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2012 : VOLUME 50
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Jon Lord - Concerto for Group and Orchestra
Jon Lord - Concerto for Group and Orchestra
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:Ear Music
Catalogue #:0208183ERE
Year of Release:2012
Time:46:53
Info:Jon Lord
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Moderator - Allegra (16:20), Andante (19:34), Vivace - Presto (10:48)

John recently interviewed conductor Paul Mann, which you can read here

Like most rock fans, I was both staggered and saddened by the death of Jon Lord in August of this year. I knew Jon had fought cancer and seemed to be winning, his leaving us was a very sad occasion. I also knew that he had been working on this, his now final project; a studio recording of the legendary (or even infamous) Concerto for Group and Orchestra that had made in's initial appearance in 1969 and then some 30 years later, again at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

This is the third release, albeit in a different format to the original 1969 version and the 1999 30th anniversary version, both of those were live recordings, both with Deep Purple but with a different guitarist on each version, initially Ritchie Blackmore and latterly Steve Morse, So this version needed to bring something different to the proceedings to stand up against those two landmark recordings.

So the question is what's different this time around? Well firstly Deep Purple aren't featured at all, instead Jon and Paul Mann elected to hand pick the musicians for this first ever studio recording of Jon Lord's Concerto, it was after all Jon's creation. In doing this Jon and Paul were able to use a different guitarist to add their own unique touch to each movement and also to contrast the vocals in the quieter first movement to those in the second movement.

Now I'm no orchestral buff but what I do know is that Jon had worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and conductor Paul Mann extensively before, so when it came to using the orchestra they were totally behind the project from the start and this really shows. This orchestra swings and rocks adding emphasis, depth and colour to the proceedings. In the booklet Paul Mann explains in great detail how each section fits together and why it sounds the way it does. In its simplest form the Concerto represents the meeting of two differing musical worlds and how at first they are protagonists but as the concerto Progresses begin to accept, respect and eventually work together in harmony.

In the first movement, Moderator - Allegra, the disc opens gently with a lengthy orchestral build up going through both loud and quieter sections to the point at which the rhythm section, guitar and organ enter proceedings. The guitar then leads off with a melodic motif that is echoed by the band and organ especially, before the guitar begins to solo soaring above the rhythm section. For a relative unknown, Darin Vasilev, is absolutely fantastic here and Jon seems to be having a great time of it too. The orchestra re-enters the movement bringing a semblance of pomp and circumstance (with a Holst's The Planets moment thrown in for good measure) before the band and especially Jon come crashing back in with some fantastic Hammond organ playing, reminding us of Jon's brilliance on this instrument. This gives way to an orchestral battle between the guitar and the orchestra, Darin tapping and shredding like crazy but always with taste and style before some long echoed notes end his solo. The orchestra then play some very gentle and subtle response parts growing in volume and speed, after a couple of further interruptions by the band and responses from the orchestra this section ends with organ swells diminishing away.

The second movement, Andante, is the longest of the three and it opens very quietly and delicately, even morosely, settling into a lighter mood before the vocals of Steve Balsamo and Kasia Laska are introduced. These are gentle restrained vocals sung in harmony as a counterpoint contrast between the two voices, one male and one female. This is followed by a longer reflective section before Jon's organ sets the scene for Joe Bonamassa's lyrical and bluesy short solo and the introduction of Bruce Dickinson's majestic vocal. More fine supporting guitar from Joe before the orchestra gently play a haunting melodic refrain between Bruce's verses and Joe cuts loose with a great solo that twists and turns with the music. Jon's organ comes swirling back in again before the orchestra briefly interject again before Jon's extended organ solo and then the orchestra take the piece to a quieter close.

The third movement, Vivace - Presto, is a far more strident and up-tempo affair altogether, the orchestra and band have come to respect each other by now and are beginning to work together to create something fresh and new. This section features Steve Morse on guitar who is simply astounding here, bringing his trademark sound and style to bear and adding real emotion and depth to this section. Jon's organ is heavily featured here too and it is a joy to hear this fabulously talented musician sounding so inspired and even joyous. Even more astonishing when you consider how ill he was at the time, but Jon, the consummate professional, adds and embellishes this Concerto giving it fresh life and vitality.

Steve's guitar comes back to the fore here and he solo's briefly, wonderfully supported by Jon, a brief drum solo follows before the orchestra pick up the baton as it were and then the band and orchestra are playing rhythmically and harmoniously together. The orchestra then take a final flourish of drums and horns, Jon's organ comes in doing keyboard sweeps before strings gradually take the music higher and then the band crash back in briefly and the whole piece concludes triumphantly and decisively.

You don't need to be a classical fan to enjoy this disc as there are some truly fantastic performances on here by all. Darin, Joe and Steve all shine in their respective movements, and the use of different styles and players actually improves the Concerto. The rhythm section is tight and on the beat and Jon is Jon, simply outstanding and this final recording shows that both he ad the Concerto have both come full circle, and that his orchestral work is every bit as relevant and important as his playing in Deep Purple was.

It may take several listens but this version of the Concerto is both a triumph and a testament to the vision that Jon had some 42 years ago when he wrote the Concerto for Group and Orchestra, much has changed in both the classical and rock worlds since then but this concerto deserves a place in history for its innovative marriage of both Classical and Rock themes and for showing that these musics are not at war but are in fact very much together in harmony.

Jon Lord may be gone but this Concerto is a fine way in which to celebrate his life, music and legacy. I've greatly enjoyed this album and it has great depth, colour and stands repeated plays and as such it deserves a high score...

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JOHN WENLOCK SMITH


Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited II
Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited II
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:2CD
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:0IO01056
Year of Release:2012
Time:CD 1 - 73:20
CD 2 - 71:28
Info:Steve Hackett
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist:
CD 1 - The Chamber Of 32 Doors (6:00), Horizons (1:41), Supper's Ready (23:35), The Lamia (7:47), Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (8:10), Fly On A Windshield (2:54), Broadway Melody Of 1974 (2:23), The Musical Box (10:57), Can Utility And The Coastliners (5:50), Please Don't Touch (4:03)

CD 2 - Blood On The Rooftops (6:56), The Return Of The Giant Hogweed (8:46), Entangled (6:35), Eleventh Earl Of Mar (7:51), Ripples (8:14), Unquiet Slumbers For Sleepers ((2:21), In That Quiet Earth (4:47), Afterglow (4:09), A Tower Struck Down (4:45), Camino Royale (6:19), Shadow Of The Hierophant (10:45)

Alison Henderson's Review

Steve Hackett, now installed as prog royalty, demonstrates a work rate and commitment that musicians half his age would find hard to emulate. This includes the recent two excellent solo albums, Out of the Tunnel's Mouth and Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, tours with his wonderful Electric Band, the release of Squackett's A Life Within A Day with Chris Squire and numerous collaborations on other prog projects like Kompendium's Beneath The Waves.

Genesis Revisited II has been in the offing for a considerable time, released 16 years after the first volume, Watcher Of The Skies, Genesis Revisited I. Not surprisingly, the dramatis personae for volume II has shifted dramatically with his stalwart keyboard players Roger King and Nick Magnus, John Wetton and brother John the sole survivors from Watcher....

Hackett was probably spoilt for choice cherry picking from the cream of the current crop of prog luminaries, many of whom probably grew up on a healthy diet of Genesis. The change of guard is a who's who of 2012 prog with the roll of honour headed by Steven Wilson, Nick Beggs, Neal Morse, Roine Stolte, Francis Dunnery, Steve Rothery, Mikael Åkerfeldt and Nad Sylvan as well as his band regulars, Gary O'Toole, Rob Townsend, Phil Mulford and Amanda Lehmann. This is probably as good as it gets now it seems almost certain the classic line-up of Genesis will never convene again especially with Phil Collins now suffering chronic spinal problems and Peter Gabriel in an entirely different musical headspace.

Hackett's biggest challenge throughout has been to re-imagine some of Genesis's most iconic pieces and for the most part, the new versions have a fresh vigour and energy. But there are also some arrangements which have not quite cut the mustard.

Starting with Disc I, Nad Sylvan does an excellent Gabriel-esque interpretation of The Chamber of 32 Doors, that is very close to the original so does not lose anything as a result and followed by the short and sweet acoustic instrumental Horizons, which again is very close to the master version. It then takes four vocalists to tackle Supper's Ready - Åkerfeldt, Phil Collins' lad Simon, Francis Dunnery and Conrad Keely supplemented by two keyboard players, King and Dave Kurzner, plus lots of jangly and chunky guitars. It flows along nicely and faithfully but it does not surpass the theatrical brilliance of the original.

Next is the golden nugget of the entire se with Nik Kershaw singing The Lamia. Not attempting to sound like Gabriel, this breath-taking interpretation has a real tingle factor to it. His voice sounds fragile and ethereal adding an innocence that draws you into the extraordinary lyrics. The beauty of the song includes King's plaintive piano and Rothery's fulsome guitar duelling with Hackett's towards the end. Francis Dunnery takes the vocal stand again for Dancing With The Moonlit Knight which has retained the original's grandeur with a some modern keyboard trickery and energetic drumming from O'Toole.

Stepping out from behind the drumkit, O'Toole takes centre vocal stage for Fly On The Windscreen and Broadway Melody of '74 as he has done throughout the recent Hackett band tours. These versions do not quite capture the panoramic sweeps of the original as there is too much going on in the foreground to allow the dramatic background Mellotron to work its magic. The vocals on ...Melody... are a bit disjointed because the two different treatments do not allow the impact of the lyrics to be fully felt.

Sylvan is back singing on The Musical Box, still a delightfully deranged slice of whimsy, with lots of interesting twists and turns, Hackett's fluid guitar interspersed with driving keyboards before Sylvan shouts out the pay-off line with urgency and power. Can-utility and the Coastliners has an attractive, flowing, vibrant energy and Steven Wilson's vocals bring a new edge to it. Rounding off Disc I is Please Don't Touch, a solid instrumental workout with Hackett using a series of gizmos and gadgets to add extra textures to his melody lines as flute and Mellotron weave in and out. This was the song left out of Wind and Wuthering and replaced by Wot Gorilla.

The gorgeous acoustic opening strains of Blood On The Rooftops herald the start of Disc II, O'Toole doing his usual excellent vocal reading of this nostalgic excursion into the world of film and newsreels. A full-on guitar explosion announces The Return of the Giant Hogweed and there is some inspired casting on this one with one half of Transatlantic, Morse on vocals and Stolt on guitar, bringing a classy veneer to the old favourite. This was all pre-empted by Hackett joining Transatlantic on stage to perform this at High Voltage in 2010. It really catches alight when the guitars of Hackett and Stolt meet head-on and sparks fly.

Entangled is lovely lilting passage with Jakko Jakszyk taking the lead vocal over gossamer light guitars and chorus, all tinged with an unnerving spookiness. Sylvan's back for The Eleventh Earl of Mar, a song from Wind And Wuthering, the last Genesis album on which Hackett appeared. Sylvan's voice sounds like an amalgam of Gabriel, Collins and a hint of Fish, but he holds his own on this elegantly arranged story about the Jacobite rebellion in 1715. Now to Ripples which is given to Amanda Lehmann to interpret and she delivers it slightly out of her vocal comfort zone so sounds like Hazel O'Connor during the verses although the multi-tracked choruses are better pitched. I love the contribution Amanda makes to all her brother-in-law's music but this simply does not work. Not even the lush instrumental work can rescue it entirely.

More from Wind and Wuthering as Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers, the subliminally creepy instrumental lead to Into That Quiet Earth, another outpouring of guitar brilliance from Hackett around a strong soaring melody line. Afterglow, even with John Wetton on vocals, plods along without really igniting but an orchestral arrangement to A Tower Struck Down from Voyage Of The Acolyte gives it a new exciting widescreen cinematic quality as well as providing the album with the shot in the arm it was so desperately needing. So on to the jazzy Camino Royale that pushes the album into a completely different direction with lots of interesting elements such as the band Djabe complete with trumpet, swing time piano and Nick Magnus in the mix. Hackett takes the lead vocal for this, probably the most un-Genesis-like track of all.

And to the finale, Shadow of the Hierophant, the song Steven Wilson persuaded Hackett to resurrect for recent tours and on which he plays guitar along with Nick Beggs, the bassist they have in common. Amanda Lehmann takes the vocal helm for this one as she did on the live dates. It is a hauntingly high note on which to end and that remains faithful to the original in content and style.

As a huge and loyal fan of Mr. Hackett, who will always be my favourite guitarist especially for his solo work, this album presents me with a huge dichotomy. Although it is beautifully packaged, performed and produced, it does not entirely ring true and so does not move me emotionally as much as I was expecting, unlike other albums this year particularly Map Of The Past and English Electric Pt 1.

Perhaps this has much to do with their makers, contemporary prog bands It Bites and Big Big Train respectively, capturing some of the pure classic Genesis essence and refashioning it into an exciting modern idiom. This is where the legacy has to continue if prog is to make further headway rather than having swathes of its past rewritten.

My one biggest wish for Genesis Revisited II is that prog parents will play this album in full earshot of their X-Factor-sated children if only to show them that the music on which they were raised still has a strong resonance and relevance to be enjoyed and admired.

Roger Trenwith's Review

Next May I will be sat with a few hundred other like-minded souls, probably nearly all of a certain age, within the confines of London's Hammersmith Apollo to be entertained by Steve Hackett, his band, and hopefully a few special guests (go on, Peter, you know you want to...) to a couple of hours of the music of that most quintessentially English of the original prog rock bands, Genesis.

You see, much as I dislike current bands that appear to base their existence on trying to sound as close as possible to first-wave prog bands, Yes and Genesis being the main targets for idolatry, I do like the occasional wallow in nostalgia, and that's what the tour and this double CD is, all two and a half hours of it. It also does wonders for Mr Hackett's pension fund I've no doubt (no.24 in the chart as we scribble), but if anyone deserves some belated profit from that most whimsical of the original proggers then it's their guitarist who proved by leaving the band in 1977 that he was a hugely significant contributor to their unique sound and atmosphere. What came after Hackett departed does not deserve to be associated with the same band that gave us Supper's Ready, The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, and countless other slightly bonkers classics.

Sixteen years on from the first volume of regenerated classics comes this second mammoth trawl through the back-catalogue featuring all kinds of modern prog luminaries, from Roine Stolt to Steven Wilson to Mikael Åkerfeldt and many others. Unlike that first volume where Steve tinkered with some of the arrangements, particularly on Firth Of Fifth and Los Endos this time he's playing it relatively, if maybe a little too straight.

Whereas being transported back 35 years and more in a concert hall should make for a night of great entertainment, does it work on CD? Well, yes and no; for while the songs are given extra spice with the benefit of modern production techniques and a few extra instrumental flourishes, listening to a near note-perfect rendition of Supper's Ready as I am at this very moment I do wonder what the point is. Åkerfeldt's Gabriel impersonation is bang on and the sound is awesome, but it kind of makes me want to switch it off and reach for the Genesis 1970 - 1975 box set and put the Foxtrot remaster on.

Nik Kershaw is not an obvious choice to replace Peter's dulcet tones on The Lamia, and the former 80s pop star handles it very well indeed with a performance that is an exception to the rule on this album as he does not try to sound like Gabriel and his elfin-voiced delivery gives just the right amount of originality to the tune. Some spicy soaring guitar at the end of the song makes this an album highlight for me.

My favourite Genesis album is Selling England By The Pound, the definition of what Genesis was all about in my opinion, and an all time prog classic if ever there was one. Unfortunately there is only one song from that album refried here, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, and it's another note-perfect rendition that again has me reaching for the old box set. Yes, it's blindingly good and delivers just as it should do, but I can't ever see myself playing this version in favour of the original.

The sometimes saccharine sweet tunes of the Phil Collins era never did anything for me back then, and they still don't today, and I'm sorry, but Eleventh Earl Of Mar just isn't very good, is it? I'll duck for cover now... It may seem churlish to have a go at Collins for ruining what was my favourite band after Gabriel left given his current sad state, so all I'll say on the subject is that Banks and Rutherford are at least as culpable. However, I have to say that in my opinion none of the songs after Lamb... stand comparison to what went before, and I'll leave it for others to comment on their delivery here.

Listening to Steve rocking out on Musical Box one can only hope he stands up for that one at least when we see him live next year. I never did understand why he chose to sit down back then, it made him look over-serious! Again, this song is another wonderful version, but...you know what I'm going to say, do you not?

Steve has also included four songs that were written in the Genesis era but eventually showed up on his solo albums, these being Please Don't Touch, A Tower Struck Down, Camino Royale, and Shadow Of The Hierophant. These show how left to his own devices he could come up with melodies as good as his former band's, and certainly better than anything they came up with after his departure. These songs and ...Hogweed rescue the second CD from sounding pale in comparison to the first, especially Please Don't Touch which could easily be the most complex arrangement here. A Tower... sounds much beefier than the original, the string arrangement leading into some almost heavy guitaring. The world music vibe of Camino... is given by the participation of members of Djabe, a Hungarian ethnic-jazz rock band with whom Steve has collaborated recently. Finally the lead guitar on Shadow... is contributed by Steven Wilson, and a damn fine job he does too, better than his vocal on Can-Utility... where he strains ever so slightly for the high note. A gorgeous vocal is contributed to Shadow... by Amanda Lehmann, her crystal clear tones fitting perfectly.

Marking this is nigh on impossible for me. If you've lived on another planet for the past 40 years, or more likely are under 30 and your parents were not into prog there is maybe the remotest possibility that some of these songs are new to you, in which case I would recommend it highly as it's the nearest thing to a Genesis "Best Of" that I'm aware of. If however you already know these songs inside-out the album holds a curiosity value, but that's probably about it, and good as it is I can't envisage it will have a long shelf life chez moi. Technically it is absolutely wonderful and Roger King's production is top-notch, but surely even Steve's biggest fan is not going to be playing this version of Supper's Ready more frequently than the original in a couple of year's time?

I said earlier that maybe Hackett plays it a little too straight, and that is certainly the case with almost everything here apart from reinvigorated versions of his solo songs and The Lamia, which purely for the inclusion of Nik Kershaw's markedly un-Gabriel-like voice is my top track on the set. This album is a bit like entering a Hall Of Mirrors at a fairground only to find that the reflection staring back at you is barely altered at all, but I will say in Hackett's defence that as he actually had a large part in writing the original songs it was probably inevitable that he would "revisit" as the title implies rather than "reinterpret", so I'm probably looking for the wrong things. I'm going to score this album highly because it is very good, no question, but its no doubt short half-life will undoubtedly see that score fall off rapidly in the not too distant future.

Roll on the tour next year...

Conclusions:

ALISON HENDERSON : 7.5 out of 10
ROGER TRENWITH : 7 out of 10


Focus - Focus X
Focus - Focus X
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Eastworld
Catalogue #:EW0123CD
Year of Release:2012
Time:51:08
Info:Focus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Father Bachus (4:11), Focus 10 (5:58), Victoria (5:38), Amok In Kindergarten (5:10), All Hens On Deck (5:55), Le Tango (5:36), Hoeratio (5:48), Talk Of The Clown (3:05), Message Magic (3:59), X Roads (5:49)

Roger Trenwith's Review

Cards on the table; I've a soft spot for Focus. A staple of my personal soundtrack in the early 70s, about 4 years ago one of those 70s cabaret bills rolled into my town, and against my better judgement I was persuaded to go. For a mere £15 you got to see The Groundhogs (actually Tony McPhee and two relative youngsters), Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash (Turner and another gaggle of "youngsters") and Focus (Thijs van Leer and Pierre van der Linden... you got it... two young 'uns). The less said about the once mighty Hogs the better, Turner's lot turned in a note perfect if soulless greatest hits set, and the evening was saved from the chicken-in-a-basket by the big Dutchmen and their sidekicks. Not only was the guitarist good enough to fill Akkerman's shoes, they played a fair bit of new material along with the expected hits, which included my perennial fave Eruption, and TvL topped it all off by being thoroughly entertaining in his larger-than-life and slightly eccentric way.

That was 2008, and the new songs were from Focus 9, and now we have Focus X, an album of familiar sounding (mostly) instrumentals led by Menno Gootjes melodic guitar lines ably countered by Thijs' keyboard flourishes. Pinning down the beat is a solid Pierre van der Linden, the other original member. Bobby Jacob's melodic bass playing fits perfectly and on Victoria he and Menno lock together like a jigsaw as Thijs blows his trusty flute.

No Focus album would be complete without some wordless vocalising (thankfully not yodelling) and All Hens On Deck is that track, as it rollicks along at a pace, led by the speeding bass. Hoeratio is a typical piece of Focus dramatics and no, I've no idea what it's about, but Menno's soaring guitar work that follows flies through several key changes with the ease of a man who knows his way round a fretboard. Thijs returns to carry on the narration in a high camp style; I can just see this going down well live, and as it fades out one would expect that much more is dealt out on stage. Talk Of The Clown that follows is a suitably jokey little tune and carries on the theatrical feel of the latter half of the record.

To complete the prog credentials there's a Roger Dean cover. Focus carry merrily on, and Thijs intones portentously like a prog Richard Harris on final song X Roads "...how can we look back at the past, it doesn't last..." and while that is a noble sentiment, Focus are not doing anything new here, they know what they're good at and stick to it; their past seems to be lasting quite well, thank you very much.

Basil Francis' Review

This year sees the return of the renowned Dutch progressive outfit Focus, with their tenth album. Simply titled X, this is the fourth Focus album to be named after its chronological place in the catalogue, but the first to feature some lovely Roger Dean artwork. It's been six years since their last album Focus 9 - A New Skin, and since then the band have been gigging, notably at the High Voltage Festival in 2010. That should have given them enough time to write a great album, but sadly I find X to be a lacklustre affair.

Rather neatly, X features ten tracks, all roughly five to six minutes long, with a few exceptions, and mostly consists of instrumentals. With track names like All Hens On Deck, this has definitely been a light-hearted affair. The album gets off to a cracking start with some Hocus Pocus style rock in Father Bachus, although this is a far more straightforward than the original. At other times, Focus reveal their more classical side, like in Hoeratio, where the narrator speaks in Latin before jabbering nonsensically. In fact, the band go through a range of styles, from the folksy Talk of the Clown to the ballad-like Message Magic.

The problem I find is that the tunes themselves are rather unremarkable. At five minutes a pop, all of these tracks are quite straightforward and aren't as enjoyable on the second listen. While light-heartedness is not a crime in itself - just look at Gong's amazing music - I feel like not enough effort has been put into writing the songs, and this is what leaves me disappointed. A rock jam is fun, but not ultimately fulfilling. Another minor quibble is the rather echoic drum kit which is just a little too high in the mix for my liking.

Focus are certainly one of the most famous Dutch progressive bands, but whether they are, or indeed were the best is another question and I find this album to be a mediocre effort. If you're a Focus fan, and you don't mind a less mentally stimulating record, this might do something for you, but I personally expected a lot more from this album.

Conclusions:

ROGER TRENWITH : 6 out of 10
BASIL FRANCIS : 4.5 out of 10


Happy The Man - Happy The Man
Happy The Man - Happy The Man
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2354
Year of Release:1977/2012
Time:49:25
Info:Happy The Man
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Starborne (4:31), Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In The Stencil Forest (4:20), Upon The Rainbow (Befrost) (4:39), Mr Mirror's Reflection On Dreams (8:51), Carousel (4:06), Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo (5:22), On Time As A Helix Of Precious Laughs (5:21), Hidden Moods (3:40), New York Dreams Suite (8:31)

Originally forming as the result of a chance meeting between bassist Rick Kennell and guitarist Stanley Whittaker on a US Army base in Germany in 1972, Happy The Man are a name many of us on the European side of The Atlantic are familiar with, even if we have not heard any of their music, probably because in 1976 they passed an audition to become Peter Gabriel's first backing band post-Genesis. Gabriel would have no truck with the lads' suggestion that they be his support act on tour, and also that they carry on trading as a band, and so the lads made the artistically praiseworthy if somewhat uneconomic decision to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime. Actually, Gabriel was being quite canny, because this lot knew how to prog, oh yes, and the last thing he would have wanted was to be upstaged by his own backing band. Of course, that may be an apocryphal story but it sounds believable to me.

On the strength of the Gabriel connection the band got a deal with Arista Records some 4 years after forming, and so they did not get to release their first self-titled LP until 1977 and their second and only other LP came out in 1978, which also might explain why they disappeared under the radar of UK listeners at least, as we were all (well, most of us at any rate) far too caught up in the whirlwind of punk and the blooming of strange bands that followed to notice an American prog act that despite claiming to be unaware of the genre sounded like a cross between Genesis, Gentle Giant and Hatfield and the North. And over in America they had the unfortunate luck to be releasing that first record just as New Wave was stirring and their second album was buried by the likes of The Cars, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Talking Heads. They must have wished by 1979 that they had taken up Gabriel's job offer, and unsurprisingly they petered (ouch!) out and split up soon after when a third album was rejected by Arista.

It has to be said that had they been English it is likely that they would have been signed up far earlier than they were and they would no doubt have made quite a name for themselves too, as one of their posthumous releases was a full-on concept album in demo form recorded in 73/74 featuring a 38 minute song suite no less, parts of which appear in more polished form on their two Arista LPs.

The band took their name from part of a line from Goethe's Faust; how prog is that? It also gives a clue as to the complexity of their rather good take on a peculiarly English version of first wave prog rock; American audiences would have been forgiven for thinking they were listening to an English prog band on the run from the UK punk revolution. In fact I do the band a disservice with the comparisons I made earlier, for they come up with some quite individual and wickedly complex tunes that will have you humming away to yourself, and if you have two left feet like me, probably falling over at the same time.

Although Dream Theater are listed in the liner notes to Crafty Hands (also remastered and reissued by Esoteric now, but reviewed as far back as 2000 on DPRP) as being one of a number of modern American prog acts to admit to being influenced by Happy the Man, who apparently are regarded as "the grandfathers of American prog", the emphasis here is on tight and complex ensemble playing rather than noodly displays of techno-flash, as the time signature a-go-go of Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest attests.

Largely keyboard led, the dreamy atmospherics of opener Starborne are rudely kicked up in the air by Stumpy... and a sense of calm returns on Upon the Rainbow, where guitarist Stanley Whittaker gets to sing a fanciful tale of transcendence over an off-kilter waltz. It reminds me of modern US prog band Frogg Café, so it's obvious that Happy the Man's influence lasted well beyond their era. A very canterbury feel pervades this winsome little ditty.

Covering a range of styles from the almost vaudeville Carousel to the ethereal instrumental vistas of Mr Mirror's Reflection on Dreams there is no denying that these guys are fabulous musicians, and a fun listen too. On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs is the sort of song title that would have had any self-respecting punk spitting fury back in 1977, myself included I've no doubt, but now I can appreciate it for it hits all the right prog buttons; soaring guitar parts, tight ensemble playing and rhythmic complexity all in abundance. Marvellous!

This is adventurous music, but not frighteningly so, and should appeal to just about any fan of prog rock.

With a few notable exceptions the American music scene never really joined in with the first wave of European prog and as I touched on earlier, Rick claims in the liner notes that the band "...were never aware of progressive rock as a genre" which rather confirms my theory. Unfortunately for them, Happy the Man were a band in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even when they got a break refused to take it up. Had they been English you'd be talking of them in the same hushed tones as Gentle Giant or the Hatfields. As it is, their legacy of influence has meant a fair few releases of previously unavailable material have filtered through between their demise in 1979 and their rather good comeback album The Muse Awakens, released in 2004. Although still officially functioning, not much has been heard of the band since then, but let's hope that we've not yet seen the last of this consummate bunch of musicians.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Ping - The Hurricane Spoof
Ping - The Hurricane Spoof
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Brown Lagoon Records
Catalogue #:BROWN0002
Year of Release:2012
Time:56:32
Info:Ping
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Ave Pingus (3:29), Motorik (4:48), Surfing Microwaves (6:24), Chocolate Tower (3:48), Sunblock (4:51), Lame and Lumber (2:50), Lily (2:25), The Pervert and the Virgin (7:11), Not Another Nutcase (4:29), The Hurricane Spoof (5:25)

The Hurricane Spoof is the fourth album from Norwegians Ping; founded in 1999 by guitarist Mattis Janitz and bassist/vocalist Jørgen Greiner. The band currently features five members who with the addition of a whole bunch of permanent guest musicians contributing such things as viola, percussion, trumpet and sax create a wickedly cheeky brand of music that aggregates various styles to forge a sound of their own. All the song writing is credited to the band as a whole with all the lyrics in English.

Apparently the arranging and recording happens via an unorthodox process that values spontaneity with most of the songs stemming from communal improvisations that are polished to produce the finished article. Ave Pingus comes out of the traps with brass to the fore, vocals a mix of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits and death metal growls that moves into a melodic vocal section and guitars that remind, oddly, of '80s Genesis. There's an instrumental breakdown with off the wall guitar before the brass returns to close out the track. It takes a while to get used to but it's a good start.

Motorik hints at Lou Reed with repetitive, minimalistic backing but then bursts out in an expansive chorus. The songs don't hang about and the guest brass instruments are used well to maximum effect. The influences are wide ranging from '60s pop and folk through metal and the avantgarde of Zappa with the grinding buzz of The Melvins, and roots influences akin to the likes of Wilco. There are also distinct influences from the likes of dEUS, the whole making for an intriguing brew. Surfing Microwaves seems to touch base with most of the above genres within its 6 minutes in a very well constructed melange that is quite infectious, Opeth style howls rubbing shoulders with sweetly sung summery pop.

Chocolate Tower heads off with a jangly '60s feel in the same way that They Might Be Giants use it, but then fold in heavier sounds plus a string section during the chorus. Just because they can, I suspect. Sunblock brings things down to a more laid back pitch, but the off-kilter drums work a treat and the epic melody of the chorus is gorgeous. The guitars of Janitz and Thomas Haugbro contribute greatly to this one as does the keys of Tore Hofstad. There is a bit of blues here, a touch of jazz there, the whole rising above the sum of its parts.

Lame and Lumber takes us somewhere new with a viola and harmonium intro before some fine drums from Claes Terjesen, the track speeding off towards an edgy dance music vibe. Ping cover a ridiculous amount of ground but have the knack of making the most bizarre inclusion sound like it makes sense. It takes a bit of getting used to but is very rewarding. Lily is very odd; jaunty keys and percussion making for an intriguing pop song, strings adding to the finale.

The brilliantly named The Pervert and the Virgin starts in a particularly Zappa-esque way before morphing into an elegant chorus, metal guitars and vocals returning us to the initial theme. Very clever and almost brilliant, this a good natured album with a glint in its eye, the upbeat nature simply contagious. As the longest track on the album there is plenty of scope for the band to extend themselves and is that a hint of Syd Barrett Floyd right there - just before the Dub section? Not Another Nutcase continues the inspired lunacy but it isn't all about laughs, there is some fabulous music here played by a band who know how to achieve what they set out to. There is a very Scandinavian feel, almost easy Flower Kings mixed with some jazzy Tangent to this one, and I really like it.

The title track rounds things out; a '70s influenced piece that hints at jazz fusion, Camel, the brass mixing well with guitar and viola returning to add greatly to a section that owes a debt to The Beatles. ome of the guitar takes on a hint of Fripp before quickly moving on to a funkier rock feel. The basis of this track is a very strong chorus and this is a fine way to end an album that after some head-scratching has become a favourite.

The lyrics are spidery and obtuse, but fit the music very well, the whole being put across very well by a particularly well drilled band. If you are searching for something new with melodic intent but off-the-wall oddness you could do far worse than checking out Ping.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN


SBB - SBB
SBB - SBB
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:Metal Mind Productions
Catalogue #:MMPCD 0703DG
Year of Release:2012
Time:78:16
Info:SBB
Samples:n/a

Tracklist: Piwnica (7:00), Niemen (4:36), 74 (5:23), Bunkry Wiedenskie (3:04), Zwatpienie Lakisa (4:02), Aries (2:30), Urodziny W Roskilde (6:54), Rozstanie (2:22), Ameryka (4:59), Nowy Wiek (6:00), Lot Na Chicago (2:36), Seged (3:54), Memento (3:50), Muzy (6:45), Zaufanie (3:18), Requiem (11:03)

The two faces on the cover of the album SBB sum up the history of SBB. Almost forty years Józef Skrzek and Apostolis Anthimos have been playing together as SBB, with a changing member on the drums. On this record Anthimos is playing the drums himself so this album is completely done by these two musicians. For me the name SBB is well known but their music is new to me, somehow they always flew below my radar. I was aware they played mostly instrumental with lengthy jazzy jam sessions but there is a wide variety of that. The booklet with the CD is completely in Polish so that is of no use for me. Only thing to do is play the CD and find out what's in store.

The music of SBB contains some key elements. Skrzek plays bass and provides vocals but somehow lyrics are not his thing. He chants his way through some parts of the album and I cannot distinguish any Polish/English words. In the same way Anthimos plays his guitar, seamlessly melting clean and distorted sounds into a dreamy atmosphere. Both of the musicians fill the rest of the music with keyboard tunes on a diversity of key instruments. At first sight maybe without structure but somehow all elements meld into a solid sound.

Piwnica has all the musical elements of SBB stuffed in seven minutes. The chanting vocals, the atmospheric guitar chords, etc. all in a mellow pace. Niemen is more energetic jazz/rock fusion. 74 is very dreamy and the bridge at the end to Bunkry Wiedenskie is brilliant, changing the tune to an up-tempo bluesy song. I will not go into a song-by-song detailed review for the rest of the album. The album is one big musical journey and cutting it into pieces would not do it justice. All elements mentioned above appear in some form or another throughout the album. Some songs have more keyboard and some have lengthy guitar parts and some have more chanting but each song has its own character. It is not a continuation of the same sound but the album flows from one musical element to another. At the end of the album it is one big movie of sound that has some parts that might appeal more than other parts but in the end it is all part of the same story. You can cut a movie DVD into chapters but it is always best to watch the movie in one piece. I must say that the last song, Requiem, is a bit too experimental for me, I need some structure in my music and I cannot find any in this song. Even if you skip that one there is still over an hour of great music.

SBB choose this album to be their self-titled album. It is a fine album packed to the limit with prog music. The quality of the production is crystal clear, when trying to dream away on this album there is absolutely no distraction from even one wrong tune/note/sound. These two gentlemen have been making music together for a long time and that is noticeable. They complement each other in the compositions and the music is one complete compact package. It took some time to get in and you must really like lengthy ambient parts, but if you do then this album is perfect for you.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN


The Winter Tree - Guardians
The Winter Tree - Guardians
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:39:26
Info:The Winter Tree
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Visions (0:50), Voice on the Wind (6:27), The Sparrow (5:55), Guardians (3:17), Elune (3:14), The Woman and the Dragon (3:31), Beautiful World (4:17), Good Times (7:24), City of Light (4:31)

Formerly known as Magus, The Winter Tree return for the second album under their new name, following on from their eponymous 'debut', The Winter Tree. This album is, however, my introduction to the work of band leader Andrew Laitres's music, so you will be getting a fresh perspective on their music in this review.

I have to say I enjoyed this music a great deal; so much so that I will be collecting some of his back-catalogue. I loved the soundscape - the choice of instruments almost seemed to be perfect for the mood and tempo, as though the band were creating a painting with sound. In particular, the choice of keyboard and guitar sounds added subtle, but enjoyable textures to the music overall. Melodically and rhythmically the music is sublime. Having said all that, it's not going to be to everyone's taste, as it is not very heavy and rarely "rocks out". The comparisons that came to my mind were to bands such as Camel for the guitar work and Greenslade for the keyboard palette and style. A more modern comparison might be to a project such as Willowglass, though that too derives from a similar origin to the one I've already mentioned.

Laitres plays bass, acoustic guitars, keyboards and does some singing. The other members of the band are the husband and wife team of Mark and Deb Bond. Deb plays keyboards and does some backing vocals whereas Mark plays a whole load of guitars, including some bass on Good Times, and takes the lead vocals. It's a good voice too and I enjoyed the vocal work on this album. Guest musician Bob Hynes plays drums on The Sparrow and Good Times.

The pretty, wistful, instrumental introduction immediately roots this music in Camel/Greenslade territory, which is fine by me! Other instrumentals are Guardians, which showcases the album's melodic and rhythmical strengths, The Woman and the Dragon and the rockier finale City of Light, which provides an excellent way to end a fine album.

As I mentioned, the vocal work on the album is very good and there appears to be a concept running through the lyrics although, perhaps because of the allegorical nature of the story and the lack of printed lyrics, I haven't yet made the effort to fathom out the intent. The gorgeously melodic Beautiful World perhaps provides the necessary clue for those who are interested, in that the lyrics clearly relate to the destruction of nature and the environment. This is a very catchy song, one of the album's highlights. Other notable points are The Sparrow, with its attractive, long synthesiser and guitar instrumental intro, the slow tempoed Good Times, with its impressive vocal control delivering an attractive melody, and Elune, for the beauty of its guitar playing.

Without a weak moment, recommending this album is a no-brainer. I am amazed that this band has never received a recommendation-level score on DPRP, neither for The Winter Tree nor for its albums under the Magus brand. I must investigate some of the other music, but in the meantime I have no hesitation in recommending this to lovers of Camel, Greenslade or similar bands.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ALEX TORRES


Reserve De Marche - The Last Twenty Years
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 387
Year of Release:2012
Time:50:25
Info:Homepage
Samples:Click here
Track list: Calorie (7:46), Le Garage (6:28), Forest Of A Maniac (9:42), Iron Flow (7:18), Song For Hedgehog (5:49), Stephan's Dream (7:38), Frozen Time (5:42)

Reserve De Marche are a trio from Moscow playing instrumental post-rock/post-metal. The three individual musicians are Alexander Alekseev (guitar), Dmitry Pomogaev (drums) and Nikita Kharitonov (bass), and the name of their debut album stems from the fact that, collectively, the trio have approximately 20 years of experience playing music, although have only been together as a unit since 2010. Post-rock is one of the genres that people either tend to love or loathe, citing the lack of distinction between bands and lack of originality as reasons to fall into the latter camp. Personally, I am a fan of the music, although have to admit that the plethora of bands that have surfaced over recent years have detracted from the cream of the crop which have forged ahead with originality and diversity bringing new insights into what can be achieved in the field. Fortunately, Reserve De Marche lie at the positive end of the spectrum and, what is more, whereas bands such as Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor create their sound using numerous musicians and the excellent Mono make increasing use of orchestras, Reserve De Marche stick to just the trio format.

The full sound Reserve De Marche achieve primarily lies in laying down multiple guitar tracks, which makes one wonder how the music is presented live, although having a more upfront bass as on parts of Calorie does achieve a lot. The relative sedateness of Calorie is brushed aside for the heavier, dirtier sound of the appropriately named Le Garage. Well paced with suitably appropriate slices of light and shade, the middle section alone (with at least three guitar parts) shows the confidence of the group in allowing melody and harmony to pervade their music. Production is crystal clear: crisp hi-hats clearly audible over multiple guitars with ambient tones mingling with intense riffs and characteristic arpeggiated runs with the odd solo thrown in for good measure. Again the variation in tempo and textures enhance the listening experience,and make Forest of a Maniac a great piece of music as well as a great title! Likewise, Iron Flow is an outstanding piece of music that brings together the best of the genre, gradually building tension before finally letting rip with bone hammering drum assaults and grinding, gouging guitars whose duration of attack is perfectly timed.

Song For Hedgehog, and to a lesser extent Frozen Time, offer contrast, much more downbeat and focusing on atmosphere rather than sonic assault, ideal soundtrack music, a sweet amalgamation, or bastard love-child, of Sigur Rós and Mogwai and up to the high standards of both bands. However, it is on Stephen's Dream that Reserve De Marche reach their zenith. Adding subtle effects to the guitar in the opening couple of minutes adds variety and the masterly fading out to a sole guitar punctuated with cymbal crashes lulls one into a false sense of security before the final guitar onslaught.

OK, for people who do not care for the post rock ethos, The Last Twenty Years will probably not be an album that will cause a radical about face. However, Reserve De Marche are certainly an interesting, talented and exciting band within the genre who are worthy of your attention if this style of music is of interest.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

MARK HUGHES


Awake - Forever More
Awake - Forever More
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC311
Year of Release:2011
Time:50:32
Info:Awake
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Intro - Into the Storm (2:12), Out Of Control (4:20), Release Me (3:47), Drift Away (4:48), Taken (4:40), Closing the Doors (3:01), Bleed From you (5:05), For the Moment (5:25), Hold On (4:18), One Wish (5:04), King (3:38)

Released in 2011, Forever More is the second album from Awake following their debut, Illumination, in 2007. It has taken the band four years and many struggles, line up changes and so on and so forth to complete Forever More. When a band takes 4 years to complete an album one expects either an exceptional album or perhaps progress to have been slowed down by unexpected incidents and occurrences. It is safe to state that in the case of Awake the latter surely applies.

The band now consists of brothers Steve and Andy Coles - guitar, Craig Burkitt - piano and keyboards, Chris LeMottee - bass guitar, Alex Townsend - drums, and Simon Shedwell - vocals. Musically speaking you can place Awake as a heavy-metal power progressive rock band. Highly energetic songs, melodic but not overly so, symphonic yet more power metal than symphonic rock. Heavily riffing guitars, double bass drums, lots of steam, the album needs to be played with the volume up high for the best experience possible. Tom Englund of Evergrey produced this album for Awake and as if that were not enough the recording has been done at Tom's studios. A likeness to the Evergrey sound is there although I must hasten to state that Awake does have their own sound.

Two guitars, bass and keys normally already make way for a super rocking sound, but it sure has to come out in the end. An album in the progressive zone usually does not consist of 12 songs neither do these songs all come in at less than 6 minutes yet on this album Forever More the longest track clocks in at 5:25 and the velocity on Forever More is fast. I could not find one song failing nor is there a song that can be called outstanding. Not a weak spot, a very stable and consistent album.

Simon Shedwell's voice lends itself perfectly for singing sweeter and softer ballads as well as the heavy rocking tracks, in that respect Closing the Doors is a brilliantly constructed ballad, a duet almost, Craig playing piano and Simon singing. This calm piece of music is track 6 and therefore halfway through the album. There is no escaping, after this short intermezzo ballad its rapidly back into power metal heaven.

I really love the music in this album, yet I also feel Awake must be capable of outdoing Forever More. I'll be looking forward to the follow up, if only to see if these thoughts come true.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF


Collective Memories - Swimming In My Head EP
Collective Memories - Swimming In My Head EP
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:18:16
Info:Collective Memories
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Floating Aeons (6:36), Red Waves (6:56), Memories (4:44)

In this Internet Era there are a growing number of "homemade" musical projects all around the world. With some music applications, adequate knowledge and a friend with his own studio (Perhaps his garage), Voila! now you are able to make your own record. The question is if born talent must prevail over being an academic, which one must deserve more recognition by the listener, and the quality that every musician has to offer to the listener after the release of their work.

What will happen when an actor and a tattoo artist, both from Cologne, Germany join forces to go on a venture and decide to write some music and "go touring" (as they say in their Facebook profile)? Well, Collective Memories was founded in 2011 and are Frank Fleckenstein (vocals, guitars, programming, keyboards), Guil Zekri (bass, backing vocals, sitar, keyboards), with the addition of Stefan Klebingat (drums)and they are releasing a three-track EP called Swimming In My Head.

For this review I prefer to identify influences, rather than specify and tell you "this reminds me that album, even that song", considering that our readers will have the chance to make their own criteria about this band. Floating Aeons is the first track, and it's a very interesting start for this EP, immediately Riverside came to my head, as a main influence. It's powerful, changing at the middle into a softer rhythm, with some atmospheric old fashioned keyboards combined with the main instruments - very nice. I liked very much Fleckentein's voice tones, reminding me of Mariusz Duda and sometimes Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth, but he has to be more careful with his harmonies.

Red Waves is a stronger song, more dense, in this one Fleckenstein sings with more vocal range, but I feel he is not in enough shape to sing this way for now. Musically they play in a heavier way like Opeth and switch into a melancholic melody played by the guitars; I like it. Again the heavy way, I can hear a few growls in the background, then a keyboard melody, chorus and outro. This song wasn't as surprising for me and is weaker than the first one. Less is more.

Memories closes this interesting EP - a semi-acoustic song and for me the best on this mini album, sounding like a classic Porcupine Tree ballad with a crescendo. Undoubtedly the influences from bands like Riverside and Lunatic Soul are also present, there is nothing left to say, it is a great song. I liked this finale a lot.

This album perhaps is the result of a big effort from Fleckenstein and Zekri and I celebrate this, but there is a lot of work to be done from now on. I think that this is a very interesting starting point and this could become a more ambitious project. So, I'll give it 6 hoping that we'll hear more outstanding material soon.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

GUILLERMO PALLADINO


The Treat - Lepers & Deities
The Treat - Lepers & Deities
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Rockular Recordings
Catalogue #:RRT04
Year of Release:2012
Time:69:00
Info:The Treat
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Trust (5:09), Sparkle (3:37), Lepers & Deities (3:32), Bougainvillaeas in the Sand (3:32), Headcase Baby (3:56), The Falcon & the Iron Rain (5:18), S.P.T. (4:20), Little Treasures (4:53), My Old School (4:44), Valerie (3:30)

I've used many terms to describe prog over the years, but 'cutesy' is a new one for me. The Treat are a UK band formed of multi-instrumentalists Michael Hyder, Dominic Lash and David Hart. Lepers & Deities is the band's fourth album, following Phonography and the double album Audio Verité/Deceptive Blends.

Oddly enough, this isn't the first I've heard of the band. A track from Audio Verité/Deceptive Blends managed to pass me by in the form of a prog compilation disc back in 2009. Titled Citizen of the World, the track featured a distinctive riff, reminiscent of Smoke on the Water - although with a progressive twist - and infectious tabla playing that lead into a heavy metal section. With this track in mind, I was quite eager to snap up the band's latest album, whose title recalls a lyric in said track - much like how Yes's Relayer comes from a lyric in The Remembering. But enough proggy nerdishness.

A sticker attached to the jewel case of the CD immediately revealed that "Lepers & Deities is THE TREAT'S most radio friendly and accessible album yet". By sending this to a progressive rock website, they were shooting themselves in the foot somewhat. Nevertheless, I decided to hold back my prejudice and listen on.

Ten tracks comprise the album, all of them short and, as the band themselves put it, 'radio-friendly', save perhaps My Old School which contains more than a few expletives. If I was being nice to the band, I'd say they sounded like a psychedelic cross between Supertramp and Caravan and Hyder has a very distinctive squeaky voice, which you may either like or dislike. The band reference Jethro Tull as an influence, but the flutes in a few of the songs actually remind me more of the little known German band Out Of Focus. The style is mainly psychedelic AOR, with little that could be described as progressive. The compositions are all very cutesy, especially The Falcon & The Iron Rain and Little Treasures, the latter of which sounds like a song The Goodies or The Wombles might have done.

Despite all of the band's claims on their press release and website saying that they are progressive, I find this album to be a return to a simpler time, a 'regressive' album if you will. None of the tunes on this album tickle me in the same way Citizen of the World did, which shows they've taken a step in a different direction - in my opinion, the wrong one. Nevertheless, the songs on this album are very credible, and even pleasant for easy listening. If The Treat want to be seen as progressive again though, they will have to forget about being 'radio-friendly'.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS


Cosmos - Mind Games
Cosmos - Mind Games
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Format:CD
Record Label:Just For Kicks Music
Catalogue #:13877
Year of Release:2012
Time:61:22
Info:Cosmos
Samples:Click Here>

Tracklist: Contact (7:39), Skygarden (4:12), Lost Years (6:48), Freak Show (5:45), No Point in Living (5:44), Hollow Man (4:19), Paranoia (7:13), There Are Millions of Reasons To Carry On (4:46), Close to the Edge (6:25), Sequences (7:25)

What a dilemma, my first ever review for this wonderful webzine and bad luck throws my way one of the worst and least original albums I have heard in years. What to do? Should I be kind or honest? Well honesty it has to be or there is little point in reviewing it in the first place.

Cosmos hail from Switzerland (never a country that leaps to the forefront when thinking of great prog bands) and have recorded three albums during a stop-start career, the first being The Dividing Moments of Your Life in 1994, the second, Skygarden, in 2006 and now this album Mind Games (2012). The question one has to ask is 'WHY'?

From the very first second of the opening track, Contact it is obvious that this is nothing more than an abhorrent exercise in creating a Pink Floyd album that Pink Floyd themselves would have thrown in the bin (or in fact paid to put on a space probe heading to the outer reaches of the universe to be as far away from it as possible).

There is not a single moment on the record that is not a poor pastiche of one of the greatest progressive rock bands EVER. The searing guitar intro is so Dave Gilmour that it isn't funny, the multi tracked vocals and and Waters-esque lyrics and phrasing (in a strange Swiss/German accent) are laughable. The whole song is just a train wreck of Dark Side Of The Moon meets The Division Bell. As it is only track one, I pray for something original or of merit to follow but oh no the parody continues with Skygarden. HELP this is an awful tribute band trying to rewrite versions of some of the most genre defining music of our time. My friend (a huge Floyd fan) was in fits of laughter at this point but I was saddened/sickened/angry that this album was without merit and a Floyd cut and paste job of the worst kind. The lyrics are kindergarten nursery rhymes pretending to be profound.

The third track Lost Years has me nauseous at the thought that a number of hours of my life that I will never get back are being wasted when I could in fact be listening to something new, challenging and worthwhile. Suddenly the haunting brass synth sound from Wish You Were Here pours from the speakers and I am tempted to eject it from the CD player and snap it in half but for the benefit of those of you reading this, I reluctantly persevere.

Track by track the music worsens, through Freak Show and No Point in Living (how apt as that is how I am starting to feel myself with every single new unoriginal note), Hollow Man and so on. It is common knowledge that I have no time for tribute bands but in the case of Cosmos I certainly think that they should concentrate on covering great songs live rather than pretend that they are bringing anything remotely new or original to the party. The musicianship is without doubt exceptional but my original statement of 'WHY?' still rings true. I understand that their live show contains many Pink Floyd covers and may I suggest that they just stick to those, as to be honest later day Floyd is uninspiring enough without bands attempting to build a career on spewing out sub-standard pastiches of it.

There are in fact ten tracks on Mind Games but to be perfectly honest there is little point in doing a blow by blow description, as what I have written above sums the whole album up perfectly and it gets no better than slopping around in the swamp of miserable Pink Floyd regurgitation.

All in all this is an album to be avoided at all cost (unless of course you want to have a laugh) and to Cosmos, I suggest they seek inspiration rather than simply badly cloning a band that all serious music fans love and will not tolerate pale imitations of.

Conclusion: 3 out of 10

GEOFF BANKS

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