Although vastly superior to the better known Walter Carlos Switched On Bach Moog showcase, John Keating's two Space Experience albums operate in roughly the same ballpark, that is, the reinterpretation of well-known tunes with the aid of some of those newfangled, in the early 1970s at least, synthesizer thingies. Keating's LPs reflect the prevailing fascination with the moon landings and the optimism that man's explorations in outer space had generated. In the Seventies, new music technology, in the form of the synthesizer, would prove to be the catalyst for a tidal wave of sonic experimentation and the kind of explorations of inner space that guitar effects and multi-track recording had facilitated in the 1960s.
|Space Experience - Mexican, Quadraphonic pressing|
A respected musician and arranger for Ted Heath's Big Band as well as for artists such as Adam Faith and Petula Clark, John Keating is perhaps best remembered for writing the theme from the TV cop show Z-Cars. His Space Experience LPs could often be heard putting amps, speakers and turntables through their paces in hi-fi stores in the 1970s. The superior recording quality and stereo imaging made the records a shoo-in for use as demonstration discs. I wonder how many Pioneer record decks and Trio receivers were sold as a result?
Although not enjoying the credibility of synth experimentalists Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Keating's LPs hold up pretty well. Whenever a Space Experience track looks in danger of tipping too far into the realms of cheese, a fuzz guitar break or a flurry of Techno-anticipating farts and bleeps will haul it back from the brink. Keating employs a selection of ARP synthesizers alongside a troupe of highly respected session musicians to create a simmering casserole of Lalo Schifrin and John Barry-esque soundtrack music, space-age Lounge tunes and Blaxploitation Funk, infused with Techno squelches, wah-wah guitar and nascent electronica. Unlike Switched On Bach, some of the tracks on the Space Experience LPs are originals. Far from being filler, Keating's tracks are definite highlights.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds has a guitar sound that immediately brings to mind Brian May, albeit in the context of a track which oozes a strong whiff of fromage. The simplistic synth line on the chorus is perhaps a touch too cheesy, but the trippy sounds elsewhere more than atone for this minor misstep and make for an interesting take on the Beatles' classic. A cover of the Star Trek TV theme features heavily orchestrated strings to complement the burbling synths and whacka-whacka guitar funk. The Unknown Planet, a Keating original, is part Bond theme, part Sixties spy show soundtrack, part psychedelic loungecore and undoubtedly the highlight of these two discs, with everything but the kitchen sink employed in its sonic palette. Of the two LPs, the first Space Experience album is the superior beast. By the time of the second LP, the insidious influence of the emerging disco scene had led Keating down a path of over-orchestrated, Barry White and Love Unlimited Orchestra-style, easy listening disco-lite on too many of the tracks.