Reviews in this issue:
Roger Waters - Flickering Flame
(The Solo Years Volume I)
The idea of a Roger Waters 'Best Of' album sounds as weird as a Pink Floyd 'Best Of' album. Why? Well, as far as I'm concerned there are certain Waters/Floyd songs that, when pulled from the context of their concept album and presented as a separate track, sort of lose their strength. Then again, last years Echoes worked quite well, which might be one of the reasons for the release of Flickering Flame. Another reason of course is to support the In The Flesh 2001 Tour. Some sources even claim that this item will be deleted from the Sony catalogue by the end of the year. That might be true, but in that case the addition 'Volume I' to the subtitle seems a bit weird.
Flickering Flame contains 12 songs taken from the 18 years of work as a solo artist since Pink Floyd was put on ice in 1984 (and later officially disbanded during legal struggles in 1987). It gives a good impression of Roger's development over this period, although the contents do seem to emphasize the more mellow side of his music, focussing on some of the more soothing semi-ballads and thereby neglecting the venomous anger Waters' is so well-known for.
Roger Waters' first solo album was 1984's The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking. Strange enough, the title track of the album, 5.01 AM (The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking), does not appear on this compilation, even though it was a small hit in some countries (including Holland). The other single that was taken from the album (and the only song from Pros and Cons to be played live during the In The Flesh Tour) does appear here: the ballad 5.06 AM (Every Strangers Eyes). This track features great lead guitar by Eric Clapton, as well as other big names like Michael Kamen (keyboards & orchestration) and Ray Cooder (drums).
In 1986 Waters wrote part of the soundtrack for the animation movie When The Wind Blows. The music Waters produced for the film consisted of bits of sound effects, short instrumentals and two actual songs: Folded Flags and Towers of Faith, performed under the name of 'Roger Waters and the Bleeding Heart Band', as Waters called his backing band in the second half of the eighties. Towers of Faith appears on this compilation as one of the more interesting rarities, making it finally more easily available to Waters fans and collectors. The track features (among others) Mel Collins on sax and vocals by Clare 'Great Gig in the Sky' Torry.
By the way, listening back to the track now gives a rather spooky feeling, since the following lyrics remind me of both the Gulf War and 0911:"And in New York City, the business man in his mohair suit, In the World Trade Center, Puffs on his cheroot and he says, I don't care who owns the desert sands, My brief is with the hydro-carbons underneath".
The two songs that appeared on the When The Wind Blows soundtrack already hinted at the direction which Waters would head in with his 1987 album Radio KAOS. On one hand the album featured tracks that were a lot more 'bouncy' and 'danceable' than the stuff he had been doing previously, like for instance in the opening track Radio Waves, which appears on this compilation album. The other side of the album featured more melancholic compositions, represented here by the lovely The Tide Is Turning and Who Needs Information. Again, Mel Collins appears on these tracks.
In 1990 Roger Waters performed a version of The Wall live in Berlin, featuring several artists that many Floyd fans would since prefer to see trapped in large blocks of concrete at the bottom of the sea (to name just one of the possible punishments). Although the live CD of the event does contain some nice bits and pieces, it's probably a good thing that none of it is featured on this compilation album.
Amused to Death was released in 1992 and is represented by Too Much Rope, Three Wishes and the live version of Perfect Sense I and II. All of these are fine tracks, as are the other compositions on the Amused to Death masterpiece. It sort of escapes me why these tracks were chosen. One would expect the two singles that were released from the album; What God Wants (part 1) and The Bravery of Being Out of Range. Then again, songs like Too Much Rope and Three Wishes sort of fit the overall rather mellow mood of the tracks on Flickering Flame.
In 1998, Roger provided two songs for movie soundtracks. Both songs appear on Flickering Flame as rarities. First we have a cover of Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door (recorded for the soundtrack of the Israeli movie 'The Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field' in 1998), which is given the Waters-treatment, meaning lots of female backing vocals (oooooooh-aaaaaah) and the warm, hoarse vocals of Roger himself. For the rest, this version is pretty straightforward. Strange enough, no drummer is credited on this piece, and since the drum fills sounds quite amateurish I think Waters used a drum computer on this track. Quite a weird form of behaviour for a perfectionist. All in all an interesting track, though not extremely special.
Lost Boys Calling is a demo for a song for which the music was written by none other than Ennio Morricone. Waters added lyrics to the orchestral composition that was used for the soundtrack of 'Legend of 1900' in 1998. The song takes a while to get used to, especially since Waters' vocals are on the absolute edge of being out of tune. Then again, that's the tormented way of singing we know so well from songs like Don't Leave Me Now (of The Wall) and certain tracks on Pros and Cons and The Final Cut. And yes, of course this song also features a reference to Roger's father again.
In The Flesh, a live recording of Waters' US In The Flesh Tour was released late 2000. Two tracks from that live album appear on Flickering Flame: the live version of Perfect Sense part I and II (including samples of the HAL computer taken from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the fantastic brand new song Each Small Candle that was played as an encore.
Finally, we get a brand new demo track that also provided the title for this compilation album, Flickering Flame. It's a rather unusual song for Waters, since it misses some of the trademark elements. Instead we get a relatively simple Dylanesque ballad in which only the verse comes across as typically Waters, since it features his often used method of 'listing examples' (which, among other songs can also be heard in tracks like Home or It's a Miracle). The song is sometimes played as the final encore of the current tour and only features acoustic guitar, electric guitar and keyboard orchestrations, therefore sounding quite intimate. It will probably take a couple of spins to get used to, but it has the potential to become a Waters classic.
Flickering Flame comes in a bright red slipcase holding the CD which has the same cover in black. The 20 page booklet contains all lyrics for the songs as well as individual credit lists for all tracks. I was hoping for some liner notes by Roger himself, but unfortunately no further background information is provided. The booklet does however include many pictures from Roger's live performances through the years.
One of the strangest things about the packaging is the quote about the spitting incident in Montreal, which became the inspiration for The Wall. The quote, taken from a 1995 interview, runs through the whole booklet like a red thread. A nice touch, but the relevance of the spitting incident completely escapes me within the context of Waters' solo material. There isn't even a song from the Berlin Wall show present!
All in all this compilation album is a bit of a weird duck. Nevertheless it will give those people who have never explored Roger's solo work a nice starting point. For Waters fans the CD also contains enough interesting (though not always top quality) rarities to make this a recommended purchase.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
No Man - Wild Opera
Wild Opera, the fourth album from the collaborative affair between duo Tim Bowness and Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree) is the very epitome of how eclectic these musicians are. Progressive rock can be firmly divided into two separate camps, those who rely on rehearsing material from the seventies and those who are forever exploring the boundaries of rock without actually leaving their roots far behind. No-Man definitely fall into this latter category.
The album itself is a reflection of the musical scene in the mid-nineties when it seemed that anything pertaining to the rock world, from U2 to James, would be dominated by drum beats and loops. The same could be said about Wild Opera which has the added value of featuring contributions from sample material provided by Robert Fripp, Mel Collins and Richard Barbieri (Japan, Porcupine Tree). What is definite is that the whole music seems to reflect a very dark and sombre mood over what the band play, especially when compared to what they had released on the One Little Indian label. In fact one of the most interesting points of this album is the fact that there is such diversity between one track and another that one does not know what to expect.
Those who had heard Flowermouth must have been surprised by the first few notes of Radiant City that blasts out in a hip-hop beat with distorted guitars as Tim Bowness wails "Can You Hear Me?". However closer attention shows the prog/art-rock influences that the duo possess as Mel Collins' jazzy solo as well as the closing synth-orchestral notes imply. This is further exemplified on tracks like Infant Phenomenon (which sounds more like Tin Machine than anything else that No-Man have done before), Housewives Hooked On Heroin (which is the albums's most catchy track) and Time Travel In Texas which manages to convey an impressive sense of desolation and melancholy amidst a myriad of effects, Frippertronics and a looped drum beat, the likes of which could be compared to Radiohead at their desolate best.
At times (Libertine Libretto) the band seem to wander in a rather aimless direction though this is rectified with the inclusion of pieces like Dry Cleaning Ray (Massive Attack meets Egg), which has a haunting mellotron loop, or the uncannily Fish-like My Rival Trevor
Tracks like Pretty Genius, Sheeploop and Taste My Dream sees the duo move into a style more akin to groups like Portishead or even Sade as they blend soul and jazz within an ambient atmosphere. This is definitely the style that seems to have been taken on by fans of the band as the optimal trademark sound of No-Man and it is no coincidence that the beautiful closing ballad My Revenge On Seattle should be based on such a style.
Some fans of the band may have been dismayed with the release of Wild Opera which marked a departure from the usual style the duo of Bowness and Wilson were accustomed to producing. On the other hand this album mirrors an incredible variety of styles that are sure to be enjoyed by all who appreciate good music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Gazpacho - Get It While It's Cold
Gazpacho is a Spanish soup, consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and garlic, which are all mashed up and then served cold.
Gazpacho is also the name of a Marillion song...
And now Gazpacho is also the name of one of the most promising new bands I have heard in a long, long while. This Norwegian band consists of Jan H. "O" on vocals, Jon A. Vilbo on guitars, Thomas Andersen on Keyboards and Roy Funner on Bass. I met these guys at a Marillion convention weekend, where they were handing out copies of their demo CD to anyone who showed interest. Naturally I was one of those interested people who took home a copy this four-track demo. They described themselves to me as a bit like Hogarth-era Marillion, but with a very own, unique sound.
Now I don't know what I had expected when I first played this disc, but it certainly was something different than this. This demo is so different from all those other self-produced CDs I've reviewed recently (and believe me, I've had a few...). Crisp clear sound, strong compositions, a variety of styles and above all, indeed, a very distinct sound.
Now normally we only review demo albums when they are commercially available to the public (what's the point otherwise?) and this demo is not for sale. However, they give this CD to anyone who shows interest, plus, all four tracks are downloadable from their website, so availability is not an issue here. And since it's very rare that you can get good music for free, we decided to make an exception to our policy here.
Opener Sea Of Tranquility has been entered at Make A Star and is currently running in the semi-final of their monthly contest.
It is a very mellow, atmospheric piece with samples aplenty and some great mellotron-type keyboards during the choruses.
Vocalist "O" shows himself as a cross between Marillion's Steve Hogarth and Radiohead's Tom Yorke and I can't help but noticing a similarity with the only other Norwegian singer I know, Morten Harket from A-Ha. In all the song has a very Radiohead feel (but then with intelligible lyrics).
The second track, Scares Me was the first track the band wrote together, in 1996.
It is a more upbeat song, which is best described as a hybrid between Anorak-era Marillion, Porcupine Tree and the Simple Minds.
Interesting too how this band, without a drummer, manages to incorporate some great drumming in their songs. The drum computer only sounds like a drum computer when it's intentionally supposed to sound like one, like it did on the previous track.
A simple, repeating piano melody and lyrics that rhyme a bit too perfectly make Ghost the most commercial sounding track of the four. The band themselves describe this track as their "most British" sounding, and they're right about that. One can easily draw comparisons with early Radiohead, Blur and the detailed approach of Porcupine Tree.
Imagine throwing all aforementioned bands in a blender, then add a healthy dose of Mostly Autumn and you may get a vague idea of what the final track, Bravo may sound like.
It starts very moody, with a heavy drum computer rhythm that contains surprisingly light tinkles and castanets. The imaginative lyrics and the great singing already lift this song well above average, but it is a fantastic - and unexpected - violin solo towards the end that make this song a true gem.
The only thing I'm not too sure about is the sound of applause at the end of the track. I don't know what the reasoning behind this is, but to me it sounds too much like they couldn't come up with a good ending for the track. But that's only a minor quibble I have on these four great songs.
According to the band it took them most of January 2002 to record this one song, mainly because they wanted the folky influence to sound right with the more crooner sound of the rest of the song.
In conclusion I have to say that seldom I have been blown away this much by a new band. The debut albums of Coldplay and Mostly Autumn may have had the same effect, but both these bands had a record-label backing them up. These guys have managed to do it all themselves, and in such a great and professional way that is literally unheard of.
On their very professional looking website the band show that they take themselves very seriously, as everything is perfected into the smallest detail, up to and including special artwork for each of the four tracks on the download page. A good example for the detail and perfection is the very tongue in cheek cover of this demo: a delicious looking soup with a fly in it.
Oh, and did I mention the superb sound quality already? Very uncommon for a demo to sound this good, really.
Come to the point of rating this demo. Had it been an official release as an EP, the quality of the material would have warranted a DPRP-recommended tag without any doubt. However, as it isn't a real release I don't feel a recommended tag is justified, so hence my mark. Now all we're waiting for is a full album release of this great band - Someone, get these guys a record deal, will ya!
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Ken Hensley - Running Blind
Ken Hensley was the original keyboardist of Uriah Heep, a British rock band that was very popular in the early seventies. Hensley was their major songwriter, and gave the band their distinctive organ sound. He left the band in 1980. Running Blind is his first solo release since 1980's Free Spirit.
Running Blind is collection of piece in different styles, most of them quite rocky, but also two ballads and some more radio-friendly AOR-style songs.
The album was recorded with several musical friends: John Wetton plays bass (on 2 tracks only), together with David Karns (from the original Uriah Heep) and Andy Pyle (from Gary Moore and The Kinks), and the drums are played by Mike Johnson, Steve Christey and Dave Wagstaffe. The guitars are played by Hensley himself, and Dave Kilminster (from the John Wetton Band). Ken Hensley plays guitar, keyboards and sings lead vocals. His voice is a bit thin and not too powerful, but he's doing a fine job, and he manages to come close to the original Uriah Heep sound.
As for the music: the melodies and arrangements are not overly complex. Most songs are very close to straight forward rock, although Hensley brings in some retro prog rock influences, as we know from Uriah Heep and Deep Purple.
Most of the songs have a nice natural organ sound, but this is mainly used as accompaniment, as the overall sound is dominated by quite heavy electric guitars.
The albums starts with a nice instrumental overture, a moody piece with real strings, that strongly reminded me of the classical opening track on John Wetton's Arkangel album (called The Circle of St Giles). The track seamlessly leads into the next track, another instrumental, a wild rocker with heavy organs and guitars. These first two tracks are the only instrumentals on the album, and they are a great start!
Next are 3 energetic rocking pieces (Out Of My Control, You've Got It,
The Final Solution). They sound like a crossing between a modern Uriah Heep, Gary Moore and John Wetton in his less progressive moments.
After these tracks, the musical direction becomes a bit unbalanced, as Hensley throws in 4 pieces in some other musical styles: some popular AOR (It's Up To You), some happy uptime country rock (Finney's Tale), a simple lullaby (I Close My Eyes), and another ballad with some dobro (Little Piece Of Me). These pieces are not really bad, but they disturb the continuity of the album, and of course they have very little to do with prog rock.
Next on the album is a very strong proggy track (Free Spirit). This one sounds like Uriah Heep in its best days, and brings back memories of classic tracks like Easy Living and Return To Fantasy. To me, this is the most progressive highlight on the album. The album concludes with 3 tracks in AOR-style (Movin' In, Let Me Be Me, I Don't Wanna Wait) and a wild rocker (Tell Me). They're all well played, but the melodies are a bit too simple for the average prog rocker.
On Running Blind, no new musical territories are explored. For example, this album is totally different from another album that I recently purchased, Glossolalia by Steve Walsh (singer/keyboardist with Kansas), that showed that an old prog school musician can still feel the need to innovate in a true progressive way. This seems not to be the case with Ken Hensley, whose main interest seems to be create a modernized (AOR-style) version of his classic Heep sound. Personally, I doubt if Hensley will reach a new audience with Running Blind. However, the album will certainly appeal to Uriah Heep fans, as Hensley successfully recreates the old Heep magic in a modern version. You might give it a try if you like the music of Deep Purple, Gary Moore or maybe even the more commercial John Wetton and Greg Lake solo works. It's a pity though, that the broad variety of style make the album slightly unbalanced.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Patrick Forgas - Synchronicité
Patrick Forgas is rather more well known for his works with his own progressive rock band in the seventies which saw him take on the role of drummer, inspired by none other than Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine, Matching Mole). Understandably the music played was inspired by the Canterbury movement though he failed to achieve the success that so many contemporaries of this style managed. In fact he has only returned to the musical world after a lengthy hiatus.
However, all those who on seeing Forgas' name expect to hear an album that reflects his Canterbury inspirations would be disappointed. In fact Synchronicité, Forgas' first solo album is more of a collection of ambient pieces along the lines of Vangelis or Klaus Schulze. The album is completely dedicated to the works of philosopher Jean Moisset and his tribute to C.G. Jung and his writings about synchronicity. Furthermore the release is accompanied by the photography, which is displayed on this digipack release, of Patrick Collandre. Together the elements of philosophy, photography and music are combined as soul, body and spirit to give this album.
The only music that is to be found on this album is electronic with layer upon layer of delicate textured sounds that give each tune a particular atmosphere. Rhythm is practically absent from this release giving the whole album a feeling of serenity and peace. In fact this is an excellent album for meditation and would be ideal for relaxing to.
Delicate piano/keyboard work coupled with broad soundscapes would be the best way to describe this album which would appeal to those who appreciate the works of musicians such as Vangelis, or the German electronic scene from bands such as Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel. Expect to find this album at your nearest health spa!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.