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Reviews in this issue:
- Enchant - Tug Of War - Duo Review
- Steve Hackett - Hungarian Horizons : Live In Budapest - Duo Review
- King's X - Black Like Sunday - Duo Review
- Fish - Fools Company (DVD)
- Fish - Mixed Company
- Fish - Sunsets on Empire : Live in Poland (DVD)
- The Best Prog Rock Album in the World ... Ever
- Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
- XII Alfonso - This Is
- Pentwater - The Pentwater Album
- Eloy Fritsch - Atmosphere
- Spektrum - Spektrum
- Eclipse - Jumping from Springboards
- Roine Stolt - The Flower King
Enchant - Tug Of War
This album really should come with a few listening instructions. Based on my approach, they should read something like this. 'Upon receipt of Tug Of War, place the CD immediately in player and allow it to rotate quietly while you do something else. Do not form any opinion of what you have heard. Quickly remove CD, return to its case and store in a cool, but easily accessible place for two weeks. Then wait until dusk on the 14th night, pour a strong bottle of ale and slide the CD carefully out of its case. Consume contents of bottle quickly, lie back in relaxed pose and...gently...press play. Am I slowly going mad? Who knows?!? But if, after reading this, you decide that it's time to become Enchanted, then I'd strongly recommend that you allow this a bit of time to work its magic. On the first few listens it left me cold. But after a short break, the subtle melodies and hooks really began to sink in. Now I really can't stop enjoying this album.
In the course of their five albums to date, Enchant has steadily built a reputation as one of the biggest names in progressive rock circles. Their melodic, progressive-tinged rock with a welcome heavy edge has managed to blend driving riffs, adventurous keyboards, ever-changing rhythms and some juicy hooks - yet always remaining accessible.
Always able to create the occasional masterpiece, it wasn't until their last release Blink Of An Eye that they managed to maintain the standard throughout a whole album. This time they've gone one better - Tug Of War just makes you want to press the replay button at the end and listen to it again....and again.... and again..... The reason, lies in the fact that this is their most direct, straight-to-the-point work to date. Sure, there's still plenty of progressive explorations and some splendid, extended instrumental workouts, but the melody is far more central to the songs.
Enchant has always had an immediately recognisable sound thanks to the warm, clear voice of Ted Leonard. Here he puts in a captivating performance from beginning to end. Another big plus point is the superb guitar work of Doug Ott. A slighter, harder edge to his sound, this also adds to the directness of the record.
There's really so much variation across this disk that it's impossible to do it justice in words alone. And anyway, I wouldn't want to spoil your chance to explore it for yourselves? The whole thing is well packaged, with a crystal clear production and the special edition comes with a 28-page booklet and a live track Below Zero. The only things stopping me from giving the full 10-point treatment, is the unnecessary instrumental Progtology and the rather obvious pop/rock of Long Way Down. Suffice it to say that this is guaranteed to delight existing fans and will undoubtedly win the band many new ones. I also bet they'll give Spock's Beard a good run for their money on their European tour in October. I know who I'll be looking forward to the most.
San Franciscan outfit Enchant made an immediate splash on the progressive rock scene with their 1993 debut A Blueprint Of The World, and have barely put a foot wrong since, putting out a string of high quality releases. Somewhat puzzlingly however they haven’t made the same headway as contemporaries such as Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings. The fact that the band haven’t toured since 1998’s Break, and have suffered a number of line-up changes since then (including the loss of drummer and key songwriter Paul Craddick) probably hasn’t helped their progress. Hopefully though things are about to step up a gear for Enchant - they now have a full and (hopefully) settled line-up, with the addition (at long last) of a new keyboardist in Bill Jenkins; they are supporting Spock’s Beard on their European tour in the Autumn and most importantly, they have a new album in Tug Of War (their sixth studio release) which is as strong as anything they’ve done to date.
For those not in the know, Enchant are usually described as sounding somewhat like 80’s era Rush mixed with a bit of Kansas. The band must be sick of this comparison, but its probably the closest you can get to an accurate description of their sound, as they have by now very much carved out a niche for themselves. The Kansas comparisons are usually aimed primarily at vocalist Ted Leonard, who undeniably occupies the same sort of territory as Steve Walsh, with perhaps an even more AOR feel to his voice. Many would-be fans appear to be put off by Leonard’s vocals; I personally think they work very well with the music, and I’m certainly no huge fan of AOR. Guitarist Doug Ott meanwhile appears to take some of his cues from Steve Rothery (who incidentally produced some of Enchant’s debut), at least in the expressive solo’s which are liberally scattered throughout this album (another reason Rush fans may take to this, given the lack of any Alex Lifeson solo’s on ‘Vapor Trails’).
Musically, Tug Of War is both a continuation of and progression from 2002’s excellent Blink Of An Eye. The continuation is in the heavier sound the band were forging on Blink… – not heavy as in prog metal heavy, but more as in a general beefing up of the sound; the rhythm section (Ed Platt on bass and Sean Flanagan on drums) sound more urgent and powerful than on earlier releases, whilst Ott (also the main songwriter since Craddick’s departure) has developed a pleasingly muscular playing style, whilst not forgetting about instilling proceedings with plenty of melody and musical light and shade. The keyboards, meanwhile, are probably more effective here than on many of the band’s other releases precisely because they are used more sparingly.
The progression comes from the wider variety of styles used on this album; whilst Blink… seemed at times like a heavier version of 2000’s Juggling 9 or Dropping 10, Tug Of War sees the band pushing the envelope and trying out some experimental sounds and structures – all of which are successful.
It would certainly be true to say that the songs which stick closest to the ‘classic’ Enchant sound are the most instantly likeable. Sinking Sand shows the band really playing to their strengths, featuring an immediately identifiable main riff, plenty of well worked time changes, plus a stellar performance from Leonard, who really shows the extent of his range on the off-beat, piano-inflected chorus. The title track is a powerful, bass-driven rocker with a strong chorus; Living In A Movie is an emotional powerhouse with typically heartfelt lyrics, whilst the instrumental Progtology (a companion piece to Prognosis, the bonus track on Blink Of An Eye) would give Rush’s YYZ a run for its money, and features one of the best guitar solo’s on the album (which, coming from an album full of great solo’s, is saying something!).
Its those tracks which don’t grab you at the start that are in many ways the most satisfying, and these are generally the ones which break from the norm. Holding The Wind, for instance, is a little tough to get into, yet rewards repeated listens – I particularly liked the atypical mid-section, which owes something to the fade-out section of Marillion’s Season’s End. Long Way Home has a strange, staccato rhythm and features great vocal harmonies – one of those tracks which shouldn’t really gel together and work but somehow does. See No Evil meanwhile has a passing resemblance to Edie Brickell’s What I Am, and is another song which gradually crawls under your skin.
The production (by Doug Ott) is of the usual high quality; some may find it a little dense but I think this style works well for Enchant’s music. Lyrically too this is a notch higher than the usual prog fare, dealing with real issues and situations rather than the cliched airy-fairy stuff that many bands of this ilk come up with.
In summation, this really is an excellent effort from Enchant. Despite the fact that there’s been barely a year since their last album, Tug Of War sees them brimming with new ideas and sounding more purposeful and sure of themselves than ever. If they can translate this material well to the stage, the forthcoming shows with Spock’s Beard are going to be a treat.
Steve Hackett -
Hungarian Horizons : Live In Budapest
DVD (129:37): Intro (0:40), Horizons (3:31), Gnossienne #1 (3:25), Bourée / Bacchus (2:36), Firth of Fifth (1:41), Bay of Kings (5:26), Syrinx (1:49), Imagining (1:30), Second Chance (3:27), Jacuzzi (2:01), Overnight Sleeper (1:17), The Barren Land (1:15), Black Light (2:55), Kim (2:36), Time Lapse At Milton Keynes (3:45), The Chinese Jam (5:16), Concerto in D (5:10), Hairless Heart (2:58), Cinema Paradiso (3:42), Mustard Seed (2:03), Gymnopédie #1 (3:46), Jazz On A Summers Night (3:02), Little Cloud (4:31), Cavalcanti (4:38), Walking Away From Rainbows (3:56), Andante in C (2:23), Concert For Munich (3:45), The Journey (3:45), Skye Boat Song (1:12), By Paved Fountain (2:01), Etude in A min. (0:30), Blood On The Rooftops (0:20), Hands Of The Priestess (6:36), C min. Triplets (0:36), End Of Day (2:51), Ace Of Wands (3:59), Idyll (0:53), Aubade (1:13), Méditation (2:36), Credits (1:48)
Bonus Material: A Weekend In Budapest (18:34)
CD1 (60:03): Horizons (3:31), Gnossienne #1 (3:25), Bourée / Bacchus (2:36), Firth of Fifth (1:41), Bay of Kings (5:26), Syrinx (1:49), Imagining (1:30), Second Chance (3:27), Jacuzzi (2:01), Overnight Sleeper (1:17), The Barren Land (1:15), Black Light (2:55), Kim (2:36), Time Lapse At Milton Keynes (3:45), The Chinese Jam (5:16), Concerto in D (5:10), Hairless Heart (2:58), Cinema Paradiso (3:42), Mustard Seed (2:03), Gymnopédie #1 (3:46), Jazz On A Summers Night (3:02)
CD 2 (45:53): Little Cloud (4:31), Cavalcanti (4:38), Walking Away From Rainbows (3:56), Andante in C (2:23), Concert For Munich (3:45), The Journey (3:45), Skye Boat Song (1:12), By Paved Fountain (2:01), Etude in A min. (0:30), Blood On The Rooftops (0:20), Hands Of The Priestess (6:36), C min. Triplets (0:36), End Of Day (2:51), Ace Of Wands (3:59), Idyll (0:53), Aubade (1:13), Méditation (2:36)
Stating that Steve Hackett is one of the rock music's guitar greats is not something that anybody would contest. However, few are those guitarists that are equally adept at producing the same flourishing guitar work on both electric as well as (electro-)acoustic guitar. I was fortunate enough to have been actively involved in promoting two acoustic shows by the same trio that appear on this double CD and though anticipating a great performance, one cannot describe the beauty of the music that this trio manages to create and it is only fitting that the music from one of their many concerts has been finally released in digital format, accompanied by a luscious DVD.
Recorded in early 2002, Steve Hackett is joined onstage by his brother John Hackett on flute as well as Roger King on keyboards. The concert is not just about Steve Hackett expressing himself on acoustic guitar, but space is given to all instruments and the result is sublime. Musically, the concert incorporates everything that has been a major part of Hackett's career, including both Genesis and GTR, as well as a number of classical influences from Giuliani to Vivaldi and of course Satie, in whose honour both Hackett brothers released an album.
Something else that I feel should also be mentioned is the warmth of this concert which "finally" includes the onstage dialogue between various numbers allowing the development of a rapport between Steve Hackett and the listener. This is something which I felt was sorely lacking on all other live albums from Steve Hackett and omitting this feature from the acoustic concerts would have resulted in a very cold run through the numbers.
Describing each an every track would be madness, especially when a number of them involve no more than snippets of the original track. One could dissect the live album into the various styles that one can come across on the album. Of course one should start with the classical pieces which dominate the whole of this live recording, and one should also mention that the pieces normally associated with a "rock" presentation are given a classical makeover.
Hackett has professed an interest in Eric Satie, so much so that he released an album with his brother John dedicated to the works of this composer. The Gymnopedie #1 and Gnossienne #1 are played out flawlessly together with the three humoresque "encores" Idyll, Aubade and Meditation. The set is augmented by pieces by Bach (Bourée), Debussy (Syrinx), Vivaldi (Concerto In D), Giuliani (Andante In C) and Carcassi (Etude In A min.), all of which show Hackett's prowess on the guitar and many a times also serving as a showcase for his brothers' flute playing.
The Genesis days are also revisited with snippets from Firth of Fifth, Blood On The Rooftops, Hairless Heart as well as Horizons, played out as it was always intended to be played and heard! Even GTR is given a mention with Imagining. However, the highlights on the album are most definitely Hackett's solo compositions. Some pieces already had a strong classical mood such as Cavalcanti, Kim and By Paved Fountain to mention a few but my favourites have to be Ace Of Wands which sees the whole of the band blending in perfectly whilst pieces such as Concert for Munich and Walking Away from Rainbows sound so delicate and touching.
The music has all been played before and is definitely owned in one form or another by anyone who can boast to be a progressive rock lover. On the other hand, the music has never been presented in this format before and the listener will be taken aback at how works can be overhauled and yet still sound fresh and interesting.
So what about the DVD? Having seen all of the Hackett DVD's to date, this is by far the best one so far. Everything about it is fantastic from the various camera angles to the lighting to the intriguing short documentary which gives an insight to the hectic life of a musician. We tend to think that it is all about partying and then playing the gig. In fact it is a demanding lifestyle especially for dedicated musicians such as Steve Hackett and his crew. The DVD in itself is a wonderful testament to Hackett's ability with the acoustic guitar. The concert itself is an excellent work incorporating most of the styles that have made this guitarist one of rock's real legends. In fact if you are a budding guitarist, you might well lose heart on seeing him at work especially when you see the ease with which he negotiates the fretboard. A must for your collection!
To start with the latter - I was gob smacked by the intense beauty of the performances. With songs that come from Hackett's solo material, as well as his earlier Genesis career and a couple of classical pieces of music thrown in. My favourite is the little medley consisting of the Bach composition Bourée, which is then followed by Hackett's own composition Bachuss, before turning into the flute part of Firth of Fifth, after which is goes back to Bourée - superb!
It's a little pity though that there is not more from Firth of Fifth included, as much of it lends it so well for this acoustic treatment. Mind you, all ventures into the Genesis past are limited to short snippets; the 20 seconds of Blood On The Rooftops being no more than a teaser. Other recognisable works of art include Vivaldi's Concerto in D and the traditional Skye Boat Song.
The DVD which is included in the commercial edition of the album contains the entire gig mixed in terrific DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. The recordings were mixed in Hackett's own MAP studio. All three available mixes are incredibly rich and warm in texture. I wish all live DVDs would sound this good.
Visually it is somewhat less stunning, as the gig on offer remains three old guys doing an acoustic show - not your average Robbie Williams extravaganza then. The static performance is somewhat compensated for by projections and effective lighting. I found myself grabbing a book and listening to the music, rather than watching the performance. To me, the added value of the DVD lies more in the excellent sound mix. Of course, as Nigel already stated, guitar aficionados will certainly dig the long close-ups of Hackett's fretwork.
The album will be released in three different formats: for the American market there is just the DVD, whereas the European version is a digipack containing both DVD and CDs. A limited edition CD only version is available through Steve Hackett's website.
Before I received this album my knowledge of Hackett's acoustic guitar work limited itself to the track Horizons. This track is, in all its simplicity, just about the best reference to have if you want an idea of what the album may sound like. And though listening to Horizons for two hours straight may be a bit tedious for some, and classical guitar music isn't exactly everybody's definition of prog either, for me this was an eye-opener. Highly recommended!
Kings X - Black Like Sunday
Dries: A friend of mine owns a number of King's X albums and years ago he tried to get me interested in them but did not succeed. At the same time he was also trying to prove that Dream Theater was a band I should absolutely listen to. At that time I was not interested in them either. Years later I came to like Dream Theater (a lot), so when the name King's X was mentioned I was really curious. Maybe my taste had changed in regards to them also? In the past year I have heard some of their older stuff and that sounded good to me.
This album is a collection of songs from the early days of King's X. Even from before they were called King's X. At that time they did not have a record deal, so these tracks were performed live but were never recorded. So these are all new recordings of old songs.
Andy: Like that friend of Dries, I own a good number of King's X albums. I've seen them play several times - the first must have been in the late 80's at a place called the Bierkeller in Bristol, UK where they were supported by US metallers Leatherwolf and drew a full house.
With their mixture of funk, groove, rock and pop; with the unique, triple vocal harmonies laid over Doug Pinnick's distinctive guitar and with some simply effective songwriting, King's X should have been international stars. For some strange reason they never quite made the break through.
I first came across them when I was given a demo of their Gretchen Goes To Nebraska album (great title) while on work experience at a magazine in London. This, and Faith, Hope, Love which followed, was the trio at their peak. Ask anyone who has ever heard it and few will deny that Summertime is one of the most sublime rock tunes ever put onto vinyl.
Since then however, King's X have been very much, more hit than miss. Dogman and Ear Candy went off in very left field directions while Tape Head only ever deserved and only ever got a couple of plays on my decks. With recent releases, they've seemed like a band that has lost its self-belief.
Black Like Sunday is the album that many fans have been pressing King's X to release for many years. This is certainly a new twist on band's who dig into the vaults and release 'before we were famous' collections. Credit where it's due. It would have been easy to have just collected together a load of demos and live recordings and made a quick buck. But instead they've taken the raw material and gone back into the studio to record them properly.
Dries: Unfortunately, I must say I am not impressed by this album. There is just not enough complexity / deepness in most of the songs. This is an album of rock songs, with just a small hint of progrock. Although it does not say it all, the fact that most of the songs are shorter than four minutes does say something.
A number of songs could have been used for an American high school movie: Black Like Sunday, Rock Pile, Working Man, Finished, Bad Luck, Won't Turn Back, You're The Only One, Save Us. There is nothing wrong technically with these songs, it is just not my genre.
Although Danger Zone has the same structure as these songs I like it, it is more original in some way. In Dreams most of the lyrics are spoken not sung, it has a heavy guitar sound and even a small screaming guitar solo. It is a nice song. The vocals of Screamer are changed to an 'old microphone' effect. Again the heavier guitars and more complex composition make this a good song. Down is a ballad that is just not interesting enough for me. Although Johnny lasts more than 11 minutes it does not really contain any solo's or surprising tempo changes. It is stretched out by using some blues rock like melodies. Towards the end a quiet, mellow guitar sound swells to a louder climax. In my opinion this is also the climax of the album.
Andy: I both agree and disagree with Dries here. I agree, in the sense that this is definitely not a progrock/metal album in any sense of the words. These are straightforward, albeit very distinctive, American Indie rock songs - short, sharp and very much to the point.
I disagree, in that I still find this album rather enjoyable. Perhaps this is mainly because it provides a fascinating insight into the band's origins - of how the band developed their sound to the unique aural pleasure that could be found on albums such as Gretchen..
The tracks here cover a wide range of styles and moods - of a young band trying out lots of ideas and inspirations in search of its own identity. Listen carefully and you can hear all the familiar King's X ingredients. Rarely are they all found in the same song - but they are all here.
Take Dreams - my favourite track - with that oh so distinctive, deep, guitar groove, those funky triple harmonies and a sharp punky edge. There's the same approach on Two - this time mixed with a Led Zep-inspired vocal line. The title track too has a good vibe, while Rock Pile which follows has a sublime hook picked right out of the top drawer.
Dries: Some of the tracks on this album are good, but most of them are in the simple American rock genre, played well but not what I am looking for. For a King's X fan this album might be a nice addition to the collection, because it contains material of a time long ago. I just judge this album as it is and hope this is not a good example of King's X music. On the internet most of the people say that Gretchen Goes To Nebraska is the best King's X album, so I think I should buy that one.
Andy: A few of the songs here are more miss than hit, but there's enough quality songwriting, enough of those distinctive King's X qualities to make this an enjoyable listen. Purely from an historical point of view, for those who've followed the band through thick and thin, this is a pretty essential purchase. Gretchen.. is always likely to be the band's pinnacle but this gives a cool insight into how they came to reach such dizzying heights.
All we can hope, is that having returned to the vaults, King's X have rediscovered some of the ingredients that made them such a special entity in those early days. If so, then roll out a new album as soon as possible.
To Find Out more about the King's X
Black Like Sunday Tour of Europe & USA
Fish - Fools Company
Disc 1: "Night Of The Jester" (133.38) Script For A Jester's Tear (10.28), Misplaced Childhood (49.25) [Pseudo Silk Kimono (2.51), Kayleigh (4.35), Lavender (2.46), Bitter Suite (8.04), Heart Of Lothian (4.30), Waterhole (Expresso Bongo) (2.40), Lord Of The Backstage (3.40), Blind Curve (10.05), Childhood's End (4.45), White Feather (5.07)], Torch Song (4.50), Slàinte Mhath (5.20), Forgotten Sons (11.02), Fugazi (14.10), extras: Interview part 1 (33.32)
Disc 2: "Night Of The Company" (59.08) Vigil (10.00), Just Good Friends (6.40), 3D (9.11), Rites Of Passage (4.58), State Of Mind (13.21), Shadowplay (6.55), Raw Meat (7.10), Credits (0.39), extras: The Company (6.31), Yatta's Birthday (4.02), Yer Birthday (4.31), Interview part 2 (19.02), Trailer (7.50), Backstage Footage (Pipeline)(6.20), Photo Gallery
After organising fanclub conventions in his hometown Haddington on an almost annual basis for more than a decade, Fish had decided that it was time to do a similar thing on mainland Europe for a change. In conjunction with the German and Dutch fanclubs they opted for the city of Enschede, which is situated on the Dutch-German border.
For the two-day convention Fish had decided to do a career retrospective, with the first night's gig consisting of only Marillion material, and the second night only solo-material. The setlist would be determined using an online voting system, with the knowledge that Fish would at least play his two magnum opuses: Misplaced Childhood and Plague Of Ghosts. In the end the latter had to be dropped due to lack of rehearsal time for the band and they played Misplaced Childhood on both nights. Nonetheless both nights featured great sets consisting of nothing but old favourites.
Fish had the idea of approaching the old Marillion material in a similar way as Roger Waters had done with the Pink Floyd material on his In The Flesh tour. This meant re-arranging some of the music, playing it with two guitarists rather than one and adding backing vocalists. In the end, lack of rehearsal time meant that re-arranging was no option and apart from the addition of backing vocalists and the music shifting down a tone to suit Fish' voice better, the songs are played very close to their originals.
A conscious and wise decision has been made in only including the best parts of the performance, this means that Incommunicado, Garden Party, Raingods Dancing and quite a few others have been left off the DVDs because the performance was well below-par.
What remains are performances that range from reasonable to excellent, with the ultimate highlight of course being the first integral performance of Misplaced Childhood in 16 years.
Equally good are the rare performance of Torch Song and the excellent Fugazi. Highlights of the second disc are Rites Of Passage (never played live before), which is followed by State Of Mind, featuring the legendary Jan Akkerman on guitar. Fish and Akkerman had met on a Dutch TV show earlier that year got on really well. When preparing for the gig on the Saturday night it turned out that the manager of the venue was a personal friend of Akkerman's. They phoned him up, and Akkerman came down to Enschede straight away, to play along for a song. With Akkerman's improvisational playing the song is stretched to a great 13-minute jam. Although at some points it's evident none of it was rehearsed, it sounds excellent.
Unfortunately the technical side of the DVD is a bit disappointing. Fish has always been keen on achieving a good sound quality on his albums, so it comes as no surprise that a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix can be found on the DVD. A pity then that it is a rather poor mix. Fish's already low voice becomes a growl as a result of the bass channel being far too high in the mix - turning down the volume of the subwoofer doesn't help much. A bit of a surprise then that the 2.0 stereo track is a lot clearer and better balanced.
Image clarity is fine, and the whole gig is presented in 4.3 format. The editing of the footage is excellent during the songs itself, however, in between the songs it seems just a matter of pressing the stop button and a few seconds later the start button again - a pity they didn't put a bit more work in that.
The DVDs boast an array of extras of which the two-part interview with Fish is particularly entertaining. In the interview he openly admits to some of the poorer performances and goes into great detail about the shows and all that went wrong (or right, for that matter). As always Fish' accounts are very entertaining and insightful.
The bonus footage consists of some of the encores from the second night, which are mainly for fun purpose (the sound is dreadful). Also features is an eight minute 'trailer' which shows outtakes from the gig to the sound of the drum samples of What Colour Is God?. A rather pointless trailer if you ask me, and with that a bit of a boring thing to watch. More interesting is the behind-the-scenes footage which includes a time-lapse of the build-up of the show, to the music of the song Pipeline.
In conclusion this is an excellent souvenir if you've been to the convention, however, otherwise it holds little more value than a reasonable performance, great interviews and a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Fish - Mixed Company
Disc 2 (50.47): Vigil (10.00), Shadowplay (7.26), Just Good Friends (6.22), Fugazi (13.16), Garden Party (6.58), Market Square Heroes (6.43)
This CD is released as the companion CD to the Fool's Company DVD reviewed above. However, as the decision to include material which is not featured on the DVD has resulted in some 'less that perfect' performances, cynics may prefer to use the term "blooper reel" for this album.
Without the visuals of the DVD to compensate the lack of rehearsals becomes painstakingly clear when playing this CD. Especially during Garden Party, where Fish starts to sing a completely wrong lyric, halfway during the song, before losing it completely. However, never too shy to admit his own mistakes, this particular moment is also well-documented in both the liner notes of the CD and the interview which can be found on the DVD.
And while some songs certainly could have been performed better, there is still plenty to enjoy on this CD, not the least the integral performance of Misplaced Childhood, which, if I'm not mistaken, is actually the one they played the second night, which was less messy than on the first night.
Also strong are the renditions of Just Good Friends and Fugazi (both of which are also on the DVD).
Fish's live records have always been a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. There have been some excellent releases in the past, most notably Uncle Fish & The Crypt Creepers, Sushi and Sashimi, yet others have been of poor quality (Toiling at the Reeperbahn, Fish Head Curry, Candlelight In The Fog) and only interesting for those who visited that particular gig. This album falls in the latter category. No doubt the people who have been at the convention shows may be interested in this album as a souvenir, yet for the people who weren't there, this holds little value.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Fish - Sunsets On Empire - Live In Poland
Disc 2 (82.24): A Badger's Day (Backstage Documentary) (29.59), Interview: Reflections On Sunsets (52.25)
Now this is what I call a concert video - professionally shot, excellently edited, a great vibe, superb performance and a killer setlist.
The show was filmed by TV Poland on October 10th 1997, in Przemysl, Poland, during the Sunsets On Empire Tour. Fish acquired the rights for this recording in 1999 and already released it on VHS. However, it has now been re-released on this double DVD, with the second DVD providing great bonus material in the form of a behind-the-scenes film and an interview with Fish.
In hindsight, the Sunsets On Empire world tour was the last big tour Fish would do. Various problems plagued the entire tour as the band went through three guitar players, pretty much every member of the band and crew got ill, injured or hospitalised at one point in the tour, Fish had voice problems on numerous occasions and the 120+ date tour was a financial gamble. Nonetheless Fish' backing band for this tour, consisting of Robin Boult on guitar, Mickey Simmonds on keyboards, Steve Vantsis on bass and Dave 'Squeaky' Stewart on drums, was probably the best he ever had (tied with the 1991 Internal Exile tour) and it shows on this DVD.
The concert was an open air gig and rain was pouring down on the night (what do you expect on a Polish autumn night?). I feel sorry for the people bravely defying the bad weather, but boy does it add to the atmosphere. Raindrops spark beautifully in the light beams and seeing the big crowd dancing in the rain in front of the stage is just a wonderful sight. Just too bad Fish wouldn't sing about 'Raingods' until his next album...
At one point Fish does start a spontaneous rendition of Singing In The Rain though!
As this tour was supporting the Sunsets On Empire album the emphasis of the set lies on that album. However, this doesn't bother for a bit as it only proves what an exceptionally strong album this is, with particular strong songs like The Perception Of Johnny Punter, What Colour is God? and Goldfish And Clowns.
The centrepiece of the set is the twenty-minute medley. Medleys are often a bit of an obligatory blast of the past, and feature some snippets of songs, completely out of their context. However, the Fish medley is so cleverly crafted that it becomes a great song in itself. It gets my vote as "best prog medley ever". Yes, better than the Old Medley Genesis played on their 1992 tour, as Fish's medley effortlessly blends both Marillion and early solo material, reaching climax after climax. The medley starts with a great transition from Jungle Ride into the opening of Assassing. After two verses of Assassing it turns to Credo which in its turn morphs into Tongues. Then it's back to the mid-section of Assassing (following a great keyboard part by Mickey Simmonds) all the way to the end of the track. But then the band is just warming up. Dave 'Squeaky' Stewart breaks into a powerful drum solo which fires up the end-section of Fugazi ('where are the prophets...'). And just when you think that it's over the band plays the whole of White Feather straight after that. At the end of White Feather follows an extended jam which revisits Credo and Fugazi while still playing White Feather. If you take into account that the medley is tied with Jungle Ride, you get 27 minutes of non-stop music.
After this fantastic medley the band revisits Fish' first two albums with Family Business, Cliché and the ending of The Company off Vigil and Lucky and the title track off Internal Exile. The second encore is a beautiful rendition of A Gentleman's Excuse Me, featuring just Fish and Mickey Simmonds on piano. The song beautifully morphs into Lavender, which sees the full band return after the first verse for a killer version of this old Marillion track. As said, the band is on top form, boasting fine performances by all. Fish' voice is in remarkable good shape. Some minor glitches aside, this is a great performance all over.
The image is presented in 16:9 widescreen and the picture quality is pretty good. Lighting is rather dark and the image would have benefited from a spotlight on Fish and soloing musicians (especially Robin Boult is constantly in the dark). Colouring is OK, as it is shot on Betacam (not digital) you get some blur when there are a lot of reds or blues, but on the whole it's certainly not bad. Sound quality is fine. The gig is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. (Unfortunately no 5.1 on this DVD). Considering this is a TV-shoot (which are usually done by crews who don't have a clue about the music), the editing is excellent although there are some minor flaws. For example, when Mickey Simmonds turns into the great (keyboard) violin solo in Brother 52, the director of the program opts for long close-ups of a tree and we only see a few minor glimpses of Simmonds' fingers literally flying over the keys. A pity. Also most in-between song banter has been edited out, but this is barely noticeable.
The second DVD boasts two interesting extras. First is a 30-minute Behind-the-scenes documentary which shows one full day on the road during the Sunsets On Empire tour in Germany. It features short interviews by all band and crew members and an honest conversation with Fish talking about life on the road, being away from friends and family for so long.
Second extra is an extensive 50-minute interview with Fish in which he reflects on the Sunsets On Empire album and the tour and the Poland gig in particular. As always it's a lot of fun listening to Fish' animated accounts of the tour and watching his vivid expressions. The interview is shot from multiple camera positions, making it a bit more fun to watch than the interviews on the Fool's Company DVD. If you're only ever going to buy one Fish DVD, this is the one to buy. Excellent stuff.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Best Prog Rock
Album In The World ... Ever !
CD1 (77:31): Van Der Graaf Generator - Theme 1, Genesis - Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Yes - Roundabout, Manfred Mann's Earthband - Joybringer, Curved Air - Back Street Luv, Hawkwind - Silver Machine, Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath, Focus - Hocus Pocus, Emerson Lake and Palmer - Hoedown, Atomic Rooster - Tomorrow Night, Deep Purple - Child In Time, Colosseum - Valentyne Suite
CD2 (78:29): Peter Gabriel - Here Comes the Flood, Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells Part 1, Caravan - Winter Wine, Kevin Ayers & The Whole World - May I?, Rare Bird - Sympathy, Procol Harum - A Salty Dog, Barclay James Harvest - Mocking Bird, Anthony Phillips (with Mike Rutherfod & Phil Collins) - Which Way The Wind Blows, Emerson Lake and Palmer - Lucky Man, Roxy Music - In Every Dream Home A Heartache, Electric Light Orchestra - 10538 Overture, Hatfield & The North - Mumps
CD3 (78:48): Frank Zappa - Peaches In Regalia, Camel - Rhayader (From 'The Snow Goose'), Gentle Giant - Pantagruel's Nativity, Egg - Germ Patrol, Matching Mole - O Caroline, b>Greenslade - Bedside Manners are Extra, Steve Hillage - Meditation Of The Snake, Steve Hackett - Spectral Mornings, Be Bop Deluxe - Ships In The Night, Man - Keep on Crinting, Van Der Graaf Generator - A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers
I have to confess that this is the umpteenth draft for this particular review, as my original article concentrated more on the fact that I have no great love for compilation albums, rather than concentrating on the wealth of great music that is encompassed within these three CD's. I was prompted to make these changes by Mark's recent review of the Cyclops Sampler 5 and the delightful Songs for Luca CD, which I recently purchased (to be reviewed soon). Not all compilations are the same therefore and perhaps my over generalisation is incorrect. However there are fundamental differences between these releases and whilst applauding the latter two offerings, I am still somewhat less enamoured with the exploitative nature of Virgin's collection. A Best Of, for me is normally associated with the final nail in the coffin for most bands. Chart toppers two years ago, bargain basement last year, so 'let's do a Best Of' and cash in before we eventually drop them. Alas not quite the case here, album chart toppers last millennium, bargain basement this millennium and so on ...
Anyway enough of my bitter and twisted ramblings and a read through of the above track listings will no doubt have caused a few cheers and the odd raised eyebrow along with the inevitable grumble. To be expected really, as mingled with the true and expected classics are some nice surprises, some slightly anachronistic offerings and the inevitable "stocking fillers" (tracks to be found on other best of albums), and from these categories it would need a braver man than I to put (in writing here, anyway) each into its rightful place. No surprises either that the large bulk of material comes from 1969 to 1973, when in fact all the best prog was written!
WHAT!?! - Well so Virgin would have us believe.
Well so far I have said nothing about the music, but do I really need to. Surely it speaks for itself. What was enjoyable whilst listening through this release was those tracks that had not received an airing by myself for some time. The nudging of the grey cells and the reminder that some of these albums should be brought out the attic and re-played. Well perhaps put onto CD first - no record player nowadays. I did also ponder on who might buy this album really? I can't see the devoted prog fan wanting to purchase it, more likely to be from a well intentioned aquaintance, perhaps a birthday gift. Beware friends bearing small packages!
Well as previously (and often before) mentioned I am no great lover of these offerings. My only hope that the adage that any publicity is good publicity applies and may serve as one of the pluses for this CD. And if it brings new listeners to our music then great. It does however make one muse the idea that if this album sells well, will Virgin release The Best Prog Rock Album In The World ... Ever II ! - heaven forbid! Maybe we should send our suggestions in. I wrestled with whether or not I should review this CD, knowing fine well that it would just put me on my high horse and that I would be less than positive. I was right, so only the numerical rating left - difficult really as the material speaks for itself and a low score may imply criticism in this area. The cost is reasonable, taking into account that it is a triple album, albeit of well worn material. But ultimately my suggestion would be save your money and either buy an album by one of the featured artists or perhaps something after 197? - I believe there has been some good material released since then!
Conclusion: ? out of 10
Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
Hail To the Thief, as has been the case with most Radiohead albums, has been eagerly anticipated by critics and fans alike. This release has been all the more awaited because of the band's admission that there would be a return to track with a more guitar orientated approach. For those who expected a return to The Bends, you will be disappointed even though anyone who has listened to the band will realise that they are not ones to backtrack and rehash a style which is no longer innovative. On the other hand Radiohead have blended the electronic architecture of Kid A and Amnesiac in a slightly more ear-friendly aural display bringing them closer to OK Computer, something they seemed to have bridged with Amnesiac.
The band have been recording this album since April 2002, and seems to have been affected by the events that have taken the world by the storm over these last eighteen months. This is immediately evident by the title of the album which is a direct reference (though denied by Thom Yorke!) to George W Bush who was called such by Democrat supporters after his election to power. In fact, Yorke has been a fierce critic of both the US and British policy with regards to Iraq and one cannot fail to sense that the title and indeed the album comes out as a form of protest.
2 + 2 = 5, a title taken from 1984 (George Orwell), actually proves why Radiohead should be reviewed in the columns of this website and why people such as Rick Wakeman openly said in a recent Classic Rock interview that bands such as Radiohead and Muse should have the courage to stand up and admit that they are really and truly progressive rock bands. The utilisation of the piano as the backbone of their melodies seems to work wonders with Radiohead as also happens on We Suck Young Blood.
Sail To the Moon has a dreamy piano hook which coupled with Yorke's inimitable voice make it one of the stand out tracks on the album. What this track really does to me is make me cry out for more along these lines. This is really what Radiohead are all about. I am not against electronic experimentation, but I would much rather listen to and leave bands such as Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin and Tangerine Dream to that, and enjoy Radiohead as they are meant to be! Sometimes the band really manage to incorporate the electronic sounds with great effect such as on Backdrift and Sit Down, Stand Up which has a haunting repetitive chorus that slowly builds up a mantra-like feeling to then break out in a sea of rhythm. However, pieces such as The Gloaming really leave much to be desired and might have been better left off this album.
With Go To Sleep one starts to feel the Radiohead that many fans have been yearning for. The music has a delightful guitar-driven sound with just the right amount of keyboards which fill out the sound complementing Yorke's vocals. Maybe these are the pieces that Yorke was referring to when he described the album as a "shiny pop record"! Then up pops Where I End and You Begin and you really sense that Radiohead are back to their finest. There There has been given ample coverage on both television and radio stations having been the first single from the album and the continuous crescendo it possesses makes it one of the worthy pieces on the album.
Following the short yet evocative I Will, one finds A Punchup At A Wedding sees the band resorting to the piano for providing the backbone of the melody as Yorke excels in lyrics about a truly dysfunctional family. Radiohead somehow always seem to leave the best of their tracks to the end of their albums. Hail To the Thief is no different. Myxomatosis with its fudged bass line is a glorious work which shows bands such as The White Stripes how it should be done combining seemingly simple hooks with a delightfully catchy rhythmic chorus. Scatterbrain is a good enough track, but nothing when sandwiched between Myxomatosis and the closer A Wolf At The Door, a fitting track for a haunting album.
There is no doubt that Radiohead have created a monster of themselves that even they seemingly cannot control. No other band is able to carry off what they do and yet still hit the top of the charts and have sell-out concerts. However, the success of their more ear-friendly albums such as The Bends and OK Computer must have created a sense of anticipation that Radiohead HAD to always come up with something innovative and experimental. I wonder whether the band have realised that the music they create that is actually going to last the passage of time is actually that music which is firmly embedded in rock. With Hail To The Thief, it seems that Radiohead seem to be coming round to accepting the limits of electronic music and re-embracing the familiar sound of guitar driven rock.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
XII Alfonso - This Is
Nearly four years ago I was pleasantly surprised with the excellent second album by French band XII Alfonso, called Odyssees. The band, which centres around the brothers Philippe and François Claerhout (guitar and keyboards respectively), together with drummer/percussionist Thierry Moreno produces music, which displays a terrifically balanced blend of vocal and instrumental, acoustic and electric, medieval and modern. It certainly hit the right nerve with me.
Much to my delight they announced their next project was to be a three-album long journey into the life of French painter Claude Monet. However, that's where it all seemed to go wrong. The release date of the first installment of the album got delayed a few times, and when it finally got released the band seemed to have disappeared completely. Their website wasn't updated anymore and the album, released through Musea like all their works, disappeared from the store shelves almost instantly and no review copy ever arrived at DPRP, let alone that it got reviewed - much to my disappointment.
So much to my rejoice this live album suddenly appeared. The album is recorded at various gigs in France and Mexico in 1998 and contains mainly tracks from their debut album The Last Frontier. Onstage, the trio is joined by Caroline Lafue on vocals, Stephane Barincourt on guitars, Lionel Gibaudan on bass and Lionel Fortin on Keyboards.
Besides own compositions, the album features two compositions by the Vital Duo, for which the duo themselves, Jean-Luc and Thierry Payssan joined the band onstage.
Opener Breathing, Scarcely is one of the only two vocal tracks on the album. It is a beautiful ballad of which the opening line gives the album its title. The other vocal track is The Ghost Song, which fits nicely just past halfway on the album to balance out the instrumental and vocal tracks. The original four minute track is extended to an eight minute jam, full of jazzy piano and Gilmouresque guitar solos. The only minor gripe I have is that vocalist Caroline Lafue should stick to singing in her mother-tongue, as her accented English come with some awfully pronounced words that somewhat spoil this great track.
The instrumental songs range from little acoustic ditties, to full-one rock pieces. Hadrian's Wall Overture and Minstrel's Tale seem more a movie soundtrack to accompany footage that contains chase scenes and love scenes. Back To Northumberland is a piano-piece very much in the vein of fellow Frenchman Cyrille Verdeaux, whereas Heath is a full-on rock song which is based around a bag-pipe melody, but which also includes a terrific guitar solo.
Other tracks have a distinct folkloric flavour, most distinctly the first of the two Vital Duo tracks La Dame de Mantoue and Journey To The Winter's Country. The other track that is performed with Vital Duo, Chanson de Trouvere, is a church organ piece, which would make Rick Wakeman proud.
Lazy Day in Haltwhistle and Another Day In Haltwhistle are serene classical sounding acoustic guitar pieces, which would not have been out of place on the Steve Hackett live album I recently reviewed.
Giverny and Wheels Of Change enter the territory of jazz-rock, while my favourite track of the album, Anthem, rivals the works of Mike Oldfield and Ennio Morricone, with a beautiful vocal melody which is repeated by bagpipes and electric guitar - magical!
The closer of the album, Eclipse is the opening track of the then to be released second album Odyssees, although it is played in a completely different way here.
As with my previous review of XII Alfonso, I have to conclude that the band covers a vast array of different musical styles. So vast even, that it may be off-putting for some. Not everybody wants to have a jazzy prog-rock piece followed by folkloric bagpipe music. Yet on the other hand, the variation keeps the album from becoming boring - ever!
The performances of the entire band are excellent and especially Philippe Claerhout is a revelation. His virtuosity on acoustic guitar can easily compete with that of messieurs Hackett and Oldfield, but he is equally adept at electric guitar.
It may be a bit strange that an album, released in 2003, contains recordings from a concert from 1998. It could be that profits of this album are used to finance the recording of the second Monet album. Let's hope the band will soon return to form and release their next album. They certainly deserve a wider exposure.
This is is an excellent album for those who like the work of Mike Oldfield, Steve Hackett, Camel or Clearlight, with excellently composed, playful tunes, a good sound quality and an outstanding performance.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Pentwater - The Pentwater Album
Pentwater was formed by a quintet of high school musicians from the Chicago area way back in 1970. Youthful exuberance, as well as a shed load of talent, saw the band write original material from the off and performing the songs along with the prerequisite cover versions, at local church fêtes, school concerts and friend's parties. Influenced by bands such as Yes, Gentle Giant and ELP, the band started writing material that fitted the style of the bludgeoning progressive rock movement and soon began laying down demos at various local studios, gaining airplay on regional radio stations and supporting major label acts such as Rush, Journey and even Hawkwind.
However, it was not all plain sailing: the wiping of an early recording session by an incompetent engineer, signing a four-album contract with a record label that proceeded to go bankrupt without the band recording a note, and recording a promotional video where the band were completely obscured by dry ice and flashbomb smoke were major setbacks. Undeterred, the band persevered and in 1977 recorded, produced and released an album, Pentwater, on their own Beef Records label. Alas, the time was not right for a progressive act to launch their recording career amidst the height of disco and dawnings of punk rock so in the late summer of 1978, after eight years and a legacy of 59 original compositions (all but eight of which were unreleased) the band called it a day.
Cut to 1992 and Pentwater are back in the public eye when Synphonic release a collection of archive recordings. This ultimately results in the band getting back together to reassess their recorded legacy and to begin making music again. The first fruits of this reunion is the re-release of the 1977 Pentwater album enhanced with additional material. And what a re-release it is! Classic 1970's progressive music that encapsulates the moods and experimentation of the time yet sounds amazingly fresh and vibrant even though it has been 26 years since it was recorded. With most members of the band being competent on a multitude of instruments the arrangements are often complex with oboes, violins and flutes, amongst others, added to the mix to complement the standard guitar / keyboard / bass / drums. The interplay of instrumentation, as well as the fact that all five members contribute vocals, bring up obvious comparisons with Gentle Giant. This is particularly evident in Orphan Girl with it's multi-layered vocal section toward the end of the song. War, a five-minute excerpt from the twenty-two minute unreleased epic, The Tale of Lufu and Hatian has been top and tailed by two newly recorded companion pieces, Prelude To War (a violin piece) and Death (foreboding synth and bass), is a complex instrumental worthy of Giant themselves, and is a piece of music that fans of Yes or ELP can easily take to heart.
Overall the playing is tight, as one would expect from a band that survived by performing live, the music is stunning and the arrangements are superb. Perhaps if the band had followed the more typical Midwest 70's sound of bands like Styx and Kansas they may have been more successful. The fact that they didn't is all to their credit and I am grateful, for the sake of the music, that they stuck to their own style which personally is a lot more appealing, original and down-right exciting! It's easy to recommend something this good!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Eloy Fritsch - Atmosphere
Eloy Fritsch is a keyboard wizard in the grand tradition of Vangelis, Rick Wakeman and Patrick Moraz. He fulfils that role in the Brazilian progressive rock group Apocalypse. On his latest solo outing, he moves more into electronic realms, retaining a strong Vangelis feel whilst adding influences from Tangerine Dream, Kitaro and Tomita.
Eloy is responsible for everything on this disc, producing, composing, arranging and performing on an array of synthesisers and samplers. It is impressive stuff. Every track is choc full of sumptuous melodies and luxuriant layers of keyboards. There are many moments of impressionistic ambience but, whilst there are pretty melodies aplenty, it never quite stoops to the cloying sweetness beloved of many New Age artists. I would say that of the above-mentioned artists, Vangelis was the biggest influence, particularly in the frequent use of choral samples - sometimes approaching the bombastic wallop Vangelis employed on Heaven and Hell, and sometimes more soothing as on his laid back, evocative Oceanic. This disc has much in common with the latter work, but is in my opinion even better, as it only rarely becomes cheesy.
The CD bears the subtitle “Electronic Suite” and it does have the feel of a classical suite, with leisurely development of the, often elegant, themes and subsequent variations. There is some beautiful piano playing on the “suite - within - a –suite” that is Clouds, which comprises tracks three to six. At times, Vangelis’ mega hit Chariots Of Fire is recalled, (the sequencers behind the engagingly melodic Ionosphere) but that is no bad thing in my book, and there are also more experimental sounds on offer. Check out the stunning 13-minute opus Stratosphere with its droplets of sounds and some of the twittering, pulsating synths recalling the early works of Tomita. The use of vocoder is a bit of a cliché now, but it is not over used here, and fails to ruin a really good track. It does give the track a bit of a Kraftwerk vibe, but again I’m not complaining.
Aurora Borealis employs soprano choirs and shimmering percussion to capture some of the magic of the phenomenon it describes.
This is a really nice piece of work for those quieter, more reflective moments. It would be ideal for late night relaxation, and listened to on headphones for maximum enjoyment. It is squarely in the Electronic Music field, but will also delight keyboard fans in general. As you might expect, there’s not much in the way of Rock here but man cannot live by Dream Theater alone!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Spektrum - Spektrum
Every now and then a bunch of seasoned musicians decide to "do something" outside the format of the bands they usually play with, thereby grabbing the chance to record songs that they had lying around for ages, but did not fit on the albums of those bands. UK is a good example of such an all-star band, as are Transatlantic and Platypus. The latest addition to this growing list of bands is Spektrum, a project in which members from Swedish bands Grand Stand, Cross and Galleon have joined forces.
Maybe I am the only one, but I tend to get rather suspicious when a band's fact sheet includes a lot of superlatives. Sure, it's great to know that the record company thinks it is a fantastic album which everyone should buy, but well, they are kind of partial, aren't they? I would rather get some more background information or a few words about what inspired the band to write the songs instead, and then scream the band's greatness from the rooftops myself, if I think they deserve that. Anyway though, it is always interesting to see whether I agree with what the record label has to say about a certain album. ;)
In Spektrum (the Swedish word for "spectrum") the forces of Grand Stand's Olov Andersson, (keyboards, acoustic guitar, Turkish mini bells and vocals) and Göran Johnsson (drums, vocals, electric guitar and additional keyboards), Cross's Hansi Cross (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals and additional keyboards), Galleon's Göran Fors (basses, vocals and Taurus bass pedals) and vocalist Lizette von Panajott (also responsible for additional keyboards) are combined. The overall sound the band produces leans heavily on Genesis's mid-seventies to early eighties sound due to the Tony Banks-like fingers of keyboard player Andersson, although Fors's bass pedals and the sometimes Hacketty guitars certainly help.
The albums The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Now), A Trick Of The Tail, ...And Then There Were Three... (Land Of Longing, A Chemical Release) and Duke (middle of A Chemical Release) come frequently to mind when I listen to the CD, but it is Wind And Wuthering that seems to be omnipresent. The frequent use of the chorus effect and the keyboard sounds that Banks applied most on that album make one wonder how the Spektrum people got their hands on some WAW outtakes. Being a sucker for thick layers of keyboard candy and bass pedal heaven though, I can honestly say that I don't mind this and actually quite like the music, although there seems to be missing something at times. It is hard to put a finger on it, but there are moments that I am grabbed by the feeling that the band didn't just use Genesis's tools to create original Spektrum music, but has rather pieced together its own little Genesis medley. The grand (and I do mean "grand"!) finale in the vein of Afterglow's end is pretty irresistible on the other hand, and a fitting end of the album.
Some other references that might be worth mentioning are IQ (there is a definite IQ-flavour to some of the tracks due to the funky rhythm section and the guitar solo in the very nice instrumental track Perpetuum Mobile could have easily been by Mike Holmes), Thin Lizzy (the rockiness of Land Of Longing), Kansas (parts of A Chemical Release), Arena (the intro of Perpetuum Mobile) and Pink Floyd (the sampled flute in Ivory Tower).
Being a singer myself, I am always very curious about "new" voices in the prog world. Since there aren't that many ladies behind the mic in this genre, I tend to be even more interested when it concerns a female one. However, I have to admit that I felt rather disappointed when I heard Von Panajott sing the first few lines of Land Of Longing. At the risk of becoming entangled in singing technicalities, I will try to explain why. The vocal melody of Land Of Longing has been octavated. This means that the same melody is sung both low and high with exactly one octave distance in tone between the two. The key the song is in obviously meant that Von Panajott had to sing at the very edge of her vocal range, making her voice sound rather tiny and girl-like. The fact the same text and melody - but then sung one octave lower - is mixed over it, gives the singing something whiny. Sadly, the octavating trick is used not only in this song, but in several other spots as well.
Listening to the rest of the album, I discovered that Von Panajott certainly can sing. The vocals sound a lot better in the choruses of Ivory Tower and even more so in A Chemical Release, where the (sometimes distorted) vocals sound more sincere and emotional than on the other tracks. Still, I am not really going "Wow, this is something special!!", because the girliness of her voice tends to put me off a bit. After having given the CD several spins, I become more and more convinced that maybe the music was not always fitted to match the range where her voice sounds strongest, but that she had to add her vocals to some ready-made tracks. It does not sound unlikely that those songs were initially written for a male vocalist, but that they were not transposed to a tone which suited Von Panajott better, resulting in her going for the octavating-solution. With that in mind, I think it is a shame that she did not get or grab the chance to shine like she did on A Chemical Release on the rest of the album.
So what about my final conclusion then? The press sheet claims that Spektrum's music is "something very fresh, different, challenging, melodic and yet highly progressive with female vocals of a quality rarely heard in the genre". While looking up some background information about the band, I noticed that almost all other reviewers agreed with that and recommended each and everyone to buy the album. However, I cannot say that I have the same opinion. "Melodic"? Yes, most certainly. "Progressive"? Absolutely, but then in the same regressive way as a lot of progressive rock is called progressive: harking back to the big names of the seventies and eighties, who actually were progressive at that time. "Very fresh, different, challenging"? Not really, unless you would say that that is the definition of combining the 70's Genesis sound with female vocals. "Female vocals of a quality rarely heard in the genre"? Well, judging from other reviews, there are obviously people who think that Von Panajott's voice is incredible, but it certainly is not my favourite cup of brownish dish water; at least, not in the way it is used on this album. Having said that, I can warmly recommend people who love Genesis's mid-seventies to early eighties sound (and are especially smitten with Wind And Wuthering) to check this album out, because there are some munchy bits of music assembled on it!
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Eclipse - Jumping From Springboards
Jumping From Springboards is the debut CD from Brazilian group Eclipse. The quartet comprises electric guitarist and vocalist Aloísio Campelo jr, acoustic guitarist and vocalist Patrícia Deschamps, bass guitarist and keyboardist Paulo Torres and drummer Sérgio Conforti, with flute and saxophone contributions from Zé Mendes. Brazilian prog? Latin American grooves under a syncopated rhythm and a mellotron samba?! Hardly. I confidently assert that if you played any part of this album to someone who hadn't heard of the band and asked where they thought they were from, the last suggestion would be South America and you'd get good odds that the majority would say England. There is a definite English feel to the music, the vocals are sung without a trace of an accent and the lyrics themselves are not only far more erudite and interesting than those proffered by a lot of native English speakers but are also flawlessly typeset (correct punctuation and a complete lack of any 'quaint' Americanisms, long live the diphthong!)
The album is interestingly arranged with each of the four songs, Urban Hermit, Jumping From Springboards, Puzzles and Traffic Jams, separated by an instrumental piece. However, as it is the longer pieces that include lyrics, there is plenty of space within the songs for extended instrumental passages. Overall, the album does have a nice flow to it with tracks merging almost seamlessly.
The style of the album is quite laid back, which is not to say that the arrangements are sparse, there is enough going on within each song to reveal to the listener a different facet of the instrumentation on each listen. Urban Hermit is split into five parts: the ominous introductory section gives way to a more mellow vocal section laden with flute work that is reminiscent of Jimmy Hasting's work with Caravan. A reprise of the opening riff heralds in a more up tempo couple of sections, the first of which has flautist Zé Mendes changing tack to sound more like Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. The song ends with a final vocal section reprising the earlier section. Inca's Revenge is quite evocative of Hatfield And The North, particularly Patrícia Deschamps' scat singing at the beginning, although there is rather less emphasis on the jazzier side of the Hatfield's idiosyncratic approach to jazz-rock.
Jumping From Springboards is a rather good amalgamation of Camel and Yes and the opening guitar riff, repeated at various points throughout the song, will be instantly familiar to people who know (and love) Yours Is No Disgrace. Mantiqueira also bears some resemblance to Yes with Paulo Torres' bass driving things along in the best Chris Squire fashion. Puzzles is a pleasant ballad which features an interesting, but brief, guitar and vocal interlude that is vaguely reminiscent of early Al Di Meola which is followed by a Gilmouresque solo played by Patrícia Deschamps. The appropriately titled Manic Waltz has a quirky Gentle Giant feel to it and enlivens the tempo before going straight into Traffic Jams, the final song. The album is rounded off by Ritual, another driving bass instrumental that concludes the album as it was started with fluid guitar runs over the top and the introduction of saxophones adding new dimensions.
Overall, Eclipse have come up with a startlingly good debut album, not a progressive classic but certainly enough going for it to sit comfortably alongside other other constituents of the discerning music fan's collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Roine Stolt - The Flower King
It is a rare thing indeed to come across an individual with vision and talent who is confident enough to produce a work of art, which makes a strong statement and takes heavy risks that few would dare on their own. Yet such was the case in 1994 when guitarist Roine Stolt released his album entitled The Flower King.
Roine Stolt began his career as a professional musician in the mid-seventies as guitarist for the Swedish progressive rock band Kaipa. After appearing on three exceptional albums with them, Stolt set off on his own to pursue other musical frontiers. Having ventured from his symphonic/art rock roots throughout the 80s, Roine Stolt decided in early 1993 that the time was right to produce an album of material, which hearkened back to those roots and pointed a path to the future. He would incorporate all of the styles of music and experience he had assimilated into his musical mind to produce a no holds barred album of strikingly imaginative art rock. The compositions would vary in size and scope and would primarily feature Stolt on lead vocals and all instruments, but most notably and especially his trademark lead guitar – putting forth that brilliant blend of soul and intellect which only he can lay claim to.
Perhaps as important as Stolt’s musical vision, is his conceptual vision for the album. To paraphrase him from the liner notes: “I support the good forces – Love, Light, and Kindness….’ and he asks listeners to ‘ please put your energy… in the service of good forces, regardless of your religion, or if you’re an atheist.” As if to underline this sentiment, he chose to open the album with the anthemic masterpiece and title track who’s refrain is strait to the point: “we believe in love, we believe in light, every precious little thing”.
Following the title cut, which has remained a favorite among Flower Kings fans, the album contains a variety of works ranging in style and content. There is the enthralling Dissonata, a ten minute work which seems to be about maintaining artistic vision, integrity and hope in the face of the cold hearted music industry (“smile – when you face suspect, corrupt, degenerate, merchants of melody”) and the shorter, soothing Close Your Eyes. As would become a regular feature on future releases by The Flower Kings, this CD also contains fantastic instrumental works such as the gripping Sounds of Violence and the whimsical tour de force The Magic Circus of Zeb, a seven-minute piece of instrumental symphonic rock bliss. During these compositions especially, the listener is witness to Stolt’s gift for the construction of beautiful melodic ideas. Special mention should also be made of the wonderful twenty-minute epic Humanizzmo, which is broken down into titled subsections in good prog-rock form, for more complete appreciation. To the excitement of Flower Kings fans, this classic piece was re-introduced into The Flower Kings set-list for the Unfold the Future tour.
This CD contains many elements that became standard in albums by the then as yet to be formed band The Flower Kings. For instance, The Flower King is brought to life by the special talents of not only Roine Stolt himself, but with the help of performers who would become regular members of the band, including drummer Jaime Salazar, percussionist Hasse Bruniusson, vocalist Hasse Froeberg, and the fantastic saxophone player Ulf Wulander. Like future releases by TFK, wonderfully melodic instrumental works are featured along side the ones containing vocals. And of course this album contains the thoughtful musicianship and careful attention to detail, which has become so important through each of The Flower Kings releases. Roine Stolt’s The Flower King is a magnificent work deserving a special place in the pantheon of progressive rock. Not only did it set the stage for, and signal the beginning of what would become one of progressive rock’s most successful and original sounding bands to emerge out of the 90s, but it is also a superior document, representative of the singularity of vision which gave birth to such a unique album.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10