There is a schism between the Bodhisattvas over the worth of BG’s works of 2003-2012. An esteemed fellow soul has described this as inoffensive but entirely forgettable. Can this be true? Has BG sunk to the low of writing lift music? If he has, is that another wish-list item fulfilled?
Right, cards on the table, this is most definitely not a must-buy. It’s not even close to that. This is not a great among albums. If you were hoping for a musical revelation, you’ll have to wait for Salt (but trust me, it’s worth the wait), but if you only have a copy of Arkhangelsk, there’s more to smile than to cry about. This is an inoffensive album- it successfully sidesteps the massive guano-on-the-head numbers of the unremittingly awful Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, but it also lacks the biting lyrics and musical depth of BG’s early 90s period.
Compare, if you will…
So many years we built this house;
Could it be our fault that it's hollow?
But now it seems ...
We've known the way that silver feels,
And now there will be acid to swallow.
March of the Sacred Cows
If we get stuck in the bog and the crud,
I’ll be the first to call out-
Oi! A Vodka Martini!”
The defining feature of Arkhangelsk, if it has one, is vagueness. Like the city in the snow, the lyrics hint at a deeper aesthetic but they also obscure it. The music is well-recorded, and it is not as heavily over-produced as Pushkinskaya 10, but it has little attack and little spark to it. Remember the chills that went down your spine as you heard Arkhistratig for the first time? I do. Remember the delight as you listened to the song transitions on Radio Africa? These are some of my most treasured memories of music. There is nothing in this album to rival any of that, but for all that, I will quite happily listen to it; if BG were touring the UK with this material, I’d go as far as London to listen to it (maybe Southampton). I am grateful that this is not simply Muzak, but BG still has a way to go to match his best.
I don’t want to talk about the first 2 songs.
March of the sacred cows reminds me of Jungles, but Jungles has some perceptive lines, such as “The grass is always greener on the other side, if there’s a prison over here.” The silly Bond-theme is also a shame, it wrecks what would otherwise be a bland, but palatable successor to Jungles.
The secret Uzbek is an odd song, it gets going well, but is let down by the unravelled ending. Think “Smoke on the Water”, but not good.
Fire of Babylon- is this a ready-meal version of Babylon? Well yes, yes it is. It does make me think of Babylon, but nobody is walking when the light is green. Like Arkhangelsk in winter, there is precious little light, green or any other colour.
Sky the Colour of Rain and Ambulatory are possible the most accomplished songs on the album. Is it a coincidence that on these there is little more than Boris’s lyrics and a guitar? No.
Boris, if you are reading this: write more, orchestrate less. If Akvarium were Boris, a guitar and a few cardboard cut-outs to form a band, we would drop everything when the tour came by (I’d go as far as Manchester for that). How much of the songwriting lives up to BG’s highest standards? Well, some, but not enough. This collection is OK, but we don’t go crazy for OK, we go nuts for mind-blowingly amazing.