We all know the story. It's the giddy climax of glasnost.
Previously taboo works like Grossman's Life & Fate and Rybakov's Children
of the Arbat are being published in Russia for the first time. And, mirabile
dictu, Melodiya, the musty Soviet state recording company, has released Akvarium's
Equinox, which includes the caustically critical anthem "Generation of
Janitors." Akvarium has achieved a level of mainstream success that would have
been unthinkable only a couple years earlier. They seem poised for сны о чём-то большем.
But then along came the incubi from CBS Records, off Boris goes to America, and yadada-yadada. (Those who need a primer in the Temptation of St. Akvarium can find it here). Things fall apart...and bands fall apart more often than most: from acrimony, from entropy, from sheer ennui. Whether things would have been different if Boris hadn't tried to reinvent himself, five years too late, as a Heart-style, English-singing power balladeer is open to debate. What we do know is that the band that had recorded the great albums of the 80s had broken up, but left behind a cache tracks that eventually dribbled out on the compilation albums Library of Babylon, History of Akvarium: Tome III, and Cabinet of Curiosities.
On some level, this Aqurium Interruptus must have always bothered Boris. Why else, decades after the fact, this album, inserted blithely into the chronology of Akvarium albums as if it had actually been released at the time? Why bother, one wonders? Couldn't we simply have made due with the Tome III and LoB, as we have, lo, these two decades past?
The answer, surprisingly, is a resounding "NYET."
There's nothing new here for the Bodhisattvas, who have all known and loved these tracks for going on 20 years. But in this instance remastering and digital tweaking and have paid big dividends. Library of Babylon and History: Tome III appeared in the Jurassic Age of digital technology, and were almost certainly done on the cheap; Babylon, in particular, suffers from a tinny sound. In contrast, on Feudalism there's a new richness and depth to classic tracks like "Diploma," "Silver of My Lord" and "God Save the Polar Explorers." They just sound better, period. (In at least one instance, "Jungles," BG seems to have availed himself of the opportunity to rerecord the song, retaining (to my ear) only the vocal track from the original.)
What's more amazing is the way the reconstituted album does work as an "album"...something that I've been griping about for years vis-à-vis recent Akvarium releases. Feudalism coheres in a way Tome III and LoB quite clearly do not...and in a way Fisherman's Songs and White Horse also clearly do not. One musical idea feeds into the next, even when those ideas are as different as the Reggae of "Sister" and the throbbing blues of "They Call It the Blues."
Add to this the presence of three excellent, but hard-to-find songs: "Angel," "About the Disappearing Swan," and "Ivan and Danilo." The latter has to be one of my all-time favorites, with an infectious sing-along chorus and a great accordion line; while "Angel," with its balls-to-wall fuzzy guitar squall, neatly encapsulates everything that was great about the Original Akvarium...and that is often lacking in its over-polished, over-careful current incarnation.
The only serious misstep here is the inclusion of three CD "bonus tracks," a marketing gimmick whose expiry date passed in the West a half dozen years before BG decided they were de rigueur. Not that the songs are bad, but the fidelity is precisely that of nth generation magnitizdat of the sort that once-upon-a-time set the Bodhisatvas hearts aflutter when glimpsed in the dusty display cases of ZigZag's Rock'n'Roll shop in Moscow. "Grandmas" is, in fact, the identical scratchy cut found on At MezhKniga. Fine to include it, if you must, but for heaven's sake, why not rerecord it properly? Likewise, I'm not sure why we need a rough-sounding live version of "Young Lions" to round out our listening pleasure, though—since I've never bothered to put Radio Silence on my hard drive—I can't compare it to the studio version. Only "Angel of the Nationwide Hangover" is worthwhile, a song I'm happy to see pop up anytime, anywhere.
In sum, these feudal lords in their prime deserve your fealty and (CD purchasing) quitrent. Back, back, back to the glorious future.