Reviews in this issue:
The Electric Light Orchestra - ELO Limited Edition (First Light Series)
Tracklist CD2: Brian Matthew introduces ELO (0:37), 10538 Overture (5:24), Look At Me Now (3:18), Nellie Takes Her Bow (5:59), The Battle Of Marston Moor (5:55), Jeff's Boogie No.2 (6:57), Whisper In The Night (5:45), Great Balls Of Fire (5:45), Queen Of The Hours (3:18), Mr. Radio (5:18), 10538 Overture (plus hidden track Look At Me Now)(10:38).
This a re-release of ELO's first album, Electric Light Orchestra from 1971. This Limited Edition comes in a slipcase with two separate CD's. The first is the original album (plus bonus tracks and multimedia). The second CD First Light is a bonus CD. It is said that the 2CD-package will revert to a single CD (first album only) once copies of the slipcase version have sold out.
The Electric Light Orchestra started recording in 1970, as a new project by members of The Move. Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne had worked with string sections before, but for this new ELO-project they didn't want to hire a big orchestra (like the Moody Blues did on Days of Future Passed or Pink Floyd on Atom Heart Mother), but actually become a "rock orchestra", with classically trained musicians as full band members.
ELO's debut album was simply called The Electric Light Orchestra (also known as No Answer). It is the most experimental album the band ever recorded, and in fact quite different from the later "ELO sound" (after Roy Wood had left the band). But still, this is a very good album, and in a way it's a pity the band changed direction afterwards. The ELO albums that were to follow are very enjoyable, but somehow the band had lost some its uniqueness, as the strings were used in a more conventional way, both in arrangements as in the overall band sound.
On this first album, ELO managed to create a completely new and exiting sound. The songs are written by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, who both share vocals. Classical instruments are very much present: lots of cellos, french horns, solo violin, oboe, bassoon etc.
The best known track is the single, 10538 Overture. This piece is a good example of the general atmosphere of the whole album: adventurous, dark and doomy. The same goes for Look At Me Now, a dark love song that reminds me a bit of Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles. In this song, Roy Wood's nice high and fragile vocals contrast very well with the bizarre "sawing cello" arrangement. Nellie Takes Her Bow is a more traditional piano ballad by Lynne, with haunting solo violin and strings, but also a wonderfully strange classic middle section. One of my favourite tracks is Mr. Radio. This song is a good example of Lynne's early songwriting style: a funny-but-sad ballad, with a Beatles feel and wonderful instrumentation.
The album has three instrumental pieces that might be a bit harder to get into. The first one is The Battle Of Marston Moor. This probably is the most controversial track on the album (drummer Bev Bevan found it so horrible that he refused to play on it). It starts with a "call for arms" speech, and then turns into a complex classical piece, with various sections and moods. This one took me about 10 years to appreciate, but I love it now. First Movement is a more "happy" instrumental, with lots of acoustic guitar, and sounds not unlike that song Classical Gas by John Williams. Manhattan Rumble is another strange and doomy piece, with a colourful orchestral arrangement (including classic piano hammering and angelic voices).
The original album concludes with two more "tradional" ballads: Queen Of The Hours and Whisper In The Night. This release ends with some extras to the original album. It adds two bonus tracks: an early version of The Battle Of Marston Moor (which is nice but short), and "take 1" of 10538 Overture, originally intented as a B-side for The Move (without brass, but not too different). More interesting is the Multimedia Section, with the original promotional video of this song. This section also features some historical stuff from this period (including band pictures, lost artwork and paper publications). Partly, these things can also be found in the very nice CD booklet (24 pages) which also has the lyrics of all the songs.
The second CD is completely filled with bonus-tracks. It's all different versions of existing songs (so only interesting if you consider yourself a real ELO-fan). There are three live tracks, recorded in 1972: Jeff's Boogie No.2 (later to appear on ELO's second album), an intimate version of Whisper In The Night, and the cover Great Balls Of Fire. I must say it's a pleasant surprise to hear ELO's first line-up live. The sound is great and the versions are good and quite different from other recordings.
The song 10538 Overture appears twice: first a slightly different "acetate version", and also a live version, recorded for the BBC, shortly after Roy Wood's departure.
Also included are four songs that were remixed for quadrophonic use (Look At Me Now, Nellie Takes Her Bow, The Battle Of Marston Moor, Queen Of The Hours). These "Quad Mixes" don't add too much to the original recordings, but it's quite nice to hear the differences in balance, which brings some of the details and instruments more to the foreground.
The best parts of this second CD are "take 9" of Mr. Radio, and a beautiful "unplugged" studio version of Look At Me Now (included as hidden track). These early versions, together with the live tracks, are really interesting for ELO fanatics, and I must say that I think it's a pity that not more of these early recordings are included, instead of the less interesting remixes. But that is just a minor point of criticism on a overall great release.
Being a great fan of ELO, it's good to see releases like these. You are really getting value for your money here! A perfect remastered sound, bonus tracks and extras, and two great booklets. It's also good to know that this release is only the first part of EMI's "First Light" series. It will be followed by two other ELO-related albums from the same period: Message from The Country by The Move and Roy Wood's Boulders.
For those of you who are not familiar with the music of ELO: although this is a great album, I'd suggest you try one of their other albums first, like the prog classic Out of The Blue, the orchestral highlight Eldorado or the more modern concept album Time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10 (or 9 for ELO collectors).
Glacier - Monument
Even though the English band Glacier has existed since 1979, Monument is their debut album. There were several times in Glacier's history when the guys split up, but they always tended to drift back together at some point. Those times were obviously fruitful since they managed to create a modest collection of songs over the years. Some of these have now finally been put onto an album which at the same time serves as a monument for their drummer Mick King who sadly passed away in 1997.
The nicely coloured cover of Monument looks really interesting. At first sight, you see large chunks breaking off from a glacier and plunging into the sea. On closer inspection, however, you find that there are all kinds of faces in the surface of the ice, while the ice itself is made to look like a fortress. And for those with the magnifying glasses, there is even a little Viking ship coming out of the gate!
Most tracks on the album - 10 out of 13 - were written in the period from 1978 to 1985; the other three are from 1994, 1995 and 2000. I do not know how close the band stayed to the original arrangements of the songs, but I must say that musically seen they sound remarkably much like a mixture of two well-known neo progressive bands, namely Jadis and IQ. On top of that, Dave Birdsall's somewhat nasal vocals feature the same kind of heavy vibrato that Jadis's Gary Chandler uses at the end of his lines, while the combination of lead and backing vocals in the choruses (e.g. in Beyond The Wave) sounds very much like the harmonies between Chandler and Jadis/IQ keyboard man Martin Orford. Sadly though, some of the vocal melodies are on the upper edge of Birdsall's range. A good example of that is Bring Down The Rain, in which the vocals are so pinched at places that they actually sound as if they were sung through a vocoder. The end of the same track features the very soulful backing vocals by ex-Glacier singer Heather Davies. Her voice is really nice, but its warmth is too much of a contrast to Birdsall's less expressive singing, in effect she really manages to take over that part of the track entirely.
The album is often very enjoyable, but there is still something I miss. I could not put my finger on what that was immediately, but after having played the CD a couple of times, I realised what bothered me: the album lacks some "bite". It is as if all edges have been carefully sanded off. This makes the music much less powerful than I think it could be. The lyrics often have challenging subjects (e.g. England's attitude towards getting involved in the European Union in Think Of England, and England's colonial history in East Of Arabia), but neither the vocals, nor the music really get angry at any time. It all stays... well... just nice. Still, I do know that there are many people who can highly appreciate this calmer kind of neo prog; it is just not the kind of stuff that makes me tick. Some more references are both early and later Genesis (Bring Down The Rain, Con Molto Noddus, East Of Arabia, Hackett-like guitars all over the album), Pink Floyd's The Division Bell (first three tracks), Arena's instrumentals on The Visitor (Monument), IQ's early albums (beginning of The Iceman Cometh, East Of Arabia) and melodic jazz/fusion (Bring Down The Rain and The Iceman Cometh).
Two tracks that stand out for me in a positive way are the above mentioned East Of Arabia and The City Gates. The former features marching feet, oriental sounds and many silly voices, which remind me a lot of Genesis's Get 'Em Out By Friday. Its sarcastic text also really appeals to me; I like a bit of criticism wrapped in a silly jacket. Apart from that, this track features some musical highlights as well; great combination! The City Gates has a much more serious atmosphere. It features a beautiful "huge" sounding chorus, not unlike the one in Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb, with bass pedals and Hammond organ. Sadly though, the rest of the song is a bit light by comparison. A heavy structure on top of a light foundation usually leads to the collapse of an entire structure, which is the case with this track as well. The guitar solo is also a bit in the vein of the main one in Comfortably Numb, but it gets disrupted by some rhythm changes before it can come to a climax and that is a big, fat shame!
Glacier's first album Monument is one that I think would appeal to people who like well-constructed, but not very aggressive sounding progressive rock in the vein of IQ, Jadis, Genesis, Pink Floyd and, to a lesser extent, Arena. Both the music and the vocals could use some rougher edges, in my opinion, because the songs are sometimes so smooth that they become a bit boring. I am interested to see how Glacier will develop further, since they do have interesting musical and lyrical ideas. However, my recommendation for the next album would be: kid gloves off, please!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Arthur Ellis 2000 - Alphomega
Arthur Ellis 2000 is a relatively young band from Canada. They were named after the last Canadian official publicly employed executioner. Other releases before this album, Alphomega, include a short demo and some songs on a compilation album.
I had never heard of this band before. Their music is described as "Pre post-rock" (which is a funny name of course, but not overly informative). The album is quite short; it has 8 songs, written from 1993 to 2000. The featured songs are short, up-tempo and often a bit bizarre, but never too complex. And beware if you are looking for some "bombast": it's not present on this album...
Some "progressive" influences are there, but the overall sound is more like "new wave" pop: thin and scratchy guitars, energetic female vocals (sometimes a bit "sixties"), prog-jazzy drums, well supported by the bass, and "plastic" but effective keyboard sounds. The keyboards -by the way- are played by a guy nicknamed Fish (another one; hello Mr. Dick and Mr. Squire!).
As a whole I was not too impressed by this band. The musicianship is quite good, but this music is simply not my taste (call me narrow minded). So if you are a more "traditional" prog rocker, I am sure Alphomega is an album you can do without.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Marillion - ReFracted!
Tracklist Disc 2 - Writing Sessions: Gazpacho Mid-8 (1.03), Gazpacho Shuffle (0.22), Heavy Groove Gazpacho (1.29), Gazpacho Guitar (0.34), Gazpacho Chorus (1.31), Big Soul Surf Babe (0.41|, X-Ray Surf Babe (0.37), Jangly Surf Babe (2.54), Beautiful Piano (1.08), AOS Cabaret (0.29), Out of this World Original End (4.36), Out of this World Actual End (2.27), Pulse Beyond You (1.30), Beyond You Piano Version (0.40), Beyond Blade Runner (0.59), Beyond the '80's (0.20), Beyond the Stones (1.35), Beautifully Disturbing (1.16), Latin AOS (1.17), Work on AOS (0.38), More AOS (1.33), The Electronix King (1.03), Heavy King (0.25), Hendrix King (1.01), Funkadelic King (0.47), Talking Kings (2.25), Hero King (0.38)
Tracklist Disc 2 - Writing Sessions: The Monkee Song (2.25), McCartney Faces (0.29), Tribal Faces (1.00), 1000 Faces Piano Intro (0.56), Man of 1000 Crows (1.05), Voice of Command (2.11), Beyond 80 Days (0.39), Acoustic Beyond 80 Days (1.35), 79 Days (0.57), Estonia Groove (0.24), Estonia Rock (1.46), Estonia Engine (0.40), Accidental Groove (1.57), Accidental Acoustic Man (1.15), Accidental Duke of York (0.29), Accidental Guitar Riff (0.31), Accidental Chorus (1.30), Chord Workshop Man (1.31), New Accident (2.19), Chill for the Future (1.54), Hope for The Pretenders (0.49), Hope for Ry Cooder (1.38), Hope for Jeff Buckley (2.12), Hope for a Chorus (1.24), Strange Stones Engine (0.31), Acoustic Lamb Engine (1.06), This Strange Jam (0.39), This Strange Intro (1.53), Wax on Wood (1.03), Ever Since an Idea (1.43), The Lounge Navy (0.37), Cloud of Bees Jam (1.38), Acoustic Mummy Daddy (0.43), Electric Mummy Daddy (0.54), Blue Pain Guitar Solo (1.16), Red Coat Ending (0.53), Run Like Hell Ending (1.16), Groove Ending (1.23), This Strange Ending (1.29)
Back in 1995 Marillion released an album on their own Racket label called The Making of Brave. The double CD included demos and snippets of jams and writing sessions and gave some highly interesting insight into the development of their classic album Brave. Earlier this year the band - in another attempt to 'make ends meet' and please their most loyal fans at the same time - decided to repeat this trick with 'making of' albums for the four CDs that followed Brave; Afraid of Sunlight, This Strange Engine, Radiation and marillion.com. This new series was names 'From Dusk 'til Dot' and the first two volumes, ReFracted! (the making of Afraid of Sunlight) and Another DAT at the Office (the making of This Strange Engine) were released a couple of months ago.
Both double albums come with a 6 page fold-out booklet with new pictures and artwork, related to the original albums, and lots of liner notes about the individual tracks, giving additional background information about the development process of the songs.
The first CD of both sets consists of the demo's the band recorded as reference material for the producer
and the band itself before starting multi-track recording. Most of these demo's resemble the final versions quite closely, although most of the sound effects are of course not present yet and there's the occassional different or missing lyric. As you can imagine, the mixes of these demos are quite rough and vocals or instruments can be a bit low in the mix every now and then.
Most interesting of these demo versions are Gazpacho (which has a longer closing jam), Beautiful (featuring a great guitar solo climax that's missing from the final version), Out of this World (featuring a powerful full band closing section instead of the ambient segment), Man of a Thousand Faces (featuring a piano/vocal intro with the first verse sung in a completely different melody, while the 'choir overdubs' at the end are still missing), One Fine Day (with much more of a Holidays in Eden-like ballad feel than the eventual 'Queen meets We Are The World' version) and Accidental Man (a completely different, more trancy version with a different vocal melody that was recorded during the Afraid of Sunlight sessions).
The second CD of both sets is less 'listenable' but all the more interesting at the same time. The tracks range from a couple of seconds to several minutes and show how the band struggle to find the right melody for the lyrics or the other way around. We also find that the band played around with very different approaches for songs; ballads turned into rock songs and rock songs ended up as ballads.
Some of the more remarkable things on the ReFracted! album are the mellow Jangly Surf Babe (which works remarkably well), Out of This World Original End (with a trancy up-tempo closing section), the experimental Beautifully Disturbing with its weird and spooky keyboard effects, the laid back Latin version of Afraid of Sunlight (Latin AOS), as well as the many attempts to get Beyond You and King right, resulting in a Cover Your Eyes-like version (Beyond You Piano Version) and a stomping rock version (Beyond the Stones) of Beyond You and techno and Talking Heads-like versions of King (The Electronix King & Talking Kings) or the great Rothery solo that was later replaced by a keyboard solo (Hendrix King).
Also, in some of the earlier material on ReFracted! traces of the free-formed approach of Brave (especially as heard in Goodbye to All That) can still be noticed.
Some of the most remarkable bits on the second disc of Another DAT at the Office are the version of Man of a 1000 Faces played over a Cannibal Surf Babe clone (The Monkee Song), the Bridge-like version of the same song before it heads into the closing section (Voice of Command), the fact that the text of Beyond You appears in early versions of 80 Days (Beyond 80 Days and Acoustic Beyond 80 Days) and Hope for the Future (Hope for the Pretenders), the early heavier versions of Estonia (Estonia Groove & Estonia Rock), as well as the many different incarnations of Accidental Man and Hope for the Future. The jam that formed the basis for part of the title track (This Strange Jam) and the Run Like Hell Ending of the same track are interesting as well.
Unlike Afraid 0f Sunlight, I don't consider This Strange Engine to be one of the band's best albums. Man of a Thousand Faces, Estonia and This Strange Engine are classic Marillion tracks, but the other songs hardly deserve that label, although they do range from 'good fun' to 'okay'. This 'Making of' album proves that some of the tunes on This Strange Engine were little more than leftovers from the AOS sessions that were knocked into shape at a later stage. Nevertheless, my personal opinion about This Strange Engine doesn't have any influence on the value of Another DAT at the Office and I have therefore given it the same rating as ReFracted!. Something I did find really annoying though is that, as on the This Strange Engine album, they stuck more than 15 minutes of silence and a 30 second hidden track on the end of the epic track.
One might argue that Marillion is milking their fans with these series of 'Making of' albums, but I would have to disagree. Nobody is forced to buy these albums and those who do probably know exactly what they are getting. I wouldn't say I approve of all the tricks that Marillion is currently pulling - as a matter of fact I could name a few I find pretty digusting - but I can't find anything wrong with these CDs that should appeal to people (like me) who are intruiged by how rough bits of music develop into polished albums.
These two albums should not be considered high quality finished albums. Instead one should think of them as interesting musical documentaries giving more insight in the development process behind 'the real thing'. As such I can only recommend these albums to the most avid Marillion fans who are interested in this process. For those who are, the albums are a real treat, and at less than the price of a single CD studio album they are very reasonably priced as well.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.