FOR THE RECORD

Glasnost and red rock

NICHOLAS JENNINGS April 11 1988
FOR THE RECORD

Glasnost and red rock

NICHOLAS JENNINGS April 11 1988

Glasnost and red rock

FOR THE RECORD

The slashing guitar chords are reminiscent of the American heavy-metal band Motley Crüe. The thundering drums recall Canadian hard-rockers Rush. And the breezy vocal refrain is clearly derived from the Beatles. The sounds may be familiar to Western rock musicians. But to members of the Soviet rock group Cruise, who have blended those styles together in their song Mirage, the music is radically new. Once deemed too decadent for Soviet youth, rock music is now in full bloom under Mikhail Gorbachev’s regime. Evidence of that breakthrough can be heard on Glasnost, the first authorized collection of Soviet rock ever released in North America. Although its sounds are hardly revolutionary to Western ears, the album is a fascinating cultural oddity. And the music of Cruise and such other Soviet artists as Autograph and Alla Pugachova attests to rock’s far-reaching appeal.

The album comes at a time when rock is helping to bring a thaw in East-West relations. Recently, staterun Radio Moscow began offering its listeners the latest Western pop sounds. And increasing numbers of Western artists are performing in the Soviet Union—including U2 and David Bowie, who plan to take part in an antidrug concert next month in Moscow. That willingness to engage more freely with the West is what led Toronto producer Stuart Raven-Hill to make Glas-

nost. Raven-Hill says that his West German partner, Ulrich Hetscher, inquired in 1986 whether the Soviet label Melodyia had rock music available for licensing. Surprisingly, Melodyia sent 80 tracks by 10 rock acts for consideration. Said Raven-Hill: “The Russians are testing the waters. And they want the West to realize

they’re not that different from us.” The 10 songs on Glasnost (Intrepid/ Capitol) offer startling proof of how much Western music has infiltrated behind the Iron Curtain. Musical styles range from the early British electronic pop of Time Machine to a Jamaicanstyle dance number from Pugachova, a robust female singer whose records have sold 100 million copies in her na-

tive country. And Autograph, a band that has toured North America, performs in the so-called progressive rock style of the 1970s. Like most Soviet groups, Autograph tends to heavily favor synthesizers that sometimes overwhelm the material. But their allegiance to the Western rock tradition is clear in Requiem (In Memory of John Lennon), a track included only on the cassette version of Glasnost.

The songs—all sung in Russian but translated in the liner notes—strictly avoid mention of sex and drugs. And there is no hint of Western rock’s freewheeling anarchy. Still, instead of trumpeting the glories of the Communist state, most of the lyrics deal with such issues as peace, alienation and romance. Others are more ambiguous. In the jazzflavored Yellow Boots by the group Bravo, a woman abandons a tschaika, or party limousine, in favor of walking, when she sees a man on foot. But it is unclear whether he is the Soviet everyman or her lover. Similarly, EVM’S Honest John, a slow, bluesy rock number, seems to offer as much criticism as praise of the working class.

The groups on Glasnost are subject to state censorship, along with the other 90 officially authorized bands in the Soviet Union. And even underground bands must tread a delicate line in song-writing. On Red Wave—a 1986 American compilation of four unofficial Leningrad rock bands that was smuggled out of the Soviet Union—the songs also shy away from explicit political statements, although the music is more adventurous than on Glasnost.

Convincing some people of the value of Soviet rock has been an uphill battle,

according to Raven-Hill. Officials at Capitol’s U.S. head office turned down Glasnost for release in America. Raven-Hill says that the reasons may be political, but he was told that the label was reluctant to become involved in a one-record deal. There were other obstacles when he contacted the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. “I’m not sure the Russians even know the record is out,” said Raven-Hill. “When I told one incredulous offi-

cial that he could buy a copy, there was stunned silence on the phone.” Still, Raven-Hill is confident that Glasnost can sell a respectable 5,000 copies in Canada and 50,000 in America. If he succeeds, he will have pulled off a capitalistic coup—while bridging East and West with rock ’n’ roll.

NICHOLAS JENNINGS