Reviews in this issue:
- The Lens - A Word In Your Eye
- Helloise - Fata Morgana
- After Forever - Decipher
- Elegant Simplicity - Palindrome
- Magenta - Revolutions
- Radiohead - I Might Be Wrong
- Salem Hill - Catatonia
- Jadis - Alive Outside
- Kayak - Night Vision
- Damian Wilson - Disciple
- Dream Theater - Metropolis 2000: Scenes From New York (DVD)
- Marillion - A Verry Barry Christmas
- Regenesis - Lamb For Supper - Live 2001
- Mostly Autumn - The Last Bright Light
- Mostly Autumn - The Story so Far
- John Wesley - Chasing Monsters
- Saga - House Of Cards
- A.C.T - Imaginary Friends
- Shadow Gallery - Legacy
- Manning - Cascade
The Lens - A Word In Your Eye
Back in the second half of the seventies a band of teenagers called The Lens roamed the area of Hampshire. Playing their blend of spacey instrumental prog rock inspired by Genesis (Hackett), Hawkwind and other prog dino's, but with their own unique identity, they stood out in a time of New Wave and punk. The Lens went through many line-up changes, but the band mainly centered around the creative core of Mike Holmes (guitar) and Martin Orford (keyboard and flute). When the band eventually split up in 1981, Martin and Mike formed a new band called IQ and the rest is history .... (More information on the history of The Lens and IQ can be found in the IQ FAQ at The Lush Attic.)
When recording his solo album Classical Music and Popular Songs, Martin decided to resurrect one of the old Lens tracks and invited Mike Holmes to
play guitar on it. The result, Fusion, triggered a renewed interest in their old material among
the two and they decided to give it a go and re-record some of their best stuff.
Last summer I got a sneak preview when I attended one of the recording sessions in which the bass parts for Sleep Until You Wake and the MS2000 synth parts for From The Sublime were laid down. Four months later, at IQ's 20th anniversary gig, I was handed a copy of the album that - in true IQ fashion - had been finished only a couple of days earlier. I also had the pleasure of watching 'The Lens' perform three tracks as support act for IQ (Sleep Until You Wake, Choosing a Farmer part 3, Of Tide and Change). And the next day, on my way back from the airport I could finally hear the first decent recordings of material that was almost 25 years old !
The album features 5 out of 9 tracks from the original No TV Tonite demo tape that The Lens released in 1980 (two other tracks, Dans Le Parc Du Chateau Noir and For Christ's Sake have previously been re-recorded by IQ, while The Lens material like About Lake Five and Oh Shit Me! also became part of the IQ ouvre). A Word in Your Eye also contains three songs that did not appear on their demo but were frequently played live and appeared on the much-traded bootleg recording of their performance at Grammer School in Poole, UK in 1981 (Choosing a Farmer part 3, Childhood's End, Frost and Fire). Finally there's the track From the Sublime to complete the album. Although I owned both a copy of the No TV Tonite demo and the Grammer School bootleg, I rarely played them because of the horrendous sound quality.
The core members of The Lens are of course Martin Orford and Mike Holmes. Mike plays all guitars and bass guitars on the album (the latter which he borrowed from one Miss Johnny), and some of the keyboard parts as well. Martin plays keyboards and flutes and also performs the vocals on the only track that isn't fully instrumental. Initially Mike had planned to play all of the drums as well, but eventually IQ's Paul Cook, who's drum kit they had borrowed, ended up playing the drum parts as guest musician. Another guest musician is Tony Wright, who we've come to know as saxophone player on IQ's latest two albums Subterranea and The Seventh House. The album was recorded in Nomansland by Rob Aubrey and is packaged with a nice booklet with artwork that was designed by Mike Holmes and features an extensive 4-page history of the band.
The music on the album is almost fully instrumental. Although it is a lot more spacey than their later work with IQ, some of the tracks show that distinct IQ sound. Mike Holmes' typical guitar play, which as this album proves is much inspired by Steve Hackett, and Martin's work on keyboards and flute are ever present. The style of the music varies from pastoral and soothing (On Stepen's Castle Down) to spacey and ambient (Sleep Until You Wake, Shafts of Light), to clearly the sound that would evolve into IQ (Choosing a Farmer, Of Tide and Change). References I could give as far as similarities are concerned are (among others) Steve Hackett, Camel, Pink Floyd (reverb guitar a la Run Like Hell and weird synth stuff a la On The Run) and Ozric Tentacles.
Sleep Until You Wake is a gentle opener of the album with a very seventies Hackett feel. Fretless bass and atmospheric keyboard carry the song, driven by Paul Cook's drum rolls and fills. The song also contains one of those splendid Mike Holmes guitar solos.
On Stephen Castle's Down, a song named after a place in Hampshire, is a very gentle flute and acoustic guitar tune that conjures up memories of the intro of The Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin. The ambience created by this folkish song is continued by Shafts of Light, which mainly consists of washes of keyboard with soaring guitar and pandrum-like percussion in the background. Personally I find this the least interesting track on the album.
Childhood's End - which has nothing to do with the classics by Marillion or Pink Floyd as some might think - is a track that reminds me quite a lot of the seventies Camel. It's a rather jazzy easy-listening track with a great saxophone part by Tony Wright, replacing the original opening guitar solo. The second half of the song features the only vocals of the album; Martin sings an enchanting melody that gets an extra spacey feel by the use of some robotic vocoding, not unlike Klaatu used on their first album.
Next up is my favourite of the album, Frost and Fire. The title suits the piece perfectly since the first half consists of synths, guitar and sound effects of thunderstorms create a cold atmosphere while the second half, when the thunderous drums and (synth?)-bass kick in after a match has been lit, is the most fiery and powerful part of the whole album. The reverb guitar is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell, while the sequencers create a Subterranea like feel. The track also contains some amazing keyboard solos.
Of Tide and Change is another highlight. This song clearly shows where the band was heading
with their music as it sounds very IQ-ish. A close listen actually reveals that the song contains a
catchy melody that IQ also tried as part of a song that was played live in 1995 but was never released
(with the exception of the guitar melody which later became High Waters). Back in 1995 the melody
was used to merge the untitled track with the intro of Outer Limits.
The two parts of Choosing a Farmer that are present on this album are other examples of how the material of The Lens evolved into what became IQ; lots of changes in mood, rhythms and melodies, and even featuring a snippet of the reggae track Choosing a Farmer part 2.
From the Sublime picks up where Pink Floyd's On The Run ends. The first two minutes are a spacey soundscape with synths, guitar chords and cymbals. Then suddenly the track moves into an uptempo rhythm created by the throbbing of a MS2000 synth. Imagine the VCs3 synths and hi-hats of On the Run with additional reverb guitar loops and background synths.
Another 'Aha Erlebnis' takes place in Choosing a Farmer (part 3). Not only does this song contain themes that were previewed in Choosing a Farmer (part 1), it also contains the sequence that later became the end of Widow's Peak. A nice touch that the lads have left this in !
People who liked the early IQ stuff that was re-recorded on Seven Stories into Ninety-Eight or IQ tracks like Just Changing Hands and Dans le Parc du Chateau Noir (orginally a Lens composition) simply have to get a copy of this album. For those people who dislike IQ because of their vocalist, this is a chance to hear an 'early instrumental' version. And for people who like good retrospective seventies prog rock this album is without a doubt a (wet) dream come true as well. All in all, this is an album that every self-respecting prog fan should definitely check out !
There's still a couple of songs that The Lens have not re-recorded themselves, or as IQ (The Run, Another Realisation, Mine, Choosing A Farmer Part II). And knowing the restrictions of working as IQ, I wouldn't mind if The Lens would be resurrected in its live form as well, or would go on to record more albums. Time will tell ....
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Helloise - Fata Morgana
Helloise is a Dutch band that has been around for a while now, being one of the main melodic hard rock bands in our little country in the '80s. They have released three other albums so far, two in the eighties and one in 1998. This is their first album that I hear, so I cannot compare the music on this album closely to their previous work. So I have to rely on the sleeve notes which tell me that the style is somewhat different from their previous albums, being a bit more progressive power rock, but not losing their own identity. Let's just say that for me it was a nice encounter.
Their music indeed varies from hard rock to AOR. The album opens with a classical piece with choir and acoustic guitar, like many bands (think Pendragon, think After Forever) tend to do nowadays. The next track, Children of the Night is one of the type that you remember instantly... the next time you hear it you think, damn where do I remember this melody from? Very strong guitar work, nicely larded with keyboards and firm rhythmic sections and the excellent voice of Stan Verbraak. Elloise is a cover from a 1968(!) track, but made quite heavy. Nicely done, but the antiqueness of the composition is obvious.
A couple of guest appearances really spice up the album as well. There is
for instance the appearance of Lana Lane in the track Wings of an Angel, a very powerful up-tempo track, and indeed
maybe even somewhat Norlanderesque (in terms of composition and melody, not in terms of keyboard playing ;-). By the
way, is it just me or is Lana whenever she appears on an album singing about flying?
Another good thing about the album is that even though some of the songs are very forceful (e.g. The Game & The Rules), the melody is never lost out of sight. The "obligatory" ballad is of course also present here in the form of Wasted Time. As power rock ballads are always compared to The Scorpions, I shall not do that here (even though it should be a valid comparison). Oooops, I did it again... ;-). In fact, I think the whole album be quite close to the music of The Scorpions in many ways.
Throughout the album, many different musical styles are used. I already mentioned the classical opening, but in
Dreammaker, a Gypsy ensemble is featured, whose delicated playing gets taken over by the power of the Helloise
electrical ensemble. But the best thing they have done in respect to guest appearances is to have Dutch keyboard
virtuoso Robby Valantine spicing up the tracks with some nice keyboard licks. I believe that without his contribution,
the album would not have been half of what it is now. Especially in his solos in the instrumental fast track Mirage he
can show off his talents.
A small word about the production: I don't think anyone could have any complaints about the production and mix. They are all very nicely done, not loosing the sharper edges, but also maintaining the necessary quality. Just what the album needs: clean power. All in all, a fine album for people what want a not too complicated yet powerful album, that is a joy to listen to. For those, I can really recommend the album. As I am one of them, they earn my "DPRP recommended" tag.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
After Forever - Decipher
After Forever was one of the major discoveries of the last two years with their debut album Prison of Desire. They played a very impressive amount of gigs in the Netherlands, but also a couple abroad. In the meantime, even I had the opportunity to see them live in Eindhoven, together with Within Temptation a while ago. They gave a very strong performance, even though their metal side is more to the front live than it is on the album(s) (the fact that during the breaks thundering death metal was played didn't really help either...).
As was to be expected, their new album basically continues the style of the previous album, and at a first glance it even seems a copy of ideas of the first album. For instance, the classical piece with which the album opens, the choir etc. is an almost literal copy of the musical idea of the first album, also the build up, with the second track being not too complicated, and having a rhythmically more challanging third piece comes close to Prison of Desire. However, after the album has settled a bit more, and it takes a couple of spins to achieve that, it slowly becomes apparent that After Forever has grown in their music, the whole album sounds more mature, and in a sense both (even) darker and more balanced than their debut. The deep grunts are not used as heavily any more and Floor Jansen sings more in a "normal" voice (even though she does use her soprano vocals now and again). In fact, in some parts her voice even starts sounding a bit like Lana Lane.....
The impression I had after listening to this album for
a week or two is that this album definitely is more "progressive" than the debut album. Especially the rhythmic
section has improved a lot. I personally was most impressed by My Pledge Of Allegiance, which has a complex,
yet still very catchy and powerful rhythm line. I think a lot of symphonic and progressive rock fans will love this album too,
as the album is very varied and even contains sensitive ballads like for instance Intrinsic, where Floor Jansen manages to
put a lot of emotion in her singing. But before everybody falls asleep, one is awakened with the powerful metal piece Zenith.
The use of original classical instruments like cello and violin, as well as a real choir, adds enormously to the overal dynamics of the album, especially in a piece like Estranged, which goes through a whole range of moods and can also be considered quite a masterpiece. In Imperfect Senses, After Forever does something new: a duet between Jansen (soprano) and a male tenor. Damn, you almost would think they were sponsered by Joop van den Ende and they are practicing for After Forever - The Musical ;-) (Dutch joke). All jokes set aside: this ballad is a bit too sweet for me, even though melodically it is well composed. After that my favorite piece returns with My Pledge Of Allegiance #2, featuring many of the themes of part 1.
In conclusion: After Forever have lived up to the expectations and produced an album that at least rivals the previous one, and indeed in most places excels over Prison Of Desire. Again, as we are used with Transmission releases, the production and packaging are flawless and stylish. This one is bound to become a classic too. If you like bands like Within Temptation, Therion or The Gathering, I insist that you try this one out!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Elegant Simplicity - Palindrome
Palindrome is actually the twelfth album from Elegant Simplicity (ES), a band which is the brainchild of Steven McCabe. Whereas previous ES albums featured both Peter Douglas and Gilbert Ross, it seems that ES has been whittled down to just McCabe who takes care of seemingly everything on the album apart from the vocals which are in the hands of Ken Senior (Parallel Or 90 Degrees).
The opening instrumental track, Palindrome, immediately shows the style which McCabe tends to prefer in his music. The keyboards are omnipresent with the mellotron a mainstay of the music, that is reminiscent of the glorious seventies. Everything seemingly moves at a slow place on this album with changes taking place ever so slowly and subtly. Even the flow between one track and another is totally unobtrusive. Twinning of Souls seems to indicate bands such as Camel as major influences on this band especially when one compares the way the bass line progresses in between various guitar licks. Another feature is the cleanliness of the sound that is portrayed with everything seeming so calculated and perfected leaving little room for improvisation and flair.
The first track to feature vocals is The Way Back Home which though extremely pleasant sounding is at the end of the day slightly too commercial resulting in a fairly bland and predictable piece of music. Unfortunately when it comes to the solo section we are faced with what is essentially another predicable and quirky sounding keyboard solo with much needed variety in sound sorely lacking, an affliction which also affects Between Two Points. Another of the disappointing features of this track is the obvious use of a drum machine with its thin soudning automated beats.
Let It Be Me sees the return of Senior on vocals, and though his vocals are extremely pleasant sounding, they do little to lift the spirits and overall sound of the album. The Physical World once again has a cheap quirky touch to the keyboards, making them almost sound like some backdrop in a bar while Still Fluttering is the first track to show some form of diversion. The sound of the acoustic guitar is indeed welcome with the occasional hint in the Genesis direction noted. The album comes to an end with Still Hearing Your Voice that could be considered one of the better tracks on the album. The keyboards take on a more cosmic/space-rock sound, though as with the rest of the album, things take very long to happen and when they do they are rather predictable.
As I mentioned already, the music and ideas of Elegant Simplicity are great and it is obvious that there is no debating Steven McCabe's musical capabilities. However, one must also add if he were surrounded by a full band, then the outcome would be different and most definitely a turn for the best. At this stage the even sound that prevails throughout the whole of the album does not allow for any contrasts resulting in too much of a homogenous affair with the occasional flicker of illumination and overall hints at things that could have been.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Magenta - Revolutions
CD 2 (55.25): Man The Machine (24.56) [i. Man and Machine, ii. War, iii. Rememberance, iv. The Watchers, v. Lightspeed, vi. First Contact], Opus 2 (1.16), Genetesis (21.48) [i. The New Age, ii. Renewed Purpose, iii. A New Life, iv. The Search For Faith, v. The Creed], The Warning (7.17)
Magenta is a new project of Rob Reed, perhaps better known as the creative force behind the band Cyan - one of the more interesting bands that emerged during the early nineties prog-revival on the now defunct SI label.
After the somewhat disappointing third Cyan album The Creeping Vine things looked more optimistic when it became clear that Reed was working on a new project, which was supposed to be some sort of ultimate prog album. However, two years later, during which the prog-train that is called Transatlantic redefined the words "inspired by classic prog bands", Magenta may have a hard time to even get noticed.
The album certainly looks like a classic prog album. The cover is in a typical seventies style, with a Roger Dean inspired bandlogo. Flip the album over and you see four tracks, some 20 minutes each, spread out over two CDs. Can you say Tales From Topographic Oceans? (even the song titles would have made Jon Anderson jealous)
Multi-instrumentalist Reed teamed up with singer Christina Murphy, whose pleasant vocals are a cross between Renaissance's Annie Haslam and Joanne Hog of Iona. Drums are done by Cyan collaborator Tim Robinson, while additional percussion is courtesy of Tim Short. Three guest guitarists complete the line-up Chris Fry, Andy Edwards (both Cyan collaborators) and Martin Shellard. Reed himself takes care of the bass guitars, acoustic and remaining electric guitars, keyboards, tambourine and the male vocals. His brother Steve Reed is responsible for the album concept ('Faith') and the lyrics.
The four epics are cut into bite-sized chunks, which actually makes them feel less epic and more like a string of songs that are mixed together. The two Opus tracks are nice acoustic reprises of some of the recurring themes from the epics, providing little breathers in between the epics. The final track The Warning stands out because of its relatively short playing time, but it's a worthy album closer.
The music on the album is indeed heavily inspired by classic prog bands. Anything from Genesis, Yes, Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Gentle Giant, Queen, Camel, Renaissance, Marillion, IQ but also newer bands like Spock's Beard, The Flower Kings, Porcupine Tree or even Ayreon can be found on the album and all through the album these references can easily be pointed out.
I'm a huge fan of the typical guitar sound of Mike Oldfield, and so is Rob Reed, so it seems, as his playing is often very similar. Furthermore Oldfield's Tubular Bells seems to pop up everywhere. Pendragon/eighties' Marillion type Moog synthesiser melodies are also plentiful and fans of the Moog will have a hard time disliking this album.
However there is a point where inspiration becomes downright plagiarism. Epic #3, Man and Machine is that point. It starts with a theme that sounds a lot like Yes' Leave It, mixed with a typical Genesis bass-line (Trick of the Tail era). It then turns into more Genesis-type music before becoming an almost exact copy of Marillion's Garden Party and then turning into a bit that could have come straight off any IQ record. The last part of the song is a cross between Ayreon and Strangers on a Train with a Mike Oldfield finale. Together with some of the most naive lyrics I've ever heard this makes it the worst song on the album (although the finale is pretty good in fact).
Despite the weak Man The Machine I tend to prefer the second disc to the first. Not only because of the longer playing time, but this disc also contains the most interesting music. The best bits of the entire album can be found on this disc, as Genetesis is easily the best of the four epics. Musically this is a bit of a cross between The Flower Kings (mainly because Martin Shellard's guitar playing on this track is very reminiscent to Roine Stolt's) and Pendragon, with a very nice vocal melody and plenty of changes in rhythm and style. There are plenty references to other bands that can easily be pointed out, but they are references, rather than exact copies.
The thing most epics lack are climaxes. After 20 minutes of music you have to go out with a bang, but none of the four epics have this. Aforementioned Man the Machine has got a pretty nice climax, in the vein of Mike Oldfield, but it sounds a bit too tame though, it just can't convince. Thanksgiving, the finale of Children of the Sun has a bit of a climax in the vein of Mike Oldfield too, with a great guitar and even tubular bells, but then fades out rather than finishing with a real ending.
I'd say this is an album that's very pleasant to listen too, with tons of classic prog moments, and I would therefore recommend it to anyone who likes classic ("neo") prog, without giving too much attention to originality or lyrics.
However, I do find the album a bit overlong, and like I said before, a bit too often it sounds more like a collection of well-known songs and tunes, instead of original compositions.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Radiohead - I Might Be Wrong (Live Recordings)
Hot on the heels of Amnesiac, Radiohead are back, this time with a live recording. Having heard the sounds that are present on both Kid A and Amnesiac one would have thought that any band would have found it difficult to translate any of the tracks present on these albums onto the stage without any form of compromise. Instead what we get is an album worth of material that shows that Radiohead are capable of rocking, even with numbers which in their studio version sounded so cold and calculated.
The original intention was that a single of I Might Be Wrong would be released with bonus live tracks. However, this evolved into a full blown album with eight tracks recorded at shows in Oxford, Berlin, Oslo and Vaison La Romaine. All of the tracks, bar one, are taken from the Kid A and Amnesiac albums with the only previously unreleased piece being the final True Live Waits, an old composition in itself and also a Radiohead live favourite.
From the opening National Anthem, one realises that when playing live the band have managed to do away with all the avant-garde effects and get stripped down to basics with the guitar belting out one healthy riff after the other as Colin Greenwood's bass kicks up a momentous rhythm. Apart from this track, Kid A is represented by Idioteque and Everything In Its Right Place. Once again comparisons to the studio releases prove elusive. Whereas Idioteque was almost techno-induced, this time round the plaintive voice of Thom Yorke seems to infuse new life into this track while the audience accompanies him by singing word for word. Truly impressive stuff as the music takes on a hypnotic and uncannily warm feel.
As an album, Amnesiac was much more accessible than Kid A to the general public and the tracks played from that album ably demonstrate this. Possibly the highlight of this selection, and the album, would be the new interpretation of Like Spinning Plates which is stripped down to Yorke's vocals and just a piano as accompaniment. The live feel also brings out the rockier edge on tracks such as The Morning Bell and Dollars And Cents without detracting from their overall experimental touch.
The live Radiohead experience is not something that can be boasted of by too many people. One always hears reports on their ability to translate the cold atmosphere of their studio albums into a warm rock ambience when playing live, however such a feeling was only available on record via various bootlegs. I Might Be Wrong might not win over many new fans for the band, especially when one considers that there is nothing of their "more commercial" back catalogue on this album. On the other hand, this album offers past fans to really understand what this band is all about. Make sure you catch them live. If you can't, get this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Salem Hill - Catatonia
Back in 1997 Salem Hill recorded a concept album titled Catatonia. Since the success of their last two albums, the Cyclops label offered to re-release the band's full back catalogue, including this one. The band has taken the opportunity to add some extra keyboards by Michel Myers to four of the songs.
Catatonia was originally recorded before Michael Myers (keyboards) and Michael Dearing (guitars) had joined the band. In 1997 the band consisted of Carl Groves (guitars, keys, vocals), Patrick Henry (bass) and Kevin Thomas (drums, percussion, vocals). Since Carl Groves has always been the main composer of Salem Hill's material, Catatonia can very easily be identified as a work of Salem Hill. Then
again, the absence of Myers, Dearing and David Ragsdale - who played on the brilliant last two albums
The Robbery of Murder and Not Everybody's Gold - as well as the slightly more straightforward rock approach, sometimes reminds me more
of Carl Groves' solo album Branch Upon the Ground than of Salem Hill's last two masterpieces.
Still, though the album might be slightly less melodic than its follow-ups, this certainly doesn't mean that Catatonia is a weak album. On the contrary ! Having heard that the two albums that were recorded prior to Catatonia (and that have also been re-released by Cyclops in a limited edition) were much more mainstream rock, Catatonia is probably a cross-over phase between that period and the period to come. And indeed, there are many moments on this CD where you can hear the direction that the band was to take with The Robbery of Murder and Not Everybody's Gold.
Catatonia's story is a typical piece of work reflecting the society-critical, cynical and sometimes slightly pessimistic views of Carl Groves, which are also explored on his solo album. The story concerns a man who has been unable to
dream for the whole of his life and as a substitute has developed the ability to self-induce a catatonic state (for the non-medical folks: a sort of a coma). In his childhood he often went to 'Catatonia' to meet fictional characters but as he grew older it got increasinly more difficult to leave and when he turned adult he was forced to decide not to go there anymore because of the risk of 'getting stuck'.
Many years later, totally disillusioned by the state of the world and every day slur, he decides to
escape back into Catatonia. At that time he also has his first dream; a nightmare about 'The Judgement'.
Eventually he finds out the true meaning of life. Pretty deep and philosophical, isn't it ? Especially when compared to the clear and understandable concept of The Robbery of Murder.
Now, as you probably know, I'm a big fan of concept albums. Nevertheless, this story fails to impress me most of the time. First of all, I think it resembles Pink Floyd's The Wall a bit too much. Second, I don't care for the seemingly religious undertones and finally instead of expanding on the concept of Catatonia, the story mainly serves as a medium for Carl to express his view on the world in a rather pretentious way. As a matter of fact, the whole first half of the album is used to critisize the state of the world. In that aspect, Catatonia's first half has the same weakness as the second half of Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime and maybe even the middle bit of IQ's Subterranea; story-wise it drags on without anything really happening. It goes to show that writing a good, continuously fascinating story is an art in itself.
Okay, so the story is a bit daft and the music's not as excellent as on the band's next two albums. Does this mean that Catatonia is a bad album ? Not at all ! Even when viewed as a collection of separate songs there are lots of highly enjoyable tunes, as well as the occassional gem or two.
The Walking Dead is a beautiful opening ballad in true Salem Hill style, not unlike some of the material on The Robbery of Murder or Klaatu's Hope album (one of Groves' favourites). This first song perfectly displays Carl Groves' excellent vocals and sense of melody.
Real is a dark rock track with distorted vocals; not the best track on the album, though I have to admit that it is growing on me. It does feature a nice driving bass line and interesting riffy break.
Children Without Innocence, written by Pat Henry, features a nice string synth intro before it turns into another dark and gloomy rock track that fortunately has a more melodic chorus and some interesting breaks, saving the track from becoming a bit of a bore.
Facade and Charade is a riffy rocker of a song which also features a splendid middle section with some nice proggy bass/guitar interplay. At first it seemed like a simple AOR tune, but this has turned into one of my favourites on the album. The same goes for I Turn My Back on You which follows later on the album and features a splendid riff.
After these three more heavy tracks the ballad I Blinked is a welcome variation. The song, another composition by Pat, consists of two parts, the first one (The Winking Dead) being a ballad with heavier chorusses also featuring the close harmony backing vocals that became so prominent on Not Everybody's Gold. The second part is an atmospheric thingy which previews the lyrics of Peculiar People.
I personally think Habit Without Heart is the weakest song on the album, it's a good example that the lack of supporting keyboards in some of the tracks can become a real weakness.
The title track Catatonia is a rather jazzy ballad that is pretty free-formed and thereby slightly chaotic in the second half. Perhaps not everybody's cup of tea, although I find it nice and soothing.
The Judgement, the album's epic, is the highlight of the CD. It opens with a beautiful piano/vocal ballad that's almost musical-like, before long however the full band joins in. The song goes through various styles, moods, rhythm and melody changes including tasty breaks and lovely solos and can therefore easily be seen as the little brother of Sweet Hope Suite and certainly is among the band's best compositions.
Peculiar People is probably the most accessible and catchy tune with a slightly folky style. Overall good fun with the exception of the annoying singing of a kid in the intro (what is it with prog musicians and singing children ?!).
Awake, a collabotation between Carl and Pat, is one of those typical semi-ballad concept closers. The track ends with a bombastic reprise of The Walking Dead.
All in all this album is a logical predecessor for The Robbery of Murder and Not Everybody's Gold, and while not reaching the heights of these two masterpieces, Catatonia is still a highly enjoyable album in its own right. If you liked the later Salem Hill albums and/or Carl Groves' solo album, or if you like melodic rock/ AOR with heavy progressive leanings, or guitar orientated prog you should definitely check out this CD.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Jadis - Alive Outside
After a few years of relative silence Jadis made a convincing comeback last year with Understand. This album appeared to be one of their best to date. Hopefully it will be able to stand the test of time the same way their debut More Than Meets The Eye did. Jadis took Understand on the road and Alive Outside is the result of one of the gigs. No surprise that almost half of the material on this CD is from their latest studio-outing.
A bit different and longer is the intro to the track Understand, with a Crazy Diamond-like feeling as the result, but soon the song as we know it burst out of your speakers. Jadis is one of those bands that add a certain energy to their songs, when played live, and this is very clear on this recording.
The sheer joy of playing music becomes obvious in a great song like Where In The World. Martin Orford has no difficulty reproducing the brilliant harmony-vocals on this track. I dare to say that his harmonies are even more essential to the Jadis-sound than his keyboard-playing.
The album is recorded at the annual Garden Gig in Nomansland, which usually turns out to be a gathering of (musical) friends and relatives. Fortunately they left the fun of these kind of gigs in, although not every remark from audience or band is understandable.
Racing Sideways features one of the best bass-lines John Jowitt delivers on this album, as well as a genuine solo-spot on the middle of a track. This faster version of this great song certainly is one of the highlights of the album. It proves that a song-based way of writing can result in some fine music, although many prog-fans tend to think different. They're wrong.
Steve Christey is one of those drummers, who often seems to get the credit 'solid' and that's it. Wonderful World, with it's rhythm-changes and great drum-patterns, proves there's more to a drummers-life than being 'solid'. I certainly prefer this live-version to the one on As Daylight Fades, the band's previous live-album. Gary Chandler's guitar-work on this song is so great.
Alive Inside flows in a gentle way in the first part and then suddenly takes off. All members of the band present us with the best of their musical capacities in this fast instrumental part. The drumming-part at the end, combined with the bass and guitar melody-lines, is real fun.
I'd almost forget to mention that Gary Chandler is responsible for the singing as well, but Counting All The Seconds, is a slower track that simply makes you listen to his voice, which is clear, but doesn't lack emotion. In this live version, there are no electronic drums present, but -to be honest- I don't miss them at all. Especially not at the end, where Steve Christey has a solo spot.
Batstein is the only track that seems to have survived the line-up changes since Somersault; it hasn't been absent from the setlist ever since. With its strange rhythm, time-changes and many melody-lines, it's not one of the easiest songs to get into, but there's certainly much to enjoy once you're into it.
The other track off Somersault present here is the closer of that album, Hear Us. Like Holding Your Breath, which ends More Than Meets The Eye, this song has been abbreviated for this occasion. Still, Holding Your Breath, which follows directly from Batstein, lasts more than 6 minutes. It creates a great atmosphere, full of tension, almost literally like holding your breath, before the guitar-solo and the beautiful introduction of the finale-theme by Martin Orford on keyboards. He also gets his (only) keyboard-solo in this part, even though it's still a bit short for my taste. Great song.
Hear Us, on the other hand, has never been able to arouse my enthusiasm. The guitar-solo is good fun, but still the song doesn't grab me, maybe because it isn't really leading anywhere. If there should be a weaker spot on this album, it would be this bit.
Jadis surprises us with two covers on this album. The first of them is Weather With You, originally by Crowded House. This song was played as well by Martin and Gary on their recent tour supporting Pendragon. You could question the reason to play covers, but I really like them, not only because they are great songs, but because they're very fine versions as well. The harmonies of the Crowded House song are in good hands with these boys.
The second cover is Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. Even thought the vocal-melody has slightly been changed I really like this version. It's an honest tribute to this great band and fully does right to the original. Chances are that Pink Floyd will never tour again, so I don't mind other bands keeping the legacy alive. Especially if it's done in such a great way.
With Alive Outside Jadis have delivered a lovely live album. There's great music and lots of fun and atmosphere, which is what a live album should be about. Many live-albums sound like nothing more than the original album with add-on audience. This one doesn't. From a track-list point of view, As Daylight Fades might be a better album, but Alive Outside certainly has more atmosphere and musical talent. The two covers add some extra 'unique-ness'.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10by: Jan-Jaap de Haan
Kayak - Night Vision
After an 18-year absence, Kayak returned unexpectedly in 2000 with a very strong album, Close To The Fire. Unfortunately singer Max Werner wasn't able to finish the following tour, of which a great live-album, Chance For A Livetime, was released. Within a year, the only two founder-members Ton Scherpenzeel en Pim Koopman managed to write no less than 14 new songs for Night Vision, the second studio-album of Kayak #3. With this, they made clear that this reunion wasn't meant to quickly cash in on old reputations.
A lovely piano/vocal introduction leads us into the bombastic Icarus, one of the more progressive tracks on the album. String-arrangements, heavy guitar-riffs, quiet interludes, it's all present in this track. New singer Bert Heerink does a fine job, although I expected him - having his roots in hard-rock formation Vandenberg - to be a bit more powerful in some tracks. Robert Vunderink adds some great harmonies. The choral parts in the quieter middle part of the song are very lovely. Keyboardist Ton Scherpenzeel has a firm hand in the pompous finale, with his string-arrangements on top of the haunting guitars. Great track!
Miracle Man is a more straightforward song, with a continued, heavy guitar-riff and sweeping keyboard-melody on top. A powerful song and, although not very original, still enjoyable.
The first single taken of this album is Cassandra, a romantic ballad with a nice acoustic guitar-solo, which is not really representative for the overall album with its many styles. Heerink's singing reminds me of Elton John at moments here.
After a oriental introduction, a piano accompanies Bert Heerink on the first verse of A Million Years. With it's great vocals, nice harmonies and sensitive guitar-solo by Rob Winter (or is it Rob Vunderink?) this is one of the better ballads on the album.
Piano, in combination with the double guitar-part, are a nice introduction to the up-beat Water For Guns. Regrettably, Heerink's voice gets a bit lost in the layered choruses here. A sudden break leads to a more mystical ending of the song.
The Way Of The World is one of the two "brass-songs" on the album. These songs don't really fit in on the album and I think many prog-fans will skip them. Nevertheless, this track has a great, bluesy atmosphere, not unlike Cab Calloway's song in the famous Blues Brothers-movie. I love the subtle Hammond-organ in the verses.
Another ballad, Hold Me Forever, is especially interesting because of the combination of the two singers. Presented in this way, it's almost as if they're singing a duet. A simple, but very effective, keyboard-solo makes the melody of this song stick in your mind.
The 'other' classic prog-track on the album is Tradition, written by Pim Koopman. He has been the producer of Queen influenced artists like Valensia and Robbie Valentine, which I think is audible in this song. The twists and turns, Brian May-like guitar-work and even certain vocal-bits have this Queen-ish flavour. The second part of this Magnum Opus is a combination of a deep riff, almost like the Beatles' She's So Heavy, and a more fragile piano/vocal part. Queen-songs like Spread Your Wings or Save Me come to my mind. Maybe you disagree with me on this reference, so I'd just say: listen to this awesome track.
After this musical 'violence', it's time for another ballad. This time Heerink is accompanied by acoustic guitars. Like Hold Me Forever, All Over Again is made very well, and the melodies and harmonies are very well crafted. However, not all ballads on this album touch my soul in an equal way. I think Kayak stays on too safe grounds here. There's a lack of adventure.
Life Without Parole is an uplifting, upbeat song, in the tradition of Periscope Life and Starlight Dancer, although this one - unlike the two mentioned - was written by Koopman. Both guitarists have some bars to show their talents in this song.
How probably is the best ballad on the album. This lovely waltz features Ton Scherpenzeel on accordion, which gives a very emotional feeling to the track. With this song he has added another classic to the already extensive Kayak-catalogue.
A folky/Celtic Carry On Boy could - judged by its 'pace' - easily have been the finale of the album. Wings' Mull Of Kentire immediately came to mind, when I heard the first part of this song. The end of the song features a children's choir prominently. I don't really know what to think of this. I think they fitted better in Anybody's Child on their great live-album Chance For A Livetime.
The second brass-song of the album is Good Riddance. Another rhythm-n-blues song, with a honky-tonk piano section, a fat brass sound and a blues-guitar as cream to the pudding. The only prog-song I can think of to compare it with is Big Wedge by Fish. Love it or hate it.
The last song is Rings Of Saturn, another ballad with a fine melody, but -by this time- we're close to the 70 minutes-point of the album and I think this sing-a-long ballad is one too many. Besides, I think the arrangement is a bit too sweet.
Let there be no mistake, Night Vision is another proof of the craftsmanship of these musicians, Ton Scherpenzeel in particular. He is a master of melodies and arrangements. His production is very detailed with much attention for harmonies and sounds. Night Vision features some great songs of which the prog-tracks Icarus and Tradition and the lovely waltz How are my favorites. But also the powerful Miracle Man, shows a surprisingly new, tougher side of the band.
But there's much more to enjoy, maybe even too much, how weird that may sound. I think Kayak haven't really decided what they are: a (prog) rock band, a pop band or even a blues band, which makes the album a bit inconsistent. Some songs are quite heavy (Miracle Man), others much more middle-of-the-road (Life Without Parole). It's almost as if they cannot chose between the essence of Kayak #1 (Werner-era) and Kayak #2 (Reekers-era). But they probably don't want to and from their point of view that's very understandable.
But I have another problem with Night Vision: somehow, the real adventure is missing, there's no edge. Some sing-a-long songs, like Carry on Boy or Rings of Saturn, don't fit a rock band like Kayak and even some of the ballads (of which there are many) could be more fragile, more tense, as was the case on Close To The Fire. Sometimes, real emotion suffers from too elaborate arrangements or production, which is -in my view- the case with All Over Again and Cassandra.
Fortunately, Night Vision is a very long album, with many different styles. Even if you don't like some of the songs, there's much left to enjoy.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10by: Jan-Jaap de Haan
Damian Wilson - Disciple (Grow Old With Me)
Tracklisting CD-2: Grow Old With Me (3:31) , In A Word (3:07), Just The Way It Goes (4:30), A Monday Night In March (4:07), Nothing Left In Me (4:10).
Most readers of DPRP will know Damian Wilson of his work for Threshold, Ayreon and Landmarq. He proved a to be a powerful (prog)rock singer. On his first solo-album, Cosmas, he already showed a totally different, acoustic, side. With Disciple Wilson joins forces with the Sheffield Youth Orchestra for a collection of songs that can almost described as little 'hymns' and love songs. No prog included.
The album opens with the stunningly beautiful title track. A simple, acoustic guitar and a lovely orchestral arrangement meet with the very fragile and personal lyrics of a father, who is looking at his son with pride and tenderness.
Brightest Way is a more upbeat song with a lovely Hammond-organ part. The orchestra is less prominent here, but it isn't missed. The same is the case with Heavenly Mine, which features a folky violin part and a sing-along chorus. Despite the serious nature of the lyrics, both songs are very positive tracks, a celebration of love.
The following song is a slower ballad with acoustic guitar and accompanying string quartet. The drums in the middle resemble the heart-beat that's Beating Inside. The ending is very beautiful, with drums that almost sound like a loop, with bass and string on top of it.
What A Man Can Dream is almost a Christmas lullaby, which fits nicely in this wintertime. The orchestra, flute and acoustic guitar, it's all very gentle and honest. This goes for Never Close The Door as well. A beautiful, deep bass gives much warmth to the track.
The full orchestra and band return on Nothing Without You, a upbeat song, with a positive atmosphere like Brightest Way. Like that track, this one has a sing-a-long chorus. Part Of Me is another guitar & orchestra track, but a fragile quiet, personal one.
Adam's Child starts with a short piano-part, which is followed by a lovely combination of bass, violin, flute, piano and Damian's voice. This track is another of my favorites, if not the best track of the album.
Quietly Spoken almost makes you wonder if this is the same man as the one who was in a prog-metal band like Threshold. This is the complete opposite of the big sound of that band. This song - just Damian and acoustic guitar - is so gentle and fragile, it'll certainly make you shiver.
The second CD in this set, starts with the most special track of the set. Grow Old With Me was the last song John Lennon recorded before his death (that's at least how Wilson understood it). Damian Wilson got permission to record it with the Orchestra. The piano and his voice are a great combination. Unfortunately I am not familiar with the original demo, but I am sure Wilson fully does justice to the song with this duet-version. He sings it with his colleague from Les Miserables, Alex Sharpe, who played the role of Eponine. The combination of her soprano-voice with Wilson's makes you think that it could have been part of the musical.
Band and orchestra join together on In A Word, which is a 'bigger' song, with room for Wilson to show the power of his voice. Listening to this full arrangement, including trumpet section, I would suggest the Brits to send Wilson and the Sheffield Orchestra to the European song-contest one day. They'd win.
On Just The Way It Goes, Wilson is accompanied by piano only for the first verses, but a romantic orchestral arrangement (of the kind one can hear in films) and a lovely flute-solo make this song complete. Pity it's faded out.
A Monday in March is very much in the same style as the other songs on this second disc: a combination of quieter piano-parts and big orchestral arrangements. Not that it's a bad song (to the contrary) but at this point I didn't discover much new in the songs. There could have been a bit more variations in the arrangements and styles, as was the case on Cosmas.
Because of this, one needs some concentration for Nothing Left in Me, but it's certainly worth it. This time it's Wilson with his guitar that creates the special atmosphere for the personal story: a final word.
All in all, I can honestly say that I enjoyed Disciple very much and I played it several times around Christmas. It simply seemed to fit that atmosphere. At the same time, that's a bit of a problem for the album: it needs these Sunday-afternoons or romantic, candlelight suppers. For the average prog-fan this album might contain too much orchestra and too much love-ballads, but lovers of Damian's voice and good music will certainly discover the strengths of this honest and fragile album: the great sound of Damian's voice and the Sheffield Youth Orchestra. No samples; just the real stuff!
My personal highlights are Disciple, Beating Inside, Adam's Child and Grow Old With Me. Final note: I missed the point why this album is pressed on two CD's.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10by: Jan-Jaap de Haan
Dream Theater - Metropolis 2000: Scenes From New York (DVD)
Bonus Material: Full length audio commentary by the band, Behind The Scenes Documentary (25.11), Metropolis 2000 Tour Photo Gallery (8.51), Live Footage [total time: 1.01.53]: A Mind Beside Herself [i. Eurotomania (7.43), ii. Voices (9.45), iii. The Silent Man (5.02)], Learning To Live (14.01), A Change Of Seasons (25.34)
Dream Theater's first DVD release was a tough one. In April of this year the DVD and VHS were released in both the US and Europe and quickly became number one at the DVD charts at Amazon.com. However, while the fans in the US could enjoy their copy without any problems, the region 2-6 encoded version of the DVD (meant for anywhere outside the US) contained a so-called "synchronisation" error, i.e. sound and visuals were not entirely synchronised and the band decided to recall it from the stores.
The release of the new, director-approved transfer got postponed time after time, through various reasons, and it finally hit the shops on November 26th, some 6 months after its initial release.
And so, after many months of eager anticipation, I finally had the chance to see the live-performance of Scenes From A Memory (having missed the tour, I'd never seen the show before), recorded live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, on August 30th, 2000.
Seeing the integral performance of the album is a real treat. I already loved the triple CD registration of this final concert of the tour, but having visuals with it only adds to the enjoyment. The story of Nicholas is brought to life through many visuals (courtesy of a Danish film company), which are mixed with the live footage of the concert.
The hypnosis scenes in Regression and Finally Free are brought to life with actor Kent Broadhurst portraying the hypnotherapist and James LaBrie lying on a sofa singing the lyrics.
Also a nice addition are the guest vocals of Theresa Thompson on Through Her Eyes and The Spirit Carries On. The latter song is the ultimate highlight of the show, when the band is joined by a 12-piece gospel choir in the last verse.
As a nice bonus, during the credits a different take of Through Her Eyes (without vocals) is played and the credits are actually stretched as much as possible to make them last the full six minutes so that the music doesn't have to be cut off.
The DVD, directed by drummer Mike Portnoy himself, is packed with extras that are not on the VHS version. All through the show you have the option to switch on the often hilarious audio commentary by the five bandmembers. They are explaining the story line of the album throughout the show, commenting each other on nice riffs, pointing out mistakes that no-one except themselves can really hear and in general they're just having a good laugh joking around and changing the lyrics into something more explicit. (parents should heed caution :-)
There is also over an hour of bonus live footage: the two epics A Mind Beside Itself and A Change of Seasons, as well as Learning To Live (so basically disc three of Live Scenes From New York)
Then there's a 25-minute Behind The Scenes documentary (pun probably intended), which is divided into five parts: "Crew", "Band", "Fans", "Rehearsals" and "Show". This is not so much a documentary, but more a look behind the scenes and backstage, mini-interviews with crew and fans and more live footage of Metropolis part 1, The Mirror and Just Let Me Breathe (the music serves as background music throughout the documentary, so hats off for the editor of this documentary).
Finally there's an 8-minute Photo-Gallery, once again backed by live music (the concert just continues, with Acid Rain and Caught in a New Millennium), showing various snapshots of the tour, concerts and all the crowds of the tour. Try to spot the members of support acts Dixy Dreggs and Spock's Beard, and there should be some DPRP-editors among the various crowds as well.
This DVD is a real treat for fans of Dream Theater and although it's not fully exploiting the possibilities of DVD (like multiple camera angles, or surround sound) its an excellent conclusion for the Metropolis 2 chapter in the band's history.
Remains the question whether this DVD has any value next to the live album - or the other way around - and in both ways the answer is yes. The DVD adds so much more to the live album, while the live album is much more than just the audio track of the DVD.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Marillion - A Verry Barry Christmas
It's Christmas time again, so fans of Marillion look out for the annual free Christmas CD that the band gives out to all the members of their international fan clubs. For the fourth year in succession Marillion has come up with a nice gift for their fans, and, as they selfconsciously joke in the accompanying letter, it even arrived in time this year!
After last year's was a registration of a special gig, they have now harked back to the format of the year before: a collection of some rare and special recordings, remixes and a newly recorded Christmas song.
I Saw Three Ships is a new recording of the band. It was mixed by Dave Meegan, and remixed and rearranged by Mark Kelly in order to turn it into a song. After Gabriel's Message, this makes another welcome alternative for people who are fed up with the likes of Wham, Mariah Carrey, Chris Rea and whatever more they play on the radio each and every Christmas season.
Next are five tracks from acoustic recording sessions held at the band's own Racket Club. Highlight of these is This Is The 21st Century. Hogarth's voice is not in top-shape on these recordings, but his frail voice works really well in this track.
Between You And Me, Map Of The World and Number One aren't all that different in their acoustic form, especially that latter one is exactly the same as the version on the Anoraknophobia bonus disc. Separated Out makes a nice change though, as it's a rather heavy track on the album.
House, the last track from Marillion.com has been remixed by one Mark Mitchell and he has done a good job with it. The atmosphere of the track has remained the same and I like this version just as much as the original.
Unfortunately I can't say the same about Go!, which is my favourite song off the .com album. Although this remix by Size 9 Cooperative starts very promising and atmospheric, it soon turns into a standard dance-beat, pretty much in the same vein as what Positive Light on Tales From The Engine Room
The last track is the instrumental version of This Is The 21st Century. This makes me think of the mid-eighties, when nearly any single had the instrumental backing track as a B-side. These were often useless, but sometimes the instrumental versions turned out to be very nice indeed. As far as I'm concerned This is the 21st Century falls in that latter category.
In conclusion, this is yet another nice freebie from a band that more and more seems to have two faces. On one hand there's the money-grabbing fan rip-offs (the Anoraknophobia pre-order price, the hefty fee for the new Front Row Club) while on the other hand they show themselves as a very fan-concious, and fan-loving band, by giving out this kind of things.
As said, the CD comes free with the winter issue of your fan club magazine, but there are still copies left for people who join the fan club quickly.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Regenesis - Lamb For Supper - Live 2001
A live album by a tribute band - what's the point?
That's about the idea one would normally get when receiving an album like this. Many people don't understand the use of tribute bands either. Personally I quite like them. True, I can't see the point of a Britney Spears impersonator, or tribute bands playing music of bands that are still vividly touring, like Marillion, or even Yes. However, tribute bands of near-dead bands like Pink Floyd or Genesis, or a Beatleas tribute, there's nothing wrong with that. Nobody is forcing you to go to their shows after all.
Now when these bands start releasing albums containing music of the bands they impersonate, things get a bit more dubious. On one hand you could say that if you like tribute bands, a live recording of them would be a nice souvenir. True, however, on the other hand, wouldn't someone prefer the real thing if available. Genesis has recently released a live registration of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway themselves, so what's the point of releasing the same album when played by a tribute band?
Regenesis must have thought the same thing, because, although the cover - a nice tongue in cheek spin on the real Lamb cover - suggests otherwise, the album doesn't contain the full Lamb. It's merely a couple of tracks from the first CD (Grand Parade and Chamber of 32 Doors), part of the second (Lamia through Slipperman), completed with two tracks from different albums: the epic Supper's Ready and a medley of Dance on Volcano, the Drum Duet and Los Endos. The latter two tracks last longer than the whole Lamb part, but never mind.
Furthermore I can't really see the point of Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats - it's an uninteresting filler on the original album, it seems even more out of place here. And also, Supper's Ready was already featured on Regenesis' first album, so something else would probably have been more appropriate.
Now the performances. I recently saw them perform their Lamb show in Zoetermeer, and I wasn't too impressed with their performance at the time. I'd seen them twice before and loved both those gigs, but their new singer Tony Patterson, just couldn't convince me. It's the same on this album. While the rest of the musicians are playing the material pretty tightly, Patterson's vocals just don't sound like Gabriel's enough to make a convincing tribute. At times he comes close, like the slower parts of Chamber of 32 Doors or The Lamia, but it's the aggressive type of singing, which is so important on The Lamb, that he just can't imitate. Plus that all over, there are quite a few bum notes - he isn't really a very good singer at all (but then again, neither was Gabriel back in the seventies).
Easily the highlight on the album is the Dance On Volcano medley, and that's probably mainly because of the long instrumental section.
In conclusion I can't say there's much on this album to recommend. Of course the material itself is excellent and the performance pretty good, but as long as you can buy the original why bother? Well, that's not entirely true, because I do like to point out that I quite like the band's second album, Here It Comes Again, which contains a killer version of The Musical Box. I even prefer this version over the original! (heresy, I know, but it has something to do with the recording quality of the original, as well as Gabriel's vocals).
So, if you've been to their performance at the 2001 Genesis Fan Convention, held on March 30th and 31st 2001, this might be a nice souvenir, but otherwise it hasn't got much value.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10.
Mostly Autumn - The Last Bright Light
With the fading notes of The Gap Is Too Wide of their previous album The Spirit Of Autumn Past the (relatively) new album of Mostly Autumn opens, to enter into a staggeringly sensitive cross over between Floyd and Camel (Ice) in Just Moving On. My prediction in the reviews of their previous albums that this band should become big has so far turned out to be true, as they are constantly growing in popularity, and there are nowadays only few symphonic rock lovers who have not heard their name. This was obvious from the amount of requests we received to review this album (p.s. before giving such requests, please read the FAQ) and finally, at the end of the year, we are able to do so. Their fan base will only grow with this new album, even though I personally find it a touch less emotionally moving and a bit more "calculated" than the previous albums.
The second track We Come And We Go is a good example of this. Very Floydian in nature, but still distinctly different, it is more polished and thought through than the more heart-felt tracks on the previous two albums. But this not true for all tracks, not at all. The next track, Half The Mountain, is already a more melodic oriented track. The strength of the band obviously lies in the fact that it is big, and each individual member is an absolute master at his or her instrument, not (only) in the technical, but especially in the ability to give an emotion to the notes that are played.
The moods on this album are
again quite divers, from the up-tempo in for instance We Come And We Go or Never The Rainbow (which has
a fantastic drive to it, with a wonderful power-melody) to the more Pastorale
in Eyes Of The Forest or Prints In The Stone (which apparently has appeared as a single, and due to
the flutes and Celtic sound has a bit of a Titanic Soundtrack feel, but that may be just my corrupted mind). They even
experiment with a cross over between more electronic music and their normal brand: Celtic sympho on The Dark
Before The Dawn.
The beautiful vocals of Heather Findlay are heard for first time in Hollow, which sounds a bit like a cross between the style of their previous albums and the '80s pop star Black on his Wonderful Life album (not the single!) for those of you who can remember that one. One of the highlights of the album is the title track. Sensitive yet with a bite, a complex composition where Floydian parts are interleaved with a low male choir (not quite Gregorian, but close). The guitar, as always with Mostly Autumn, gives a blistering solo at the end of the track. This ending is the first part on the album where the folk influences are really apparent.
Unlike the previous two albums, there are no truly traditional tracks on the album. Helms Deep is more close to a "traditional track", with its merry melody, toying flutes and joyful playing, but it has a darker undertone as well, as if something bad is about to happen. Nice track! The track Which Wood? with acoustic guitar, flute and drum is the perfect upbeat to the masterpiece of the album, the 12 minute track Mother Nature. The male and female vocals that revolve around each other is a beautiful calm start of the track, before entering a more pompous part, not unlike many Pendragon tracks (including the oeoeoeo-aaaaaa background vocals). The last 6 minutes are one big symphonic orgy: slowly a pounding melody and cracks of thunder lead us to a climax, with a main role for the organs and guitars, a true heir to Gilmour's trown. Yeah, they know how to end an album! (And I want to bet I know how the next album will start!).
Again, I cannot think of any valid criticism on this record, except my personal opinion that Heather did not sing enough and some of the tracks are a bit over-composed, but apart from that: one of the highlights of 2001, for sure.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Mostly Autumn - The Story So Far
Mostly Autumn have 3 studio albums under their belts on the Cyclops label: For All We Shared, The Spirit of Autumn Past and the most recent, The Last Bright Light (reviewed above), which was released in the spring of 2001. Since then, they have switched labels to Classic Rock Legends and in June recorded a concert at London's Mean Fiddler for a DVD release. This live CD is a companion to that DVD and features just 10 of the 15 tracks found on the DVD, omitting the purely instrumental and largely Celtic-influenced numbers such as Shindig and Which Wood which are an integral part of their live shows. Nevertheless, even without these numbers, the CD still clocks in at almost 74 minutes long.
The band's current line-up consists of Bryan Josh on lead electric and acoustic guitars, Heather Findlay on vocals and bodhran, Iain Jennings on keyboards, Liam Davison on various guitars, Andy Smith on bass, Jonathan Blackmore on drums and Angela Goldthorpe on flute, whistles and recorders. The lead vocals are handled either by Bryan or by Heather and though most of the band members contribute backing vocals, they were assisted on the occasion of this recording by Rachel Jones of Karnataka as well as Mark Atkinson and Gina Dootson of Gabriel who bring a little extra to tunes like Shrinking Violet.
The facilities available at the Mean Fiddler are top-notch, so it is no surprise that the sound is excellent for a live release with all instruments and voices clearly discernable throughout. No doubt the production expertise of Pip Williams (Moody Blues, Status Quo) had its part to play too.
The first track on the disk, Porcupine Rain, opens, as so many of the tracks do, with some lovely guitar from Bryan before the full band kick in. Unfortunately Heather's voice is not as clear on this track as it is elsewhere but it is a small complaint. As the track ends, Iain Jennings' keys and the guitar form the break into Nowhere To Hide, a stomping number with vocals from Bryan and Heather together. By contrast Evergreen appears to be a quieter number, but that doesn't prevent it from being a live tour-de-force. It builds slowly from acoustic beginnings, as the band members gradually join in and climaxes with a stunning guitar solo from Bryan, but it is really Heather's plaintive vocals throughout which make this a truly memorable tune.
The Spirit of Autumn Past sees Bryan Josh handling the vocals once again. Once again building from a slow start, it features Angela Goldthorpe prominently on flute and some nice piano touches from Iain Jennings. Heroes Never Die, from their first album is dedicated, as always, by Bryan to his father, who passed away a few years ago. Some touching flute and acoustic guitar allied to some great harmonies between Bryan and Heather form the first part of the tune before the remainder of the band join in and the track increases in intensity. Once more Bryan contributes one of his trademark guitar solos to bring the tune to a close.
Continuing with the theme of nature, The Night Sky begins with tinkling keys over samples of wind. There are some nice harmonies between Bryan and Heather before Angela contributes some lovely haunting flute and Bryan some nice acoustic guitar. Then after the instrumental passage the Heather's voice returns, this time with a nice edge to it, before more flute and guitar bring the number to a storming close. The following number, Dark Before The Dawn continues to lift the pace. It is a jaunty number with an almost foot-stomping drum beat, a typically Celtic flute melody overlaid with great harmonies from the female singers and features yet another storming solo.
Staying with material from The Last Bright Light the band drop a couple of gears to play Shrinking Violet. Another of Heather's songs, it begins with her singing over acoustic guitar and woodwind, and builds in intensity as the old band members fill out the sound. The extra backing singers and Bryan's short solo give the tune a little lift too. This version provides ample proof as to why this has become one of the highpoints of the band's set.
Never The Rainbow shows that the band can rock when they want too. The number starts as it means to go on, with Heather again handling the lead vocals. Some great hammond organ too from Iain Jennings and yet another excellent guitar solo. Surprisingly, the final number Mother Nature appears to be much slower. The combination of keyboards and acoustic guitar seem very familiar and Genesis-like and when Bryan and Heather's vocals come in, one is half-expecting the voice of Peter Gabriel. As the tune continues the sound fills out and as the full band enter, it picks up pace and the final section, complete with samples of thunder crashes sees it turn into a real rocker.
The singing and playing is excellent throughout and the choice of material means that all 3 studio albums are equally well represented. Anyone who enjoys a Dave Gilmour guitar solo will find plenty to enjoy in Bryan Josh's playing though I also hear shades of Fleetwood Mac in some of the tunes. Heather Findlay's voice is a joy to hear, Iain Jennings keyboards are always superbly measured and the backing provided by Liam, Andy and Jonathon is not to be underestimated. Angela Goldthorpe's flute brings a nice Celtic touch to their music throughout the disk, but overall the Celtic elements of their music is played down on this disk, mainly through the absence of the pure instrumental numbers. Nevertheless this CD presents a great resume of the band's career so far and a fine testament to their abilities to reproduce their material on stage.Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
John Wesley - Chasing Monsters
Strictly seen, a review of John Wesley's new CD does not belong on DPRP. I mean, the guitarist/vocalist's music hardly qualifies as prog; blues rock would be more in the right direction. However, since I know that many Marillion and Fish fans appreciate Wesley's music very much, I will give you a short overview of what his fourth CD, Chasing Monsters, is like.
For those of you who have not heard of John Wesley before, he is currently the solo and rhythm guitarist in
Fish's band and has performed on the Scotsman's last two albums, the music of which he also helped to
create. Apart from that, he has been the (often acoustic) support act for Marillion and Fish many times and all around
Wesley's primary "partner in crime" on this CD is once again Mark Prator, who could be seen handling the drums during Wesley's recent support gigs for Fish in Europe. Another "old friend" from Wesley's 1998 album The Emperor Falls is Tracy LaBarbera; she is responsible for the keyboards on Fly Boy and the backing vocals on Fly Boy and Who We Love. The other musicians are new to the John Wesley Band. We find Patrick Bettison on bass, J. Robert on mandolin and violin, and Eric De Wolf programmed the loops on A Well Placed Hole.
The cover of Chasing Monsters is, in my opinion, a lot more interesting than that of The Emperor Falls. Whereas the latter featured boring shades of brown and grey, Chasing Monsters shows a brightly coloured man/monster who seems to challenge anyone brave enough to look into its dark eyes. As I already suspected the first time I laid eyes on it, the cover art was created by none other than Mark Wilkinson (responsible for the early-Marillion covers as well as most of Fish's). The sketches inside the booklet are by Julie Wilkinson and they too add to the somewhat threatening and gloomy atmosphere which characterises many of the songs on the CD.
The first track, which is also the title track, sets the tone for the rest of the album; both acoustic and electric guitars accompanying Wesley's warm, emotional voice in easy-on-the-ear, bluesy melodies. Nothing new there, in other words. Still, the violin and the Steve Wilson-esque (Porcupine Tree) guitar solo come as a nice surprise.
The lyrics of the third track on Chasing Monsters, Who We Love, are pretty much in the vein of Fish's The Voyeur (I Like To Watch); the influence of mass media on the general public. It contains some heavy rock guitar, interesting bass guitar lines and a lovely, massive sounding chorus. I especially like the mean guitar solo in this song (containing a big wink at Fish's Fellini Days album sound-wise). Sadly though, the track is a bit too repetitive and does not end with a bang but with a fade-out.
The main guitar and vocal melodies in Velvet Dreams remind me very much of one of Wesley's earlier tracks, although I cannot quite put my finger on which one right now. This déjà vu-like feeling causes me to lose interest pretty soon after the start of the song, notwithstanding the interesting instruments used on it. These instruments, a mandolin and a violin, give the track a folky, somewhat Irish feel, but that is just not enough to keep me glued to the speakers. The folky atmosphere returns in Trip And Fall, where it works somewhat better. Still, that song suffers from the same "heard it all before" kind of feeling.
In Wrench, In Sight Of The Rainbow, A Well Placed Hole and All Or Nothing the acoustic format
is left for a bit. Of the four, Wrench is the rockiest track with heavy distortion and a screaming guitar solo, and
one of my favourites on the album. In Sight Of The Rainbow is not as catchy as Wrench, but works really well
because of the way the atmosphere is built up. That atmosphere is one that reminds me of the gloomier Marillion
songs from the time that Steve Hogarth had just joined the band. Another band that comes to mind is the one-hit-wonder
Stiltskin. Wesley's vocals come pretty close to those of Stiltskin's singer Ray Wilson (also of Genesis fame)
on their first and only CD The Mind's Eye.
In my opinion, A Well Placed Hole is the least interesting track of these four. It is very, very repetitive and that makes it flow by almost unnoticed. All Or Nothing, on the other hand, is a lot more exciting. The melancholic guitar sound used in this track reminds me of that used by goth rock band The Mission on their later albums. The combination of this sound, the sadness in the voice and the lyrics makes this song one of my favourites on the album. The fact that the dynamics are much better than in many of the other songs adds to that as well.
The last track on Chasing Monsters, Showing Happy To The World, is another one that just drips with despair and unhappiness. Here the repetitive character of the song actually helps to make it sound even more haunted; one could really talk about "uneasy listening" here... The short reprise of the title track (partly with a different text) does not lift that feeling, but only increases it, something which I cannot say I am very enthusiastic about. I mean, the listener is now left feeling rather disturbed; there is no happy, or at least somewhat reassuring, end, but maybe that was what Wesley wanted to achieve.
As mentioned in the introduction to this review, Chasing Monsters is not a prog album. Still, if you are in for some not too heavy melodic blues rock, you may want to check this one out. The album has more rough edges than The Emperor Falls, something that I think is an improvement, but at the same time the vocals are less intense, which is a step back. Apart from that, I am not very thrilled about the repetitive character of the music and the often similar vocal melodies. Because of that, the album goes by without much notice, and is only slightly spiced up by Wrench and All Or Nothing. In other words, Wesley's latest is not really my kind of thing; for me stuff has to be somewhat more adventurous.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Saga - House Of Cards
Saga is one of the big names in the progressive genre and after some not very enticing albums they reclaimed a front position with their last album, Full Circle. Integrating early Saga keyboard work with modern hard guitars worked very well in creating a heavy kind of prog, still focused on the classic pop structure of verse, chorus, verse, etc. House Of Cards follows its predecessor in this respect and the result is even better.
The album opens with God Knows, a track which has the classic Saga sound already in the opening. It reminds me of Remember When, the opening track of the last album, and has the same kind of retrospective glance into Saga's previous oeuvre. The chorus, as in most of the songs, is strong and gets into your mind easily. The track also shows right away how skilled the members are as musicians and Michael Sadler's voice is just marvelous. It has been a favourite of mine from the first time I listened to the CD.
Following the more or less classic Saga opening, the band delivers a powerful, uptempo song called The Runaway. The Crichton brothers get plenty of room with guitars and bass, and the vocals are very powerful. It is the kind of song that has a great potential live, just like Arena's Welcome To The Cage or Marillion's Incommunicado. The lyrics obviously deal with the information technology of today and the society it has created, but the way they are written and performed makes me unsure of whether Saga has a positive or negative view on the phenomenon. The theme seems to be a popular one these days, however, what with all the internet themes and "dot com" albums released in the last few years.
The third track is the more or less acoustic Always There. It is a slow love song that makes you feel good. It reminds me of some of the more acoustic moments on Full Circle, but with a bit more sting. Maybe a Security Of Illusion for future live performances. The keyboard harmonies lie like a warm blanket on a chilly autumn day over your ears, and when Ian Crichton plays a short but very effective solo, it is just perfect.
Ashes To Ashes (Chapter 11) returns us to the heavier Saga (albeit with a soft edge). The use of sharp guitar sound reminds me of one of my all time favourite Saga tracks, Wind Him Up. There is an exquisite contrast between the soft verses and the choruses which are sharpened by the mentioned guitar sound. Classic Saga with some power to back it up. A definite favourite in my book.
Track 5, Once In A Lifetime, once more shows a softer Saga. Gentle acoustic guitars are combined with smooth, atmospheric keyboards. The chorus is really strong, as is often the case with Saga (it is surprising that they have not made it bigger in mainstream pop/rock), but the track is still not one of the better ones on this album. Still, it is by no means a bad song.
My absolute favourite on this album is Only Human. From the opening with acoustic guitars and Sadler gently singing an acoustic version of the chorus, I am spellbound. The lyrics really get to me and the way in which the track expands with added layers of sound, creating a somewhat soft but bombastic effect just blows me away. The chorus is once more a really, really strong one, and it only gets better for each time it is repeated. Ian Crichton also delivers a really nice, short and tempered electric guitar solo which runs into the end choruses. The only real downside of the track is that it ends with a fadeout. Still, it is the best track of the album, by far.
The next track, That's How We Like It!, is a bit heavier. The start actually reminds me a bit of Marillion's Incommunicado. The song has a pulsating motion, placing guitar oriented parts contra keyboards and bass oriented parts. This is definitely a 'bad boy' song, and it even incorporates a somewhat 'noisy' guitar solo.
Watching The Clock (Instrumental) is an instrumental piano track where Jim Gilmour gets a chance to show off his talents. A nice contemplative resting point after the heaviness of the previous track (and before the upcoming one). Lovely piano work for those who likes classical piano (it reminds me of Martin Orford's instrumental moments on his solo album).
Then an upbeat, typical Saga opening comes upon us - jumpy keyboards and then guitars. We'll Meet Again (Chapter 15) reminds me of classic Saga tracks like Wind Him Up and How Long, and it is (as proven on this year's tour) a definitive live closer. One I dare say which will become another Saga classic that fans will shout along too just as well as Humble Stance, You're Not Alone and Don't Be Late. Musically it is heavy, massive and melodically strong with nice musical extravaganzas that allow the musicians to show off a bit. One more favourite for the road.
The first (and probably the only) single of the album, Money Talks, is a quite soft, pop oriented track with acoustic guitars and an upbeat feeling. There are soft electric guitars in the chorus, but over all it is a gentle track with nice keyboard harmonies.
The album ends with the title track, which is another classic Saga sounding track. Soft and heavy mix. The verses have a dark bassline going through them, and the choruses are strong, dark and moody. There is a soft musical interlude with some talking in it. A great way of ending a great CD.
To conclude, one can only say that Saga seems to have come back into their prime to stay. Whereas Full Circle marked a renewal (in old patterns), House Of Cards takes this renewal even further. It might be true to say that the former album had some tracks, like my favourite track The One, which the latter one cannot match. But it is equally true that House Of Cards is a more even album, with no tracks that could be said to be real lows. A must buy for any Saga fan or fans of symphonic rock.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
A.C.T - Imaginary Friends
I waited two long years for A.C.T's debut album Today's Report after first seeing A.C.T live in 1997, and those of you who read my review of that album know that I was not disappointed. It took almost two more years until I (and all other A.C.T fans) could have my next fill and I am still not disappointed. The band is still a five piece consisting of Herman Saming (lead vocals, backing vocals, silent trumpet), Jerry Sahlin (synthesisers, vocals, backing vocals, vocoder, synthetic drums), Ola Andersson (guitars, backing vocals), Peter Asp (bass, percussion, backing vocals) and Tomas Erlandsson (drums, percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals, keyboards) - a modified truth as this is the line-up on the CD but not anymore as Tomas Erlandsson has left the band and been replaced by Thomas Lejon (Andromeda). At any rate, Sweden's best heavy neo-progressive band has struck again.
The album starts with orchestra tuning, reminding me of IQ's Subterranea CD. Then the guitars and keyboards kickstart the first track, Take It Easy, which is one of my favourite songs on this album. It is heavy, melodic, and Saming's vocals sound even better (this is one of the best singers ever - in prog and from Sweden, probably the best). A.C.T once more create a feel good atmosphere which seems to be somewhat of a trademark by now. After about 3 and 1/2 minutes the track appears to end, but then restarts for an instrumental ending. It is nice, but maybe not entirely necessary.
Second out is Hippest Flop, which gives us more classic A.C.T sounding music, with funny lyrics and tongue in cheek music. This is definitely music which can brighten a moody day. Skilled musicianship and beautiful harmonies (Saming is indeed not the only one in the band gifted with a great voice).
A Supposed Tour is a heavy, somewhat faster track which deals with the band's disappointment with the fuck-ups around their promised tour as support act for Saga in Sweden back in 1999, which was never delivered. And what better way of dealing with such a disapointment than turning it into a great piece of music. Great keyboards from Sahlin, and the rest of the band perform just as well as ever.
With some nice keyboards reminding me of ABBA, and great melody combined with some raw power (mostly delivered by Andersson), Biggest Mistake is another given A.C.T classic, which is bound to get any audience jumping. Once more, drifting between the gentle and the hard, the fast and the slow, A.C.T are doing what they do best, entertain their audience, and makes us feel good. Midway through the track there are some really musically interesting interludes which remind me a lot of Queen.
Nice keyboards open the title track, Imaginary Friends, in a very gentle way. This song is moreover all gentle, which is not to say that it lacks its share of power. Keyboards and harmonies seem to dominate the track, however, so I would still say that it is a rather gentle track (so sue me). Really, really nice and once more showing the band's unerring sense for melodies.
Erlandsson gets to open with some exquisite drumming on She/Male. Then nice piano makes the track walk along with nice harmonies. And the rest of the band naturally joins in to create more great musique á la A.C.T (warmth, humour, melody and skills must be considered part of this trademark). There are more Queen references (as well as so many other things - the obvious ELO (one of Sahlin's favourite bands), Frank Zappa, and what not). I have said it before and will most likely say it again - but cannot stop myself now - this is one of Sweden's best bands in this genre, in fact in any genre!
The last seven tracks of Today's Report formed the over 12 minutes long song Personalities (The Long One). The band obviously does not wish to do any less this time around and thus the last eight tracks of Imaginary Friends form the over 20 minutes long song Relationships - The Long One.
The song begins with the short (38 seconds), slow At The Altar which neatly flows into the second track/part, Svetlana, which is more upbeat A.C.T at their best. Two more very short tracks No Perspective and Second Thoughts (around one minute each) follow. The latter of the two is an instrumental section, which is really, really nice and effective.
Mr. Unfaithful, which is the longest section with its more than seven minutes, is probably my favourite part of Relationships. Interesting lyrics, great melodies and brilliant performance. A full range of trademark A.C.T to sit back and enjoy.
Another short piece follows. Gamophobia is a less than a minute long instrumental interlude between Mr. Unfaithful and Little Beauty. The latter of these tracks is another really good piece spanning the width between gentle melody and some bite. Saming once more gets to show off his stunning abilities. A.C.T are blessed to have this guy in their ranks.
The song ends with the two minutes long piece And They Lived Happily Ever After, which feels very Queen-ish. And that should, of course, be the end, but...
...after one minute and 42 seconds of silence, a hidden bonus track, Catherine (3.42), is revealed. This is a fine, soft ballad with Erlandsson on keyboards and vocals (and also written by him). In retrospect it must be said that this track is a very worthy farewell from one who has come this far with the band. It makes me hope that Erlandsson does not entirely give up music, and I am definitely interested in hearing where he will end up. Meanwhile, I can only happily conclude that A.C.T has found a worthy replacement drummer in Thomas Lejon (exchanging only a surname, to make it easier for the fans).
A.C.T is still sharp, melodic, feel good and funny. If anything, this album is, if not better (I feel reluctant to say that), at least more unified. Whereas the debut felt a bit like a collection of old and new material (as is, of course, often the case with debut albums), this new CD shows a straighter line, an A.C.T which is up to date and ready to rock the world. If you bought the last CD and liked it, this one will by no means disappoint you. And if you did not buy the first one... well, heck, then you have just got to run off and buy two great albums. There are just no excuses, this is as good as it gets. I just hope I will not have to wait two more years for my next dose.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Shadow Gallery - Legacy
Shadow Gallery is an American six-piece who have been releasing records since 1992. I had only previously heard their self-named debut album, which suffered from poor production and featured a drummer whose fills were mostly uninspired and managed to deaden the music to the point where it became pretty hard to listen to. Even though, the compositions themselves did show promise for better times. An oddity, which Shadow Gallery shares with more bands from the Magna Carta label, is that they never tour.
It has been some months since Legacy was released, but only a few weeks since I have in in my possession. On the first listen, it immediately became apparent that the improvement in the production department is spectacular. Where the sound on Shadow Gallery was thin and sometimes muddled, here it is rich and pronounced.
The album has six tracks, ranging in length from the five minute title track to the thirty-four minute First Light, although it must be said that First Light proper is "only" twenty three minutes long, with an extra piece of music tucked on at the end, preceded by a lengthy silence.
It would be easy to compare anything that smells of prog metal to Dream Theater. I won't be going out of my way to avoid that comparison here, but that task is made easier by the fact that there's more traces of Liquid Tension Experiment (the ripping second part of opener Cliffhanger 2) and especially Queensryche (vocals and vocal melodies, as well as lead guitar) than DT.
Roughly spoken, Shadow Gallery shows us two sides on this album. Guitar-heavy driving rhythms (compare Threshold) abound in Society of the Mind, Legacy and the electrifying Cliffhanger 2. Destination Unknown and Colors are more typical ballads, the former featuring a lot of Shadow Gallery's trademark multi-layered vocals, the latter piano-driven. First Light combines these two characteristics, although the individual sections of this epic do not hang together all that well. The result, if very good in its parts, is a bit too incohesive.
All in all a pretty good album, that will surely find its way to my CD player more often.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Manning - Cascade
Guy Manning has produced two albums before this one, Tall Stories For Small Children, and The Cure. I was very impressed with both albums, and was looking forward to hear the new album, also since he now for the fist time has had the ability to record with a complete band, including a guest appearance of Angela Goldthorpe of Mostly Autumn.
Guy has been, and still occasionally is, affiliated with Parallel or 90 Degrees, and his last album The Cure could be considered pure prog rock, where his debut album was a bit more in the (progressive) singer-songwriter style. I hoped that his next album would expand more on the progressive style he had shown to master on The Cure. Unfortunately, he has turned back a bit more to the style of the first album, and where the tracks on the first album were mostly quite intense, on this album he turns a bit more to pop/rock tunes (for instance in By The Book, which even has a subtitle called A Pop Song, or the very eighties Catholic Education, which does have a great break in the middle section). In this respect he seems to go a bit down the same road as Fish, as both this track and Lead Me Where You Will remind me a lot of Fish's (not necessarily best) solo work. There are some nice melodic parts in these tracks, don't get me wrong, but for instance Lead Me.. has a very bare second section where not much happens. Sure, it's a composition style, and as Manning himself put it, it is not meant to hit you in the face but to let it flow over you. That may be true, but it took to long for me.
One of the highlights for me personally is Flight 19. This track, about the disappearance of an airplane in the Bermuda Triangle, is also very calm, but it contains a certain tension, the feeling of quiet desperation, suppressed panic, that the pilot must have felt. One thing has to be said: the album needs a LOT of listenings before you start to appreciate it fully, and so maybe I didn't even hear it enough yet (about ten times). Not that the compositions are overly complex, no, due to the simplicity of many tracks you do not get all the subtleties at once. In that respect he is a bit like Dylan, for instance in Owning Up. Winter may be closest to prog with its haunting keyboard/vocal intro and powerful pounding middle section.
In summary, the album is subtle through and through so if you think of his more "massive" The Cure, you will find yourself in for a surprise. It contains many styles: pop, rock, prog, ballads, lullabies, blues, all in their more moderate form. A note on production and mixing: I personally think it is rather flat, but that again is a personal opinion. The general impression of the album is positive, but for me personally it did not reach the level of Tall Stories or The Cure. Large parts of the album remind me of the way Fish approaches music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.