They started out as an obscure Aberdonian band peddling indie psychedelia until their conversion to dance music thrust them into the limelight. Throughout The Shamen’s existence, the only constant factor has been founder member COLIN ANGUS, who delights in controversy, but seems uncharacteristically coy about the message of the last single ‘Ebeneezer Goode’. Calvin Bush asks: Is this guy kidding, or what?
0 fathom hell or soar angelic,
Just take a pinch of psychedelic"
Letter from Humphrey Osmond to Aldous Huxley, 1956.
Current public opinion ofThe Shamen is divided. Innovative and experimental new-rave pioneers or laughingly conniving pop profiteers? Would they be better off without their much-denigrated rapper Mr C? Do they or do they not advocate the use ofdrugs? Are their own well-aired personal philosophies simply semi—mystic bunkum, the product of hallucinogenically fried minds? Or are they profoundly perceptive visionaries with prophecies ofthe future we’ll rue not having taken more seriously?
Before it all gets too much, let’s start with what must surely be an easy one: are they pop or dance? Colin Angus is the only remaining progenitor of the original Shamen. Softly spoken, lucid and extremely free-thinking, he nevertheless has a habit of merely reinforcing the divided walls of opinion that surround his band.
‘Yes, we do still class ourselves as a “dance” band, just by the very context ofthe live shows that we’re doing. On the other hand, we’re having more pop success now and I’d like to think that we do the pop thing quite well when we want to. But as the album will show, we can pursue other musical avenues as well and do that every bit as well as we’ve done in the past.’
The Shamen’s newly-released fourth album, Boss Drum, apart from providing them with their most commercial record yet, is not going to help clear the confusion either. For every sleepily serene ‘Scientas’, there’s a pseudo-ragga imposter like ‘Comin’ On’ to jolt you rudely from your repose. If the hypnotic bleep-fest beats of ‘Liberae Solidi Denari’ take pride in easing you onto the dancefloor, the sheer inanity of the anti-drug-baron ‘Fat Man’ will swiftly herd you out the exit. It’s no coincidence that the dividing line between the tiresome
l and the transcendental on Boss Drum appears to be the all-rapping, finger-wiggling, body-jiggling Mr C, the rapper who took centre stage with Colin after the untimely death of Will Sinnott in a , swimming accident last year.
Rarely has one ‘musician’ invoked the wrath ofso many critics. It’s been suggested that if he’s looking for somewhere to stick those rogue index fingers of his, he could start with his own tonsils. Oh dear. It’s even been said that in a perfect world simply being Mr C would constitute a crime against humanity. How does Colin Angus, a close personal friend of the rapper, react to such venomous criticism?
‘Well, it certainly doesn’t bother him; he thinks it’s all quite amusing and it doesn’t
‘What are you implying? We’re not actually saying “E’s are good” in the chorus at all.’
really bother me either. I just think he’s been really good fun to work with. I’ve got a whole pile of press clippings by a few journalists who’ve long had the opinion that The Shamen should just do instrumental tracks because my vocals are crap and more recently because Mr C’s vocals are crap.’ As ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ entered the charts at Number 6, it’s understandable if he pays no attention.
In the past, The Shamen have thrown their weight behind various concepts for unlocking consciousness: hallucinogenics, Dream Machines and Virtual Reality among them. Boss Drum is no exception, being a patchwork of ideas and beliefs that, as Colin rather euphemistically admits, are ‘somewhat original’. They encompass everything from the writings of Huxley and Blake to New Age concepts like the Gaian Mind and ‘the centrality of the drum in the shamanic quest’, right up to and including the ‘omega point’ of the Apocalypse itself. Heady stuff, at the best of times. Does Colin
THE SHAMEN FEATURE.
seriously believe his new-found mainstream audience has the capacity to ingest all this?
‘I think inevitably some of them will just sort of, yeah, it’ll just be lyrics. it’ll pass them by. But I like to think a substantial portion of our audience is turned on to what we’re about, and hopefully listening avidly to every word to see what they’ll make ofit. At the end of the day, I’m putting the information across. but I’m also an entertainer.’
It was clearly with the latter objective in mind that the recent single ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ was put together. With a suspect air of ingenuousness, Colin is adamant that
‘The whole essence of shamanism is about changing reality, and hopelully saving the planet into the bargain.’
there’s been a serious misinterpretation of the apparently insidious lyrics.
‘What are you implying about it? Eezer, the word itself, is derived from Ebeneezer, and we’re not actually saying “E’s are good” in the chorus at all. It’s “Eezer Goode”, as in the surname ofthe character, G-O-O-D-E. You know, the character Ebeneezer contains a few dark ambiguities. and I think anyone who seriously inspects the lyrics can’t help pick up on that.’
Utter nonsense, ofcourse. ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ is a shamelessly cartoon Carry On Up The Rave with as much ambiguity as calling your act ‘Smart-E’s’. Moreover, its presence in the Shamen repertoire sits uneasily with Colin’s fulminations against the menace of ‘snidey sulphates’ on the rave scene and his lamenting that ‘all the real
' rhythms, all the real grooves, have gone out
of rave, and the music is now too fast to be physiologically and psychologically empowering.’
‘Ebeneezer Goode’ also serves only to detract from the high point of Boss Drum. On the closing track, ‘Re-Evolution’, the learned voice of ye olde wizened psychedelic guru Terence McKenna expounds on his theory of ‘Archaic Revival’ over a mesmeric ambient backdrop. Ifhis talk of‘omega points of transcendence’ and of ‘the shudder that announces the approaching cataracts of Time’ put you in a tizzy, here’s Colin’s handy bite-sized precis: ‘Terence’s philosophy I think you can basically sum up as — reality is a consensus mediated by language. Ifyou transform the language, you can transform the consensus and maybe you can transform reality. Terence does actually want to do that. So the whole essence of shamanism is about changing reality, and hopefully saving the planet into the bargain.’ .
Someone somewhere is no doubt sniggering while another is becoming convinced that it’s terrifyingly, irrefutably true. Therein lies the ongoing dichotomy of The Shamen that makes it so easy to admire and loathe them in the space of two songs. Public opinion will remain divided for the foreseeable future. They’ll fathom hell, they’ll soar angelic.
Now what’s the cure for that again?
Boss Drum is on One Little Indian Records. The Shamen play The Barrowland, Glasgow 15 and 16 October.
The List 11— 24 September 1992 9