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Reviews in this issue:
Marillion - Remixomatosis
Tracklist: Between You And Me [Chance's Loopty Heart Remix] (5.28), When I Meet God [Blissed Remix] (4.58), Quartz [Dreamtime Mix] (8.37), If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill [TH Mix] (8.02), Number One [One Funky Number (re)Mix] (7.14), Separated Out [Outré Mix] (5.38), Map of the World [Acid Kitsch (re)Mix] (5.18), The Fruit Of The Wild Rose [Lullaby (re)Mix] (6.02), This Is The 21st Century [Ancient Instinct (re)Mix] (7.52)
Bonus Disc: Between You And Me [Marillion vs. Plasma] (3.33), The Fruit Of The Wild Rose [Rose-Tinted Mix] (4.16), Separated Out [In the Groove (re)Mix] (4.13), Map of the World [As We See It Mix] (4.11)
In 1997 Marillion gave a vocal track and some guitar samples to remix duo The Positive Light. Their remix of Estonia impressed the band so much that they agreed on having five more songs remixed by them, which resulted in the 1998 release Tales From The Engine Room. This album was received with many mixed reactions by the fans. Some loved it, but many others hated it and the review on DPRP fell in the latter category.
Seven years later the idea of having rock -or even prog- songs remixed seems a bit more accepted and is not instantly regarded as heresy anymore. Marillion, never too shy to adopt new and groundbreaking marketing techniques, wrote out a remix contest in which people could buy master tracks of the songs of Anoraknophobia and remix these as they saw fit. The best songs would be rewarded with a prize of 500 pounds and a spot on this very CD. Not a bad idea as far as I'm concerned and I too had lots of fun rearranging a couple of tracks and playing around with it (I didn't enter the competition though).
Loops from the track Between You And Me were downloadable for free through remix website AcidPlanet and some 400 entries are now available for download from the Acidplanet website.
The winner, Chance's Loopy Heart Remix, by Chance's End is included on this disc and if truth be told, would not be my first choice. I can see why it won though, as it is clearly made by someone unfamiliar to the band, and therefore a lot less respectful to the original than all the others. Vocals are diminished to a few loops of some sentences and for the rest the music is firmly in the Junky XL territory with groovy basslines and jazzy drums.
The rest of the tracks were all sent in by Marillion fans who had bought the masters and remixed the tracks as they saw fit. The band seems to have taken great liking in a guy called Kostia Rapoport as four out of the ten tracks are by his hand. His remixes of Number One, Map Of The World, The Fruit Of The Wild Rose and This Is The 21st Century are all very different from eachother, yet they all share one common theme: the lyrics are intact but the music is replaced by something completely different. Number One is actually one of the best tracks on the album, as it has turned the rather mellow original into a great, swinging, jazzy piece.
One of the best remixes is the very ambient Dreamtime remix of Quartz, which was also featured on the You're Gone DVD-single. This basically features the entire song, but with completely different music: a strong beat, atmospheric keyboards and an atmosphere quite reminiscent of the later work by Oldfield or Cyrille Verdeaux.
A song I would say has improved from the original is If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill. I found the original a rather shaky cut 'n paste matter of different ideas, and the remix has turned the song into something much more consistent. A particular nice touch are the several fun synth solos in this version, which work remarkably well.
Most of the remixes follow pretty much the same method: all music is stripped off and replaced by something completely different, often different melodies - wether it be jazzy piano (Number One), acoustic guitar and marching drums (Separated Out), or computerised synth noodling and a mambo rhythm (Map Of The World) and a delicate piano ballad (The Fruit Of The Wild Rose). All nicely done, but it would have been nice if at least one of them had gone for the eighties approach of re-mixing and re-arranging the original recordings, without going for the drum computer thing, like the Meaty Mix of Hooks in You, or the 12" remix of Uninvited Guest. But alas, in the age of Moby and Junky XL and the likes, these remixes seem to have become out of fashion. The only song that retains some of the original musical arrangement is This Is The 21st Century, of which the piano parts during the bridge are left intact.
The first pressing of the album comes with a bonus disc with four more remixes, as the band had a difficult time choosing and wanted to release as many remixes as possible (even more will be released on the their upcoming 2004 Christmas CD).
The remix of Between You And Me on the bonus disc is particularly interesting because it is one of the very few remixes on the album that uses more than just the vocals from the original. Here several bits of guitar and basslines are used as well, though in a completely different way than on the original.
The bonus disc is also noteworthy (though in the bad sense of the word) for the 'As We See It' remix of Map Of The World. Here the music is replaced a some sort of redneck country tune - brilliantly conceived but horribly executed, as the music is both in a different key and a different tempo than the vocals. This results in a cacophony of violins and acoustic guitar, among which Hogarth's vocals sound rather out of place. But then again, the remix is on the bonus disc, and as a bonus it could be regarded as something funny.
Special mention must go to the artwork of the album. I have always had a weakness for a recognisable logo or mascot that could be altered easily for every occasion possible. Their Anoraknophobia mascot Barry is such a logo and it has been used for every imaginable occasion in the two years that followed the release of that album. On the cover of Remixomatosis you can find all the different incarnations of Barry, all the different remixes, so to speak. So there we have the Barrys that graced the single and live releases that followed Anoraknophobia, the ones used for the two convention weekends, a Christmas Barry and, well, loads more.
One might ask why fix something that ain't broke, but the purpose of this album isn't to improve or replace the originals, but rather a novelty item for fun purpose only, something to be used as an alternative for the original album every once in a while. And in that purpose, it delivers satisfaction.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Michael Schenker Group -
World Wide Live 2004
Tracklist: Ready To Rock, Mother Mary, Assault Attack, Let It Roll, Lights Out, Rock'n'Roll Believer, Arachnophobiac, Into The Arena, Only You Can Rock Me, On and On, Too Hot To Handle, Armed and Ready, Doctor Doctor, Rock Bottom
Ever since buying the MSG album Live At The Budokan, as a teenager, I have been an avid fan of Michael Schenker meticulously buying any album he could be found on..... and that would include albums by UFO, Scorpions, both versions of MSG, his solo material as well as the one-off Contraband. Naturally my heart skipped a beat when I saw that there was the chance to review this DVD by the German guitar maestro though I was (and still am) slightly perplexed by whether his place is within the realms of a progressive rock website! In fact I must immediately state that this DVD and the music of MSG is nowhere near that of a progressive rock band but rather that which should be classified as Classic Rock.
The DVD offers the listener a glimpse into the whole of Schenker's musical history with UFO and MSG, omitting the period with Robin McAuley as vocalist. In fact one should add that more than half of the material was penned under the UFO moniker. Musically Schenker is as sharp as ever with that characteristic clear tone, when providing guitar solos and is ably backed by his band whose members are Chris Logan (vocals), Wayne Findlay (guitar, keyboards), James Jones (bass) and Pete Holmes (drums).
Musically we are talking about some of classic rock's most legendary material with one of the most talented guitarists ever to grace the stage. Sadly I feel that Michael Schenker and his trademark Flying-V guitar is not given his due in the annals of rock history. Watching the ease with which he breezes through his guitar solos with a clarity that most accomplished guitarists would find hard to attain just convinced me even further about his capabilities.
World Wide Live 2004 was recorded at the Metalmania Festival in Spodek, Katowice (Poland). This might explain the relatively cool audience as the band played out some classical numbers which might have been better appreciated in front of a British audience. Nevertheless, the band manage to pull of a great concert aided in no small way by the theatrics of bassist James Jones. In fact the rest of the band are pretty static, almost rooted to their positions, something which does not aid the visual performance of the band and is a detriment to the overall DVD. Musically the band are solid as are the numbers though one should add the weakest link in the band seems to be vocalist Chris Logan whose limited vocal range seems to be put under strain on quite a few of the numbers.
World Wide Live is a fine representation of a guitarist whom I believe to be one of the top craftsmen in the rock genre. Being able to hear him in full Dolby 5.1 surround with an extremely clear picture is indeed a treat. The DVD itself comes with bonus material such as a full MSG discography as well as an interesting half hour interview with Schenker himself. Furthermore, mention should be made of the fact that the first 3000 orders of this DVD will also feature a bonus CD which I have been told also features the classic MSG piece, Attack of The Mad Axeman.
As mentioned initially, one cannot define this DVD as one of a progressive rock nature because the music of MSG is simply not progressive rock. It is classic hard rock, a genre which many progressive rock lovers also listen to. If you want a worthy introduction to the music of Michael Schenker, both as a soloist as well as when he was with UFO, this DVD should do nicely.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10 [Not a Progressive Rock rating!]
Julian Garner - Your Good Self
Track List: Your Good Self (11:58), Feet Hit the Ground (3:03), No Friend of Mister Dream (3:54), Only Together (4:09), Far Side of the Earth (4:17), Cryptic Love (4:02), Mind Racing (3:35), Let the World Take Us Home (4:28), Touching Distance (3:51), November (5:30), Talisman in the Moon (7:51)
Julian Garner’s third release, Your Good Self, is one of those recordings that amazes more by its promise and potential than by the actual performance. Don’t misconstrue that comment, though. I wouldn’t qualify Your Good Self as a mediocre album that never hits any high points: hardly, in fact. Mr Garner’s album is without question a nice little offering, chock full of flavorful prog tendencies, British pop wit, and a keen but not grossly flamboyant musical versatility. Nonetheless, and throughout repeated listens, I kept thinking that Mr Garner was just this far away from having crafted a masterpiece … and if the distance wasn’t really chasmic between a good recording and a stellar one, still, it was noticeable.
The singing on Your Good Self was one of the CDs miscues. Mr Garner sounds very much like John Wetton, whose vocal timbre I happen to enjoy, sometimes I was receptive to the singer’s tone and range, but his lead vocals are often disturbingly shaky and even annoying. The falsetto voice should be abandoned entirely. This album would have benefited immensely from the contribution of a bona fide, controlled vocalist. (Maybe something to consider for the next effort .) I will, though, grant that Julian Garner is impressive in his employment of background vocals. I was very taken with these (one part Beach Boys and one part XTC) throughout the course of the album; they avoid syrupy sweetness and regularly move in unexpected but complementary directions.
Mr Garner is an exceptionally talented lyricist, adopting a pronounced cleverness and novel command of language. He is metaphysical and reflective but also existential and chthonic. He may in the future care to inject a modicum of relaxed good humor into the proceedings, perhaps, a la Adrian Belew or even Roy Harper, both of whom can be heavy (like Mr Garner) but then soar with a choice pun or sly entendre. The playing, arrangements, and compositions on Your Good Self are mostly fantastic, with the title track and Cryptic Love standing out as hallmarks. Mr Garner has a fine sense of atmosphere and musical accoutrement and his guitar style is appropriate and well tailored to the songs’ requirements. The performances are, at worst, enthusiastic and heartfelt, and often the overall sound smacks of John Wetton, under the influence of Yes, joining XTC to play the songs of Difford and Tilbrook … which is a tasty bit of musical hash to my palate.
Your Good Self is perhaps the most overtly prog-influenced song on the recording. It opens with a traditional, U.K. era trilling keyboard and switches into a swift, galloping guitar line. This song marries prog and pop influences with aplomb. (I am very sympathetic to Mr Garner’s desire to meld prog complexity with pop accessibility.) And very rarely are any of the sounds displeasing or boring. But, finally, the composition becomes a chain of musical phrases rather than a true song. I kept waiting for a compelling coda, especially a return to the initial driving guitar lick, but it never fully appeared. There are some hum-worthy moments and the acoustic piano is a sweet touch, but I was never satisfied with this song: it doesn’t resolve in a way that delivers good pop closure. And, it’s one of the CD’s foremost examples of a song that begs for further development and refinement. It’s close, very, very close, but not quite in the bull’s eye. It is, though, adventurous in the art rock way.
Feet Hit the Ground and No Friend of Mister Dream both echo XTC’s Nonsuch and Apple Venus Volume 1 periods (which, incidentally, is no bad thing). Both songs are clearly influenced by Andy Partridge and, again, both are nearly successful … but don’t quite rise to the occasion. Mr Garner has a poet’s way with verses, even achieving a lucid brilliance in places, and here-and-there a chorus rings nearly true, but he either lacks or never manifests a talent for a hooking melody. And that is the pure essence of song: melodic catchiness. I think Mr Garner understands what that is, and its importance, but I’m not sure he knows how to supply it.
Whereas Only Together is ruined by the buzzsaw guitar cutting into romantic contemplation, Cryptic Love is possibly the shining moment of the album. The energized beat recalls Squeeze or Joe Jackson, the drumming is snappy, and the jazz guitar tone lends grace to the song. The lyrics are maybe too wordy, with too many syllables per beat or per measure, but they’re intriguing. Again, though, here is a well-wrought song that requires the catchiness of a melody to make it noteworthy. Maybe Mr Garner is missing a partner, a Difford for his Tilbrook, say, or a Moulding for his Partridge?
Touching Distance is easily my favorite track. Its gritty, near-bluesy acoustic guitar opening is the rawest movement of the CD and a great riff. The song is moderately reminiscent of Adrian Belew on Salad Days. This is the one song on Your Good Self that swings and contains a straightforward but catchy chorus. And strangely, it’s not prog at all, more of a singer-songwriter pop acoustica, but it steals the show. November showcases a nice flourish of classical guitar and Mr Garner meditates on the beauty of the advent of Winter when he observes, “And the hour that the clocks go back/gives us time to ponder darkness.” No Mediterranean or African could write this line, I suspect: the joy of the approaching colder months, the early twilight mystery, clear air, and crisp, still, starry nights, is the joy possessed by the northerly human tribes. The CD concludes with Talisman in the Moon complete with an opening Andy Summer’s guitar sound laid over a plaintive minor chord piano. Again, the absence of a strong melody with recurring vocal phrase kills the tunefulness of and interest in this song: it’s patchy and sewn together.
In the end, even while I was admitting the considerable artistic and marketable potential of this material, I wanted to shout at Mr Garner, “TAKE THESE SONGS, GET HOOKS INTO THEM, AND HIRE A PRACTICED, ADEPT SINGER TO DELIVER THEM!” His songwriting ability is unquestionably valid and competent and his instrumental work is very good, especially when he’s evoking ambience and musical tension. (I do complain, though, that the CD insert doesn’t indicate who played what instruments: I can’t give anyone his or her due for the more attractive contributions.) Unfortunately, the whole album has the same problem as this year’s Tears for Fears album (Everybody Loves a Happy Ending): the musical shifts are too abrupt and any hooks don’t hang around long enough to snare the fish. Also, this album is simply too long and the songs sometimes meander unnecessarily. If Mr Garner (and the majority of today’s recording artists) could go back to the 35-40 minute standard, I’d be overjoyed: there’s something to be said for a concise album that leaves you desperate for more. You should give the people what they want, but not give them everything they might possibly think they want ... In all earnestness, I say to Mr Garner: Your Good Self is certainly your good effort … but I’m awaiting your better effort. Please play with a full band, find your creative soul mate if you can, the Lennon to your McCartney, limit yourself to background vocals, keep up with the literary lyrics, and write a full batch of songs devoid of collections of musical snippets. Doubtless, that project would merit the anticipation.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Planes, Trance and Life's Karma Wheels
Tracklist: Gdansk:  Along The Shoreline [ii] Rain Washed Tracks [iii] Memories Of Ghosts (15:44), Shakyamuni - Gdansk [reprise] (7:10), Invocation (7:11), Caravan To Dhramasala [i] Southern Foothills [ii] Northern Pass (13:20), Border Highway (8:07), Into The Ether (7:39)
Planes, Trance and Life's Karma Wheels is another CD that has spent much to long a time awaiting review. So why the delay? Well the main reason is that it falls into an area of little knowledge for me - the area of "ambient" music. For me the mere mention of the word "ambient", when applied to music, normally conjurs other words such aimless, pointless, meandering and without focus. So this review of Planes... didn't necessarily start off on the right footing. However my initial over generalisation may be somewhat misdirected here and after several (concious) listenings I warmed to some, if not all of the music.
Gdansk, the longest piece from the album, opens proceedings and pretty much sets the tone. Split into three sub-sections, we are greeted with the sounds of waves on the shore, seagulls and it is easy to absorb this welcoming atmosphere. The simple sparse melody is supplied by a "cello" (later on by a delayed guitar) both of which glide over the backing ambience and further add a calming air. I do tend to listen to a lot of music late at night and into the small hours (and often with subdued lighting), purely as there a fewer distractions at these times - the downside is I often drift of to sleep. In most cases I believe the composer of the music I am listening would be offended by this, however when applied to Cybermonkey they may well take this as a compliment.
We leave the seashore via the more uptempo percussive (Marimba like) keyboard line that forms the basis for Shakyamuni. Lisa Turner adds her softly spoken voice to this track, "the text for Shakyamuni is based on the first lesson taught by Siddhartha Gautama" - the infectious and repetative nature of this track is very hypnotic and is one of the more ejoyable moments from the CD. The track then segues to a reprise of Gdansk.
The following three tracks have a distinctly Eastern vibe - the first, Invocation, I found a little too sparse and at seven minutes long somewhat lacking any focus. The inclusion of percussion and a steady backbeat later on in Caravan To Dhramasala made a more satisfactory listen. Tad Winklarz adds some nice touches from his keyboards here. The last of this trilogy is Border Highway, once again Eastern percussion is used to good effect and the inclusion of sampled vocal chants makes this probably the most cohesive track on the album. Powerchords are used low in the mix as well as a guest appearance from Eric Kempmann.
The album concludes with Into The Ether which as its title suggests allows to drift slowly out of the album - a nice touch is that the track appears to capture what has gone on before. If the intention of this album is to offer a calming aura whilst still retaining some thought provocation, then it very much acheived this for me. As I have stated above and in the past I do not claim to have any expertise in the area of what might generally be termed "ambient" music. However over the last few years I have listened to quite a few albums within this genre and can only conclude the Planes, Trance and Life's Karma Wheels holds its own within this crowd.
I cannot see that this album will have mass appeal within the progressive field, however I may be wrong (I have been before - often). As the CD contains this quote from Albert Einstein : "The reality you see, is relative to your viewpoint", I thought I might borrow his words to offer a final note to this review. An appreciation of the music offered by Cybermonkey "is relative to your viewpoint".
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
NoCode - Crimson
Tracklist: Hunger (3:35), Hiss (4:16), Firemen And Their Horses (7:10), Ice Floe (5:54), Dream Weaver & Twirling (1:50), Twirling (7:53), Poisonous Smile (2:34), Innuendo (4:31), Sparkle (5:45), Spawn (8:40)
This album has been in my possession for quite some time now and finally I have made time to do this review. The interim period has given me plenty of opportunities to give this album an occasional spin, so I think I come well prepared to writing this review. However, this is not an easy album, there's a lot of twists and tempo changes and most of them are not obvious. On the band's web site there is a comparison link to Tool - it might very well be an important influence - although the flow of the tracks is the only resemblance.
Being this late with the review has also given me the chance to see how this album was received elsewhere and that certainly was a surprise as most of them are pretty commending, unfortunately, I appear to be one of the few who are not overly enthusiastic about this band. Sure, the vocals are good, and some of the tracks are really enjoyable but the mash of guitar music in some other tracks really isn't. Indeed this album is original but in fact it is only the drums and the vocals carrying the songs, the guitars are only laying a bed of noise for the other two to lie in. The voice of Johanneke Kranendonk is certainly something special and although it does take some getting used to, it is a very impressive and good voice. Also because of the way her voice is used in the songs it is best compared to The Gathering's Anneke van Giersbergen. Some other elements of The Gathering can also be found in this album. Much of my criticism could be attributed to the messy mix of the music but even a clear mix will probably show that the guitars play only a minor role in this music.
Normally while writing reviews I have the album in question spinning in the background, but not this time: I am not able to listen to it anymore. I am not saying this is a very bad album but after all the attempts of trying to like this album I have kind of had it. This gloomy kind of progmetal mix of screaming lyrics, disjointed music, and guitars without a purpose has lost my attention.
NoCode's band members are very young and at the present time the band has kind of fallen to pieces (because two band members could not combine the band with their studies). This might mean Johanneke's vocals will appear in another band, or on a second NoCode album with new members, somewhere in the future. That could be a very impressive encounter. This album is not.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10