Strangely enough this was one of the few first recordings of Akvarium I ever heard. Back in 1988 the tape was given to me by a friend shortly after I purchased the infamous White Album (Soviet vinyl, released by Melodia). I had also listened to a 3rd generation copy of Triangle. At the time I had no idea what this tape really was, neither did I have a clear concept of b-side/outtake types of thing. Now, about 13 years later, I am suddenly able to replace my cheap Korean-made tape with a shiny CDR of the same origins, giving me a rare chance to combine my original listening impressions with my updated “much wiser” perspective of today.
What we have here is an essential compilation of Akavarium rarities put together by the caring hands of the band's own sound engineer/producer Andrey Tropillo. Very often left unmentioned or under-appreciated, this man is largely responsible for the majority of the sounds that came out of Leningrad's underground music scene throughout the 80's. Though he easily could've been crowned the George Martin of Russian rock, Tropillo is often blamed for faults ranging from dull kick drum sounds on Kino records to selling out to Melodia and betraying the “true spirit of the underground.” MCI proves one thing–Tropillo possesses good taste. Though he most likely could have put out numerous compilations of Akvarium-related materials throughout the years, he conservatively picks some rather tasty tracks here. Most likely he was simply bored with Ichthyology being the only “official” release of 1984 and decided to spice things up. Read on.
Minus 30 opens up with a murky guitar riff, which is soon overpowered by an incredibly tight combination of cello and flute riding above a very dark pseudo-disco beat. Dyusha definitely can spell J-e-t-h-r-o T-u-l-l. Suddenly you realize how Taboo should've sounded without all those annoyingly brilliant piano passages…
Marina a pop tune with the potential of becoming a Russian answer to “Roxanne” (minus balding Mr. Sting of course). Unfortunately, this doesn't become apparent until the second part of the song where backing vocals come in. Boris sounds slightly “constipated” on the first verse. OK, at least you can hear him cuss! Dylan/Freud/Tolkien inspired lyrics combined with very psychedelic cello and “Russian mating call” backing vocals make this an irresistible treat. Somehow this song always brings to my mind images of my mother's female co-workers circa 1984 with their Czechoslovakian “hot” boots and cheap jewelry. Unlike Marina, I believe none of them ever married a citizen of Finland. Even my mother failed. That's life…
Lullaby nothing but brilliant. Blows away the Silver Day version completely. Why didn't they use this one? Why? I want an extended version and an instrumental remix. What do you want?
Golden Horses - originally recorded for Radio Africa, this track was later added to the Acoustics CD. This is an odd one, what can I say? Works well with mind altering substances though… and the mildly stoned-sounding vocal stylings of Mr. Grebenshikov are here to prove it. This wouldn't sound out of place alongside those ever-challenging instrumentals that fill the blanks on the soundtrack to The Black Rose is the Emblem of Sadness. Very particular flute sounds and various mountain goat impersonations will make you wish that a large jar of Advil was handy… Frank Zappa would've liked this… Also I propose this composition as my first choice for use on a Russian subtitled version of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest.” With bright orange subtitles, please… [Editor's note: through research and experimentation we have determined that it is indeed good to touch the thigh of the golden palomino.]
Contradance another Acoustics related track. This truly beautiful song doesn't need any further comments. It's a classic.
Alternative suspiciously sounds a lot like a Triangle outtake. Kuryokhin's piano steals the show. The song obviously carries a different meaning to those who actually survived the 80's in Russia. It's a lovely song. Friends don't let friends drive drunk!
Sergeev the Watchman I was horrified when I heard the Ichthyology version. Why wasn't this one released? Originally written for a theatrical play, this is a very gentle drinking song indeed. The “modest hero of labor” line used to get applause. Tropillo gets my applause for rescuing this gem.
Heaven is Getting Closer this one might give you an idea of what it would be like to sit in the studio and listen to Boris and Lyapin work on a song. Lyapin's raw solos and Boris's spacey acoustic guitars make it worthwhile. I am truly sick of the original “proper” version, so I'll take this one instead on any given day. You might hate it for an odd drum machine kick-drum sound (unless you're a drum machine aficionado like I am) but other than that it's great. Pink Floyd influences are evident—along with Dylan, of course. Pay special attention to the 2nd acoustic guitar overdub, which carries a very pretty alternate line complimenting the lead.
Song #2 in my opinion the best lyrics since Electrical Dog. This very much Dylan-inspired composition shines on with its peculiar percussion, moody cello and subtle xylophone treatments. I haven't heard the Sands of Petersburg version but this one is good enough. My only complaint—the lame Beatles “Here, there and everywhere” reference around the end of the song.
September a live favorite that never found its “real home” on any of the studio albums. Very nice, but after a while Dyusha's sloppy Doors-influenced organ does get on your nerves. The guitar work sounds rather beefy and may please fans of Queen or Led Zeppelin. The ”be alone if you want to be young” theme was used and re-used by Victor Tsoy in his endless “Who's destined to die young?” searches. I only wish this song had the darker feel that it really deserves. I think it needed more of that chronically-depressed cello that Gakkel was so good at. Also refer to the Electroshock version for a far better “Dark tea!” cry of caffeine-infused desperation.
Platan a blues song that soon becomes more than just blues. If you want the blues, listen to some of Boris's solo noodlings recorded live (I particularly recommend Prayer and Fasting) Kuryokhin saves the show with trademark piano work that is not too far from his work on “Mochalkin Blues”. The “bag of kefir” line confirms its Triangle origins. This has been released as a bonus disk to accompany Triangle in the perfect world where bonus disks to Triangle exist. (When you find out how to get to that world, let me know.) Two minutes and twelve seconds into the track, Boris whispers “Hoy” (you have to listen close though).
Hoy be with you, brothers and sisters. Get MCI before you are too old to die young!