REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Mindgames - MMX
|Country of Origin:||Belgium|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: The Source (4:04), Glory Of Night (7:53), In My Humble Opinion... (5:26), Travels (10:54), Outside The Gloom (8:50), Destination Sky (5:32), The Pendulum (14:56)
One of Belgium's best bands in the genre of progressive/symphonic rock must be M!ndgames. The quintet releases its third album in 8 years, named after the current year in Roman figures (MMX meaning 2010). The lyrics are based on travels, every day events, the now and the tomorrow. Just like on the previous album Actors In A Play, EM-artist Frank van Bogaert was responsible for the production and his voice can be heard on The Pendulum. As producer, Frank helped to shape the band's sound: clear, very well balanced and polished.
The Source is a nice opening track in the vein of Genesis (period Duke), classic symphonic rock, well crafted, performed with passion. In the same vein but much slower is Glory Of Night. Nice subtle bass playing by Maximilian von Wüllersdorf. The straight forward clear voice of Bart Schram matches the music perfectly and the drumming of Petak is never over the top, but always refined. After some three minutes of smooth and mellow music it's time to shift into a higher gear and Rudy Vander Veken's guitar and Tom Truyers organ bring more of harder rocking edge. Some very nice hooks there and Schram sings a bit higher in the more powerful pieces and musically there seems to be influences from bands like Arena. Rudy does a really tasteful solo in the laid back interlude. This is my favourite track because it has everything good symphonic progressive music should have.
Acoustic guitar, bass and vocal can be heard in the first part of In My Humble Opinion... Later on some strings, piano and percussion are added but the music remains quite mellow, even when Rudy plays a nice melodic solo. In Travel we can appreciate a fine example of melodic symphonic music in the vein of Genesis (period Duke again), but also a big piece with references to Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here album. There's a awesome 'Moog' solo by Truyers and then there's an interlude of almost electronic music with lots of spacey effects. Truyers' synths, piano and keyboards take over and the first theme returns. Schram has to sing a bit over the top here.
Truyers' piano opens Outside The Gloom and Schram's sole vocal joins him. Softly sung high notes, accompanied by keyboards and later the full band, are alternated with some "Gabrielesque" singing. Some changes in tempo and different themes contribute to the diversity of the musical genres in this track, where pop, prog and rock music melt together. There are even some parts where I recognise the sound of Uriah Heep. A bit heavier and with clear references to Marillion's
Grendel (and thus also Genesis' last part of Supper's Ready) is Destination Sky. The last part of the track feature Truyers' synth solo and Vander Veken's guitar.
The final track is The Pendulum, the longest one on the album and a real 'epic'. A majestic opening with orchestral keyboards and Schram's spoken words are the prelude to a piece of beautiful but rather plain straight forward symphonic pop. The middle section consists of a atmospheric keyboard driven part with a dialogue between Frank van Bogaert and Bart Schram about the history and future of mankind and its discoveries, followed by a very nice up tempo piece of music, with references to Arena and IQ. Then a slower piece with again spoken words, the same theme is presented in another arrangement with Schram singing and an acoustic guitar soloing. Gently, the full band joins in and Truyers' keys are getting more bombastic and orchestral every minute. Vander Veken shows his abilities but instead of genuine climax with a dazzling duet between synth and guitar, the band chose to let the music fade away, 'dying in beauty'.
MMX is a really nice, easy listening, both melodic and symphonic album with a feel for theatrics and detail. A worthy successor to Actors In A Play but it's clear the band sticks to their sound, their 'comfort-zone' and refrains from taking bold steps or adding new elements to their music. Not groundbreaking, but a very tasteful album, however, overall atmospherically comparable to for instance albums by Castanarc.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Moraine – Manifest Density
Tracklist: Save The Yuppie Breeding Grounds (4:12), Ephebus Amoebus (4:55), Nacho Sunset (4:29), $9 Pay-per-view Lifetime TV Movie (5:51), Manifest Density (3:55), Uncle Tang’s Cabinet Of Dr. Cagliari (4:01), Disillusioned Avatar (5:15), Kuru (5:02), Revenge Grandmother (5:11), Staggerin’ (4:41), Middlebrau (6:46)
Moraine are a self-styled ‘electric string quartet-plus drums’ hailing from Seattle. The band’s leading light is the experienced and well-travelled guitarist Dennis Rea, who is a veteran of numerous experimental groups since the 1970’s as well as one of the first western musicians to record an album for a Chinese record label – he spent several years in Taiwan and China and toured extensively over there. Clearly such an experienced musician is going to exert a degree of influence over any project he’s involved with, but Moraine are far from a one-man-band – the song writing credits are shared fairly equally throughout the band, and violin and cello are as prominent in the mix as guitar.
Amongst Moraine’s influences listed on the promo material are such diverse names as King Crimson, Univers Zero, Art Zoyd and ‘traditional East Asian music’, but its fair to say one name does stand out as being particularly fundamental to the band’s sound – John McLaughlin’s influential early 70’s fusion outfit Mahavishnu Orchestra. Rea’s compositions (particularly Nacho Sunset) lean particularly towards this sound, with similarities including the prominent use of violin as a lead instrument, the Eastern influence to the overall sound and indeed Rea’s own style of guitar playing which is comparable in style and tone to McLaughlin’s.
Before going overboard on the Mahavishnu comparisons however, it should be said that the band are far from a clone, and indeed a number of the other compositions cover very different bases yet all have a core ‘Moraine’ sound to them. Cellist Ruth Davidson’s compositions tend to have a thrusting, edgy feel to them, as well as mixing avant-garde and traditional oriental elements in a balanced way. She has also come up with the most interesting (and avant-garde-esque!) song titles (Save The Yuppie Breeding Grounds, $9 Pay-per-view Movie). Bassist Kevin Millard’s Ephebus Amoebus is – along with the fractured Staggerin’ - possibly the most experimental and oft-kilter piece here, although still listenable; Millard’s bass lines are complex but help keep the song’s shape. Violinist’s Alicia Allen’s Disillusioned Avatar is one of the more chilled and relaxed compositions, with Allen unsurprisingly taking centre stage. Rea’s tracks, as well as showing the aforementioned Mahavishnu influence, also adhere the closest to a strong, hummable melody – particularly on the lively title track, which is one of the standout cuts. His Uncle Tang’s Cabinet Of Dr. Cagliari has something of a modern King Crimson feel to it, whilst his playing on other tracks exhibits the influence of modern jazz mastermind Pat Metheny.
Overall, despite the ‘avant-garde’ tag that the record will undoubtedly be tagged with (and which may put off a number of readers) this is an approachable record for its genre. There’s plenty of ideas at play, and enough different stylistic approaches to keep the attention from wandering, yet the songs for the most part aren’t allowed to roam completely off in to the realms of aimless abstract doodling. The way that the strings and Rea’s absorbing guitar work complement and interact with each other is another thing that stands out. Overall an accomplished debut release, and one that should certainly appeal to fans of adventurous progressive music.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Fairclough & Youell - Momentarily
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Catalogue #:||PFED 0901|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Quicker Than Sand (9:11), Overload (6:45), Those Birds (4:57), Trippin' (4:23), One Beat Stair (3:54), Ev`ry Day (4:46), Cryptic (2:16), Don't (3:03), Shed (3:24), After Dark (3:40), 20:39 (4:25), Little Steps (11:18)
I wrote pages upon pages of notes whilst listening and reviewing this album and still I went back to tracks and jotted down additional comments. Condensing them proved to be nigh on impossible and in the end a different tack was needed or this review was ever going to appear.
So, Fairclough & Youell comprises of Peter Fairclough (drums & percussion), Hayley Youell (vocals & keyboards), Fred Thelonius Baker (bass) and Iona's Dave Bainbridge (keyboards, guitar & bouzouki). With the exception of Dave I suspect little would be known about the rest of our quartet. Peter, a teacher by day, has recorded with several artists and possibly the most notable (in prog terms) with Keith Tippett. Hayley has been involved in a number of projects/bands, whilst undertaking
her studies, which is in fact where she met up with Peter. Fred has been part of Ric Sander's Second Vision. He has also worked with Phil Miller and sessioned with Nigel Kennedy and the late Johnny Dankworth. Their debut release, Momentarily, is a classy work that has its allegiances firmly rooted in the jazz camp, but not completely forsaking affiliations to the progressive genre, along with excursions into jazz/funk and even theatrical areas.
The music has a solid jazz foundation and the combination of Hayley Youell's beautiful voice and Fred Thelonius Baker's superb fretless work I was often led to Joni Mitchell's late 70's jazzier period, (Hissing Of Summer Lawn's) and especially the period that featured Jaco Pastorios (Hejira, Mingus & Shadows And Light). So what we have on Momentarily is carefully crafted songs which are
in turn allowed to breathe, whether by dynamic or performance, improvisation or structure.
A track by track is out of the question, (as my mountain of scribbled notes will lay testament to) and as for are highlights - too many to mention. But mention there must be for my favourite track, (and as noted in the 2009 DPRPoll), the delightful Quicker Than Sand. Piano pulses out the chords accompanied by Hayley's warm and expressive voice. Add in Baker's emotive fretless, subtle keyboard orchestrations, Fairclough's jazzy drumming and percussion and we have six minutes of sheer bliss. But the track is nine minutes long? Rounding off the song is three minutes of top flight instrumental ensemble music. Each musician sparkling in their own right. Personally I would have bought the album just for this track, so for me the remaining pieces might be viewed as a bonus really.
And of those bonuses, Those Birds sees Baker stretching out his fingers - as the track progresses we find a wonderful percolating bass line reminiscent of Jeff Berlin. Trippin' raises the prog quotient - light and shade, a great vocal line and towards the end of the song Dave Bainbridge gets to let rip with one of his signature melodic solos. The piano steals the show during One Beat Stair. Three keyboard players are credited on the album, although its not clear who plays what and where. I'm going to plump for Dave Bainbridge here - superb stuff. Peter Fairclough gets to demonstrate (more) of his skills opening up 20:39. I could go on...
The production is crisp and clear, striking cover artwork courtesy of Steven Joseph Hemingway and informative packaging including a sixteen page booklet.
A little prog-lite for DPRP and certainly the album doesn't rock, but it certainly cooks and for those with a broader palette and an inclining towards the jazz/fusion/funk end of the spectrum, and even the Canterbury scene, should certainly check out this very fine release. My overall numeric conclusion is tempered by the nature of our site.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Stomu Yamashta - Go Too
Tracklist: Prelude (3:02), Seen You Before (6:15), Madness (5:59), Mysteries Of Love (6:41), Wheels Of Fortune (5:35), Beauty (5:09), You And Me (6:59), Ecliptic (2:26)>
Esoteric continue their reissue of Stomu Yamashta's back catalogue with the final instalment of the Go trilogy. Following on from Go and
Go Live From Paris came 1977's Go Too, an album that despite a change of label from Island to Arista saw, with the exception of Steve Winwood, all of the previous contributors to the project once again lending their skills to the proceedings. With the likes of Al Di Meola, Peter Robinson, Michael Shrieve, Klaus Schulze and Paul Jackson on board then there was never going to be any question as to the quality of the musicianship displayed on the album. As a replacement for Winwood's soulful vocals, Yamashta called in the talents of Jess Roden (who had been lead singer in the Alan Bown set before embarking on a solo career) and Linda Lewis, possessor of an impressive five-octave range. Vocal support was supplied by the legendary Liza Strike and Doreen Chanter as well as the rather less well known Ruby James.
Often considered the poor relation to the first Go album, the album is a totally different proposition to its illustrious predecessor. Possibly because of the time it was released, and the involvement of Lewis, the album has received many put downs, the worst of which has it being dismissed as electronic disco music! This is so far from the truth to be slanderous! Prelude is an atmospheric introduction that has elements of the opening of On The Run from the seminal Dark Side Of The Moon before expanding into a synthesised smorgasbord that leads neatly into Seen You Before, a veritable romping slice of funky fusion with outstanding performances from the backing vocalists. Jackson lays down the groove with the synths adding tonal colours and Di Meola unleashing a characteristic solo. Add to the mix a rather understated string arrangement (by Martyn Ford) and you have a great beginning. The quality is continued with Madness, on which Lewis is let loose. Also resolutely funky, there is also an experimental vein running through the piece that craftily mixes a variety of different musical styles that was the fundamental rationale of the project in the first place. The sounds of a storm preface Mysteries Of Love, which is the defining piece of the album and worth the price of admission alone. A glorious ballad with a beautiful orchestral score, fantastic performances from Roden and Lewis, a superb solo from Di Meola and, once again, the glorious backing vocals that seem to grace so many seventies albums.
Wheels Of Fortune is more upbeat and rather more straightforward than its predecessor but does feature some great percussion that keeps the ears stimulated. A second ballad, Beauty, is also wonderfully sung by Roden and Lewis, whilst Ford gets the orchestral score just right, complimenting the acoustic guitar solo perfectly. Ending with whale song (which I swear is the same recording that Kate Bush used on her debut album!), an assortment of synthesisers provide the guide into You And Me which, initially, reminds me somewhat of Robert Palmer. The song does get a bit lost in the middle section but recovers for a glorious ending. Final track, Ecliptic ends the album as it began with an atmospheric play out largely at the hands of Schulze which, admittedly, is nothing really to write home about and quite out of character with the rest of the album.
Go Too is a fine addition to the previous two albums by the ensemble and although not as interesting, progressively speaking, as the first studio album, it is still a release that offers a lot of enjoyment with great performances and, for the romantics amongst you, two excellent ballads.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Flash – Flash
Tracklist: Small Beginnings (9:23), Morning Haze (4:38), Children Of The Universe (8:59), Dreams Of Heaven (12:56), The Time It Takes (5:49) Bonus Track: Small Beginnings [Single Version] (3:12)
Although Peter Banks has the dubious distinction of being the first person to be fired from the ranks of Yes, (a band destined to endure numerous line-up changes over the years) he certainly left his mark. During his two year tenure with Yes prior to his departure in April 1970 he came up with the bands name, contributed his lead guitar skills to two studio albums (Yes and Time And A Word) and designed the original (pre Roger Dean) Yes logo. Occupying his time with mostly session work in the interim, Banks formed Flash in August 1971 along with Ray Bennett (bass, vocals), Mike Hough (drums) and Roger Daltrey lookalike Colin Carter (vocals). Tony Kaye came onboard to supply the keyboards for their debut album after being unceremoniously ousted from Yes himself that same year. Typically his contributions are dominated by rhythmic organ and within a year he would form his own band, the short lived Badger.
Released at the beginning of 1972, the self titled Flash album was a triumphant affirmation for the two ex. Yes men although the striking similarities with their former band didn’t go unnoticed by fans and critics alike (and neither did the cheeky artwork). Whereas Yes had moved on considerably with the release of The Yes Album and Fragile, Flash continued on from where 1970’s Time And A Word album had left off. The appropriately titled opener Small Beginnings has a certain resemblance to No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed which opened Yes’ album (minus the instrumental hook that Yes had lifted from The Big Country theme). Instead Banks provides a memorable ringing guitar motif driven by a galloping rhythm courtesy of Hough’s busy Bill Bruford style drumming and Bennett’s upfront bass lines (ala Chris Squire). Kaye’s brief organ solo recycles the one he provided for Yes’ Dear Father whilst Carter’s falsetto delivery has more than a hint of the Jon Anderson’s about it. Although it provides a rousing start to the album like the majority of the songs here it goes on a tad longer than it needs to.
In comparison with the showy opener, the Bennett penned Morning Haze is a much simpler affair with the bassist also supplying the lead vocal. It has a sunny Caribbean vibe thanks to the dual acoustic guitar picking, lightweight percussion and CSN&Y influenced wordless backing harmonies. Children Of The Universe returns to the bombast of the opening song and although it conveys a fine sense of dynamics the contrived chorus sounds like something straight out of the 70’s pop charts. Better is the staccato verses and gritty guitar punctuations which both slyly evoke Yours Is No Disgrace. Kaye adds an uncharacteristically twiddly synth break whilst Banks’ semi-improvised guitar solo quotes The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, a song he performed live on a regular basis with Yes.
Although the lengthy Dreams Of Heaven is centred around a memorable riff and chant like double tracked vocals, it’s really an opportunity for Banks in particular to demonstrate his technical skills. An extended instrumental section features a number of jazzy overdubbed guitar parts where Banks recalls his own playing on I See You (from the first Yes album) and Robert Fripp’s angular style. In support, Bennett and Hough are more than equal to the task displaying some fine jazz chops of their own. The concluding The Time It Takes is a dreamy but ultimately dull ballad that attempts to capture the pastoral quality of Yes’ Sweetness and King Crimson songs like Cadence and Cascade. Carter is no Pete Sinfield however with lines like “Her virgin silken robes all flowing white” sounding twee even by 1971 standards. It does however benefit from Banks’ familiar weeping guitar lines and Kaye’s tasteful organ playing which dissolve into a wave of electronic washes to replicate the roaring sound of the sea.
The sole bonus track on this excellent Esoteric re-master comes in the shape of a severely truncated version of Small Beginnings. It appeared as the A side of a single (with Morning Haze on the flip side) to coincide with the albums original release. It has to be said that although it sounds slightly compressed, but far punchier as a result, it works very well as a single in this edited format.
Flash went on to release two further albums In The Can (1972) and Out Of Our Hands (1973) which proved to be less successful and neither did they embody the spirit of Yes in the same way as the debut. Whilst this album demonstrates Banks’ unwillingness to relinquish the past it also confirms his not inconsiderable input into the sound that shaped Yes’ formative years. Even today that influence is still evident with Astral Traveller (a favourite of Banks) appearing in the set list of Yes’ current tour. The story goes that during the 1991 ‘Union’ tour Banks was invited to join the band onstage in Los Angeles (which would have seen the original Yes line-up together for the first time in over 20 years) but it’s claimed that Steve Howe vetoed the plan. Conversely when Bennett and Carter instigated a recent Flash reunion Banks declined to participate. Maybe he’s still holding out for the big one!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Peter Banks – Two Sides Of Peter Banks
Tracklist: Vision Of The King (1:24), The White Horse Vale: a. On The Hill, b. Lord Of The Dragon (7:13), Knights: a. The Falcon, b. The Bear (6:14), Battles (1:38), Knights [Reprise] (2:12), Last Eclipse (2:30), Beyond The Loneliest Sea (3:07), Stop That! (13:47), Get Out Of My Fridge (3:23)
There’s no question that 1973 was a vintage year for prog with The Dark Side Of The Moon, Tubular Bells, Tales From Topographic Oceans, Selling England By The Pound, Brain Salad Surgery and Larks' Tongues In Aspic all making an appearance along with a string of less renowned but still excellent releases. Amongst the latter category could (and should) have been this debut solo album from original Yes guitarist Peter Banks. Joined by a stellar cast which included Jan Akkerman (Focus), Steve Hackett (Genesis), John Wetton (King Crimson) and Phil Collins (Genesis) it had all the makings of a classic prog album. Banks had the financial wherewithal for this undertaking thanks to the moderate success (particularly in the US) of Flash, the band he formed following his departure from Yes in 1970. The Flash rhythm section of Ray Bennett (bass) and Mike Hough (drums) also add their musical muscle to this pre-digital era recording when musicians actually occupied the same studio as opposed to submitting their parts from some distant corner of the globe. The prestigious line-up however proved to be both the albums strength and its Achilles heal.
Given the formidable talent on hand Banks was evidently confident enough to enter the studio with a few half finished ideas and allow the album to develop in a spontaneous freeform fashion. Unfortunately the lack of a clearly defined compositional structure results in a technically impressive but all too often dull collection of prog-come-jazz hybrid ramblings interspersed with flashes of brilliance. The album is so called because side 1 of the original vinyl release contains the more structured arrangements whilst side 2 consists of two experimental jams. However the often improvised, purely instrumental results fail to live up to the promise suggested by the evocative Tolkien-esque track titles. It has its moments of inspiration of course which often manifests itself in the mellower pieces, especially Banks and Akkerman’s delicious Spanish flavoured guitar duet Beyond The Loneliest Sea (written by Akkerman). In fact this album could be seen as less a solo effort and more a joint exercise with the Dutch maestro co-credited throughout in both a playing and compositional capacity.
Other highpoints include the lyrical On The Hill with its excellent acoustic and electric guitar exchanges (all courtesy of Banks) evoking Anthony Phillips, concluding with a riff that’s a little too close to Yes’ Roundabout for comfort. Collins’ drum workout in the funky Battles is more adventurous than anything he had recorded with Genesis up to that point and pre-empted his later work with jazz rockers Brand X. His disciplined playing during the otherwise sprawling King Crimson inflected Stop That! is clearly influenced by Bill Bruford where he receives solid support from Bennett as Akkerman and Banks run rampant. Elsewhere the atypical weeping guitar during Lord Of The Dragon and Last Eclipse in particular has a haunting quality about it. Otherwise the album is mostly preoccupied with extended and often tedious guitar doodling combined with uninspired and repetitive riffing. The country and western flavoured jam Get Out Of My Fridge that concludes is probably best forgotten altogether.
I can still recall my disappointment first time around after purchasing this album back in the summer of ’73 whilst still in my teens. The optimist in me was rather hoping that this remastered CD version and the passage of time would temper my critical negativity. Unfortunately my opinion hasn’t changed and if anything it reinforces my conviction that this was one heck of a missed opportunity. Yes there’s some wonderful messing of not too dissimilar but still distinctive guitar techniques but without the melodies to back it up all too often it comes across as an exercise in self indulgence. To conclude on a more positive note listen to The White Horse Vale if you can and observe the style and quality of Banks’ playing which tellingly is not a million miles from what could be heard in Yes at the time from the man that replaced him.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Pete Sinfield - Still Life
The Album Mix [42:45] The Song Of The Sea Goat (6:06), Under The Sky (4:19), Will It Be You (2:41), Wholefood Boogie (3:39), Still (4:46), Envelopes Of Yesterday (6:19), The Piper (2:51), A House Of Hopes And Dreams (4:07), The Night People (7:54)
Early Mixes And Bonus Tracks [52:15] Hanging Fire (3:03), Still [first mix] (4:46), The Song Of The Sea Goat (6:06), Under The Sky (4:25), Wholefood Boogie (3:37), Envelopes Of Yesterday (6:21), The Piper (2:51), A House Of Hopes And Dreams (3:57), The Night People (7:53), Still [second mix] (4:51), Can You Forgive A Fool? (4:19)
Many years ago, in the midst of a passion for all things ELP, I purchased a vinyl copy of Still, the first solo album by King Crimson and ELP lyricist Pete Sinfield. Mightily impressed with the packaging of the album and the arty booklet included within the gatefold sleeves, I was rather less than impressed with the contents, it being far removed from the excesses of Messers Emerson, Lake and Palmer and very different from the only other Manticore act I knew about, namely PFM. Thirty years later there comes a chance to reappraise the album in the light of its reissue amidst the rest of the non-ELP Manticore catalogue by those marvellous people responsible for the Esoteric label.
First up, let's get this right out in the open, Sinfield may have hit it lucky in finding an output for his often idiosyncratic lyrics, but his writing abilities are far in advance of his vocal talents displayed on this album. As he freely admits in the sleeve notes to this reissue:
"Nobody was really producing the album... I was trying to sing in keys which were really not comfortable for me. I don't know if the musicians were either too kind or too stoned to tell me, but that's why some of the vocals on the songs are awkward in places".
"There are things I just shouldn't sing, and rock n' roll songs are one of them!"
That last comment is made about the song Wholefood Boogie, Sinfield's take on the over-precious stance of people who follow macrobiotic diets to the extreme, in effect a bit of comedic self-awareness as Sinfield himself was at the time following the macrobiotic, back to the country away from the city lifestyle. If Wholefood Boogie represents the worst of what's on offer here (aside from the vocals, the tune is not up to much either), the best comes with opening track Song Of The Sea Goat which incorporates a Vivaldi melody in a ballad of great gentleness. With Keith Tippet providing piano flourishes, Phil Jump adding strings via the Freeman Symphoniser (used in preference to a Mellotron to avoid comparisons with King Crimson) and Mel Collins adding bass flute, the music can't be faulted and Sinfield's vocals fit quite well. Under The Sky could easily have been extracted from the more mellow components of the first King Crimson album with Collins adding a variety of wind instruments to great effect. In contrast, Will It Be You features Brian Cole on pedal steel guitar giving the song a rather country and western feel, although it is rather more jolly than most country songs.
Envelopes Of Yesterday opens with the hooting of an owl and continues in a rather haunting manner with typically obtuse lyrics, for example: "I need to suck the breasts of time and freeze her milk in ink, to juggle cruets full of dreams and balance on the brink". However, the vocals are not too bad and there is a particularly nice ending that ramps up the volume with a cutting guitar solo from Snuffy (whomever that might be). Wanting to produce an album of variety, The Piper adds a folk element but with just an acoustic guitar and flute for backing, the voice is rather pushed forward somewhat to the detriment of the song. Greg Lake makes an appearance on electric guitar on A House Of Hopes And Dreams although unfortunately the song is rather nondescript for the first half and the second half is only rescued by the inclusion of a brass section and an energetic sax solo from that man Collins again. The brass section are also featured on The Night People where they add a sleazy jazzy sound but again it is the vocals that mar proceedings, with a delivery that is all over the place. Shame as the overall performance of the band (which includes Ian Wallace on drums, Boz on bass, Tim Hinkley on electric piano and Don Honeywill on baritone sax even out-blowing Collins) is great. However, it is the title track that will probably be the main reason why ELP completists would want to get hold of this album as it features a great vocal performance by Greg Lake, albeit shared with Sinfield. Lake's vocal melody is a classic Crimson/ELP hybrid and set alongside Sinfield's contributions it is a wonder that Sinfield himself didn't realise just how embarrassing his efforts are.
For the most part, the bonus CD contains an early mix of the album although Will It Be You is not included and there are two mixes of Still, the second one being the better of the two. There are also two tracks that are not from the album.
Hanging Fire, recorded contemporaneously with the album, is actually rather a nice acoustic guitar and vocal song on which Sinfield does a reasonable job whilst Can You Forgive A Fool? was recorded some two years after the album and showcases Sinfield as a more mature singer with a better idea on how a song should be delivered. Both songs are nice additions, indeed better than some of the material on the original album!
So a nicely remastered and presented reissue although one questions the decision to release this as a double album. Would it perhaps have been more fitting to have kept it to a single disc with the two non album tracks and maybe one or two of the early mixes added as bonuses? I mean I don't imagine there are a vast crowd of people who have been eagerly awaiting for the release of everything associated with the recording of this album given than it is hardly a classic. Although saying that, my appreciation of it is far higher as a more mature listener than as a spotty teenager. The musical backings are largely very impressive and worth hearing if one can forgive the vocal imperfections.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Product - Earth
Tracklist: America Pt. 1 (8:20), Edison (4:16), America Pt. 2 (1:22), Earth (4:45), 1893 Worlds Fair (2:49), Strange Transmission (6:36), White Dove (5:40), War Machines (5:59), Message (2:43), Bedlam Of The Street (5:15), Samuel (3:05), Valvular Conduit(3:26), Lost In My Way (5:35), World Of Wonder (7:37)
Product are Arman Christoff Boyles (vocals, keyboards & guitars) and Scott Rader (drums, bass &, background vocals). With this album the Los Angeles based duo completes their quadrilogy on the four elements:
On Water (2000),
The Fire (2005) and now Earth (2008). The lyrics are inspired by the life of Nikola Tesla, a scientist who played an important role in the development of transmissible energy (AC current). Tesla came to New York as a foreigner and was looked upon as a magician by people. In spite of his incredible talents, the importance of his ideas and his invaluable contribution to mankind, he died poor and alone in some hotel room.
The first part of America reminds me of the atmosphere, the instrumentation and even the vocals from the first solo albums by David Sylvian, with perhaps a touch of Talk Talk. In Edison the music is more in the vein of singer/songwriter pop music with an intermediate tempo: vocals acoustic & electric guitars, bass and drums. The music flows right through into America Pt. 2 with a beautiful majestic piece of symphonic music, featuring keyboards and acoustic guitars. Both the title track, with some nice vocal harmonies as well the instrumental 1893 Worlds Fair and Strange Transmission (nice organ sounds!), are a mixture between Japan, Sylvian and perhaps Steely Dan. Particularly in Strange Transmission there are many changes in style, atmosphere etcetera varying between, pop-rock, ambient and symphonic.
White Dove opens with acoustic guitar and vocal, in the vein of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Further on also bass, keyboards and percussion and there we can find references to the slower, more symphonic pieces by Porcupine Tree. In that same vein is War Machines although in the latter part of the track, as one could expect from the title, there’s more aggressive guitars. Message is one of most beautiful pieces, symphonic, lots of keyboards: almost genuine ‘electronic music’. In Bedlam Of The Street some psychedelic pop music with the ‘vocals & harmonies through the telephone’, just some percussion and very little instrumentation. The psychedelic Porcupine Tree influences return in Samuel and more psychedelic music can be found in Valvular Conduit, where we can appreciate a strange mix between Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and synthi-pop. Sylvian meets Porcupine Tree in part of Lost In My Way, but especially the more melodic pieces are closer to Pink Floyd and these are really nice. Closing track is World Of Wonder, opening with piano and Boyles’ soft emotional vocal. Some drumming, but the atmosphere remains psychedelic, also because of the addition of floating sounds by synths, than suddenly a superb melodic, symphonic piece with the addition of guitars and in the end the music fades away as the sea retreating with the tide.
An intriguing album worth checking out by all fans of David Sylvian and Porcupine Tree, but surely anyone with an interest of a more refined but also ‘more obscure’ progressive music might find this album quite enjoyable too. A worthy successor to the other three 'elements' and it may be noted the references that come into my mind listening to this album are almost exclusively from the UK, which is remarkable!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK