He's right, of course. How can you possibly argue with The Man?
However, merely dismissing this as awful—which was certainly my first impression—would be a little too easy…and wouldn't tell us anything at all about why this oddball artifact has suddenly surfaced, or what BG might be thinking in foisting it upon his patient public.
Picture this: an Eastern temple. Snow-capped peaks and raked gravel. Monks in saffron robes shuffling slowly with downcast eyes and beatific smiles. In the corner of the temple sits an ancient man with a wispy white beard playing some kind of unearthly instrument (a koto? a shaminsen? a singing bowl?) in a low, minor key while devoted pilgrims seek to cleanse worldly cares from their souls through burnt offerings. Om.
This seems to me to be the general aesthetic BG is aiming for with this opus.
Now picture this: the old man with the beard is wearing low-rider jeans and has traded his singing bowl for a synthesizer—one very much like the notorious cheap-ass Yamaha in Assa ("класснейшая вещь," my ass). Still feel meditative? Good for you. I just feel queasy.
Here you see the fundamental problem. This album is faux-exoticism: a McDonald's McZen meal with super-size taro root and a yak's milkshake, to go. It's R2-D2 playing the Dalai Lama's Greatest Hits. It's Buck Rogers's "Twiki," stoned out of his electronic brain, speaking in tongues. It's the "contemplative" smell of napalm in the morning.
It also, it should be noted, owes considerably more to Brian Eno's Music for Airports than Soulful Songs ever did. But, while Music for Airports is a genuine minimalist masterpiece, this just sounds like someone dicking around with a keyboard. It's unlikely to send anyone frothing, drooling and screaming out of the house (a documented response to Subterranean Culture, for instance) but it's just as unlikely to impress the Bodhisattvas, or to win BG any new fans. (Which makes the album's first appearance at Akvarium concerts in Germany all the more puzzling: is he somehow trying to punish them for the Great Patriotic War?)
But it's not entirely the keyboard's fault. True, the place of the keyboard in the History of Akvarium is fraught, to say the least (see my academic study: Fly in the Ointment: Akvarium and Keyboards from Tchoo to Chucho to Boris.ru.) but Boris's execution is at least as much to blame. Any wispy-bearded old man playing his singing bowl this ineptly would be booted from the temple. Some of the tracks "work" as three-note mood pieces, but too many of them sound like a small child playing a video game. One also hopes that the sound quality on the cd is considerably better than that of the mp3 files I downloaded, where the quality is, approximately, "35th generation bobina." I will not, however, be buying the disc to determine if that is indeed the case.
Which still leaves us with the question of what Boris could possibly be up to in releasing this disc (recorded, lo, in 1993, according to on-line sources). The devil knows. The cynical might say "to make a buck," but this seems unlikely given the patently uncommercial nature of the music and Boris's professed indifference to file-sharing. It's difficult not to conclude that, like many artists, Boris has some considerable difficulty hitting the "delete" key. Some writers cringe at their juvenilia in later years, and actually suppress reissues. What does Boris do? He releases a box-set. This "if it's me, it has to be good" attitude will carry an artist far, but there comes a point where brand-dilution becomes a serious danger (cf. the careers of Salvador Dali, Morrissey, the Grateful Dead, among others). Also, if this music was worth preserving for posterity, surely it would also have been worthwhile to re-record it, with, umm, an actual sound engineer, rather than release it as New Millennium samizdat. (Or put another way, should Boris be cut the same amount of slack in 2005 that he was cut in 1985? I'm inclined to think not.)
So even though Without Words is much more "listenable" than "Mad Washing Machines," say, I would be very much remiss if I went so far as to recommend it. This one's so far up the Pilgrims' Ziggurat that altitude sickness is a serious danger. Bring oxygen, power bars, and a sense of the ridiculous, or don't go at all.
Alternative Review for Folks Who Have Seen Way Too Much Television: You know the episode of Friends where Ross resurrects his avant-garde keyboard "sound" from when he was in junior high? Without Words sounds uncannily like that. If you're a "Phoebe" type, you'll think it's the best thing since "Smelly Cat"; if you're Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey or—God forbid!—an innocent bystander at Central Perk, you'll almost certainly want to take a pass. (If you're lucky enough not to have seen Way Too Much television, but want to reference it anyway, it's Episode 80: "The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line")
Valid Alternate Theory (posited in the guestbook by Mr. Hell and k.p. tikka ri):
Mr. Hell: I'm listening to Bez Slov for the first time right now. Really some weird music.... it's neither comparable to esoteric music nor to electronics a la Kraftwerk. The only music i know that sounds quite similar is George Harrison's 1969 "electronic sounds" album, which features two long pieces of music, no song structures, just Harison testing a moog synthesizer. Ah, and there's another title of the Rolling Stones, "Cosmic Christmas" from 1966, which is a short track with a moog synthesizer beeping a Christmas song in space. I heard that BG is said to be a maniac of music history—maybe Bez slov is his tribute to that kind of 60's experimental album. And, if not, I can only guess that he was on some kind of weird stuff when recording it.
k.p. tikka-ri: Yes, I've had the same conclusion even long time ago: BG is making his own versions of the history of rock! I've got this satori with Anna Karenina's Kvartet. Meditative music, film music, avant-garde music, different styles of rock, from punk to prog, reggae, singer-songwriter stuff etc., etc... Even the bobina—bootlegs—is a branch of this mighty tree of classic rock!