As its title suggests, Polytheistic Fragments is a mixed bag. A collection of short, genre-spanning instrumental songs in the manner of a sketch-book, the record is a far more fragmented insight into the talents of guitarist Sir Richard Bishop than his three-track epic of two months ago, While My Guitar Gently Bleeds. However, the medium of a miniatures album does allow Richard the opportunity to showcase the extraordinary eclecticism of his abilities and influences. Here, bluegrass rubs shoulders with Far-Eastern modal playing and Indian ragas, flamenco with surf guitar. The track, “Free Masonic Guitar,” for instance, chops between Eastern-style modal and cheery Appalachian diatonic major tonalities – in a manner that captures with some accuracy the bizarre Egyptian-mysticism-meets-conservative-American dynamic of that sinister cult. Some might say.
Sir Richard Bishop’s stylistic range and technical virtuosity are certainly impressive. “Rub' Al Khali” is a particularly mind-blowing display of technical prowess, exploring pan-Asian modes in lightning-fingered, spidery, scalic motifs and urgent tremolos. The sort of playing that leaves you baffled as to how someone can execute it without tying their fingers in knots.
Yet despite this, the songs here lack momentum, the pieces for the most part unfolding in disjunctive sections, without a sense of overarching phrasing or progressive structure. Album-opener “Cross My Palms With Silver,” for instance, though impressively technical, is little more than a trawl through Hispanic clichés. Also, Sir Richard Bishop often sounds a bit too reverent of his idols: thus, “Elysium Number Five” is a straight Django Reinhardt pastiche and on “Canned Goods & Firearms,” he “does” Dick Dale (admittedly, Dick Dale on a very good day). Even “Rub' Al Khali,” for all its brilliance, is exceedingly derivative.
Interestingly, it is the least showy of Richard’s songs on this record that is the most stylistically his own. “Hecate’s Dream’” is a languid, melancholic piece in which Richard duets with himself via a delayed electric slide guitar. Simple elastic glissando phrases wrap themselves round each other with lithe sensuality over a fixed, deep pedal-note to mesmeric effect.