Reviews in this issue:
- Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made
- Altrock Chamber Quartet – Sonata Islands Goes RIO
- Mr Gil – I Want You To Get Back Home
- Ache - De Homine Urbano
- Ache - Green Man
- Barclay James Harvest – Ring Of Changes
- Barclay James Harvest – Victims Of Circumstance
- Jack Dupon - Bascule A Vif
- Cailyn - Four Pieces
- Sylvium – Purified [EP]
Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made
Tracklist: Gazza (17:31), Sounds That Can’t Be Made (7:16), Pour My Love (6:02), Power (6:07), Montreal (14:04), Invisible Ink (5:47), Lucky Man (6:58), The Sky Above the Rain (10:34)
Too much expectation can be a dangerous thing and I’m sure that we’ve all been burned by highly anticipated releases that have simply failed to lift off. Marillion are a band that have always been very close to my heart and never far from my turntable/CD player but I have to admit to being hugely underwhelmed by their last couple of releases, Somewhere Else and, to a slightly lesser extent, Happiness Is the Road leaving me cold and uninspired. Quite different from Marbles which grew into a wonderful album and probably the Marillion album I now play most, certainly the benchmark by which their recent material should be measured. Probably based on both my need for a fix of new material from Marillion coupled with my enjoyment of the audio clips that trailed it I found myself becoming more and more enthusiastic about the imminent release of Sounds That Can’t Be Made and when the tracks Power and Gaza were released in full online this enthusiasm seemed justified. In total the track listing showed three tracks of over 10 minutes duration which whetted my appetite based on recent long-form tracks like Neverland, Ocean Cloud and, slightly further back, This Strange Engine so I eagerly picked up a copy at the first date of the UK tour.
I love the Fish era of the band and although initially concerned I became more and more enthused by the transformation to Steve Hogarth fronting the band as they proved themselves with Season’s End and Holidays In Eden, their live shows although changed still possessing power and energy. Hogarth is also a much better singer. It wasn’t long before I started telling anyone who would listen that I felt the band were much stronger with Hogarth than they had been at the height of their fame and I still believe this to be true. The albums have continued to inspire with a few notable exceptions, Somewhere Else and 1998’s Radiation most readily springing to mind and although the music has changed to a sleeker, more modern and less overtly progressive style the songs are generally right up there, the epic qualities, dynamics and Hogarth’s voice keeping me on team. And so here we are in 2012 with a new Marillion album being slotted into my CD player and I’m almost drooling at the prospect.
Initially, the tracks that I was already familiar with made the most impact with the 17 minute Gaza making for a great opener, unexpected in its venom and dissonance but showing more than a hint of promise as a potential Marillion classic by incorporating beauty, melody and emotion. Although never shying away from highlighting real world issues or inequalities this is the most overtly political song the band have ever released and it has started a lot of talk regarding the issues it documents. Moving from a Middle Eastern vibe intro the song takes us through a variety of themes and textures discussing the fears and hopes of a child living in the territory, a powerful piece that underlines the bands skill and a real tour de force with some fine guitar work from Steve Rothery. Power is a brooding and propulsive number that explodes satisfyingly in the chorus. This is a very enjoyable track with Hogarth’s voice affected by pent up emotion as he delivers the quite sinister lyric, he is one of the best I can think of when delivering this kind of material. I also like Pete Trewavas’ bass on this track as it bubbles along keeping the interest up. He was, until his surprise inclusion in Transatlantic, an underrated player who has over the years developed a non-flashy but particularly solid style. I would love to hear him have the opportunity to stretch himself in a Transatlantic direction on a Marillion album (not that I want them to produce a full on prog extravaganza) but that possibility seems to be strangled within the set-up. I do wonder who pulls the strings in the writing and recording and whether it is a fully functioning democracy because he seems to hugely enjoy the Transatlantic process and even though Marillion is a different beast altogether I would love to hear him cut loose a bit now and again. The same is true of Ian Moseley, a fine drummer who often seems underused. This may be unfair and I’m sure that he and Trewavas are rightly proud of their contributions but it would be nice to hear more from them now and then.
The other tracks I’d heard before listening to the CD were the title track and The Sky Above The Rain which have found a home in the band’s current live set, never the best way to hear and absorb new material. I liked them well enough on first listen but they seemed more subtle than Gaza and Power. Sounds That Can’t Be Made itself is one of the strongest tracks on the album, throbbing and pulsing on the rhythm section with some fine playing from Mark Kelly, who provides a rare solo reminiscent of old school Marillion releases, and Rothery with some muscular soloing that lifts the track considerably during the excellent “Aurora Borealis...” section to a strong conclusion. The Sky Above The Rain builds on some beautifully delicate piano from Kelly, Hogarth wringing the emotion out of a lyric that tells of a couple’s dying love and the possibilities of them rekindling what they once had. There is some lovely playing, nice use of string effects and a soaring finale, a good way to finish the album but I don’t feel the ideas can quite sustain the length of the track which is a shame.
Montreal, clearly inspired with some warmth by the convention weekends held in Canada, has an almost stream of consciousness lyric that resembles a diary entry rather than a verse-chorus structure and initially builds on Kelly’s electric piano but remains quite low-key and subtle with different textures than deployed elsewhere on the album before the lifting epic power of the band appears. One of the instrumental sections based on a Trewavas bass pattern is reminiscent of Brave and another brings Camel to mind, carrying on into the subsequent vocal part where Hogarth re-establishes the Marillion feel while the music could still have been inspired by Andy Latimer. Overall the piece rolls and flows with a leisurely pace and some lovely contributions, particularly from Kelly, rising and falling with the lyric floating above. Initially it seemed a little unstructured but after a few spins it coalesces into a track that has become one of my favourites on the album, the propulsive final section underlining the viability of this peculiar but successful piece. I’m still not sure why or indeed how but it works very nicely.
Invisible Ink is interesting, the chorus vocal supported by glockenspiel a nice touch which may by accident let the track down by making it appear “lighter” than it is. Hogarth appears too rough around the edges in the transitions between his normal singing voice and the falsetto but this is no doubt just part of his emotional delivery. In a live setting this emotion comes across as a lot more heart-felt while sometimes on record it can be a little contrived, as here. This track could appear to be a lesser piece in the shadows of the epics around it but it works nicely, successfully changing the direction and adding variety and has become one of the melodies that has entered my head frequently over the last week. Lucky Man works well as a follow up to Invisible Ink but is another track that doesn’t completely succeed. It starts well with lovely guitar and a good intro that shows the individuality of the players in a good light but unfortunately the chorus is bog standard rock that lets it down and loses me completely making it sound like two dissimilar songs clumsily welded together. A shame as with a little more invention this could have been a great track as the verses are very good.
On the horribly titled Pour My Love (is this Def Leppard?) the lyrics, co-written with long time collaborator John Helmer, at first appear slightly suspect but I’m sure that says more about me than him! It harks back to Marillion’s quest for chart success in the early ‘90s but my main problem with this song is the anodyne backing that could have been a bunch of hired hands rather than a band of distinctive individuals that have been together as a unit for almost 30 years. This is the saddest thing about some of the recent material, the band almost taking a back seat to Hogarth and seeming content to remain in the shadows and this track, other than Rothery’s lovely solo, comes across like a highly competent session band playing the charts.
This is a beautifully recorded and particularly varied album and those may be seen as its strengths but there does seem to be a lack of focus and direction to some of the material that lets it down somewhat. This is not a poor album by any stretch of the imagination and the structure is good but is the whole good enough? Personally, I don’t think it is and given the length of time it has taken the band to put it together and get it released it smacks of a lack of quality material to develop and in that way it falls into the same category as the band’s most recent releases although it is undoubtedly better. There are many positives to be heard on Sounds That Can’t Be Made, perhaps three-quarters of a good album, but I doubt that there will be many people who will find it wholly satisfactory which is a shame as the band need to show themselves in a better light in order to build on their extraordinary level of resilience and home-built success. Maybe they don’t need to but it seems that in order to keep working as they currently are the product needs to keep coming so that they can support themselves and their existing business model. More time taken to write and develop may have reaped dividends however this may have ultimately led to insecurity and doubt setting in. As a lover of this band and their music, which has formed a large part of the soundtrack for the whole of my adult life, I need to leave it up to Marillion to play the game they want to play in order to ensure their own survival as I would much rather have them putting out material like this every two or three years than not put out anything at all. Of course I would be on cloud nine if every album, although stylistically different, could soar to the heights of Clutching At Straws, Brave, Afraid Of Sunlight or Marbles but I will continue to live in hope of that happening again every now and then over the coming years.
So, an interesting album that lets itself down a bit here and there and doesn’t quite deliver the goods as required. Not bad at all but not earth shattering. It is a pretty lengthy record that requires a lot of listening and could possibly have benefitted from some astute editing and a little more focus but it is certainly not Marillion by numbers and there are some new sounds that have been made and some new avenues to explore in the future. Dyed in the wool fans are likely to love it, others should be slightly cautious. Worth hearing but not immediate and possibly a transitional album that will fully deliver next time out but for this one my rating is...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Altrock Chamber Quartet – Sonata Islands Goes RIO
Tracklist: Snake Eating Its Tail (1:45), Norrgarden Nyvla (3:04), Hands Of The Juggler (4:44), Rethinking Plague (3:50), Presage (10:22), Land Arf (6:20), Brachilogia7 (3:08), Distillando (4:12), Crossroads (4:38), Luoghi Che Aspettano (6:45)
First off, this is not a “rock” record, there are none of the traditional rock instruments on here, and in fact no electric instruments appear anywhere on this album. The full line-up includes, Emilio Galante – flute and piccolo, Valerio Cipollone - clarinet and bass clarinet, Andrea Pecolo - violin, and Bianca Fervidi - cello, and on Land Arf only, Massimo Guintoli on piano. Not a single percussion instrument to be seen, which may seem odd when tackling a song such as Presage, more of which later.
The cover picture includes a close-up picture of a violin that has an obviously tongue-in-cheek sticker in the form a Brazilian flag on it and a partly obscured postcard from Rio de Janeiro poking out of one the f-holes. The joke arises as this album is a chamber group’s interpretation of tracks from RIO groups and composers, some well known, some not so. The Sonata Islands of the title is the avant-jazz ensemble of Emilio, the instigator and leader of this particular merry troupe.
Some folk find Rock In Opposition bands very difficult if not impossible to get into, although I like most of them such as Henry Cow, whose Fred Frith has the three opening pieces on here; and Univers Zero, here represented by Présage. However even I find classical chamber music hard to like as I find it dry, and perhaps just a little too intellectual. With all intellectual music comes a clique, something else that also puts me off. Let’s see if this floats my boat then!
The first five songs are interpretations of classic RIO pieces, and the latter five are modern compositions, Distillando by band leader Emilio Galante. Some of the songs are scored by Giovanni Venosta who gets to write an intro in the booklet that shows he has a connection to a veritable who’s who of the RIO/avant scene, going right back to the 70s.
Sensibly commencing with three short pieces, the opener is actually quite jolly and has the air of a sailor’s jig. There’s even some restrained shouting on it, the only “vocals” on the album. Rethinking Plague as the title might suggest is a chamber classical reworking and run (was going to say “romp” but that would have been a bit wide of the mark!) through ultra-cerebral avant-rocker’s Thinking Plague’s song Love from the truly great In This Life album and completely different it is too, especially so without the vocals. The idea of the highly esoteric covering the fiercely cerebral might give you the heebeejeebies, but it is actually quite playful, the lack of percussion making it far easier on the ear than you might expect.
Ah yes, the total lack of percussion on this album has its sternest test on Univers Zero’s mighty epic Présage. Just to raise the bar the song was written by a drummer, the powerfully rhythmic Daniel Denis. If you know the original song, you will know that a good percentage of its dark menace is conveyed through Daniel’s clattering percussion, and this version, stripped down to the musical score has an entirely different feel. The repeated theme, which on the original becomes menacingly intense is more subtle and hypnotic on this version. Although I’ve listened to this new version a number of times I can’t quite decide whether or not it entirely works. However, if you’re new to the song you will doubtless enjoy the layers building in this almost baroque classical treatment of an undoubted RIO milestone.
As I said up there somewhere, the second half of the album features modern compositions, the first featuring Massimo Guintoli who plays piano on his own Land Arf. Being the only song to feature the instrument, and coming right after the albums centrepiece “difficult” song, Land Arf is a nice change in style and tempo, the flute and clarinet playing in harmony to establish a filmic theme, joined by the piano, that has me imagining a train journey. The theme dives around the piano before the song slows to take in a sad mournful cello led by plucked violin, before the insistent rhythm reprises. This for me is a definite album highlight.
Things get quite wilful and dissonant on Francesco Zago’s tune Brachilogia7 (which incidentally is “to the power of 7”, but I can’t find the alt key code, sorry!), and this studied angularity continues into the calmer but still occasionally choppy waters of Distillando. Indeed the latter part of the album contains the most challenging music on the album and it has taken it a while to sink in properly with this particular listener. To use the first track title the music here on in does sometimes give the impression of a snake eating its tail! However, patience is rewarded as the music slowly reveals itself for the intricately crafted thing that it is.
A bit of normalcy is restored with the Latin dance beat of Crossroads. You’d never hear it on Strictly (UK pro-celebrity ballroom dance competition TV prog – Ed), but you could probably tango to it if so inclined. As if saying to the listener that one can indeed play difficult music while retaining a tune, the last song does exactly that, and is all the better for it.
A truly synapse-stretching exercise in modern classical chamber music, Sonata Islands Goes RIO is not for the lover of more traditional forms, be they prog or anything else, but it should keep the frontal lobes of those of us inclined towards a bit of head dancing usefully engaged.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mr Gil – I Want You To Get Back Home
Tracklist: Time [It's Not The End] (4:26), Our Shoes (3:24), In Your Heart (6:02), Find Me (5:03), Change Your Name (5:49), Fix My Arms (4:35), Start Again (5:04), Goodnight (5:39); Come Home (5:30)
As the name suggests, Mr Gil is a vehicle for the output of Believe and ex-Collage guitarist Mirek Gil. He has been releasing albums under the Mr. Gil name since Alone in 1998. This is the third album to appear bearing this name in the last three years.
Initially Mr Gil was viewed as more of an outlet for Mirek’s solo work. However this fourth album follows the format for the previous disc, Light And Sound with a line-up that in reality is Believe by another name.
If you enjoy the more balladic tracks scattered within the Believe albums then you can find a whole album’s worth of them in I Want You To Get Back Home.
A soft, melodic set of traditional singer songwriter-style songs linked by a common theme of a homecoming, and the challenges which come along with the joy of such an event. Musically this is almost exclusively voice, piano, acoustic guitar with the strings of cellist Paulina Druch adding depth and rhythm.
There are none of the complex overlays to be found on the Believe material, no drums of bass (part from the closing track Come Home) and strangely Gil’s guitar work is more noticeable for the absence of lead runs and by the fact it is way down in the mix. It reinforces what a talented vocalist Karol Wróblewski is becoming and the wonderfully melodic arrangements of keyboardist Konrad Wantrych.
There are some great individual songs on this album with the opening pair in particular shining through. However the single pace of the album lacks variety and the straightforward arrangements provide little in the way of the complexity that fans of progressive (NeoProg) music are likely to be seeking. Soothing rather than challenging.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ache - De Homine Urbano
Tracklist: De Homine Urbano: 1. Overture, 2. Soldier Theme, 3. Ballerina Theme, 4. Pas De Deux, 5. Ogre Theme, 6. Awakening, 7. The Dance Of The Demons, 8. Pas De Trois, 9. The Last Attempt, 10. Finale (19:13), Little Things (18:44)
Ache - Green Man
Tracklist: Equatorial Rainfall (7:03), Sweet Jolly Joyce (3:50), The Invasion: 1. Fanfaronade, 2. Invasion, 3. Monologue, 4. Break-Down (6:01), Shadow Of A Gypsy (4:40), Green Man (4:41), Acheron (4:49), We Can Work It Out / Working (8:44)
Danish band Ache formed in 1968 featuring brothers Finn and Torsten Olafsson, Peter Mellin and Glenn Fischer rapidly gaining a solid live reputation with their heavy organ and guitar interplay, courtesy of Mellin and Olafsson F, respectively. with Fischer providing inventive drum patterns and the elder Olafsson brother laying down prominent bass and providing the vocals their early influences of The Nice and Vanilla Fudge are dominant, the latter band's arrangements of cover versions on their debut album being an obvious template for Ache's rendition of We Can Work It Out on the Green Man album. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, the band's debut album was the result of a collaboration with ballet dancer and choreographer Peter Schaufuss who was fashioning ideas for a 'beat ballet' which he wanted to enter in an international ballet competition being held at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow in July 1969. With support from producer Johnny Reimar the group received backing from Nordisk Polyphon, a subsidiary of the Phillips label. Oddly enough the intention was only to record the music for the ballet competition and originally the idea of releasing the music commercially had not been considered, although Reimar had suggested that an EP of the music might be a consideration. It was only after Schaufuss' victory that it was decided to release an album with the second side being another single piece that was in development for another ballet choreographed by Schaufuss, making the album what is widely considered to be the first rock album to be comprised of two single suites of music.
The original first side of the album was the music for the award winning ballet and title track of the album, De Homine Urbano ('The Urban Man'). Split into 10 sections, although the breaks between sections are not immediately evident, the nineteen and one-quarter minute piece is somewhat of a tour de force. The tightness and professionalism of the band is shown from the fact that the whole piece was recorded and mixed in a single day. With extensive use of Hammond organ, a prominent bassist/vocalist and an inventive drummer, there are some similarities with ELP, a natural follow-on from the group's love of Keith Emerson's first band, The Nice. And, of course, Ache had the additional electric guitar of the younger Olafsson, on which he creates an unusual fat and fuzzy sound more akin to garage bands on the mid sixties than the cleaner progressive sounds of the early 70s. Although written as support for a visual spectacle, De Homine Urbano stands well on its own. The various sections are seamlessly interlinked and the variety of the music is a pleasure to behold. Largely of a regular and modest tempo there are no mammoth flights of virtuoso performances but honestly such antics would detract from the piece. Indeed, choreographing a ballet to an extended keyboard, guitar or drum solo would probably not be what Schaufuss had in mind for his piece! That is no to say the track is completely devoid of solos but the most prominent are in, ironically The Dance Of The Demons.
Second piece, Little Things borrows a central riff from Every Little Thing She Does by The Beatles, although the interpretation by Ache owes somewhat more to the version of that song that appeared on the debut Yes album. We also get to hear the first vocal performance from Olaffsson senior who has quite a mellow voice without any trace of a Scandinavian accent. Indeed, the first time I heard the two Ache albums I was sure they were a forgotten English band. The piece is a bit more psychedelic in flavour than the title track and in places does betray its age and is not as an accomplished piece of music, although does have many fine moments to recommend it.
The success of the ballet, which following the victory in Russia had been staged several times at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, had drawn attention to Ache and their debut album, which gained both critical and commercial adulation in their home country. Wanting to maintain the momentum, the band entered the studio in the summer of 1970 and recorded two new pieces for release as a single, Shadow Of A Gypsy combined with Over The Fields . Unfortunately Esoteric's usual reliability in unearthing and including b-sides and rare tracks has failed us this time and the latter track remains locked in the vaults, a shame as the single was a major European success, earning the band a silver disc for sales of over 50,000 copies. It's not surprising as Shadow Of A Gypsy is an excellent song, a minor key epic, with beautifully played Hammond displaying classical influences and underpinned by some fine piano work, equally well sung by Olafsson with a superbly arranged backing choir and some fine guitar work rounding things off, the song is a melancholy masterpiece.
With an even higher profile, the band completed the recording of the album in three days in November 1970 deciding to expand their musical pallet by including a wider variety of material on the album, opening with one of the strangest numbers in the bands repertoire, Equatorial Rainfall. The opening two or so minutes are rather sedate and mysterious until the Hammond bursts through providing a great instrumental break being driven by the driving beat of Fischer's drums. For the next three minutes then it is Hammond and guitar solos galore in an exciting section that was apparently extensively extended during live performances. Strange pronunciation of 'equatorial' though! Along similar lines both The Invasion and We Can Work It Out / Working were other in concert pieces subjected to intense periods of jamming. Indeed, We Can Work It Out was the usual closing number of the live set, often being extended for up to 20 minutes! On record both are less extreme with the slower pace of The Invasion offering scope for a wah-wah guitar solo before switching to acoustic and then back to a cleaner guitar solo. Interesting song. The Beatles cover is also initially taken at a slower pace, allowing the band to gradually build and develop the music; once through the main song have appended their own energetic and exciting jam, although the percussion interlude is rather superfluous. Aside from that it is a great end to the album.
The other side of the band's coin is found in the shorter, more direct and simpler numbers Sweet Jolly Joyce and Green Man. The former is not that convincing a song seeming to try too hard to be different while still trying to maintain an Ache identity. The title track is better with a fine Martin D-18 acoustic guitar and harpsichord sounding keyboard introduction and an overall arrangement has a very sixties feel and adds a variety to proceedings. Finally Acheron, one of the earliest tracks written by the band, has a more jazzy feel with some nice keyboard work from Mellin.
Strangely, given the rising prominence of the band, they decided to split just as Green Man hit the shops in 1971. Over the years various members have reunited even releasing a couple more albums under the Ache name, although neither quite matched the quality and consistency of these first two albums.
De Homine Urbano: 7 out of 10
Green Man: 6.5 out of 10
Barclay James Harvest – Ring Of Changes
Tracklist: Fifties Child (4:18), Looking From The Outside (5:17), Teenage Heart (4:30), High Wire (5:04), Midnight Drug (5:13), Waiting For The Right Time (6:19), Just A Day Away [Forever Tomorrow] (4:12), Paraiso Dos Cavalos (5:51), Ring Of Changes (7:17) Bonus Tracks: Blow Me Down (4.54), Waiting For The Right Time [Edited And Remixed Version] (3:27), Ring Of Changes [Single Version] (4:39)
Barclay James Harvest – Victims Of Circumstance
CD 1: The Original Album: Sideshow (4:56), Hold On (4:26), Rebel Woman (4:23), Say You'll Stay (3:55), For Your Love (5:31), Victims Of Circumstance (6:01), Inside My Nightmare (4:32), Watching You (4:36), I've Got A Feeling (6:03) Bonus Tracks: Victims Of Circumstance [Instrumental] (6:02), I’ve Got A Feeling [12” Single Version] (5:24), Victims Of Circumstance [Single Version] (3:52)
CD 2: Live At Wembley Arena: Rebel Woman (5:25), Waiting For The Right Time (7:05), I've Got A Feeling (7:06), Rock 'N' Roll Lady (5:36), Paraiso Dos Cavalos (6:28), Victims Of Circumstance (6:42), Life Is For Living (4.08), For Your Love (8:39), Poor Man's Moody Blues (7:09), Child Of The Universe (7:21), Hymn (5:25)
Back in 2006 (was it really that long ago) I reviewed a collection of Barclay James Harvest reissues from Esoteric Recordings that spanned the band’s Polydor back catalogue between the years 1978 and 1990. There was however several conspicuous gaps which this latest pair of reissues goes some way to filling and collectively they provide an almost comprehensive overview of the band from this period. I say almost because XII, Turn Of The Tide and Glasnost from 1978, 1981 and 1988 respectively remain elusive. For now however the re-mastering and repackaging of this pairing are well up to the high standards we’ve come to expect from Esoteric. That said, the source material doesn’t always live-up to the care and attention lavished upon it.
Following the hugely popular A Concert For The People (Berlin) released in 1982, BJH were on a commercial roll with their biggest selling album to date. Wasting no time the band entered the studio later that same year to capitalise on the success. Fortune had its downside however in the shape of the UK tax man and as a result they encamped to Germany (a country that had taken the band to their hearts) to record Ring Of Changes. It was launched in May the following year backed by the full weight of the Polydor promotion machine and was one of the first albums to be released simultaneously on CD, cassette and vinyl. Production duties were handled by Pip Williams and Gregg Jackman the men behind The Moody Blues albums at that time and therefore seemingly ideal candidates for BJH given the constant comparisons made between the two bands. They certainly brought with them a production gloss that was evident from the opening track.
Fifties Child begins with a lavish arrangement for full orchestra; a throwback to the early 70’s when a pre-Enid Robert John Godfrey was the band’s musical director. The song itself is a rehash of Hymn, guitarist John Lees’ stirring anthem from the 1977 Gone To Earth album with an idealistic message of peace and love. Bassist Les Holroyd‘s Looking From The Outside follows with its faux pas disco synth rhythm - I’m willing to bet that Holroyd was a big admirer of the Bee Gees at the time. Ring Of Changes continues in the typical BJH democratic manner where the songs alternate between those written and sung by Lees and those written and sung by Holroyd. Back in the 70’s their writing styles had been very distinctive but by this point in their career the divide between the two had narrowed as they jointly embraced the AOR/MOR mainstream with little sign of their prog-rock origins.
Of what follows, Teenage Heart is unremarkably laidback, High Wire is rockier (or rather I should say poppier) but equally unremarkable whilst the bass-synth driven Midnight Drug is just plain forgettable. Waiting For The Right Time is a virtual remake of 10cc’s classic I’m Not In Love from eight years earlier and a reminder of how similar Holroyd’s voice is to that of Eric Stewart. Just A Day Away is a C&W sing-along affair in the vein of Lindisfarne let down by the cheesy south of the border trumpet and strings all courtesy of synths. In contrast, Paraiso Dos Cavalos features the real thing with a sweeping orchestral arrangement making a rather average song just that bit more palatable.
From a prog prospective the final and title track Ring Of Changes is probably the most rewarding (or at least it must have seemed that way back in 1983). Swirling synths, loud tribal drums and a chant like choral hook display shades of Peter Gabriel amongst others. As a spin off from the album, two songs were released as singles (albeit in severely truncated form) with the ‘B’ side Blow Me Down, a leftover from the same sessions, sounding like a dry run for the title track. Esoteric have included all three here as bonus tracks.
Unsurprisingly Ring Of Changes sold especially well in Germany as it did in Switzerland (reaching number 2 in the charts) and also the rest of Europe (the USA market had long since eluded the band where due to poor promotion and bad luck in the 70’s they had failed to enjoy the same success as their prog contemporaries). Given the popularity of Ring Of Changes the band decided to scrap any plans for a 1983 tour and instead returned to the studio (this time in the Netherlands) in September of that year to commence work on their 13th album. If the band were at all superstitious then they needn’t have worried because Victims Of Circumstance, released in April 1984, was just as commercially successful as its predecessor.
If anything it was even more pop-rock orientated with liberal use of strings and for the first time on a BJH record, female backing singers. In fact as the opening song Sideshow faded away the only lasting impression it left was the jaunty string arrangement and the soulful backing voices. At best the songs are mostly derivative, shrewdly emulating successful quality artists from the same period (Holroyd‘s laidback title song Victims Of Circumstance is reminiscent of Stevie Winwood whereas Lees’ more lively Inside My Nightmare has echoes of Robert Palmer). Less credible, the raunchy but hollow Rebel Woman and the bouncy synth led Say You'll Stay bring Cliff Richard’s hits to mind, namely Devil Woman and Wired For Sound respectively. Throughout, the lyrics contain the band’s usual social-political observations but unfortunately this is never reflected in the music.
Esoteric have pushed the boat out with the reissue of Victims Of Circumstance and added a second disc featuring a live recording from the Wembley Arena, London on 13th October 1984. It was one of bands biggest UK shows ever in front of 8,000 fans and came at the end of the lengthy tour to promote both albums. It was originally filmed for TV and video release and as such it has previously been available on VHS and DVD. Unsurprisingly both albums are well represented with a few BJH ‘classics’ thrown in for good measure, particularly towards the end of the set. The performances are up to scratch with the newer songs (regardless of my opinion of them) faithfully reproduced on stage. The female singers are again present, adding an extra dimension to the more familiar Poor Man's Moody Blues (the band’s clever pastiche of Nights In White Satin) and Child Of The Universe. Additionally there is some fine guitar work and the late Mel Pritchard plays drums with his usual finesse and energy.
It would be all too easy to dismiss (and excuse) Ring Of Changes and Victims Of Circumstance as products of their time. Admittedly a good deal of music from the early 80’s has not dated well especially when compared with music from the previous decade but it was not all AOR pap. New bands like Marillion, Twelfth Night and Pallas were doing their bit to revitalise the flagging prog genre whilst post punk groups like Tears For Fears, Aztec Camera and Talk Talk were producing music that was both exciting and commercial. In short, there was some excellent music around in 1983 and 1984 but sadly you won’t find it in either of these two releases. BJH fans may disagree; certainly the band still sounded polished and for those that had stayed with them since the early 70’s there was something recognisably warm and comforting, especially the vocals. These reissues also provide an inviting upgrade for anyone that bought the albums first time around. For me, the live disc is undoubtedly the best of the three, without it you could have easily deducted a couple of points off my final rating for Victims Of Circumstance. Conspicuously the concert performances by John Lees’ BJH since the turn of the millennium have consisted solely of material from the 70’s.
Ring Of Changes: 5 out of 10
Victims Of Circumstance: 6 out of 10
Jack Dupon - Bascule A Vif
Tracklist: CD 1: Intropression (6:04), Le Château de l'Eléphant (7:21), La Marmite du Pygmée (9:31), Jeudi Poisson (13:41), Le Labyrinthe Du Cochon (9:48), La Cousine Du Grand Mongol (9:03) CD 2: La Secte Des Mouches, Le Sacre De La Reine, Mille Millions De Mouches Molles (31:36), Cravate Sauvage (9:27), Oppression, Dépression, Les Valeurs Du Cool (13:52)
French quartet Jack Dupon are back with a live album, their fourth release since their 2006 debut, L'Africain Disparu (currently out of print). Hailing from the south-central French region of Auvergne, the band was formed in 2001 by three high school mates, Gregory Pozzoli (guitar, vocals), Arnaud M'Doihoma (bass, vocals) and Thomas Larsen (drums, vocals), who were later joined by guitarist Philippe Prebet. After having reviewed both their previous studio albums, I was looking forward to seeing them perform at ProgDay 2012, but their second North American tour (organized, like their first in 2010, in conjunction with their US distributor, Transit Music Group) was cancelled for funding-related reasons. So I had to make do with Bascule A Vif, which, like all of the band's output, is very much of an acquired taste, but undoubtedly captures them at their best - in a stage setting.
Having grown up with the Seventies tradition of great LP covers, I often remark on the artwork of the albums I review, and Bascule A Vif's artwork offers a perfect visual representation of the band's musical approach. Often labelled as RIO/Avant (in my view, not a completely accurate description), Jack Dupon owe nothing to the rigorous compositional discipline of bands like Univers Zéro, favouring instead a sprawling approach more in keeping with the likes of Gong or Etron Fou Leloublan, liberally spiced with references to Frank Zappa and King Crimson. Recorded in October 2011 in Clermont-Ferrand (the capital of the band's home region of Auvergne), Bascule A Vif features most of Jack Dupon's 2011 second album, Démon Hardi (with the exception of the instrumental Sombre Trafic Sur Le Nil), plus three tracks from their second album (the first on Musea Records), L'Echelle Du Désir, including the 30-minute-plus La Secte Des Mouches.
Clocking in at a whopping 110 minutes (around 55 minutes per CD), Bascule A Vif is definitely an ambitious endeavour, perhaps even a tad excessive, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. The versions presented here are slightly longer than their studio counterparts, yet not substantially different - which is par for the course for most progressive rock bands. The packaging is also rather idiosyncratic, with liner notes to be found in the space beneath each CD rather than in a separate booklet, and no other markings on the cover but the title, barely visible on the right-hand margin and nearly lost amidst the colourful, chaotic patchwork.
Bascule A Vif opens with a revisited, slightly longer version of Oppression, the closing track of L'Echelle Du Désir, here renamed Intropression. Another revised version of a track from their debut, La Cousine du Grand Mongol (originally Cousine) closes the first CD. Most of the second CD is taken over by the monumental La Secte Des Mouches, a three-part epic that somehow exemplifies the band's strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, Jack Dupon are in their own peculiar way as grandiose as some of the legendary/infamous bands of the Seventies, and their undisputed talent is often not too well served by the rambling nature of their compositions. While many RIO/Avant outfits tend to be rather minimalistic and chamber-like, Jack Dupon enthusiastically embrace a "more is more" approach, and their particular brand of dual-guitar attack (which has often been compared to King Crimson, sometimes quite aptly, as shown by La Marmite Du Pygmée), reinforced by vocals that function as an additional instrument, is quite unique on the current prog scene.
Another criticism that might be levelled at Jack Dupon - and that the particular context of a live album makes even more evident - concerns the relative lack of variety in the structure of their songs. The absence of keyboards or any other instruments but the basic rock triad of guitar, bass and drums pushes the six-strings to the forefront, often in slightly exaggerated fashion, and the abrasive, high-energy riffing (sometimes bordering on metal, but never quite reaching it), with its characteristically mid-tempo pacing, acts as a foil for the over-the-top vocal exertions of the four band members, who share vocal duties almost equally. Though apparently repetitive, even monotonous, this pace is managed through the skilful use of quiet-loud dynamics that allow for pauses of almost eerie calm, followed by sudden flares of sound, effectively supported by Thomas Larsen's occasionally extravagant drumming. Hints of other musical genres spice up the basic ingredients of Jack Dupon's music, and might prove interesting if pursued further - like the laid-back, bluesy guitar section of album closer Oppression, Depression, Les Valeurs Du Cool, or the choppy reggae of Cravate Sauvage. In terms of vocal performances, the genuinely entertaining a cappella section in the middle of La Cousine Du Grand Mongol provides a sort of light relief in the generally tense, ominous tone of the album.
As I have implied in the previous paragraphs, Jack Dupon are not for everyone, though they exude a freshness and originality that trumps the overly derivative feel of far too many modern releases. On account of its sheer size, Bascule A Vif is better enjoyed in smaller doses, as it can turn somewhat exhausting after a while - especially in the absence of the visual support that is an essential part of the band's live performances. In my view, it might have been a good idea to release the album as a CD/DVD package in order to emphasize the band's quintessentially theatrical nature. However, even though Jack Dupon should learn to rein in their excesses, they are clearly at home on a stage, and their enthusiasm is a commodity all too often forgotten in these times of pre-packaged music or studio-only projects. Bascule A Vif may very well be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, but one that is worth checking out for fans of the more left-field forms of progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cailyn - Four Pieces
Tracklist: Fantasia (13:30), Largo (10:45), Adagio (7:29), Nocturne (7:30)
Four Pieces, is Cailyn Lloyd’s latest release and takes a progressive spin on four separate pieces of classical music, three of which will be well known to most listeners due to their exposure in Film and Television (often used in advertisements), and the fourth piece is an original composition inspired by the piano music of Chopin and Schubert. Cailyn Lloyd contributes guitars, bass, keyboards, synthesiser and drums.
It is a fairly short disc having just four pieces yet each piece has a different character and feel to it which gives this a varied palette of sounds. Cailyn is a very versatile musician as she literally plays everything that you hear, no mean feat when you consider these are normally played by an entire orchestra.
Fantasia is the longest track on offers an interprets Tallis Fantasia by Vaughan Williams and opens with a wash of keyboards before a rather Brian May sounding guitar line appears, the guitar is featured heavily throughout playing some very harmonic upper register parts against a keyboard based backing track. The use of double tracking and counterpoint harmonies complete the soundscape and the track rises and falls ebbs and flow throughout its 13 minute run and is a good opener showing the undeniable talents of Ms Lloyd.
Largo, the second track will be instantly recognisable, but maybe not in its current incarnation as it has been recast in a laid back bluesy vein, which really sounds effective and yet different to how you may have heard it before, but never loses sight of the original melody lines that are so well known and loved. In the middle section at the 4 minute mark Cailyn cuts loose with a solo that both shreds however still retains the consistent melody woven throughout, this then uses counterpoint guitars to build upon the piece itself before a more pastoral section draws the piece to a close. It is this use of light and shade, fury and finesse that gives the piece real character and an individual identity.
Adagio will be well known as it was used in the film Platoon amongst others and is a very evocative piece that again utilises multi tracked guitars to develop the melody line across the duration of the piece. It is essentially a mournful sombre piece that portrays dignity often against or under tremendous odds and Cailyn’s version stays faithful to the original tone of the work but does build in its intensity to reach a crescendo at the end.
Nocturne is the sole “original” composition rather than being a reworking of a famous classical piece and is inspired by the piano music of Chopin and Schubert. Nocturne is a gentler track using a simple melody that is repeated throughout, again the use of multi tracked guitars and counterpoint guitars gives this piece atmosphere and colour, it fits in well with all that has preceded.
Overall there is some excellent guitar work on display here set against some familiar musical pieces and melodies that most listeners will be familiar with however, but that is also part of the problem in that I’m not entirely sure which market this is aimed at, certainly it is too “Rock” orientated to be of interest to the classical buff, sadly it will not receive enough exposure for the crossover market and it is not really progressive enough for the average prog fan.
It is obviously a labour of love for Cailyn and it is a well - executed and delivered set of pieces - I’m just not sure who it will appeal to most...
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Sylvium – Purified [EP]
Tracklist: Purified Crash (6:33), Purified Media (6:29), Purified Solution (8:12)
“An instrumental experience that emphasizes emotions rather then the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.” That is how this Dutch duo describe the music on their debut EP which goes by the name of Purified.
Sylvium was formed in 2010 as a collaboration between guitarist Ben van Gastel and Fred Boks (bass, keyboards and drums). Their first album is an instrumental concept where each of the songs has its own ‘lyrical theme.
Crash aims to consider how far a man can go in his conviction and how does the world respond to it. Media, with its sampled news casts ponders how the media presents news to us with a message that is often quite different to reality. Solution deals with what happens when someone is brought up in a very narrow minded sort of way.
The duo’s creations are characterised by rock and ambient structures. When you listen to the album you can hear the different influences: the symphonic rock from the 70s, modern guitar instrumental bands such as Long Distance Calling, some freestyle jazz and plenty of dark ambient sound scapes.
There is a certain movie-score sense to the end result. The composition and playing is not overly complicated and thus would be accessible for a broader audience. I don’t usually give a rating for EPs especially as this is said to be a taster for a full length album being produced now. It is however a solid statement of intent and if they can recruit a couple of musicians to back them up, I bet this would work well in a live setting. You can listen to the whole thing from the band’s website with a simple gatefold sleeve version if you prefer to buy an actual CD.