The music on this L.P. is not dancing music, but basically music for listening to. It is harmonically and rhythmically complex, designed to be as original as possible within the confines of the instrumental line-up; so its [sic] pretty demanding on the listener’s attention. –notes from the original LP
They come across as polite and eager to please in the liner notes, but in truth, Egg were like ELP’s bratty siblings, building lopsided-yet-intricate sand castles in the shadow of ELP’s Stonehenge. They had a whale of a time with what I consider the “rock” organ trio format (bass/drums/organ, as opposed to the jazz organ trio of guitar/drums/organ), jamming in strange time signatures and rocking up the classical canon. In common with the Canterbury rockers they eventually fell in with, Egg were whimsical and jazzy, and wrote songs with long titles (with a parenthetical bit at the end). Their first album was released to little fanfare on Decca’s Nova imprint in 1970. It captures this endearing outfit larking about with various ideas from free-form noise (“Blane”) to classical interpretations ("Fugue in D Minor" and the various movements of “Symphony No. 2”) to furious jazz/rock workouts (“The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous [or Don’t Worry James, Your Socks Are Hanging in the Coal Cellar with Thomas]”). Ahem.
Keyboardist Dave Stewart went on to play with loads of people, including Hatfield and the North and Bill Bruford. His sound is in tandem with Hugh Banton’s churchy style, often lending a dreamlike air. Drummer Clive Brooks is a nimble player—he’s gotta be to keep up. And Mont Campbell (who seems a great character based on his contributions to Prog Rock Britannia) manhandles that bass like Jack Bruce and sings with a kind of lounge-y lilt. It’s hard to say whether he’s having a laugh with his singing (it was a few years before Bill Murray’s bit on SNL), but it fits the absurdist bent of most of the material.
This Eclectic Discs reissue* is fully annotated and expanded with a “lost” track (a segment from “Symphony No. 2” that was withdrawn to avoid objections from Stravinsky’s people), and a remarkable early single. The A-side, “Seven is a Jolly Good Time,” actually extols the joys of writing songs in odd time signatures, moving through bars of 4, 5, 7, and 11 as it progresses. As an educational tool, it’s awesome; as a single, it was a dismal failure. But no matter. Egg were kids hepped up on the endless possibilities of the new decade, with no precedents, no safety nets, and not much of an audience, unfortunately. But with critics and their record label on their side, Egg would get another crack at it with The Polite Force in 1971.
*Eclectic Discs is now Esoteric Recordings and is still your source for mind-blowing stuff.