Reviews in this issue:
Flamborough Head - Unspoken Whisper
Flamborough Head is a progressive rock band from the north of Holland, who named
themselves after a cliff formation on the east coast of the UK. The band consists
of André Cents (guitars, backing vocals), Marcel Derix (bass), Koen Roozen
(drums, percussion), Siebe-Rein Schaaf (lead vocals, keyboards) and Edo
The band played their live debut in 1996, as the support act for Jadis.After a couple of additional gigs people stated asking for an album, so the band recorded some material in their rehearsal studio on an old 8-track tape deck. These recordings of mediocre sound quality were issues on tape.
In October 1997 the band recorded their debut album Unspoken Whisper, which was released by Cyclops in 1998.
To create more opportunities to play live, the band has been busy organizing the Progfarm festivals since 1997.
The debut album opens with Schoolyard Fantasy (8.07). This track contains lyrics which seem to have been influenced by Pink Floyd's Hey You. The track features several nice keyboard and guitar solos and a nice peaceful break in the middle.
Wolves at War (4.53) starts with Porcupine Tree-like keyboard
soundscapes and sound effects. Soon the main keyboards
and guitar come in. This instrumental track is dominated by Floydian
guitar solos. The track even contains a riff which is very much
like Floyd's decending bass line in Echoes (or was it
Phantom of the Opera Mr. Waters ?).
All in all, this track features a wide range of moods, themes and rhythms, focusing on keyboard an guitar.
Childscream (7.19) sounds slightly Camel-ish in the start. It's a nice semi-ballad with good vocals (perhaps the best on the album). The combination of vocals and music sometimes reminds me of the early Shadowland albums, although there are some early Marillion-like moments as well.
Unspoken Whispers (10.23): a slightly 'Lamb Lies Down on Broadway'-like piano and guitar intro introduces the title track of the album. The first part of the song is a semi-ballad, while the second part goes through various melodies, rhythms and moods.
Legend of the Old Man's Tree (4.28) is another instrumental with a Genesis/IQ-ish feel to it.
Xymphonia (10.06) starts with a two minute flute-synth solo which
could easily be compared with some of the Crying for Help parts on
the first two Arena albums. It's got the same slightly medieval feel to
The second half of the song is a tribute to progressive rock in general and the Radio Almelo show Xymphonia specifically.
The music is great, but personally I think that the vocals and vocal melodies don't really match. I have the feeling that they were written separately, after which the lyrics were knocked into shape to fit with (at least) the tempo of the song. The music, on the other hand, might be the best on the album.
Heroes (7.53) is not a David Bowie cover, but a third and final instrumental track. It's dominated by various powerful keyboard solos which go through a wide range of themes. Unfortunately the track feels like it's been thrown together a bit. Maybe some of the bits in this song would have worked better as instrumental parts of other vocal tracks. Heroes also feature some bits where the music falls flat because some instruments suddenly stop playing while no other instrument picks up a melody.
Most of the music of the band is very good indeed, especially the guitar and the keyboards (which dominate Flamborough Head's work). Most of the time the guitars have a bit of a grungy heavy metal edge to them, which is a nice diversion and forms a good contrast with the keyboards. The drum parts aren't very adventurous and rather straightforward. The music would definitely improve with some other rhythm patterns here and there.
Vocals are always a matter of taste. Vocalist Siebe-Rein Schaaf
does not have a voice which appeals to me very much, but it also
doesn't bother me, so that's okay. They are enjoyable during the quiet
bits but miss the power for the heavier vocal parts.
The lyrics sound a bit simple to me and Siebe sometimes shows a bit of an accent (si-duation ? ra-solution ?). Also, vocals and music could have been more integrated. Sometimes they don't seem to match and not often the melodies of the instruments and vocals follow each other.
Some of the lycis feel like bits and pieces taken from other band's material and don't always show a lot originality.
The bass did not really get my attention, except for a short slap/pluck bit in the title track.
Flamborough Head's debut album is quite impressive as a first release
and holds many promises for the future if the band develop more of an
own sound and try to be a bit less conservative next time.
At the moment the band misses that extra special touch that makes an album into a favourite which you just have to pull out and play regularly. But the potential is certainly there ....
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Martin Darvill & Friends -
The Greatest Show on Earth
I have to admit that I was rather sceptical when I heard that an accountant of many (prog) artists had released his own album. The person in question, one Martin Darvill, had seemingly used all of his contacts so that everybody and his dog ended up playing on the album.
The base band - which operates under the name Moon - is made up of Paul Ward on bass and keyboards, Kevin Woodhouse on drums (although Brendan Loy drums on half of the songs), Martin Darvill on guitars and keyboards, Moon (Ian Gould) on vocals and Shadowland's Ian Salmon on bass/harmony and rhythm guitars (replacing John Jowitt in 1996).
Added to and replacing this band on certain tracks are a long list of familiar names from the prog rock scene. The CD was produced by Karl Groom of Threshold and Shadowland, except for the title track, which was produced by IQ's Martin Orford. IQ's sound /engineer Rob Aubrey was involved in mixing the album. And that's just the beginning ....
The CD features 16 tracks, although there are only 11 real songs. The 18+ minute title track which closes the album forms the basis of the CD. Bits and pieces of The Greatest Show on Earth are spread over the album and are used as a bridge between different other songs. Let's have a look at the album track by track ....
Since it will be easier to describe the CD when the title track has been
discussed first, I'll start with that one, although it closes the album.
This track consists of 6 parts
and according to Martin Orford's liner notes, the track used to be 25
minutes long. He had to filter out the best parts and ended up with a
nifty 18.34 minutes. That might seem very impressive, but given the nature
of the album it doesn't really stand out as a long track because almost all
other tracks on the album also flow into each other, making it sound like
a 68+ minute epic.
The first part of the title track is called Part 1 : The Dawning of the Ages and features John Wetton on vocals, which start after a nice long guitar solo by Karl Groom (I think). Wetton also does vocals on part 6 of the track. The vocals in between are done by Moon.
Part 2: From the Beach, kicks in after 4 minutes with keyboard and a guitar solo by David Kilminster of the John Wetton band. This uptempo track would not have been out of place on an Arena album.
Part 3 : The Rest of our Lives (1), is a short peek at what comes later.
Part 4 : The Day of the Rock, is unfortunately not one of the best parts of the album. As a matter of fact, I find it rather annoying. The vocal melody is very 'nagging'. It's a shame that this bit is right in the middle of such a good song.
Part 5 : The Rest of our Lives (2) starts with another great instrumental sequence which leads into the melody of Part 3. After this the music quiets down a bit to piano and strings accompanied by the vocals of Moon and Amy Balcomb. Wonderful !
In the last 5 minutes, Part 6: The Greatest Show on Earth, Finale (Mother Nature) brings the return of Wetton with the wonderful vocal melody of Part 1, combined with the Mother Nature melody (with an 11 part vocal melody ! Martin Orford's attempt to out-Asia Asia). The Mother Nature bits don't really appeal to me though. The title track ends (of course) with a long guitar solo. Martin Orford did the keyboard arrangements for the Finale.
Other musicians on this track are Kenney Jones of The Who and The (Small) Faces on drums in part 2 and IQ/Arena's John Jowitt on bass. Unfortunately, most of the power of John's Rick bass got lost in the final mix. A real shame !
Several people who play elsewhere on the album also grabbed an acoustic guitar.
Phew .... that's the long one. Fifteen more to go ...
Back to the beginning of the CD, which opens with an excerpt of Cacophony,
a collection of soundscapes and effects by Arena. This bit turns up
throughout the album and doesn't last more than a few seconds, making Arena's
contribution to the album rather unimportant. The rest of the short (1.06)
first track is an excerpt of the keyboard solo of From the Beach, which
flows seamlessly into the second track Modern Man (4.32).
The biggest problem with the album becomes very clear in this track; although the music is very good, some of the vocal melodies sound very forced and do not really flow.
Guest musicians on this track (and the next one) are David Kilminster (guitar), Mud's Syd Twynham (backing vocals and final guitar solo) and last but not least Don Airey, (keyboards) who is also very prominent in the next track Ceremony (5.55). Don's twiddling on the keys in that song accompanies a quiet vocal part, followed by more guitar solos. Nice tune.
The bridge between Ceremony and the next song, I Must Go, is
formed by an excerpt of The Rest of our Lives and a bit of
I Must Go (5.25) has one of those melodies that stay in your mind for a long time. According to the credits, this songs only had the Moon band and Twynham on backing vocals.
Halfway through the song, we find some excerpts of Mother Nature and The Rest of our Lives thrown in.
The next track, I Will Love you Forever (2.37), is short but one of my favourites on the album. Lots of emotion, great chord progression, a nice vocal melody, and more. This one has Don Airey on keys again, as on most of the other songs on the album. This track could easily have been on a Brian May solo album.
The next track, a reprise of I Must Go (1.24) with a bit of Mother Nature as well, features a personal favourite of mine: Al 'Year of the Cat' Stewart. Unfortunately, in this acoustic piece poor Al is a bit out of place between the vocal power of Moon on the rest of the CD. This track obviously shows how Martin Darvill dragged in everybody who dared to set foot in the studio.
The next track, Don't Touch the Marble (2.43), is completely different than the rest of the album. It is a sort of rock song with reggae/ska influences and very enjoyable, with a good vocal melody.
An excerpt of Greatest Show called Paradise is Waiting (1.11) follows. This might be one of the bits which got cut out of the final version because it does not appear in the title track at all. As far as the song itself is concerned, it made me think that Freddie Mercury had risen from the grave with a Who Wants to Live Forever-like performance.
Sodium City (2.02), the next track, shows another weakness of the album; at some points the songs tend to sound a lot alike. This one sounds almost exactly like Don't Touch the Marble, only slower. Certainly not a highlight. The whole track, which also features another Airey keyboard solo, is an outstanding piece of work.
This cannot be said about the next tune, Circus in the Sky (7.09), which is one of the best tracks on the album and features Noel Redding on bass and Pendragon's Nick Barret on perhaps the best guitar solo on the album.
I Am the Future (6.08)is a weaker song on the album. To enhance the Christmas
mood of the song, a whole school choir was added. Horror !! Fortunately, after
another From the Beach excerpt (0.40) we come to one of the absolute
favourites on the album: The Only Way to Fly (3.24). After a
acoustic intro (hey, that piano sounds an awful lot like Let it Be!),
this turns into a catchy tune with some of the best lyrics on the album:
Here come my roadies, in white clothes now. Meet my doctor, he's so fine.
A padded cell is all I know now. It's the only way to fly. Marvellous ! Let
madness reign I say !
Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience plays bass on this song, as well as on Circus in the Sky.
In Search of the Holy Grail (4.39) is the last song before the title track. Not one of the best tracks, but quite enjoyable, especially thanks to the good use of backing vocals. After a final bit of Cacophony, the title track comes in. But we've had that one already ....
Moon (Ian Gould) is a great vocalist (chosen CRS vocalist of 1993), which certainly helps to make the less qualitative vocal melodies more enjoyable.
As far as the concept is concerned, the lyrics try to tell "an optimistic
c. 70 minute concept exploring Man's mortality, insignificance in
cosmic happenings, other [probably more intelligent] journeyman [or greater]
in the universe, the need to maintain perspective." Well, whatever ...
If the songs tell a story at all it has certainly been forced in the materials which was written over the course of 20 years. I found it better to enjoy the songs on their own then thinking about this meaning. And don't get me wrong, I normally adore concept albums. Things like the the comparison between the fall of Atlantis and the love between boy and girl in the 20th century as pictured in the title track just don't appeal to me. Fortunately, the music is very good.
The 16-page booklet has enough to keep you busy for a whole evening. Not only does it feature all lyrics and Darvill's explanations of the concept (if you're interested), but also loads and loads of pictures of the studio sessions with the guest musicians. Unfortunately, the interesting liner notes by Darvill, Groom and Orford are printed very small and often in bad contrast with the background colour, so you have to strain your eyes to be able to read anything. It's definitely worth the effort though.
When I first heard the album, it did not real appeal to me, but it has
really grown on me when I played it more often. Some vocal melodies could
have been better and a bit more diversity and adventurous use of different
instruments would have been nice. The appearance of some guest musicians
could have been a bit better with some more preparation.
Nevertheless, it's a very good album, which will certainly be liked by lots of prog fans. It's certainly one of the best debut albums I've heard in the last couple of years and one of my favourites of this year.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
I thought it might be wise to start with a little background about myself for
this review. After discovering Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project in the
eighties, Marillion were the most important band to get me into progressive
rock. I joined the Dutch fan club just after Fish left the band and saw
the band for the first time at the 'Just Slip Across' fan club convention.
I bought all their singles and CDs and went to most of the concerts in
Holland. Eventually I ended up contributing to The Web Holland by translating for the
English version of the fanzine.
I loved the so-called 'Hogarth period' just as much as the past with Fish and I adored the long and versatile tracks of Seasons End, Brave and Afraid of Sunlight. Holidays in Eden had some nice songs as well, but certainly wasn't one of my favourites.
This Strange Engine had some good tracks, but on the whole most of the shorter songs on the album did not appeal to me. Now there's the new album and I'm afraid this will turn out to be my least favourite Marillion album so far.
Costa del Slough (1.27) opens the album in a rather strange way. First
we hear Steve Hogarth wailing in the background with a lot of echo. This is soon
accompanied by a cacaphony of loud noise (the end of Three Minute Boy if
I'm not mistaking) which suddenly stops and gives way to an acoustic ditty with
Steve Rothery on guitar and Hogarth on distorted vocals (he used a megaphone for
this one on stage). The lyrics are a cynical look on the greenhouse effect:'The
hole in the ozone layer is alright by me, makes England warmer in the summer'.
I find the loud noise and the wailing quite annoying and don't consider it to be a good opening for an album and the bit which comes after is odd to say the least.
Under the Sun (4.10) elaborates on the above mentioned view on the hole in the ozone layer. Marillion already discussed this topic ten years ago on Seasons End, so I can't call this a fresh new subject. The song itself is very good though. It's a kick-ass rocker - comparable with Hard as Love - with roaring guitar, a great bass line, a good vocal melody, a prominent keyboard in the chorus and Hammond-like effect in the background during the rest of the song. The guitar solo at the end (unfortunately) sounds very different from Rothery's 'normal' style and is a bit too dominating as far as I'm concerned.
The Answering Machine (3.47) has a nice melody but the way the
song has been performed is just not my cup of tea. All instruments create
a wall of noise without room for subtle instrumentations. Hogarth's vocals
are distorted again, as if coming through a phone or radio. What a shame, this
could have been a nice song if it had been arranged and performed
differently. This could well be my least favourite track on the album.
The lyrics are about two persons (a man and a wife ?) who's relationship has become cold and platonic and the only way they really communicate is through the answering machine.
Fortunately, Three Minute Boy (5.59) is much better. It starts as a
beautiful piano/vocals ballad which would not have been out of place on
Brave. It slowly builds in power until another guitar solo hits you straight
in the face after the second chorus. After some wailing by Hogarth another
solo follows, this time a bit more in the typical Rothery style.
After the climax of the song there's a messy ending followed by some people making fun of Hogarth's vocals on the track. Quite stupid to ridicule one of the highlights on the album, if you ask me. It really spoils the impact of the track.
The lyrics - which remind me of the old Tux On B-side - are about a guy who has a world wide hit with a three minute song, meets a girl who 'made a movie he almost remembered' (I can't help thinking of Pamela Anderson here) and they fall in love. He tours around the world while all these willing young ladies offer themselves to him and she's waiting at home. She leaves him and he ends up miserable and (if I'm not mistaking) even kills himself. She meets another one-hit-wonder.
This is another one of Hogarth's views on stardom, which was also one of the topics of the Afraid of Sunlight album. Must be something which is really nagging him.
Anyway, great track.
Now She'll Never Know (4.59) is a ballad which starts with vocals and
acoustic guitar. Later on other instruments join in but the song stays very
quiet (I even had to turn the volume up to be able to hear it clearly).
Hogarth is singing very modestly and seems to have a bit of a problem with the higher notes (although this might have been done on purpose). The best song to compare this one with is the quiet part of Beyond You. Some of you might like it, but it bores the hell out of me. This song also ends with some useless studio noises of doors opening and closing.
These Chains (4.49) is a wonderful track that starts with keyboards
and vocals. The rest of the band joins in with the second couplet. The
track could best be compared to a cross between The Party and
Hogarth about the lyrics of this song:"I think with These Chains and the album generally, a lot of it's to do with my reaching forty, and watching my friends lives as well. You're twenty and you've got your dreams and ambitions; in your thirties, you begin to feel like you're a proper person; then when you get to the end of your thirties, it all starts to fall apart again. This sudden disillusion of things that you thought were solid and sorted.
One early morning I was driving through the countryside and the sun was rising on the fields and it was really beautiful, and I thought this is the one thing they can't take from you. They can take your house, people can leave you, but there's something going on here and it's for everyone. And I thought a lot of our perceptions of what we need are misplaced. Like in that song, the themes, these chains are all your own, this cage was unlocked all the time."
Born to Run (5.12) is a blues track about Hogarth's efforts to
get away from his working class hometown. Working titles for this one were
Blues in C and Grim Up North. The music of the track is very
similar to that of Fish's Five Years. The vocal melody is very
uninteresting though. I like blues a lot, but this track just doesn't work
for me. Maybe as a left-over on a B-side, but not as an album track.
More useless studio sounds in the final 15 seconds.
Cathedral Wall (7.19) starts with a powerful keyboard solo, followed
by a very interesting groovy atmospheric backing track for the couplets.
Unfortunately the fun is spoiled by the vocals. They decided to go for one
of those whispering in the foreground, loud screaming with echoes in the
background arrangements. This might work fine for someone like Roger Waters,
but not here. Furthermore, the chorus turns out to be one of those
multi-vocal things they also used for Man of a Thousand Faces. I loved it
in that song, but combined with the loud music in this song, it doesn't
appeal to me at all.
This one could have been a very good one if they had used an 'old-fashioned Marillion arrangement', but alas. The song ends with a loud climax and a few seconds of speed metal and then ..... one minute of thin studio sounds with Hogarth playing a reprise of These Chains. I really can't see the sense in these bits.
The lyrics of Cathedral Wall are about the time when Hogarth suffered from insomnia and used the mental image of sitting against a cathedral wall and looking up at the night sky to be able to fall asleep.
A Few Words for the Dead (10.32) is a very strange song that starts
with an ambient soundscape with Floydian sound effects and Gabriel-ish
pounding drums and native music (like on the Passion album).
A guitar, a sitar and the vocals comes in as well as a backward tape loop.
The vocals are very emotional.
After no less than six and a half minutes the music changes in a regular band playing. The song ends in a long one minute fade. Very interesting track.
The bottom line is that I only like 4 of the songs on this album, and even then I would have preferred a different arrangement. Most of the songs are rather loud and the subtle mood and rhythm changes we've come to love in Marillion's music are absent. Three Minute Boy and These Chains are probably the tracks which come closest to the Marillion we all knew and loved. The rest has a completely different style, which according to some people is highly influenced by bands like Radiohead.
The CD is rather short and if you don't count all the silly studio bits it's just 45 minutes long. At the same time it was about 5 guilders more expensive than any other CD. What's the deal here ?
The booklet was once again designed by Bill Smith studios. I've never been a real fan of their stuff. The album covers were always good, but the rest was just a bit to 'weird' and 'flung together' for me. It's the same with this one. The cover is wonderful and the red colouring creates a spooky sea of blood. Inside the booklet you'll find the lyrics, a couple of band pictures and some Bill Smith illustrations. The picture in which Hogarth carries a wooden structure with the detached heads of the rest of the band unfortunately falls flat because Mark Kelly's head is very clearly 'pasted' on the picture.
Because of the aforementioned background, I've become rather critical about Marillion's releases. This just isn't the album I want to see the band put out, and I can't say the new direction is one which will keep me interested in the band. On the other hand, the album does have its moments and you should definitely give it a try before making a decision not to buy or not to buy it. After all, many Freaks on the Marillion Mailing List seem to like it.
I've given the band the opportunity to add their remarks to this review, since I think that would be a fair thing to do, them being one of the favourite in the prog scene. Unfortunately, they did not respond.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
IQ - Forever Live
On June 12th 1993, IQ launched their brand new album Ever with
a concert at the Stadthalle in Kleve, Germany. The band decided to record the concert and release it as a box set with a video and a double CD.
It took almost 3 years before the box set was finally released, owing to various reasons.
Some overdubs also had to be made. Vocalist Peter Nicholls later said: "We've been asked a couple of times if there are any overdubs on 'Forever Live' and yes, there are. Most bands, when preparing a live album, will record a few shows on a tour (or possibly the whole tour) so that they can select the best performances. As you know, we weren't in that position with the box set because it was a recording of only one gig. Of course, knowing that put us under a lot of pressure and of course we made mistakes on the night. Given that we very much wanted to present 'Forever Live' as a polished, deluxe item we did some bits of cheating in the studio to iron out the creases and polish the rough edges, Sometimes, though, it was a case of twiddling with the sound, rather than eliminating bum notes, to improve the overall sound quality. It's nothing new. Most live albums have been subjected to some tinkering at some point. I read that on 'Pulse', Pink Floyd even managed to join together different performances of the same song!"
The box set was finally released in April 1996 and was promoted with a short tour of 3 or 4 shows. The box set was received very well and fans were delighted to finally be able to see the theatrical performance of The Enemy Smacks on the video. Others however did not or could not spend the concerned amount of money on the box set or were only interested in the CD. There's good news now for these people; the CD has now been released as a seperate item. Since the box set was never really reviewed on DPRP, I thought it might be nice to write a few lines about the re-release of the CD.
With the exception of two songs (Wiggle and the acoustic version of Magic Roundabout), the double CD features the full 2 hour concert. Since this was the release show for Ever, the emphasis lies on the material from that CD. All tracks from that album were played live, except for Further Away (which the band was not fully familair with yet) and Came Down (which they feared might not be exiting enough for an audience which did not yet know the song). The Darkest Hour, Fading Senses, Out of Nowhere and Leap of Faith are all present in wonderful live versions. Especially Leap of Faith with its alternative dramatic ending is a real treat.
The earlier IQ albums are all represented with one or more songs. The full version of The Enemy Smacks and two parts of The Last Human Gateway (a marvellous semi-acoutic version of the middle part and a powerful remake of the closing section) represent Tales from the Lush Attic. The Wake, The Thousand Days, Widow's Peak and a very good version of Headlong represent The Wake.
The two albums on which Paul Menel originally sang are present with No Love Lost and Human Nature (both from Nomzamo) and a kick-ass version of Nostalgia/Falling Apart at the Seams (From Are You Sitting Comfotably ?). Suprisingly enough, Peter Nicholls does not have the least of problems with the vocals on these and the versions on this live album are at least as great as the originals.
The liner notes by the band members and most of the photographs which were present in the box set book have been included in the new CD booklet. There are also several new pictures. For the rest, the CD is exactly the same as the one in the box set.
This is a must-have for all fans of the band who did not buy the box set. It's also a great album for anybody who wants to check out IQ's music, since it's almost a greatest hits package for the pre-Subterranea period.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10