"Hello to you uot there in U.S.A. land, thought i'd tell you about a maste-work you'd otherwise miss!!Roy Harper was/still is ,the quintessential English singer/songwtiter,sadly maligned & misunderstood ,simply because he wouldn't play record company "games" to further his musical career!(Besides which, he once took an awful lot of chemicals-sorry, Roy!)Needless to say ,the Rock cogniscenti, snobs that they are, tended to ignore a lot of his astounding music/songs.However, by the mid 70's, Harper was actually threatening to make it BIG(pAUL mCCARTNEY, Dave Gilmour, Kate Bush Jimmie Page e.t.c. ALL dug his songs & music!!Ipresonally believe i've never yet heard better,more truly astonishing acoustic guitar playing than Mr.Harper performed on his first albums-many might agree!With his 'freak-flag' flying high, rOY Harper wrote some of the most socially-aware & clever lyrics that anyone ever wrote in the late 60's/early 70's!!!!His voice rang gloriously out onto all his early albums "Come out Fighting", "Folkjokeopus", "Sophisticated Beggar"-all these are transient /timeless masterpieces ,and some of the best & cleverest lyric writing you'll ever hear!Marvellous albums!And so we come to "LIFEMASK"....quite simply Mr. Harper rode the storm of true genius here..this is quite possibly his finest work (and THAT'S saying something) "Highway Blues" the opener, is such a tour-de-force acoustic epic, today it still sends shivers up my spine-what a song!......"All I reland"(where he now resides) was and is prophetic to an uncanny degree, of the Irish troubles (& SOLUTION)..."bANK OF THE dEAD" IS MY FAVOURITE CUT-just listen to the studio echo & reverb here, and what a fine acoustic guitar(thanx Jimmie Page), a song he never performed live ,what a shame!Then onto the Harper classic-"South Africa", no-one could hear this most beautiful of songs, and not be moved..Roy,we love you!!!Finally ,& what makes this album so special , is the ULTRA- long The Lord's Prayer"(alternative version!!!)Story goes Harper thought he'd not long to live, this being possibly his final lyrics-well,let me tell you,he went for GOLD..what a lyrical labyrinth song of epic propoprtions, i've never heard anything to touch this masterpiece, and that includes Al Stewart, Bert Jansch John Martyn & everyone inbetween!!Even now 34 or so years on, theis epic song has me spellbound!!!!This is an album to truly treasure.Thanks, Roy!!---Now it's on c.d.--GET!!!!!"
Not an Album for the Lazy Listener
Jem Shaw | Stafford, Staffordshire United Kingdom | 04/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One problem with these reviews is that they're pretty much always written by fans of the music in question. This one's not markedly different - I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Harper enthusiast - but I'll try to be balanced about this album.
Roy Harper has always been uncompromising. His concerts are edgy, often uncomfortable insights into the character of an artist who's never learned to trust his own talent. His songs vary from delicately structured love songs to bruising, anarchic screaming about lobotomies; sometimes they decay into herbally-induced giggling.
I'm not selling this am I?
Lifemask came at a time in Harper's career when he'd been diagnosed as the victim of a rare and terminal lung condition (Thankfully the prognosis proved incorrect and Roy's still firmly with us). As a result this is a strangely introspective album, less accessible than Stormcock, its better-known predecessor. Side one includes tracks written for the film "Made", in which Harper played a rock star. It's a mixed bag, starting with the biting piledriver "Highway Blues" and progressing to the startlingly lyrical "South Africa".
But this is just a curtain-raiser for "The Lord's Prayer", an astonishing magnum opus that manages to encompass the entire human condition in its 25 minute journey. On the way we're treated to some of Harper's most spine-tingling soaring vocals, backed by inspired lead guitar from Jimmy Page. The lyrics are an exceptionally brave approach to the description of Mankind and its uniqueness. For at least 10 minutes, every line begins with "Who" or "Whose": "Whose style is diguise/whose dream is innate/whose woman is soothing/Whose poets know/Whose music is barbarian".
This is not an album to be approached casually. It's not for everyone because it expects you to suspend disbelief and to be ready to work to get to where it leads. But put in the effort and you're rewarded with a work that will never grow stale. I bought it on vinyl more than 30 years ago and it remains a favourite in CD form. In its way, Lifemask equals the heights achieved by Blonde on Blonde or Harper's own Stormcock.
In Roy's own words, "Don't be scared of it, it's just a movie"."
Eccentric? Genius? Both? All? Everything?
Noel A. Hodda | Sydney, Australia | 09/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"How do you describe Roy Harper to the uninitiated? This album and HQ are probably the best places to start: put them on and let them explain themselves. Roy Harper can go from stoner-whimsy to free-form poetry that reaches to the depths of humanity - sometimes in the one song! This album opens with classic Harper - Highway Blues, an acoustic guitar driven riff that builds into a great piece of rock, with a snakey electric guitar sliding around it and some synth stabs for depth. Then comes the sombre All Ireland, a song of its time, but the sentiments of which can still be applied to places of violence, religious or secular. Little Lady is a lament for a lost love of long ago, sung in Mr. Harper's best plaintive voice. Bank Of The Dead adds Jimmy Page to the mix in a song where Mr. Harper roils at the modern world 'Trying to teach us/How to be good/With civilisation/By population/With moral castration'. The beautiful acoustic South Africa follows, leading us inexorably to the main dish at this feast: The Lord's Prayer, which took up all of side 2 of the original vinyl long-player. This great, rambling song-poem rides on a bed of sound grabs and studio tweaking as it rises and falls from spoken word to song; from folk-tinged musings to full on rock statement; from questioning to answering, until it ends with a choir of overlaid voices, a little stab of electric guitar and then a short repeated unresolved acoustic motif that leaves it hanging, a story yet to be finished. This album is worth having for The Lord's Prayer alone and is typical Harper: imaginative, eclectic, challenging, exciting. Great stuff."
The best and the worst of Roy Harper.
Joao Nunes | Portugal | 11/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After listening to Lifemask, and knowing Roy Harper's previous work, the most obvious feel is that it's an album with two very distinctive halves. I can only guess why. Stormcock was an artistic triumph but also a tough act to follow and Roy Harper found himself in the odd position of what to do next. Roy was finally getting critical acclaim and was admired by important musicians but he was still most of all a small cult artist and commercial success wasn't very impressive. Should he step back to a more direct songwriting or push things further on up the scale of grandioseness that Stormcock bravely achieved? He did both. And with very different results.
Side one features five songs and overall it's actually very good. Two of them - Highway Blues and South Africa - are among the finest in Roy's songbook.
Highway Blues is a hymn to hitchhikers, probably based on his experience while busking around Europe. "Please, give me a lift man" Roy sings - this is a rocker that actually sends shivers down my spine. This is Roy at his rawest and most direct, unlike anything on Stormcock. So the album looks promising. Highway Blues quickly became a favourite in Roy's setlist, and an opportunity to indulge in long acoustic guitar solos full of fuzz and delay - something he was pretty good at. However I've always preferred the live solo-acoustic version of Highway Blues (a lot to check on The BBC Tapes or Flashes From The Archives Of Oblivion).
All Ireland sounds like a requiem and it's a bit boring. Little Lady and Bank Of The Dead are both typical Harper compositions of this period and the latter features some distinctive electric guitar work by Jimmy Page.
And so we come to South Africa. What can I say about this song... whenever I listen to it, it feels like the most beautiful song ever written. Both the melody and the guitar work are gorgeous. And for the final verse Roy overdubs his vocals in a swirl of echo with a stunning effect that blows me away.
For the second half Roy recorded what was announced as his magnum opus, his testament to humanity - The Lords Prayer (!!!). Wow, this sounds ambitious. Now, Roy always had a penchant for taking on big themes - religion, society, love, war and mankind in general - that, in the wrong hands, would easily result in pompous empty compositions. But his lyrics always had a superb poetic quality that made it worth the risk. So that Roy always got away with it. To cut to the chase, I don't like The Lords Prayer and I think Roy Harper overindulged in this one. Maybe because it was the brainchild of the fact that he had been extremely ill and thought he would die, Roy simply put too much onto this track. And his inspiration wasn't at its best. Still, as a poem, and if you listen to it (or read it) carefully, this 25 minute 6-part song, is quite interesting. My problem is that I won't be eager to listen to it again in the next 10 years because musically it's boring. Not even Page's guitar work is up to our expectations.
In spite of The Lords Prayer I give this album 4 stars. I could go for the 3 stars but I just cannot give that to the album that has South Africa on it."