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Skyclad > Outrageous Fourtunes > Reviews
Skyclad - Outrageous Fourtunes

Spare no second thought - 38%

robotiq, May 10th, 2020

Skyclad went through the calendar year of 1998 without releasing an album. The only recording they squeezed out was this bizarre four song promo, "Outrageous Fourtunes". This was obscure. I was a rabid fan at the time and didn't hear about it until many years later, and I don't know the circumstances surrounding it. Chronologically, it takes the lighter direction of "The Answer Machine?" one step further. Unlike that album, this is almost entirely acoustic (there is some keyboard). The 'four tunes' referred to in the title are reworked versions of Skyclad classics, two from "Prince of the Poverty Line" ("Sins of Emission" and "Land of the Rising Slum") and two from "A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol" ("Alone in Death's Shadow" and "Spinning Jenny").

Those are good song choices on paper. The problem is that the 'point' of Skyclad was to blend folk and metal. Sure, they dialled each of these elements up/down over the years, but both were always there. This was true on "The Answer Machine?" too, which had a softer sound but still had powerful drumming and lots of rock/metal riffing. Take the metal away completely, as Skyclad do here, and all that remains is some boring acoustic songs. Any decent singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar will give you a better set of songs than these.

The simplest song ("Sins of Emission") works best. Martin Walkyier sounds half-asleep but at least he adds a new rhyming couplet at the end, which is a nice touch. The reworking of "Alone in Death's Shadow" is redundant. The original was a slow, brooding track which built up to an epic ending (Skyclad's most obvious use of the soft/loud dynamic). This version lacks all that. The new version of "Land of the Rising Slum" is bad. The original version had cheesy keyboard and some hokey lyrics, but it worked because it was so fierce and catchy. Here, lines like "get yourself some cancer boy before you die of AIDS" sound like playground slurs. The new instrumental and beat-less version of "Spinning Jenny" is barely worth mentioning, it sounds like the muzak you might hear at a garden centre.

There isn't much else to say. I appreciate the effort, the musicianship is good, and it sounds honest. Skyclad weren't doing this to make money (I'm not even sure if it was released commercially). If you want some decent music in this vein, check out the John Martyn's "Solid Air" (which has similar psychedelic/folk moments) or one of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra records (for a good example of instrumental music). Nothing on "Outrageous Fourtunes" is worth hearing beyond the novelty value.

"Outrageous" Is the Word - 30%

Sean16, May 21st, 2009

The good point with this release is, as it was a limited edition EP sold alongside The Answer Machine (a bit like the Jig-a-Jig EP for A Semblance of Normality), chances are it’s become almost unobtainable now. Besides, I’ll still give some credit to Skyclad for, at least, having tried something novel with four of their older tunes. Because that’s not a bunch of mere cash-grabbing remixes we’re dealing with here, that’s totally new, different, almost opposite versions of Land of the Rising Slum, Sins of Emission, Alone in Death’s Shadow and Spinning Jenny. Or, to put it more crudely, totally butchered versions of these songs. Skyclad has never been the luckiest band ever when it came to cover its own material, the subsequent No Daylights nor Heeltaps compilation serving as ultimate proof. However, I wonder if still I don’t prefer the sing-along pub versions featured in No Daylights... over the pitiful stammering offered here.

There’s one song they did a half-decent job with though, it’s Land of the Rising Slum. The original is one of my all-time favourite ‘Clad tracks, with the slight disturbing twist characteristic of the Prince of the Poverty Line album, there embodied by a very distinctive backing ticking, obsessive electro-harpsichord keyboard and a Hammond organ solo. This point has its importance as it’s the only thing which has been retained from the primary version here – the Hammond organ! Add some acoustic guitar chords over it, a classical guitar solo to complete the organ one and voilà, that’s Land of the Rising Slum, 1998 vintage. No drums, no electric guitar. Pretty minimal, isn’t it? Add to this the pace has been slowed down (for a song which wasn’t insanely fast to begin with), the rough voice has given way to soft clean singing Answer Machine style, and the worst is to be feared. Though, the most important element has been retained: the MOOD. They managed to make this rendition sound even more crepuscular and hopeless than the original, what wasn’t easy challenge. And even if I preferred the bitter, rebellious Walkyier, here his tone of total renouncement and disillusion isn’t at odd with the subject at all. Of course I just don’t get why they changed the lyrics order; remember, the original began on this very strong image of a wrecked, run-down inhabitant of a wrecked, run-down urban area:

Show me a politician who's a man we can trust
And if I ever meet him then I think I'll have him stuffed
Look out of the window - see not one happy face
The only splash of colour's the graffiti 'round the place.

Now it directly begins on the chorus, of a far lesser emotional force:

I find it hard to sleep at night
I feel that the worst is yet to come
Social helter-skelter ride
The downward spiral has begun.

Novelty for the sake of novelty.

Now even if this minimalist version of LotRS becomes rapidly sleep-inducing, even if the original was ten times better, it’s nothing compared to the three following abominations. Again, the essential mood was preserved, which is no longer the case in the remake of Sins of Emission, another Prince of the Poverty Line track. Granted, the original itself has never been my favourite cut from this album to begin with. However with its bizarre upbeat opening riff, its somewhat broken structure, its suffocating vocals, it had a malevolent vibe which fitted well with the schizophrenic character described in the lyrics. Here it’s been turned into a complete piece of mellowness, a drawling acoustic ballad which not only sucks by itself, but has lost everything that made the original valuable. But the band must have liked it, as they will repeat their misdeed on the No Daylights... compilation. Farther, exact same treatment with Alone in Death’s Shadow, originally a mediocre semi-acoustic ballad they managed to turn into an even more mediocre totally acoustic ballad. At least in this very case the fall doesn’t hurt too much, it’s more the choice of this song which is questionable. Never really understood why it’s considered a Skyclad classic, in fact.

But the worst of the worst was yet to come. I don’t think I have to introduce Spinning Jenny, this cornerstone not only in Skyclad history, but in the whole folk metal history, actually one of the very first folk metal tracks ever - a track progressing at the same medium pace the main character (Martin himself?), led by the ominous, slightly mocking violin, progresses into debauchery, dixit myself in a previous review – self-citation is the plague of nowadays science, y’know. Now this song just met the same fate Land of the Rising Slum did: while LotRS had been pretty much reduced to the sole organ, Spinning Jenny has been as well reduced to its most characteristic element: the violin. I mean, the violin ONLY. No guitar, even acoustic. No bass. No drums. No VOCALS! It’s simply the main fiddle line, slowed down (yes, again) and repeated again and again over five minutes, meaning, longer than the original song – which was, again, a genuine metal tune complete with electric guitar, metal drumming and raspy vocals – clocking at hardly three minutes! It just defies the most delirious imagination.

I’ll repeat what I’ve written in the introduction; let’s give credit to Skyclad for having tried something different. I’m now just waiting for the rapped version of Still Spinning Shrapnel, the backward rendition of Cardboard City, or Jumping my Shadow reduced to its keyboard part exclusively.* The worst is, I’m sure even those wouldn’t weaken my admiration for this band. I’m incurable I know.

Highlights: Land of the Rising Slum


*In case of you shouldn’t get the joke, the keyboards in the unfairly overlooked Jumping my Shadow are limited to long backing ambient slicks...