The Work: Slow Crimes & Rubber Cage
On the evidence here, The Work was a band whose music was informed by the visceral end of progressive rock and the energy and commitment of punk. The multi-instrumentalist line-up included Tim Hodgkinson, a former member of Henry Cow, a European band whose work in the progressive rock field was as singular as that of early Soft Machine. The music of both bands was purged of the virtuoso excesses that were frequently a hallmark of progressive rock, and if anything The Work took that a stage further, fashioning an odd but intriguing musical hybrid that wasn't overtly informed by any specific group influence.
The brevity of the tracks on Slow Crimes suggests the influence of punk rock, with each one clocking in at less than five minutes. The three minutes and twenty four seconds' playing time of "State Room" is a case in point. Sonic extremism and genetically modified funk can rarely have been brought together so effectively, unless of course it's two tracks later on "Do It." The opening of this one might just have the unwary thinking their CD player isn't doing what it should.
In contrast, "Le Travail" gets as close as anything here to the atmosphere prevalent on Henry Cow's Western Culture (Broadcast, 1979)at least it does until Catherine Jauniaux's voice comes in, redolent with an almost classical formalism on this occasion.
The spectacularly misleadingly-named "Pop" is also worthy of mention, not least because without it the informed listener would probably have no idea of some kind of interface between this band and the glorious manifestation of British punk that was The Slits. Although the degree of overlap between the two is negligible, the fact that it exists at all is perhaps the best measure of how much ground The Work covered.
The best part of a decade separates Slow Crimes from Rubber Cage, and with the benefit of hindsight it's clear that The Work's evolution was far from clear-cut. There is little evidence here of a more refined or polished sound, but then such qualities were perhaps antithetical to what the band was all about. Good thing too. What we get instead is the music of an essentially restless group, one not content to wallow in any stylistic rut.
Intensity and brevity are thus the only two qualities that unite the two discs. If anything, Mick Hobbs' bass playing is even more enigmatically mobile, giving the music an extraordinary lift, as on "Abdomen," which for a few bars evokes the spirit of Henry Cow again, though this time in a more general sense.
"The Great Climax" however is just one of many instances here where the music is remarkably self-contained, the band's intensity discarded in favour of a radically different soundscape made up from echoing sounds and the suspension of time. It's entirely at odds with the two minutes and twenty one seconds of "Jay," where unsyncopated funk again comes to the fore.
Given the fact that all four members of the band play a range of instruments, drawing attention to individual contributions is a risky business. The tautness of Rick Wilson's drumming is however such an integral part of the band's sound, by turns sparse yet capable of nailing the most fiendish of time signatures, that on both discs the abiding impression is of music constructed from the bottom up. This could just be the very element that enabled The Work to bridge the gap between the less indulgent, more urgent end of progressive rock and the relative astringency of punk and its offshoots.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Nearly Empty; Balance; Pop; Flies; Like This; Knives; Cain & Abel; State Room; Brickyard; Do It; Le Travail; Maggot Song.
Personnel: Bill Gilonis: guitar, bass, euphonium, Jew's harp, vocals; Mick Hobbs: bass, guitar, drums, ukulele, recorder, vocals; Tim Hodgkinson: vocals, Hawaiian guitar, saxophone, keyboards; Rick Wilson: drums, bass, vocals; Catherine Jauniaux: vocals (3,7,11,13).
Tracks: Poise; Abdomen; Felt; Commerce And Despair; Dangerfish; 1992; Coloured Water; Stone; Trauma; Knee; Jay; Quack; Hell; Hobo Stove; The Great Climax.
Personnel: Bill Gilonis: guitar, sampling, vocal (12); Mick Hobbs: bass, midi-horn, guitar (12); Tim Hodgkinson: guitar, keyboards, alto and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, vocals; Rick Wilson: drums, percussion, cello (5), vocal (9).