THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA The United States Of America (Columbia)

Albeit briefly, with their eponymous and only album, The United States Of America threatened to turn the bloated, complacent corpse of rock ‘n’ roll inside out. Lead Statesperson Joseph Byrd was a UCLA lecturer, who recruited the remainder of the quintet from the university’s student population. The album features no guitars, and every sound is processed or distorted to some extent – Dorothy Moskowitz’s voice and Gordon Marron’s electric violin were both fed through a ring modulator, and Craig Woodson played electric drums, whatever they may be.

Listened to 37 years after the fact on Columbia’s shiny new 180 gram virgin vinyl pressing, it’s surprising how indebted “The United States Of America” is to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Perhaps that’s more of a reflection of how that album’s seismic cultural aftershocks have become so smoothly assimilated into the mainstream – possibly because The Beatles were diverting the mainstream to wherever their imaginations took them. Nevertheless, “The American Metaphysical Circus” is “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” recreated under laboratory conditions, and the spirited, string quartet-led “Stranded In Time” could be a prequel to “She’s Leaving Home”, set months or minutes before that fateful Wednesday morning.

If the aforementioned sound a little too close to their source, the real legacy of “The United States Of America” can be heard in bands from Kraftwerk to Young Marble Giants to Stereolab. Maskowitz’s vocals are deliberately detached and dispassionate, coolly analytical rather than emotional. Despite a lack of guitars, Marron’s electric violin provides some convincing substitute rock action when required, although it does have the effect of narrowing the album’s sonic envelope, making the ensemble’s overall sound rather thin and shrill.

The cheery, Bonzos-esque deviance of “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar” hasn’t worn the decades lightly. Elsewhere, though, the album neatly prefigures Eno’s “Another Green World”-era ambient dabbling on the A A Milne-inspired “Cloud Song” and the lovely “Love Song For The Dead Ché”, later covered by Northern Picture Library. If occasionally they overreach themselves – the three-part closer “The American Way Of Love”, for example, which descends into a tangled web of acid flashbacks to the album’s preceding nine tracks – the fact that “The United States Of America” remains the sole entry in the group’s discography suggests that they recognised that their mission here was complete.