Harry’s Pre-Spells

June 24, 2009 at 11:35 AM | Posted in CD Reviews | Leave a comment

I am, RIGHT NOW, reviewing the new-as-of-writing (I learned that from Shakespeare) Harry and the Potters collection, Previous Incantations… um… Priori Incantatem!

First off, the artwork is a cut above previous releases, spread like butter across what I want to call a gatefold cardboard sleeve… or sleeves. I’m not a huge fan of cardboard packaging. It is unyielding of CDs, gets crushed and torn, and cannot be stacked by robots like the much unfairly maligned jewel case. But hey, we all want to save the universe by recycling or whatever, right? The scene that plays out on the cover/covers/inside/discs, etc. is Harry’s dumb-luck win over Voldemort in the graveyard from book four. Not dissimilar to previous covers, but yet another evolution of the theme. While I’m not crazy about the generic outlined Harry silhouette, one can’t deny the appeal of a stark grey background and spindley-fingered trees (or else one is HITLER).

This fancy design is but a facade, as you discover upon dislodging the carefully hand-folded photocopy of typewritten liner notes, replete with typos. These guys couldn’t be more indie. Curse you, deceptive fancy gatefold cardboard sleeve thing!

Onto… DISC 1

This collection, at 44 minutes, is the longest playing HATP release (until they get totally pretentious in 2012 and release “The Scottish Album” [Note to kids: it’s a joke. Go back to sleep.]). Unless of course, you don’t count the final ten-minute track, which would make it only 34 minutes, and thus the shortest. It’s funny how magic works like that.

A demo of “Problem Solving Skillz” starts off the disc, with an introduction noting that it is in fact spelled with a “zee.” As a guitarless, Joe-only version, it couldn’t be more different than the octave-lower album version. Great start.

Next is an unreleased song with the familiar title of “New Wizard Anthem,” which the music gods prevented from being a hidden track on The Power of Love. I know I don’t know you very well, but this is your favorite song. Trust me.

Compiled here on CeeDee are the three tracks from the Scarred For Life 7″ EP. Personally, I prefer to think of it as a single, but I guess that implies some sort of promotion. “The Blood of a Prince” is some hard rocking magic, kids. Do not ingest without parents’ permission. “Sectumsempra” is a hardcore song about cutting people up with magic, the coolest thing that’s ever been in a book. As such, it’s too short. “Horcruxes” shows how many more tricks HATP have up their sleeves than you can imagine.

“Don’t Believe It” is low-fi track from the Voldemedia compilation. Not something you’d guess was the Harrys. This is what In the Cupboard could have been.

The hockey songs collected here return to the classic HATP sound. “The Forbidden Forest Hockey League” is a story about magical hockey. “The Hogwarts Tonsil Hockey Team” is one of my favorite songs. Hearing this is when I knew Harry and the Potters were brilliant.

“My Teacher Is A Werewolf” appears here in a rambunctious rock version from the third album sessions. Not quite what you’d expect from an early song re-recorded during that time, it’s a completely out-of-control rendition.

Meant for In The Cupboard, but done later, “The Stone” again shows what that EP could have been if not for the defiant mission statement.

“Let’s Drink to Aragog,” it’s fair to say, is a long-awaited tour favorite. A cross between a drinking song and Billy Joel. Okay, a straight line.

“The Cave” is a cover of the Hungarian Horntails song, seemingly inspired by the score from The Goonies. As they have broken up and no longer have a MySpace, based on what I’ve heard of the preteens who cutely scream repeated lyrics, I can only assume the original sounds EXACTLY like this. (Note to the reader: I’m kidding. It’s a very nice track. Go back to sleep.)

Ever wonder what each letter in “Vernon Dursley” stands for? Now you don’t have to!

“Bacon” is a sweeping epic about the political situation in Darfur. Or a low-fi demo about how much Harry loves bacon.

The next four songs are In The Cupboard outtakes. “Maybe Kreacher Will Bring Me A Sandwich” is about the political situation in… no, it’s about a bacon sandwich. “My New School” rips off the Super Mario Bros. tune. “Unicorn Blood” tells you what not to do, if you’re Voldemort. Or anyone, really. “Touch The Brains” has no music, just drums.

“Bertie Botts” is a ridiculous song about ridiculous Bertie Botts flavors. Much better than the song I was writing.

“Diagon Alley” is a simple outtake from the first album that you probably won’t remember after it stops. Another outtake, “The Wrath of Hermione,” is a fine song. A fine song. Or annoying, according to HATP.

The disc ends with the ten-minute country opus titled “It Ain’t Easy.” A shocking departure, it’s a song about Harry Potter. This actually fell through a time warp two months from now and was the sole source for all of Jo’s books. The Time Police are currently looking into it. Actually, it’s not the time police, just the Time Agency. And as I am the Time Agency, it was supposed to be my job. That’s why I mentioned it. But, much as I would like Harry and the Potters to get credit for creating Harry Potter, I can’t really be bothered. Jo is safe for now.

Priori Incantatem (Disc 1) is, naturally, a mish-mash of mashed potatoes and… whatever the hell “mish” is. I’d say about 14 of the 22 tracks are worth it. That’s 63%, which is an F. But letter grades are stupid. (Letter grades get an F.) There’s plenty of tracks worth getting disc 1 for. As many as the last two albums.

As for the second disc, there’s not much I can say about it. The music on “Problem Solving Skillz (Skillz to Pay the Billz version)” is funny. The keyboard demo of “Smootchy Smootchy, Pukey Pukey” is worth a perusal. The edited Daytrotter Sessions half-Dutch version of “Platform 9 and ¾” is strangely Beatles-compilation-esque. Unreleased song “Ridin’ in the Night” somehow didn’t make the cut for disc one. Otherwise, it’s a collection of demos not interesting enough for the main disc. The main trivial appeal is that Paul sings many of the songs that Joe would sing on the albums. Musically, it’s mostly acoustic guitar and piano. And I don’t mean a full-blown Unplugged session. The inclusion doesn’t go beyond the fact that they simply are demos. There’s nothing special about the demos themselves.

It’s hard to NOT recommend getting the physical version of the collection. I wouldn’t really say the second disc is worth it, unless you are obsessed with Joe and Paul: The People, and must gorge on everything they output. But there’s really no reason not to get this over the vaporous digital version. At least you get photocopied liner notes. Well, at least. And at most, you get CDs you can play in your muggle car.

[Review would end with something clever, but the reviewer was eaten by Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.]

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