3.5 out of 5 Stars!
When The Civil Surface appeared in 1974, it ended up being the third and (sadly) final album by the short-lived Egg, a sort of “retrospective supergroup” of the Prog-Rock/Canterbury Scene that featured keyboardist Dave Stewart, bassist Mont Campbell, and percussionist Clive Brooks—basically, the group Arzachel only without guitarist Steve Hillage on board.
After releasing its first two albums in 1970/1971 and having record company dilemmas along the way, Egg inevitably disbanded, with the members moving on to join other bands, such as Hatfield and the North and Groundhogs. But the trio briefly reformed several years later, however, to create this swansong release, which incidentally enough, also included some contributions from Hillage as a “guest star.”
From my understanding, many (if not all) of the mostly instrumental tracks included in this “reunion collection” were actually leftovers from the trio’s early years, compositions the group had performed during its concerts but—because of the record company woes—never got around to recording while Egg was in regular operation. But no matter the artist or the genre in which they operate, typically when it comes down to tracks considered “leftovers,” a few of them probably shouldn’t ever see the light of day, whereas others occasionally shine. The same is the case with this particular collection.
The longest compositions, the more sportive and intricate “Germ Patrol,” “Wring Out the Ground (Loosely Now),” and “Enneagram,” are pure gold in my opinion, generally matching the same lofty heights of inventiveness as the material that appeared on Egg’s first two albums. Yet on the other hand, most of the shorter tracks don’t come even close to equaling the same imaginative charm as the band’s earlier output. “Wind Quartet I” and “Wind Quartet II” are basically drawn-out exercises in Chamber Music featuring (no shock) woodwinds, and, in truth, bore me to tears. Then there’s the organ-heavy “Prelude,” another bland affair, but saved from being a total disaster in the middle section where guest female vocalists create pretty harmonies, which add a modicum of sparkle. Only “Nearch” offered up a bit of experimental verve to hold my interest, but unfortunately, still seemed way too underwhelming, especially for a band with an otherwise ingenious character.
Therefore, although not as intriguing as the prior albums thanks to a handful of tracks, The Civil Surface was nevertheless a welcome addition to the band’s legacy. And the longer tunes mentioned above include plenty of the same unexpected avant-garde whimsy, jazzy Proginess, and overall mesmerizing creativity that made Egg so delectable in the first place.