Some musical talents burn brightly but briefly while others simmer for many years. Meanwhile, others still maintain a persistently frenzied level of intensity that results in vast quantities of records being recorded over a prolonged spell of years – to the point that serious fans of these artists can amass enormous record collections without having to buy music by any other bands. Sun Ra, Frank Zappa and James Brown can all be categorised firmly in this group.
To that little list one can also add the lesser-known artist Nick Saloman, the creative force behind The Bevis Frond. A uniquely British band, they are possibly the most successful group to come out of Walthamstow after East 17 – simply by virtue of them having recorded so much music. The vast majority of Saloman’s catalogue has been released on his own label Woronzow, so he has doubtless had a great deal of artistic free reign over the years, and his preferred way of exercising that has been to cram his releases with as much of his wide-ranging guitar music as he can.
Taking the practice of being prolific to the next level, Saloman’s 21st album White Numbers is a double album – and this is hardly the first time he’s released one of those. Oh, and if you want these two hours of music on vinyl, then that’s three records you’ll be taking home with you. And the music is a far cry from something like the frenzied anti-perfectionism of Billy Childish; the guitar playing is technically accomplished and the songs are often complex. The whole thing concludes with Homemade Traditional Electric Jam, a 42-minute instrumental guitar workout (no, really). This is the surely the epitome – or if you prefer, the nadir – of Marmite music; listeners will no doubt either adore it, or cut the album short before this behemoth kicks in.
In fact, some listeners are likely to switch off much sooner than that. While Saloman’s skilled musicianship and apparently boundless capacity for writing songs is admirable, it’s not without its problems. White Numbers is, like many albums that go beyond the two hour mark, something of a mission to listen to. It might be churlish to say that it’s impossible to create this much music and expect it all to be of a consistently high standard, but at times that is the impression this album gives.
This is particularly the case during the heavier, more oppressive songs, in which the instruments are pummelled and Saloman’s fingers can’t sit still on the fretboard for more than half a second at a time. But the content of White Numbers is diverse, and many of its highpoints come at those points where the tone changes. She’s Just Like You is a pretty acoustic track that provides a moment of calm early on. But the more punk-influenced songs tend to be particularly strong too. For Pat (On The Chaise Longue Dreaming) is a wild 86-second blast, and Neverwas and Major Crime introduce elements of sludgy grunginess.
Several of the straight-up rock songs – such as Tree Line, with its big powerful chorus – are equally strong. However, the weaker tracks drag and the whole of White Numbers sprawls uncomfortably. Even the very best double albums – London Calling, The White Album, Tusk – have their lulls, but this record has too many. Nick Saloman is perhaps too idiosyncratic a musician to ever consider discarding anything that could be released, but some judicious editing would have paid off here.