jamming that can really only be attributed to few bands like Nektar, Floyd and, of course, Gong.
“The Year 2032” does little to forward the album’s narrative, though guest Yuji Katsui’s electric violin is odd and fitting. There are three of these poetry and electronics collaborations between Gilli Smyth and Miquette’s synths, but I’m not sure they ever quite work. But then we are back with “Guitar Hero,” another rocking riff from Hillage. This one features a chant vocal and smokin’ sax lead by Theo Travis. He comes to the fore again with some nice flute playing on “The Gris Gris Girl.”
Bassist Mike Howlett and drummer Taylor lay down a great rumble under Giraudy’s arpeggio keys and Travis sad horns on “Pinkle Ponkle,” another spectacular track, bringing Gong into the modern music world ala Radiohead. Giraudy’s keys and Travis’ horn open the dynamic “Portal,” a Hillage instrumental that shows off his chops as well as the entire Gong band. As a whole, 2032 is a great comeback. The musicianship on these 14 tracks is far superior to what you’ll get from most modern bands. For that, Gong deserves their place in history and you deserve to pick up 2032.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.