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The Unfairground

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iTunes Review

Prog-rock innovator Kevin Ayers’ final album sums up the intelligence, droll humor, and fierce creativity that characterized his 40-plus years in music. The Unfairground features contributions from old comrades like Robert Wyatt and Phil Manzanera as well as younger admirers like Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Julian Koster (Neutral Milk Hotel), Gary Olsen (Ladybug Transistor), and Euros Childs (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci). Rising to the occasion, Ayers delivers a batch of revelatory, often brutally honest songs dealing with love and loss. These serious topics are infused with a buoyancy and musical wit that combine folk and psychedelic strains with touches of vaudeville and classic pop. A happy/sad sort of acceptance informs “Only Heaven Knows,” “Cold Shoulder," and the title track. With hard-won insight, Ayers punctures inflated egos in “Walk on Water” and says goodbye to a double-dealing lover in “Friends and Strangers.” Unsettling numbers like “Brainstorm” find balance in the jaunty sing-along “Run Run Run.” Fat brass passages and whimsical strings enrich the arrangements, and Ayers’ husky bass vocals convey a wry gravitas.

Customer Reviews

Good place to start for a first taste of Kevin Ayers

Ayers' voice is rather remincent of Leonard Cohen, especially on this album. The music is properly subtle, letting Ayers' voice do most of the work, which turns out quite well. "Only Heaven Knows" has an interesting cadence worth taking note of, backed very softly by the Liverpudlian singer and friend Candie Payne. Overall, the album's combination of subtlety and understated restraint/melancholy provide for a good example of Ayers' work.

Not the Place To Start

This is a surprisingly great swansong to a recently late great talent. But not the place to start. Gotta go all the way back to 1969's Joy of a Toy for that. For what can only be described as a Sgt. Pepper's meets Nick Drake tripping on Syd Barrett's left over acid (Barrett actually played guitar on Joy ). Then follow up with Whatevershebringswesing and Confessions of Dr. Dream & Other Tales and Bananamour. All of which will enhance your enjoyment of this, which comes after decade or almost two of silence.

Bad example of Kevin’s music!

This is a dangerous album! If one is not familiar with Kevin Ayers' music, it might be easy to get the wrong idea of what his music is about. This certainly is not a good representation of his music. Please read on...

I've listened to all of Kevin's 17 albums, in chronological order. This is his last album, and so it is a sad ending point. Really, if you rated his albums from best to weakest, then put them into three groups, this would be in the bottom group.

Some have pointed out that the album is only 32 minutes long, but the problem is even worse than that. It has two songs previously released, with the better versions on older albums. "Only Heaven Knows" was first released back in 1986 on the album Closer Than You Think. "Run Run Run" was originally released as "Take It Easy" on the strong album Deia Vu. If you want to hear the songs as they should sound, consult those albums. So now this album is now down to 28 minutes of new music.

A big part of the problem with this album - besides the short duration - is the production. The mixing is often weak. As an example, Only Heaven Knows has the drums faint and weak in the background. There are some poor-sounding cheesy Mariachi horns on the song that are dreadful. Veteran/master guitarist Phil Manzanera is supposedly on three songs, but even with listening closely on headphones, I can only barely hear him on one song ("Brainstorm"; for the other two songs he is mixed off the album). I guess the mixing folk didn't want to hear his cool guitar parts. Another problem is musicianship. Although it is great having strings on the album, they end up sounding dreary and gloomy (see "Cold Shoulder"). The drumming on "Unfairground" is pathetically amateuristic. It sounds like they got someone who's only been playing drums for a week. I'm a drummer myself, and have been listening to rock music for decades, and I don't think I've ever heard such lame drumming, and inappropriate drumming for the music (it doesn't even fit!).

There aren't many bright spots on this sad and forgettable album but here are two: Kevin's voice is great, and just like the old days. The delivery is different (not as fun and engaged as in his productive years), but the singing quality is as good as the old days. Also, there are a couple of songs that are somewhat reminiscent of his older days. The strongest songs - "Wide Awake" and "Brainstorm" - could have gone on albums in the years 1976-1980.

If you want to hear Kevin from the good old days, and you like rockier albums, check out Yes We Have No Mananas and/or Deia Vu. If you like like more varied music (adventurous/progressive), listen to Joy of a Toy.

Biography

Born: August 16, 1945 in Herne Bay, Kent, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Kevin Ayers was one of rock's oddest and more likable enigmas, even if he often seemed not to operate at his highest potential. Perhaps that's because he never seemed to have taken his music too seriously -- one of his essential charms and most aggravating limitations. After the late '60s, he released many albums with a distinctly British sensibility, making ordinary lyrical subjects seem extraordinary with his rich low vocals, inventive wordplay, and bemused, relaxed attitude. Apt to flavor his...
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The Unfairground, Kevin Ayers
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