Perfect Sound Forever

Annette Peacock

by Richard Mason
(December 2008)

In the current musical environment, where at times it seems there’s a new "genius" born every minute (or reclaimed from a long-forgotten artistic nascence as part of a current performer’s latest vanity project), genuinely singular and innovative artists possessed with an individualistic approach, a distinctive voice, and a determination to achieve artistic success their own terms at the expense of commercial acclaim and subsequent return all too often go unheard, underappreciated, and marginalized. Such artists might, a cynic might argue, have been better advised to court controversy or to abandon their art temporarily, only to re-emerge phoenix-like with the aid of a contrived promotional backing, like a re-launched brand. Said cynic might further develop this argument by suggesting that for such artists to continue to work sporadically, often not at all for substantial periods rather than not on their own terms, with limited resources and promotion, was simply foolhardy.

This is where Annette Peacock comes in.

Since her first performances and recordings in the 1960s, Annette Peacock has sought to express herself via her art, as have many other artists. Unfortunately, she has consistently fallen foul of unwritten laws.

Here are a few examples:

Inasmuch as she writes and sings her own material, she could be conveniently classified as a female singer-songwriter. The commercial potential (or lack of it) of her material notwithstanding, she might have attracted some critical attention via this contextual niche in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, because her perceived musical background, resulting in her unique musical voicing, was in the modern jazz tradition, she has been dealt with as a musician, which, the musical abilities of artists such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell notwithstanding, violated one of the established tenets of this genre.

Result: Annette Peacock is not a singer-songwriter.

Inasmuch as her perceived background and musical upbringing was rooted in the modern jazz tradition, she could be conveniently classified as a jazz performer. The commercial potential (or lack of it) of her material notwithstanding, she might have attracted some critical attention via this contextual niche in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, because she performed her own intensely personal compositions and was never a bandleader in the jazz tradition, she has been dealt with as a singer-songwriter, which, the career and oeuvre of, say, Nina Simone notwithstanding, violated one of the established tenets of this genre.

Result: Annette Peacock is not a jazz performer.

Inasmuch as she was one of the first musicians to experiment with synthesizers and remains one of the few to have perceived and harnessed their potential as a means of processing other sounds, rather than as a new model of electronic organ, she could be conveniently classified as an electronic music innovator. The commercial potential (or lack of it) of her material notwithstanding, she might therefore have attracted some critical attention via this contextual niche in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, because her electronic innovation was an integral part of her special approach to her music, she has been dealt with as either a singer-songwriter or a jazz performer, which, the careers and oeuvres of, say, Brian Eno and Sun Ra notwithstanding, violated at least one of the established tenets of this genre.

Result: Annette Peacock is not an electronic innovator.

Inasmuch as her lyrics have dealt with issues such as fetishism, masturbation, celibacy, nuclear disarmament, and individual responsibility in a political context, and they are delivered via an extraordinarily expressive and distinctive vocal style, she could be conveniently classified as a flamboyant rock performer. The commercial potential (or lack of it) of her material notwithstanding, she might therefore have attracted some critical attention via this contextual niche in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, because her perceived flamboyance is only a part of her distinctive approach and she has not sought the limelight, she has been dealt with as a serious artist. Notwithstanding the careers of David Bowie and Salvador Dali, this perception of her violated at least one of the established tenets of this genre.

Result: Annette Peacock is not a flamboyant rock performer.

I’d hazard a guess that her past and present recording companies have not been entitled "Ironic" without good reason.

"Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?"
(Marx)

You may have gleaned some degree of conscious repetition in the preceding few paragraphs. This was done partly for so-called comic effect, but also in order to highlight and emphasize the "Annette Peacock problem": to wit, the deeply personal nature of her music. This is the key to her lack of recognition and success, in my opinion. Her vision and its manifestation through her approach to all aspects of her music is of such an individualistic nature that it all but negates any potential crossover potential she may have had. And it’s partly this purity that has prevented her from being heard by a wider audience and from receiving something approaching the acclaim she deserves.

Despite the fact that she could be perceived as encompassing aspects of several musical genres, her singular character and approach results in a singular music that defies definition. Not that she’s unique in this respect; it’s more that other artists who could reasonably be described thus make more impersonal, more emotionally abstract music (e.g., Captain Beefheart, Bjork and even David Bowie) that demands a less direct connection from the listener. Annette Peacock’s music, both in its lyrical style, mode of delivery, and song form, is more organic, more conversational and confessional--more the ideal of the so-called singer-songwriter approach. However, her work reaches far beyond the one-dimensional platitudes of the cliched archetype of that genre than that of most so-called cult figures of contemporary music.

Of course, part of the reason she’s not better known and more renowned may be due to reluctance on the part of listeners to engage in the dialogue her music demands. It is not demanding in the sense that it takes effort to understand it, but it is inclusive and makes demands in a different way. It asks you questions, makes you think, disrupts your flow (lyrically and musically), and calls into question the role of the listener as a passive onlooker and recipient of product or even of a finished work of art, freshly polished and awaiting a critical verdict.

Sadly, however, the main reason Annette Peacock’s work is not better known is that so few of her recordings have been available on a long-term basis. Having experienced a string of record companies struggling to market music they did not appear to comprehend by an artist they could not begin to categorize, she was then, on the formation of the original Ironic label in the early 1980's, confronted by the inevitable financial pressures facing all independent companies. Even the reissues and retrospective compilations of her recordings are now hard to find. As such, only those prepared to look hard and spend big (with money Annette will never see) will hear them now. It seems tantamount to gloating to say that I possess copies of these recordings and will then to go on to describe them in detail, so I won’t. However, one of the main reasons you're hearing about her now is the impending reissue (on her newly revamped Ironic label) of one of her most renowned and ground-breaking albums.

I’m the One was originally released in 1972 on RCA. As on the 1968 LP Revenge (credited to The Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show), Annette’s voice is at times, most notably on the title track, processed through a synthesizer. Featured musicians include Paul Bley, Airto Moreira, and Mike Garson. Garson was at that time playing piano for David Bowie. In fact, Bowie was so impressed by the LP (and, one might well imagine, by the fact that Annette asked him and Mick Ronson to leave when they dropped in on a recording session, because they had not been invited and she considered their presence an unwelcome distraction), that he demanded she be signed to his MainMan management company, who were unfortunately too busy concerning themselves with more pressing matters such as Iggy And The Stooges’ drug intake to devote any serious time and thought to her career. Nonetheless, this is a remarkable recording, featuring song formats ranging from free jazz to soulful funk, but all with the unmistakeable Annette Peacock touch, music that invites you in, implores you to get involved, to think, to feel physically and cerebrally, to hear and listen actively.


ED NOTE: Ironic Records is now finalizing a reissue of I'm the One, which will be released soon.

Also see Annette Peacock's MySpace page


Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER

MAIN PAGE ARTICLES STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC LINKS E-MAIL