Aardvark – Aardvark

Aardvark - Aardvark

Aardvark are very much a band of their time. 1970 was a year of transition for British rock music; sounds were getting heavier, and psychedelia was giving way to the more artistically refined and ‘mature’ efforts of progressive rock. Although this quartet released a single album before fading into obscurity, their self-titled debut finds a comfortable place at the crossroads of these sounds. Psychedelic pop and the fetishized British take on American rhythm and blues are wrapped up in a bundle that only slightly reeks of prog. For what it’s worth, Aardvark were a promising band with a compelling sound, but it sounds terribly dated by contemporary standards.

Above all else (including the fact that members of Aardvark eventually left to join the hard rock pioneers Free), Aardvark and their self-titled debut are defined by the fact that they are one of the few hard rock bands that spared any used of the guitar. Aardvark manage to touch upon all of the instrumental rock ingredients with the use of a keyboard, bass and drumkit. Even by today’s standards, it’s pretty rare to see a band even attempt this, let alone achieve the same sort of relative heaviness as the guitar-dominated acts. Not unlike the way Deep Purple’s Jon Lord would rival the guitar with thick organ riffage, Aardvark’s Steve Milliner makes the organ sound like it was made for rock music. “Copper Sunset” kicks off the album with a fuzzy organ lick that should immediately dispel any notions that a rock band needs a guitar to function properly.

In spite of this welcome artistic risk however, most of Aardvark’s songwriting still resorts to a familiar pattern of psychedelic-tinged British R&B, the likes of which had virtually dominated the airwaves during the years leading up to the release of this album. Dave Skillin’s vocals, while tuneful enough, give the anaesthetic feeling of deja-vu that I usually get when hearing something generic. Although an interesting “Interstellar Overdrive”-esque soundscape track (“The Outing”) and a jam-fuelled progathon (“Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It”) make for welcome exceptions, most the songs tend to adhere to a fairly run-of-the-mill pop format. “Very Nice of You to Call” is a finely-crafted tune with some wonderful piano work and a memorable vocal chorus, but many of the tracks come across as fairly bland, and surprisingly tame, given the band’s relatively innovative instrumental approach to rock music.

Although many of the songs on “Aardvark” sound like the sort of tunes you might hear on a budget 60′s pop-rock compilation, the band’s instrumental capabilities are what give me the impression that they could have gone much farther than they did. Although Steve Milliner’s keyboard work is the shining gem of the album, the band delivers a consistently impressive performance. The basslines are full of groove, the drums are energetic, and though Skillin’s vocals don’t stand out from the crowd, there are many vocal melodies here that you may find yourself humming along to. There’s some fine enjoyment and worth to be explored on Aardvark’s debut, but with only one album to draw upon, they never had the time to realize their potential as an act.

Tracklist:

1. Copper Sunset (3:17)
2. Very Nice Of You To Call (3:39)
3. Many Things To Do (4:22)
4. Greencap (6:04)
5. I Can’t Stop (5:28)
6. Outing (9:50)
7. Once Upon A Hill (3:03)
8. Put That In Your Pipe (7:13)

Line-up:

* Stan Aldous Рbass
* Frank Clark – drums
* Steve Milliner – keyboards, recorder, vibraphone
* Dave Skillin – vocals

Written by Conor Fynes

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