‘Colossus’: Andrew Liles’ 42-hour opus reimagines 50 years of pop, a DM premiere

Andrew Liles on the cover of his ‘Diario de un Monstruo’ LP, 2017

Sometimes it was a man that sang and sometimes it was a woman, and sometimes the one who sang it did it so well that two or three of the people who were there fell to the ground shrieking and tearing with their hands.
                                        —Arthur Machen, “The White People”

Andrew Liles—collaborator of Nurse With Wound and Current 93, remixer of the Groundhogs, producer, prolific recording artist, “regarded by some to be the funniest man” (Tony (T.S.) McPhee)—turned 49 yesterday, March 11. He marked the beginning of his 50th year by releasing 20 hours and 50 minutes of music: the first half of his new work Colossus, which will eventually comprise 50 tracks of 50 minutes each, one for every year of his life to date.

Each track is named after a song that was number one in the UK chart on Liles’ birthday, and all feature a guest narrator; on Colossus Part One (1969-1993), Liles is joined by members of Faust (Jean-Hervé Péron), the Legendary Pink Dots (Edward Ka-Spel), Renaldo & the Loaf (Brian Poole), Comus (Bobbie Watson, Jon Seagroatt), and Mayhem (Maniac), along with Benjamin Louche, James Worse, Karen Pittis and Steve Pittis. It’s a completely insane vision of 25 years of life and 25 years of pop music, and I loved every single minute.

Colossus is conceptually related to Liles’ “extensions” of classic songs, such as his 50-minute elaboration of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” his 30-minute edit of Slayer’s “Angel of Death,” and, most recently, his 47-minute mix of “When the Levee Breaks.” But, crucially, all the music on Colossus is original work. Liles’ method:

The music is either in the same key or with the same notes played but in a different order, backwards or inverted. Further music and notation has been added by myself. They are absolutely nothing like the originals.

Additionally, the words to the songs are formed from the lyrics to every Number One hit from the last 50 years. But with a twist.

I have adapted the lyrics by using the William Burroughs cut up method and further changed them to make some kind of structure, but they remain predominantly abstract and nonsensical.


via Andrew Liles
Head above the heavens, feet below the hells, Colossus spans the sublime and the abject. There are passages of exquisite beauty, and there are parts that make your bowels cramp and your teeth hurt. You really have to put in 20+ hours to appreciate its range. On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone’s parole officer, spiritual advisor or grandma objecting to the boys’ choir on “If,” or the tinkling music-box arpeggios that make up the gentler parts of “Chain Reaction.” On the other, the martial pomp and mortal terror of “Wuthering Heights,” the total nightmare James Worse makes of “Chanson D’Amour,” and Brian Poole’s reading of Bread’s “Everything I Own” (number one for Boy George in ‘87) in an industrial setting all demand courage (and probably headphones) on the part of the listener.

There is no useful way to categorize this monstrous, perverse work, which, Godzilla-like, lays waste to all genres, supremely indifferent to their partisans’ cries. For instance: passages in “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” suggest stately art music, the Residents, Goblin, Wendy Carlos, Krautrock, circus organ, David Lynch soundtracks, and power electronics; and yet, somehow, it’s still “Billy Don’t Be A Hero.” The feeling emerges that you’re not listening to the song so much as visiting the mental space from which it originated, skrying the Paper Lace’s stage outfits on the Tree of Life.

Or maybe you’re confronting the shambling, undead specter of the song, as is the case with “Jealous Guy.” Musically, Liles’ composition is more Bernard Herrmann than John Lennon, and the scrambled lyrics, read by Maniac, become like a soliloquy Frankenstein is delivering while he pursues you into the bathroom, arms outstretched:

I mean to hurt you
I made you past control
Beating hurt
I’m mean

I don’t know how to summarize these 21 hours of music except to say that the feeling of being haunted came up repeatedly. On “Wand’rin’ Star” (another Maniac vocal), it’s as if Lee Marvin’s shade is trying to communicate by Ouija board, and he can only use words from his Paint Your Wagon hit, and he does not bring good news.

You should let Colossus transform your life. Let its ominous chords suffuse your changeless routine with dread; let its heroic themes exalt your soul. And be grateful that, at last, there is a version of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” Dangerous Minds readers can be proud to sing at karaoke.

Below is “99 Red Balloons,” Liles’ selection for Dangerous Minds, narrated by James Worse. Get Colossus Part One (1969-1993) on Bandcamp.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
There’s a 50-minute version of the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ for the song’s 50th anniversary
A half-hour version of Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’ celebrates 30 years of ‘Reign in Blood’

Posted by Oliver Hall
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Want to see something REALLY WEIRD? Here’s Renaldo & the Loaf’s ‘Songs for Swinging Larvae’
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Renaldo and the Loaf are an extremely obscure English musical duo comprised of a pathologist (David Janssen or “Ted the Loaf”) and an architect (Brian Poole or “Renaldo Malpractice”). They met in school and made experimental music starting in the late 1970s that defied description.

On holiday in San Francisco, one of them gave a tape to one of The Residents, who were suitably impressed. They soon made an album for Ralph Records called Songs for Swinging Larvae, which is known as one of the strangest records of all time— (if it is known at all) —and sells for exorbitant prices (when it can be found). The pair fell out of touch in the 90s but have made music together again in recent years. They even have an official website.
Although there is no way this would ever happen again today, believe it or not, this video has actually aired on American television many, many times during the early 1980s on the eclectic “underground” Night Flight programming block on the USA Network. This video, the Residents’ “One Minute Movies” and a couple of other videos (“Big Electric Cat” by Adrian Belew also comes to mind) that I saw on Night Flight warped me badly enough that at the age of 16 I decided I was going to move to New York and “become an underground filmmaker”! (*Ahem*). Directed by Graeme Whifler who made many wonderful videos for The Residents, Tuxedomoon and The Red Hot Chili Peppers in the early 1980s.
If you like things like Captain Beefheart, The Residents or Wonder Showzen, you should give this quirky, almost kinda scary, vintage video oddity a look.

Posted by Richard Metzger
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