Flying Lizards

  • Flying Lizards
  • The Flying Lizards (Virgin) 1979 
  • Fourth Wall (UK Virgin) 1981 
  • Top Ten (UK Statik) 1984 
  • David Cunningham
  • Grey Scale (Piano) 1980 

Led by pianist David Cunningham, the Flying Lizards started as (and largely continued to be) a novelty group that took classic rock songs and reduced them to parody with neo-Kraftwerk synthesizer minimalism and robotic deadpan vocal readings (as epitomized on the eponymous debut album by “Summertime Blues” and “Money”). The serious work shows Cunningham leaning towards the arty high-tech drone of Tangerine Dream, though, and that suffers from comparison with the inspired lunacy of the comedy turns.

Fourth Wall attempts to evolve a happy medium, with helpers including New Yorkers Pat Palladin and Peter Gordon and new-jazz artist Steve Beresford. Cunningham moves uneasily between electro-pop and trance music (as in Steve Reich and Philip Glass). Well-produced and interesting as individual songs, but it fails to jell as an album.

He attempts strictly serious music on Grey Scale, improvising on the piano by allowing the course of the music to be altered by random outside events. Though the technique derives from John Cage, the result falls closer to Reich and Terry Riley.

Following a long layoff, the Lizards returned in 1984 with Top Ten, another wacky album of demented rock’n’roll revisionism, this time assaulting the songwriting of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Leonard Cohen, Larry Williams and others. Purists and musical conservatives will find this impossible; keep an open mind and forget about the originals, and you’ll be amazed at Cunningham’s arcane wit and inventive dissection/reconstruction skill.

[Steven Grant / Ira Robbins]