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Reviews in this issue:


Pink Floyd - Is There Anybody Out There?
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:EMI
Catalogue #:5235622
Year of Release:2000
Time:105.19
Info:
Tracklist: CD1 (53.49): MC:Atmos (1.13), In The Flesh? (3.00), The Thin Ice (2.49), Another Brick In The Wall pt 1 (4.12), The Happiest Days Of Our Lives (1.39), Another Brick In The Wall pt 2 (6.18), Mother (7.53), Goodbye Blue Sky (3.14), Empty Spaces (2.14), What Shall We Do Now? (1.40), Young Lust (5.16), One Of My Turns (3.41), Don't Leave Me Now (4.07), Another Brick In The Wall pt 3 (1.14), The Last Few Bricks (3.25), Goodbye Cruel World (1.40)
CD2 (51.30): Hey You (4.54), Is There Anybody Out There? (3.09), Nobody Home (3.15), Vera (1.26), Bring The Boys Back Home (1.20), Comfortably Numb (7.25), The Show Must Go On (2.34), MC:Atmos (0.37), In The Flesh (4.22), Run Like Hell (7.04), Waiting For The Worms (4.13), Stop (0.32), The Trial (6.00), Outside The Wall (4.27)

After a long, long time waiting the final chapters of Pink Floyd's most pretentious album, The Wall, have finally arrived. A few months back the DVD release of the original film, fully digitally remastered and restored (the original film didn't include Hey you) already pleased a lot of core fans. And now, the thing most fans had been waiting for is now finally here: a live registration of the album in its entirety. It is a full integral recording of the show (although recorded at various dates at London's Earls Court in 1980 and 1981), even including all the sound effects and more.

The story of Pink is told in 30 tracks, that's four more than the original studio album, although the two MC:Atmos tracks can't really be considered songs nor do they contribute to the story as such. They involve an announcer coming on stage to annoy the audience by holding an ridiculously long speech involving annoying house rules and wrongly announcing that the band is ready to go on stage (no, not quite yet). The first time this doesn't really work, as the crowd is way too excited to notice. Yet the second time, before the second rendition of In The Flesh in what must have been a sort of concert-within-a-concert, it really pisses some of the audience off, as one can be heard screaming "F*@k off".
The other two 'extra' tracks What Shall We Do Now? and The Last Few Bricks are indeed an addition to the album and available on CD for the first time.

Furthermore many other songs have been extended, like Another Brick In The Wall part 1, which features a longer ending, with some nice piano and synthesiser bits.
A second guitar solo is featured in Another Brick In The Wall part 2, played by the second guitarist (Snowy White?), but unfortunately it is a very poor one. The guitar sounds a bit out of tune or in the wrong key in comparison with the rest of the music. Fortunately there is a great Hammond solo afterwards, which makes this version the best live version available on (officially released) CD.
Another Hammond solo is featured in an extended Young Lust, which makes this song a real, complete song, rather than the snippet featured on the studio album.

Comfortably Numb also features an extended guitarsolo and although it doesn't reach the height of the nine-minute version found on the P.U.L.S.E. album, having the original Waters/Gilmour duet singing the vocal part makes this once again the supreme live version of this song, if not the supreme overall version.
Another extended track is Run Like Hell, with a very creepy middle part, as is the "unplugged" Outside The Wall, where the band used to walk through the ruins of the destroyed wall on stage, carrying their instruments.

But apart from the longer versions of the greatest songs of the album, what makes this album really interesting is the inclusion of the two previously unreleased tracks. The Last Few Bricks is actually an instrumental medley of The Happiest Days Of Our Lives, Young Lust and Empty Spaces - yet it sounds brilliantly though.
The real treat however is the song What Shall We Do Now? a song that originally had been left off the studio-version. It is still not entirely clear to me as to why this song got axed from the original album, as it's only a mere 1.5 minutes long, but it is a real pity it happened. Despite its shortness it's a brilliant piece of music.

[Editor's Note: Although split in two tracks on this live CD, What Shall We Do Now originally included the bit that's called Empty Spaces on this live CD. The track Empty Spaces, which can be found on the studio album and features different lyrics, was originally intended as a sort of 'reprise' of What Shall We Do Now at the end of side 2 of the album (after Another Brick in the Wall (part 3)). Since the band had problems trying to fit all the tracks on side 2 and since it was a repetition of an earlier track, What Shall We Do Now got axed and Empty Spaces was moved between Goodbye Blue Sky and Young Lust.
The movie version of The Wall featured What Shall We Do Now instead of Empty Spaces.
The Last Few Bricks was an additional medley (which sometimes even featured Breathe) that was played to enable the crew to fit the last couple of bricks in the cardboard wall. It has also appeared on bootlegs under the title Almost Gone. - Ed]

After What Shall We Do Now Roger Waters even speaks a few words to the audience, "thank you, welcome" before introducing the next song, Young Lust. I had always been under the impression that the Wall-shows were supposed to be anti-concerts, not to serve the purpose of entertaining the audience, so I was a bit surprised to hear Waters actually talking to the audience (and I think there's even a bit cut out as well - not sure though).
The second time Waters speaks to the audience, before Run Like Hell, during the concert-within-the-concert, it is more like I imagined. He's actually scolding at the audience (in his role of hallucinating Pink) and it cheers them as he does so.

Altogether the recording is a good 25 minutes longer than the original, and the sound quality is superb. Apart from a buzz in Gilmour's microphone during Mother, the quality is just awesome. It is incredible that these recordings are 20 years old. Then again, it makes you wonder as to how many of the recordings are indeed 20 years old and how much of it is re-recorded. However, that's not the point with Floyd live albums. It is obvious that the recordings have been tinkered with in great length and one can only wonder whether all the vocals are really live - not to mention the fact that the orchestrated parts (mainly The Trial) were already played from tape during the original shows.

And then of course there is the artwork. The limited edition ("only" about a million copies worldwide) comes with a hardcover, 50-page book with liner notes by Waters, Gilmour, Mason, Wright, artist Gerald Scarfe, stage designers Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park and producer James Guthrie as well as beautiful photos which give you a pretty good idea of what the show must have looked like. The unlimited edition features the same liner notes and most of the photos, yet on a smaller scale in two cd-size booklets.

So, as a conclusion, how would I rate this album? Despite being a masterpiece The Wall is not my favourite Floyd album, it is just too inconsistent for that. And songs like Vera, Bring The Boys Back Home, Don't Leave Me Now and The Trial can't exactly be called the greatest tunes the band has ever produced (lightly put). Yet I do prefer this version over the original album version. Better production, better overall sound quality, but this is also a real band playing here, not a bunch of musicians playing their separate bits during different takes in the studio. They may not have been on speaking terms together, but at least they are all playing at the same time, still managing to create some sort of magic.
True, the poor bits of the original album are still there, but then again, so are the good bits, and they come in far better shape! So for me, this is the ultimate version of The Wall as well as the ultimate Pink Floyd live album. And this is not only because of Roger Waters still being in the band, it's more than just that. This was the last tour where they played as Pink Floyd - The Band, rather than Pink Floyd - The Institute.

What? You also want me to describe the actual songs and music as well? You're kidding me, aren't you? Even before the live version The Wall was already a must-have in everyone's collection. Why not read the Counting Out Time chapter that was devoted to this masterpiece?

Conclusion: 9 out of 10.

Bart Jan van der Vorst


Greenwall - Il Potalo Del Fiore e Altre Storie
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Mellow Records
Catalogue #:MMP 362
Year of Release:2000
Time:62:42
Info:Mellow Records
Tracklist: I Bimbi E Il Burrone (5:13), Il Petalo Del Fiore pt1-2b (13.00), Il Petalo Del Fiore pt3-6 (20:51), Nonno (9.05), Le Stanze (9.48)

Greenwall is an Italian project with a rather broad range of musical styles, but quite keyboard dominated. Don't expect any massive Rocket Scientists-like keyboard work, it's all very Seventies and subtle.

The first track is a bit Camelesque piece (Mirage era), quite uptempo and partly spoken/partly sung. Unfortunately the vocals are not always in tune. The saxophone in the second part is quite nice though. The next track, the first part of an half an hour+ long composition, opens with a Wakeman-like church organ piece. It goes on a bit too long though, but the interplay between the drums and keyboards later on is nice to hear. The piano/vocal part that follows is quite subtle, a bit in the Strangers on a Train vein and as a trick they include Mozart's "Figaro" theme in the piano melody. Unfortunately the (synthesised) piano is overdone in reverb/chorus effects which gives this "floating", almost out of tune sound. It is followed by an uptempo-part, a bit Pallas The Wedge, although the rapid Italian vocals crack this reference. Subsequently, an undiscovered piece of IQ's Tales from a Lush Attic follows, exactly the same organs, weird drumming etc.

A melancholic piano piece sets the scene for the second half, parts 3-6. The mandolin that starts gives images of a lonely day in rainy Venice. Too bad I don't speak Italian since the lyrics seem quite interesting, large stories with no rhyme. In the next section there is a lot of subtle percussion, rather well done, flowing into a powerful section, a bit early Genesis-like. Due to the rather jazzy bass loop and keyboard sounds, the next section sounds like Camel's The Snow Goose. This goes on for quite some time, before ending with a bang!, a more psychedelic part and something one could almost describe as classical music, slowly evolving into a Mike Oldfield composition (Killing Fields like). The end of the epic track is quite uplifting. All in all a very varied track with lots of interesting things going on. Too bad that the electric guitar is not featured more, or perhaps the saxophone of the first track, but otherwise music that deserves to be listened to in the evening, to relax to.

Nonne is a mostly piano track, a slow ballad. I had the impression I heard the opening before somewhere, but can't quite pinpoint it. A very athmospheric piece, but not much going on in general. La Stanze is more uptempo, almost touching on what could be called "Rock", but no guitar means no rock. Period. Well OK, there is some electric guitar (even what one could describe as a solo), but they manage to let even the guitar sound like a keyboard.

And then, surprise! An unlisted bonus track (4:45), seems like a different, slow-jazz version of the first track, with female vocals. A real improvement! Too bad they only use the female vocals on the last track.

The CD in general is something that deserves quiet listening, perhaps with candlelight and a glass of wine. The problem I had was first of all the vocals that often are quite well, but sometimes are over-stretched. Secondly, it all sounds quite dated due to the old keyboads that were used. The lack of a powerful guitar now and then, as Camel knows how to do, finally made me decide I was not going to recommend this CD as one of the better ones of 2000. But, as stated before, it is not a low quality product! The whole album is tasteful and sophisticated, but the production could have been better. If you look for something to relax to, this may be just what you were looking for.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers


Fish - Issue 30 CD
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Chocolate Frogs Records
Catalogue #:CFVP007CD
Year of Release:2000
Time:68:13
Info:Perception of Fish
Tracklist: Medley: Emperor's Song / Credo / What Colour is God? / Mr. 1470 (10.41), Plague of Ghosts (Old Haunts / Diggin' Deep / Chocolate Frogs / Waving At Starts / Rain Gods Dancing / The Wake-Up Call) (28.27), Cliché / The Perception of Johnny Punter (9.09), Incomplete (4.40), Sunsets On Empire (9.37), The Company (5.39).

As a nice gesture to the members of the international Company fan clubs, Fish decided to release a CD with recordings of the electric set of last years Haddington Convention and send that to the subscribers instead of one issue of the fanzine. It took much more time to get this thing together than was originally expected. The fact that Fish is currently giving priority to getting his acting career of the ground must have had something to do with that.

The band consists of Fish (vocals), John Wesley (guitars), Tony Turrell (co-writer of Plague, keyboards), Elizabeth Antwi (backing vocals), Dave Stewart (drums) and Steve Vantsis (bass).

The Medley worked much better than I had expected from reading BJ's review of the Haddington concert. Although some of the older songs aren't performed as tightly as Fish' old back-up band used to play them, they certainly bring back great memories of some of the gigs from the mid nineties. The cross-overs between the separate tracks also work much better than I had expected. All in all a nice recording of this little live collectors item.

After some joking around to be able to get away with reading out some of the lyrics the band goes into the full length version of Plague of Ghosts. Even though this was one of the first (if not the first) live performance of the epic, it works remarkably well and is played very tight. My only complaint are the backing vocals which are often out of tune, misplaced and all over the place. As far as that's concerned I'm not a big supporter of having Elizabeth Antwi on stage because her vocals work more annoying that adding something to the songs. Fish, on the contrary, is brilliant in this song.
The song ends with a great extended Wake-Up Call in which the musicians leave the stage one by one, leaving a chanting crowd behind.

I've always found the combination of Cliché and Perception fo Johnny Punter a very weird one. It doesn't work any better on this CD. Cliché is a great track but the sudden switch into Perception still sounds very misplaced to me. Besides that, the best part of Perception is the first half, whereas this version features the end section.

Incomplete has never been a favourite of mine and the vocals of this duet are sometimes out of tune.
Sunsets on Empire features a rare appearance of co-writer Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree). Fish has some problems with the high vocals though and I'm not quite sure if the live version lives up to the studio one. Elizabeth Antwi certainly wasn't and improvement compared to the original singer.
Instead of The Company, which is features on almost every Fish live CD already, I would have preferred to have seen one of the other tracks from the set like Faithhealer, Brother 52, Hotel Hobbies/Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night, Tumbledown or Goldfish & Clowns instead.

As I've already said in my review of the Vredenburg Concert, this line-up is certainly not my favourite one for a Fish back-up band and they don't come close to the splendour of some of the line-ups from the nineties. Foss Patterson wasn't a favourite keyboard player but Tony Turrell doesn't really do much better in the older songs. Besides that, John Wesley seems to produce more distorted noise than real sounds from his guitar most of the time. Fortunately Dave Stewart (drums) and Steve Vantsis (bass) are doing a great job.

The sound quality and mix of the album are not brilliant but quite okay. An advantage of this is that the atmosphere and spontaneous feel of the concert are maintained.

All in all, an album that's not without a couple of faults here and there but still nice gesture by the big Scot and worth having for some of the rare live versions and especially the full Plague of Ghosts.

To get a copy of this CD, you'll have to subscribe to The Compnany magazine or newsheets. In the latter case you can get the CD for 5 pounds. For more information, check out the Perception of Fish Web Site.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander


Silent Exile - Dancing with Death
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Naivlys Records
Catalogue #:SE0001
Year of Release:2000
Time:48:45
Info:Silent Exile
Tracklist: The Brain Dance (0:46), Walls of Society (6:43), Stratosphere (8:12), Broken Dreams (4:15), On The Hill (5:52), Glase Maakerstraat (8:02), Images of War [ I) Thunder on Ashland (6:58), II) Silent Witness (7:51)]

Silent Exile from Canada produce melodic prog-metal (focus on the melody qualification though). Generally pleasing, but hardly truely innovative. But then, better well stolen than badly made up yourself ;-).

The Brain Dance is a weird little thing with distorted voices only (a bit like the hilarious piece on IQ's Lost Attic). Hear once, skip the rest of the time. The opening of the second track made me fear the worst: "Whoh yeah!", oh dear, Bon Jovi squared! Fortunately the track evolves into a more progressive style, a bit Dream Theater or Fates Warning like, with a vocal melody that somehow seems disconnnected from the rest of the melody (DT does a lot of this, you know what I mean). In fact the vocals are quite OK, although sometimes not really convincing.
Stratosphere leans more heavily on Fates Warning or even Rush. Interesting breaks, interesting melody lines and the proper prog-length. The vocals are a bit muffled though. The heavy FW middle section is a treat and presents the highlight of the album. In other words, it goes a bit downhill from here on. Not that the next track Broken Dreams is bad or anything; for a debut album a good job. But this rock-ballad is plain average Bon Jovi-stuff.

On the Hill has an intro that is quite well done (it features an interesting keyboard-rhythm interaction), and the rest is rather complex but not always, well, I don't know, maybe "coherent" is the word. It's Dream Theater complexity but even harder to grasp. Other more into this may find it stunningly beautiful, I can't judge that.
Glase Maakerstraat (maybe a misspelled Dutch word?) is a true debut-album song in the negative sense. I have the idea the inspiration was gone and they produced more of the same, without the neccesary work.
To conclude the album (and I must admit I admire the fact that they know when to stop: a 50 minute CD is sometimes better than a 60+ minute CD. The extra tracks can make a CD boring if you don't mix many styles) is the epic in two parts Images of War: Thunder on Ashland and Silent Witness. Thunder is a progressive metal piece with the emphasis on metal (for the first time on the album) and thus comes closer to the more European style of prog metal. Silent Witness continous this style and with more daring melodies and experiments they finally, in the last track, show some guts. There is some shouting stuff that reminded me of Asgard's latest infant ...

In conclusion, a good sounding album, but it lacks true experimenting and guts. They go along the well-trodden paths of Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Rush and show little originallity of their own. On the other hand, it is skillfully played and at times even the compositions rise above average. So, this will not end up in my favorite album section, but it is nice prog metal, and a worthy debut album.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers


Darkstar2 - Heart of Darkness
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:IOA records
Catalogue #:RTD 397.0043.2
Year of Release:1999
Time:55:30
Info:Homepage
Tracklist: Dark Paradise (4.27), Flight To Nowhere (6.15), The Sound Of Nothing (4.19), Transitory Angel (5.29), Infinite Distance (4.48), The Dream (3.15), Not Today (2.44), Look To The Sky (4.25), The Last Drop Of Light (5.42)

Darkstar2 is a spin-off project of Psychotic Waltz. After having worked on the collaboration project called End Amen in the early Nineties, a band that featured among others Psychotic Waltz guitarist Dan Rock and German musician Siggi Blasey, Dan and Siggi got back together in 1996 to record an instrumental album that combined the 'darkness' of Pink Floyd, with the heavyness of Psychotic Waltz and spoken samples of Kraftwerk. The result, recorded in a renovated WWII bomber shelter, was an album called Marching Into Oblivion released under the name Darkstar.

The successor of the first album, Heart of Darkness, was recorded at the end of 1998. Besides Siggi and Dan, fellow Psychotic Waltz guitarist Brian McAlpin can also be heard on some of the tracks. On the Darkstar Homepage Dan wrote: "The overtone of sadness throughout the CD was inspired by the loss of a loved one to drugs, but was sadly added to by the loss of my father in a car accident during the sessions. This effort also adds the dimensions of 4 different vocalists on 3 songs. One female, three male. All good friends...Detlef from German band Pantokrator and last minute additions Steve Summers from Sprung Monkey, and Dominic Moscatella from Mower. Sonny Hollis from San Diego let me borrow her beautiful voice for Transitory Angel."

Enough about the background of the album. Let's have a 'look' at the actual music. Darkstar2 is a very strange band. Imagine the dark sound of bands like Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree or Light, add to that the melodic approach of people like Mike Oldfield and Bjorn Lynne and mix it with the weird noises and sequencing by Ozric Tentacles. Now, this in itself is already quite and interesting blend, but now add some of the heavy metal of mid eighties Metallica to some of the songs and mysterious spoken samples like in Pink Floyd's Keep Talking, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's War, Quuensryche's Empire and Porcupine Tree's Voyage 32. That's the recipe for a Darkstar2 album. Overall it sounds a bit like a less 'over-the-top' Ayreon album.

The album consists of 3 vocal tracks and 7 instrumental ones. The instrumental ones are the real gems. Dark Paradise is a keyboard and piano driven piece that features samples of George Bush announcing the beginning of the Gulf War. The end of the song features a guitar solo screaming in agony. Wonderful track !
Even better is Flight to Nowhere, which is more guitar driven while supported by dark keyboards and weird noises. Halfway through the song an acoustic guitar picks up the same melody line as the howling electric guitar.

Infinite Start features more samples and lots of sequencers. There's also an opera-like voice. Nevertheless there's not much happening in this slightly repetitive track, which makes it one of the less interesting ones on the album.
The Dream (scene 1) features lots of weird Ozric-ish keyboard noises and a double guitar solo that could have come straight from a Metallica ballad. After three minutes it switches into The Dream (scene 2), which is a strange intermezzo full of science fiction-like noises.

Look to the Sky feels like the ultimate prog metal song. Lots of keyboards and a heavy metal guitar frenzy. Finally The Last Drop of Light is a very experimental and rather minimalistic piece; sort of a collage of weird bits and pieces coming out of the synths.
The album ends with a strange 'secret track', which is basically the answering machine message Dan Rock's father left just before he died, followed by a sample of the sound that opens Alan Parsons' Try Anything Once album and nine needless minutes (!) of thunderstorm and rain sounds.

As mentioned, the album also features three vocal tracks. The most interesting one is The Sound of Nothing. It really takes a while to get used to because it's a mixture of Faith no More-like vocals in the chorus and Rage Against the Machine-like screaming in the verses. The basis is formed by an eighties' Metallica-like heavy metal track.
The other two tracks are the biggest disappointments on the album. Transitory Angel features Sinead O'Connor-like female vocals that sound very dull and muffled. The second half of the song, which features a marvellous guitar solo, is much better but cannot save the track as a whole. The other song, Not Today, is a ballad sung in very low voice while accompanied by heavy guitar. Again, besides the guitar solo it's a rather weak track. Overall the production of the vocals are rather mediocre and stand in strong contrast with the crystal clear sound of guitars and keyboards.

The artwork of the CD is quite nice and combines work by Travis Smith with an original piece by H.R. Giger (you know, the guy who designed the Aliens monster). The booklet folds out to 6 times the size and contains more photographic art and lyrics to only two of the songs (what happened to the third one ?).

Despite some of the few complaints I have about the album and 3 mediocre tracks I think it's a very original and innovative piece of work. I would certainly recommend it to people who like dark, moody prog and don't shun the occassional mixture of electronic music and heavy metal. Don't fear, I wouldn't call this prog metal, but it does feature some heavy metal influences in some of the songs.

For sound samples of this Darkstar2 album, visit the the Darkstar Homepage.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Ed Sander


Brain 21 - Nickel Bag EP
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:N/A
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2000
Time:23:04
Info:Homepage
Tracklist: Please God Part 2 (3.33), 7-7-97 (4.24), Vacuum (6.28), Hard Way (4.17), Please God Part 1 (4.22)

Brain 21 is a prog rock band from Atlanta, USA with influences ranging from World Music and soul to '70's acid, rock and classical. Nickel Bag EP is the follow-up to their first album A Fascination With The Sun. The band consists of John Davis (bass), Robert Diaz (drums), Geoffrey Efaw (vocals & keys) and Alex F (guitars).

The music of the band lies somewhere between ambient music and trash metal; imagine some of the heavier songs by Porcupine Tree, early New Order or some of the more experimental tunes by The Beatles (White Album). At times it's very dreamy and enchanting, while at other times heavy metal guitars attack your senses. The overall mood is mysterious, dark and depressive. The songs feature highly interesting rhythm patterns, Porcupine Tree-like sequenced sound effects and arrangements, nice guitar riffs and some fine bass playing.

So this must be a very nice album then ? Well ... no ! Although some of the instrumental parts are very good, the whole thing is spoiled by the vocal parts. Seemingly vocalist Geoffrey thinks that whining and screaming is the equivalent of decent singing. The only song that's endurable as far as vocals are concerned is the bluesy Please God Part 1.
Also, the production is far from professional and turns the music into one big blur of noise during the heavier parts and makes it sound too messy during the quiet parts.
Finally, the music becomes a bit repetitive at times and could use some real guitar and keyboard solos.
All in all the music ranges from mediocre to quite horrible (Hard Way) and that's a real shame, because the music could have been really good. With a good vocalist and the right production the band could become a promising newcomer for the future.

Oh, and can somebody explain me what that close-up of a girl's ass printed in neon-like negative is doing in the booklet ?

For sound samples visit mp3.com or the Brain21 Homepage. Copies of the EP can be ordered for $6 plus shipping on their site as well.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10.

Ed Sander


Franco - Cydonia Mensae
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Magnifico Records
Catalogue #:
Year of Release:2000
Time:52.09
Info:Francoworld

Tracklist: Raising Caine (5.55), Cydonia Mensae (6.24), Twisted Fusion (5.49), Red Blood (4.22), Diamond Dust (6.37), Godz (6.34), With You Again (6.26), Save It (5.16), Tornado Dreams (4.13)

Cydonia Mensae is the debut solo CD of Canadian Franco La Magna. This self-produced album has the cinema as its theme. Franco: "The songs on this CD are a reflection of the influence the cinema has played in my writing. Each song is based on a movie, the making of a movie or simply the fantasy that the silver screen may take us to."

Fairly unfamiliar with the Canadian rock scene, I've had to rely on the information about the artist from his homepage. Franco has apparently taken part in several Canadian bands and has toured solo extensively throughout Canada and the U.S. He has composed music for movies, TV and radio, performed as actor and even played mime! Currently unsigned, this all-round entertainer is looking for a label.

Besides writing all material for this album and handling production and engineering, Franco sings lead vocals and plays guitar and keyboards. He is joined by Sascha Tukatsch on drums and percussion, and Tim Langan on bass, who's performance is simple but effective. The line up for this project includes many guest performers (including quite a few relatives), among others on flute, french and tibetan horns, and (Australian) didjeridu. Franco has also enlisted the aid of Toronto's Metro String Quartet (violins, viola and cello).

Franco's music is melodic rather than progressive. Its progressive nature comes out not so much in overall composition as such (rhythm changes, etc), but in the use of instruments, especially strings, and the female backing vocals. Franco's own vocal performance could have come out better in the mix. They sometimes seem to float above the music. So production could have been better, but is nevertheless impressive for a debut CD and overall sound quality is fine.

The distinctive sound of the Australian didjeridu starts off the opening track Raising Caine, based on the Brian De Palma movie of the same title. As the song progresses keyboards are worked into the frame slowly, growing more dominant. Female chanting and acoustic guitar fill the instrumental break, as Franco is off to a flying start.

Female backing vocals are an important feature throughout, most notably in Cydonia Mensae, in which the lyrics are alternated with chanting and screams. A child's playful laughter adds to an eerie atmosphere, strenghtened by melodic keyboards and strings and a dominant bass line. This song takes the movie Mission To Mars as its basis.

Some songs come close to Platypus' style, like Twisted Fusion and Save It, two more straight-forward rock songs, in which the absence of the string section is particularly noticable. Twisted Fusion with its acoustic guitar sections is the best of these two, but Save It, based on the motion picture Casino, has a nice instrumental break with Hammond-like keys. The last track Tornado Dreams, based on the movie Twister, is also more classically rock, but further from the Platypus sound.

The string quartet has a strong showing in Red Blood and, as in the first track, they grow more dominant as the song progresses. In an instrumental break we are treated to an inkling of Bernard Herrmann's legendary score from the Psycho shower scene, but then the strings dive into frenzied scales. Thus a very symphonic track.

The relaxed first section of Diamond Dust leads to another string dominated middle section, but electric guitar is worked subtely into the frame, then has a powerful solo in the last part of the song. This works to a grand instrumental finale, before returning to the melodic theme of the first section.
This is the most relaxed song except for the smooth ballad With You Again in which classical guitar and (somewhat bombastic) horns work well with a belatedly arrived piano. This tracks serenity is only broken by a solo on electric guitar. Vocally Franco gives one of his best performances.

Godz is described at Franco's homepage as "an instrumental Sci-Fi soundtrack extravagance", and I guess that sums it up nicely. The artists pulls out all the stops here, as strings and horns mix with bells and strange spacey synth effects in the first and last parts, while guitar and keyboards roll in succession through the middle section. Some great guitar solos.

Franco's music is closer to the sound of Pink Floyd after Roger Waters' departure than to the complexities of say Jadis or IQ. Atmosperic and melodic, rather than progressive. This album stands out for the comfortable arrangement of its many contributors on instruments and the high quality of songwriting. To quote the lyrics of Diamond Dust: "I think I found a diamond...a diamond in the rough."

Franco's homepage Francoworld has MP3 samples of all songs included on this album and provides information on how to obtain this cd.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.

Mark Sander