Issue 2003-066: New Year's Eve Special
Reviews in this issue:
- Transatlantic - Live in Europe [DVD]
- Salem Hill - Be
- Yes - YesSpeak [DVD]
- Pineapple Thief - Live 2003
- Ian Anderson - Rupi's Dance
- Anathema - A Natural Disaster
- Threshold - Critical Energy
- Snowy White - An Anthology
- CAP - Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah
- Marillion - Say Cheese, Christmas With Marillion
- Mostly Autumn - Passengers
- Mostly Autumn - The Next Chapter [DVD]
- Pink Floyd - The Wall [DVD]
- Peter Gabriel - Hit
- Trey Gunn - Untune The Sky Duo Review
- Twelfth Night - Art & Illusion Duo Review
- The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium
- Michael Schenker Group - Arachnophobiac
- Arena - Contagium EP
- Badger - One Live Badger
Transatlantic - Live In Europe
DVD 1 [165:09]: Intro (0:49), Duel With The Devil (27:56), My New World (16:39), We All Need Some Light (6:48), Suite Charlotte Pike Medley (31:15) Stranger In Your Soul (29:43), All Of The Above (31:56)
DVD 2 [59:17]: Tour Documentary (total time: 42:07) [Tour Rehearsals (3:15), London and Paris (2:51), Duel With The Devil (5:37), Cologne (1:09), Beatles Karaoke (1:50), Bridge Across Forever (3:10), Berlin and Munich (3:53), More Beatles Karaoke (1:00), Milan (2:26), End Of Tour Reflections (10:45), My New World (6:03)], Shine On You Crazy Diamond (13:55), Photo Gallery (3:15)
A few weeks back we did a roundtable review of the Live In Europe album by Transatlantic. The DVD wasn't available for review back then, so we just focused on the CD instead. However, we didn't want to keep the DVD from you, because - to put it bluntly - it is a must-have. Or more precisely, the Limited Edition is a must-have. Back in 2000 Transatlantic's first album SMPTe was the first album on the Inside Out label to be released as a limited edition digibook. Since then these books have become great collector's items and other labels have started using them as well. Now Inside Out has pushed the bar for these books a bit further, as this DVD is wonderfully packed in a DVD-sized digibook, which holds both the two DVDs and the two CDs as well as a 20-page booklet with tour photos and liner notes by all four band members.
The first DVD holds the entire concert, played at the 013 in Tilburg on November 12th, 2001, except for the final encore (which was an unplanned, unrehearsed rendition of Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond).
The footage is very nicely shot, and pretty well edited, considering it was only shot with four or five cameras. Most cameras are handheld, giving it a very lively feel. Due to the sheer size of the stage (and the small budget of the production?) the footage is quite dark, though not as grainy as the Spock's Beard and IQ DVDs which were filmed in the same venue.
As is often the case with such concert videos the camera crew wasn't familiar with the material, so every now and then when one member of the band has a solo spot, there's actually no camera filming it. This is particularly noticeable during the one big spot of guest touring member Daniel Gildenlöw, who sings one verse during the Suite Charlotte Pike/Abbey Road medley and there is no camera actually filming him. This is resolved by using the a wide shot of the whole stage from the camera from the back of the venue, and it is great to see the response from the crowd during this one minute of fame.
For the rest I have nothing but compliments for the crew, as there are lots of great varying shots, and the walking cameramen made an effort to create different shots all the time, zooming in on hands, instruments and, err, feet - for some reason there are lots of close-ups of Roine Stolt's and Mike Portnoy's feet.
The second disc has a couple of interesting extras. First there is the encore Shine On You Crazy Diamond, though this is not the performance from Tilburg, but one from an American show earlier the same year. A pity they didn't use the Tilburg version, but as it was far from flawless, the band clearly decided against it. In my opinion this would have contributed a certain rawness and live-feel, but never mind.
There is also a short photo gallery, with stills from the European tour.
Most interesting however is the 42 minute Tour Documentary. Like the Flower Kings DVD I reviewed a while back Roine Stolt contributed some of the handicam footage he shot during the tour. Rather than inserting it between the songs (which really annoyed me with the Flower Kings DVD) it is here presented as a tour-documentary. There's lots of footage of the band backstage and in the tourbus, as well as some the interesting 'end of tour reflections' where Stolt let the camera running while the band discussed their experiences of the tour as it had just finished. An interesting point is where Stolt confirms to the viewer, what I had already suspected when I saw them live: that he felt a bit of an outsider of the band and that he wasn't particularly enjoying himself onstage because of the structured nature of the shows.
Overall though, the videos more resemble someone's personal holiday movies rather than a tour-documentary. I can't understand why no one bothered to turn these home-movies into something really interesting. The material is all there, how difficult can it be to do some decent editing, a voice over, include a couple of real interviews and turn it into a genuine tour documentary. After all, they spent two years creating this DVD, and it still feels like a rushed job.
That rushed-feel is also evident in the technical problems that have plagued the production. The NTSC version got seriously delayed and a delay in the PAL version caused the release date to be pushed back from late October to early November (at DPRP we received the CDs as early as the first week of September!)
My copy of the DVD came with a note explaining about a technical flaw with the sound options, that these are not accessible from the menu (the DVD freezes if you try) and that switching between 2.0 and 5.1 sound needs to be done with the remote.
Another thing is that the discs came in labelled wrong (so disc 1 is disc 2 and vice versa). Both aren't particularly big problems, and I'm quite sure most people can live with it. However, as it turns out some DVD players had problems playing the first disc, and the disc freezes halfway during the gig. Inside Out has decided to re-press the DVDs and if you own a faulty copy, you can have it replaced. For more information, check the Inside Out Website.
In any case, if you haven't bought the DVD yet, you'd do well waiting until the new pressing is available, just to be on the save side.
The technical flaws aside, it is a must have item, and a great document of this band, especially now it has become evident that Transatlantic is not likely to be reformed ever.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Salem Hill - Be
Please note: most annoyingly, the track listing on the CD inlay is incorrect. The above tracklist has been corrected and has the right order of the tracks.
Rarely have I put so much time and effort into reaching a conclusion about a CD review as with this album. This CD was extremely hard for me to review. I have been a great admirer of Salem Hill since their brilliant Robbery of Murder album. I also enjoyed the follower Not Everybody's Gold and predecessor Catatonia a lot, as well as Carl Grooves solo album. I was therefore very anxious to listen to Be when it finally arrived. The first listening session left me very much disillusioned. So I gave it another spin, and I was still disappointed. What I heard was a very different Salem Hill, the word ´bare´ would probably sum it up best. Whereas the previous album had been a lush jungle and Robbery.. was an emotional roller coaster, Be sounded angry, cold and empty.
I e-mailed Carl, guitarist singer and composer, about this feeling and asked him what might cause my reaction. His reply was:
"Wow. Can't really offer any help, Ed. In fact, you're literally the first person to have a negative thing to say about the album. As far as treading new ground, I'll respectfully disagree with you. This album is far and away the best thing we've ever done lyrically, musically, and definitely from a production standpoint. It doesn't cater to the run of the mill superfluous showing off that so many progressive bands feel the need to do. We did that with "Gold" and I feel that the album suffered from it. It does however, require a certain openmindedness to hear the broad themes, to catch the subtle tricks we've thrown in, and get what we're trying to say musically and lyrically."
Would this have been any other band I might have disregarded the CD, but since the Salem Hill lads have shown to be very sympathetic guys, with great senses of humour in the past, I definitely wanted to give the album another chance and dig deeper into it. After the first couple of spins I noted that the track list in the booklet is completely wrong. I managed to find the right names with the right track after studying the lyrics. The correct order is presented above. Of all these tracks there was only one which immediately struck me as being special and original and that was track 6 (So Human). It is an interesting vocal experiment. Imagine Gentle Giant or Spock's Beard doing the middle section of The Beatles' A Day in a Life with Kiss' Paul Stanley doing backing vocals. Amazing ! A shame it includes such an awful penetrating synth solo as well.
But there had to be more, so I continued playing the album and then it suddenly started to dawn on me. Keyboard player Mike Meyers had left the band and on top of that Kansas violin player Ragsdale, who had added so much to the previous two albums, was not playing on this album either. Thereby the band has lost a lot of their lush arrangements and full sound. Instead we get a more direct and guitar oriented sound than on the previous albums. At the same time, the band has shunned the prog rock cliches that were used on Gold (but did make it a splendid album). The result is a completely different sound which leans more towards Grooves solo album and maybe even Catatonia than Robbery and Gold (sorry, I'm not familiar with the band's first two albums, so I can't compare). And therein lies the reason for my initial disappointment. I had different expectations. There were songs on Catatonia and Gold which didn't appeal to me. Be seems to contain more songs in that specific style.
Be is another concept album (the band's third), and those familiar with the lyrical material of Grooves solo album and Catatonia will not be surprised to hear that it deals with the emptiness of modern living (or so it seems). The band members are devoted Christians but fortunately they refrain from including any religious patterns in their work, while still being philosophical and society critical. One Neal Morse in prog is more than enough. There's one obvious exception on this album though, which is the song about Apollyon, a demon from Christian lore.
A weakness in the concept is that I can detect just a few recurring melodies, which in my opinion are one of the necessary components to make a good concept album, and were used a lot on their previous concepts Robbery and Catatonia. There are lots of cross-reference in the lyrics - which by the way are very symbolic and harder to crack than the straightforward story on Robbery - but the only obvious musical links (at least, the ones I spotted) are the obligatory one between the opening and closing track and the 'regard me' melody. Grooves mentions "I don't see "Be" as a 15 song CD. I see it as a 71 minute rock symphony". I can't help but disagree with him. I myself find Be to sound like a incoherent collection of songs - some great, some disappointing.
Carl's piano play is great, especially on the sensitive Seattle, which also contains some nice fretless bass, giving it the necessary bit of warmth that is missing on most of the album. I do dislike most of the other synth parts on the album, which lack flow and sometimes have a choice of sounds that stands out as a sore thumb against the rest of the song. Examples of this are the solos in So Human and Symposium (a rather chaotic piece to begin with).
All of the vocals on the album are great and Carl Grooves hits some of his highest notes. There are some nice close harmonies on the album, a nice Salem Hill trademark. Kevin's drumming is good, but I personally dislike the sound of his electronic V-drums. It makes the drums sound flat and synthetic. Pat is playing some great bass. As mentioned, the album is very guitar oriented. Although it contains some fine riffs and unison play it does get a bit much at times.
The album is very lyrical heavy. Seemingly Carl tried to 'do a Roger Waters'. The atmosphere of the whole album is dark and depressed, angry and aggressive. Therefore Carl called it "Plodding. Pensive. Pissed." in the studio journal on their website. He also jokingly considered to rename the album No, we don't do 'Happy'. Now, I like dark and depressed music, but 71 minutes of Be is even too much for me and I find it a real relief to put on Robbery after playing this CD. The album therefore probably is too long and would have been a more pleasant listening if it would have stayed below the 60 minute mark.
Now, all of that doesn't mean that Be is a bad album. It's just not one of my personal favourites. It does have its highlights and weak moments, and some attempt that could have been better with different arrangements.
Good: the beautiful acoustic Reflect and it's climatic album-closing brother Regard Me, the vocal splendour of So Human, the prog rock orgasm in the middle of Children of the Dust, the ballads (Nowhere is Home, Seattle, Love Won't Save the World, Beings).
Okay: the fine melodic AOR piece The Red Pool (with the album's only decent keyboard solo), the almost Arena-like Apollyon, I Didn't Come for You (great middle section !), The Perfect Light
Bad: the chaos of Symposium (too much aggression, too early in the album - this really put me off when I first played the album), The Great Stereopticon (could have been great with different arrangements; the highlight of the song is the acoustic break), the silly and out-of-place Underneath (Grooves attempt to write a Counting Out Time-like song about sex).
All in all a difficult album. There's quite some good stuff on it, but as a whole and compared to Robbery and Gold I still find it disappointing. I certainly wasn't yearning for another Sweet Hope Suite or other monstrous epics, but I do miss the lush sound of Gold and the emotion of Robbery. Okay, they might not do 'Happy', but I do hope that after getting this out of their system they can go back to making music that's at least a bit more 'lively'.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Yes - Yesspeak
Disc 1 [89:26]: Part One: Sacred Ground (19:47), Part Two: Full Circle (20:15), Part Three: There'll Always be a Yes (19:46), Part Four: Spotlight on Chris (14:31), Part Five: Spotlight on Jon (15:07)
Disc 2 [80:07]: Part Six: Spotlight on Steve (15:00), Part Seven: Spotlight on Alan (15:04), Part Eight: Spotlight on Rick (14:51), Part Nine: On the Road (14:39), Part Ten: Yes Music (20:31)
Extras: Audio Only live set [126:52]: Siberian Khatru (9:59), Magnification (6:53), Don't Kill The Whale (4:27), In The Presence Of (10:25), We Have Heaven (1:03), South Side Of The Sky (9:53), And You And I (10:55), To Be Over/Clap (8:45), Show Me (3:27), Rick Wakeman Solo (4:55), Heart Of The Sunrise (11:17), Long Distance Runaround (3:48), The Fish (8:50), Awaken (19:15), I've Seen All Good People (6:50), Roundabout (6:01)
Happy Anniversary to you
Happy Anniversary to you
Happy 35th anniversary dear Yes
Happy Anniversary to you...
The mother of all prog bands is celebrating its 35th anniversary and is throwing a party. As the anniversary coincides to the reformation of the classic line-up of Anderson, Squire, White, Wakeman and Howe, the band is opening up all registers to make sure this event does not go unnoticed. With an extensive world tour (rumoured to feature a massive live show and a Roger Dean designed stage), a best of compilation double album, and this DVD, the band is proving that they are still alive and kicking.
So far, so good, however, this DVD comes in one of the most deceptive and misleading packages ever created. When you come across this DVD in a shop, and flip it over to see its tracklist, you'll see "tracks included" and then the entire setlist of what they played during their 2003 tour on the left. On the right you'll see "chapter selection" and ten chapters that look like documentaries and interviews.
So any lesser mortal -like yours truly- would assume that this double disc set features 1 disc with a concert, and one disc with documentaries. Right? Wrong!
What you do get is three hours worth of interviews, for which the live footage is used as background music and accompanying visuals. If you want just the gig with no talking through the music, you have to settle for the audio-only option, which features a selection of live photos as the music plays.
To top the irony, there's also a sticker on the cover, stating "Free Yesspeak Poster, details inside" and inside, well, yes, there are the details on how to obtain the poster, with small print saying that postage and packaging fees do apply.
So you might understand that at first sight this DVD seems a bit like a disappointment. Well, I'm sorry to conclude that at second sight it is still disappointing.
The ten part 'documentary' is built up from interview snippets as well as live and backstage footage, while The Who's Roger Daltry narrates the whole story. The first thing I noticed when I played this DVD was that it has been mixed awfully. There is the choice between a 5.1 Dolby and a DTS track, and while that works great for the music, someone actually forgot to turn the volume of that music down when the interviews start. So half the time you can barely make out what the people are saying. Especially Jon Anderson, who has such a soft voice, is inaudible half the time.
I spent ten minutes fiddling around with the sound settings until I could manage something understandable from it. Fortunately, the DVD comes with German, Spanish, Italian and French subtitles.
As the documentary starts we see the five retreating after the tour, speaking about their 'sacred ground'. This results mainly in four of the five elaborating on how awful touring is and how happy they are to be back in their mansions, on their boats, with their cars, etc. Only Rick Wakeman, who lives off touring, has a more entertaining approach to the documentary.
And it's not even a documentary per se, it is more five guys talking at great length about just how happy they are to be still playing after such a long time. And of course, this is a great achievement, but there's also a great deal of talking about the history, without actually showing any footage footage of this history. There is no archive footage whatsoever included at all (apart from the video of No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed), so when you hear Jon Anderson talking about the huge shows they did in the Seventies, you see footage of the band performing at Glastonbury 2003.
Furthermore, there is a natural focus on the current Yes line-up which is similar to the line-up of the classic Yes albums Fragile, Close To The Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans and Going For The One. And after elaborating on the earliest days of Yes, the period of 1978-2003 is conveniently ignored! The only time the subject of Yes re-inventing themselves in the pop-rock days of 90125 is brought up, is actually when Rick Wakeman mentions it!
To be honest, after nearly three hours of idolisation and reverence it is just becoming too much. When you are reminded once again (for the umpteenth time) that this is a world class band with world class musicians, and oh, did we mention they've been around for what, 35 years??
Once again, it is a nice account, and nice to watch (just about once, that is). It is well-put together and well-edited, as the filmcrew clearly shot hours and hours of footage, from many different concerts. So I certainly appreciate the effort that has been put into this DVD, but the person who decided that live footage should be sacrificed for this endless babbling, should be fired instantly.
Had this been a DVD with one disc featuring an entire concert, and the other this 'documentary', edited down to, say, 1.5 hours (and believe me, it can be edited down to 1.5 hours), it would have been the perfect 35th anniversary release.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Pineapple Thief - Live 2003
Tracklist: Live Part Zero (7:58), Preserve (5:00), Keep Dreaming (4:04), Kid Chameleon (6:20), MD One (4:23), Sooner Or Later (4:09), Vapour Trails (8:56), Unspoken (3:38), 137 (5:17), Subside (6:31) Bonus Studio Tracks Bliss (3:51), What A Way To Lose (2:47), Crash (3:58), Your World (3:23)
Recorded at the debut Pineapple Thief live concerts during the summer of 2003, this strictly limited (only 200 copies!) CD and DVD package has been specifically released as a lo-fi memento for the hardcore collector. Be under no pretence, this is no lavish professional live recording, as the sleeve notes warn: "The performances are varied, the camera work may induce motion sickness and the sound mix is fair at best, recorded using a single stereo microphone." Not intended for official release, the CDs and DVDs are individually burned, the DIY 'official bootleg' nature of the set is reflected in the selling price - I got mine for a mere £10 (including postage!) from the band's website. So what is the quality actually like? The live material is pretty good considering the recording conditions. Sure, in places it does sound like a good quality non-soundboard bootleg (for some reason I found the sound quality of the DVD superior to the CD) but overall it is very reasonable with a good mix, acoustic guitars and vocals are clearly differentiated from the rest of the instrumentation.
Anyone familiar with Pineapple Thief will know that the albums are principally the work of Bruce Soord. In order to reproduce the studio material on stage, the band has expanded to five musicians - Wayne Higgins on guitars and backing vocals, Jon Sykes on bass and backing vocals, Matt O'Leary on keyboards, Keith Harrison on drums and backing vocals and Bruce himself handling guitars and vocals.
Considering the live material was recorded at the group's first ever concerts in Whitchurch, Royan and Rotherham, the performances are quite assured and follow closely the original recordings. With the exception of the previously unreleased Unspoken, a mostly gentle, acoustic number, all of the live tracks are taken from the second and third albums, namely 137 and Variations On A Dream. Fairly representative of the music on those albums, the set is well-balanced, although it would have been interesting to hear how the band handled longer album tracks such as Remember Us (from Variations On A Dream) or even Parted Forever (from the completely ignored and long-since deleted Abducting The Unicorn debut), particularly as they recreate the nine-minute Vapour Trails with considerable aplomb.
The DVD combines video footage from all three concerts, frequently cutting between the various performances within a song. As most of the film was shot on hand-held cameras from within the audience, there is a lot of camera movement, inaccurate zooming, 'creative' focusing and panning across the stage. Some clever editing has combined the different recordings by merging shots, utilising split screen effects, superimposing different camera angles and merging black and white with colour footage. A minimal amount of effects have been added, mostly limited to polarising, the infrequent use of which actually enhances the images. Naturally, the visuals do not always synchronise perfectly with the sound, sometimes this is blatantly obvious as in Keep Dreaming where the image of both guitarists playing acoustic instruments does not match with the electric guitar heard on the soundtrack. However, this in many ways adds to the overall quite charming quality of the DVD. There is no pretence that this is a slick professional venture, more of an intimate snapshot of a band at play. Yes it is a home video, and yes it is definitely amateur, but over-ridingly it is very "honest". You can guarantee that some much larger bands would pay an absolute fortune to try and achieve this kind of intimate atmosphere artificially. If the purpose of a live recording is to try and represent the performance as closely as possible to give the impression of actually being there, then Pineapple Thief have, possibly unintentionally, achieved this.
For completists the CD contains four bonus studio cuts, three of which are also present on the DVD where they provide background music to credits and a comprehensive slideshow. Bliss is a characteristic Pineapple thief track, What A Way To Lose emphasises past similarities with Porcupine Tree, Crash is a lovely acoustic number with guitar, piano and bass weaving around a simple, but very catchy, melody and Your World is a more electric number reminiscent of material from the first album.
I do not hesitate to recommend this release to readers based on sheer value for money alone. Other incentives, if any were needed, are the inclusion of over 17 minutes of unreleased music, scarcity value and the sheer pleasure of seeing a young group finding their feet on stage. If these recordings are anything to go by, the promised concerts in 2004 will be ones that no one will want to miss..
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ian Anderson - Rupi's Dance
Tracklist: Calliandra Shade [The Cappuccino Song] (5:02), Rupi's Dance (3:00), Lost In Crowds (5:37), A Raft Of Penguins (3:34), A Week Of Moments (4:27), A Hand Of Thumbs (4:02), Eurology (3:14), Old Black Cat (3:40), Photo Shop (3:20), Pigeon Flying Over Berlin Zoo (4:18), Griminelli's Lament (2:56), Not Ralitsa Vassileva (4:45), Two Short Planks (4:00)
Bonus Track: Birthday Card At Christmas (3:37) Taken from The Jethro Tull Christmas Album
I never cease to be amazed by the legendary Ian Anderson. Prolific, and seemingly tireless in his touring itinerary with Tull and alongside his numerous side projects, Ian has found time to release The Jethro Tull Christmas Album and produce his fourth solo album, Rupi's Dance, both in 2003. Through all of this Ian Anderson has not compromised his song writing, which is lyrically as succinct and observant as ever and as always, tinged with his wry sense of humour and irony.
Avid fans of Tull will surely have this in their collection by now. So this review is perhaps aimed more toward those sceptics, unsure as to whether or not to purchase another 'Tull-Ian' release. With such a large backlog of material what further inducement might be offered from this review. Well, personally I found this a delightful album, gentler and more restrained than recent Tull releases (except possibly the Christmas thingy). Ian Anderson's voice is richer in timbre and would appear to be more comfortable with the gentler arrangements to be found on Rupi's Dance. Even his undoubted mastery of the flute appears to warm more freely to the tracks here.
Does Rupi's Dance sound like a Jethro Tull album? I have read some reviews that say - not so! Well it certainly would not be confused with any other band (IMHO). Anderson's indefatigable presence within Jethro Tull, along with the fact that he writes a great deal of the material; performs the principal lead instrument within the band; adds his gift for story telling; and supplies his distinctive vocals to the songs cannot allow the two to be separated. Perhaps we should also add that fellow Tull members are all present at some point in the proceedings (excepting Mr Noyce). So yes, there is a strong relationship between Rupi's Dance and the material of Jethro Tull.
But perhaps time for some comment upon the music. I have been playing this album for several weeks now and already there are firm favourites, those tracks that will be placed upon a compilation CD for my car (well, once I get a CD player in it of course... or in fact when I get a car of my own to put the CD player in ;-). Of these tracks Calliandra Shade (The Cappuccino Song) and Rupi's Dance will certainly be there. Eurology, Old Black Cat and Photo Shop are also certainly to be contenders. I feel more will be added in time. Musically I found references to the Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses period of Tull, along with the more Eastern influences displayed in Roots To Branches. A continuation or progression was also evident from the excellent The Secret Language of Birds.
There were no great surprises to be found on Rupi's Dance, just great songs in a style that is, Ian Anderson.
Funny old things, reviews...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Anathema - A Natural Disaster
Tracklist: Harmonium (5:28), Balance (3:58), Closer (6:20), Are You There? (4:59), Childhood Dream (2:10), Pulled Under At 2000 Metres A Second (5:23), A Natural Disaster (6:27), Flying (5:57), Electricity (3:51), Violence (10:45)
British outfit Anathema initially made a name for themselves as prime movers in the burgeoning UK gothic metal scene of the early 90’s, along with the likes of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. However, like PL, Anathema decided towards the end of the nineties that they’d taken this style as far as they could, and with 1998’s Alternative 4 album began a transformation that has seen them become one of Britain’s finest (if generally un-heralded) rock bands. They have managed to retain the haunting, epic sweep of their earlier material whilst almost completely changing their sound; the main influences that can be heard in Anathema’s music today are the likes of Radiohead, Muse, Porcupine Tree and a fairly hefty dose of late 70’s Pink Floyd. However, like the very best bands Anathema have managed to create a sound which is somehow uniquely their own.
Anathema’s last album, A Fine Day To Exit, was the one that was supposed to break them into the big league. With a big marketing push, production by long-time Floyd associate Nick Griffiths and (shock horror) even singles releases, Music For Nations were clearly hoping that Anathema would reap the harvest that the likes of Radiohead and Coldplay had sown. However, image counts for a lot (particularly in the UK) and the knowledge that the band were once a much heavier proposition probably put a lot of would-be fans off. Worse, many long-time fans were unhappy with the album (although personally I think it was a high quality release). The upshot was that the band made little, if any, progress in terms of profile.
Following the tour for the album, guitarist Danny Cavanagh became depressed and fed up with life in the band, and left to join ex-Anathema bassist Duncan Patterson’s new outfit Antimatter. However this didn’t last long, and eventually Danny rejoined Anathema. This unhappy and unsettled period seems to have ignited his muse; whilst the songwriting duties are usually split roughly three ways between Danny, brother Vincent (guitars and vocals) and drummer John Douglas, here all bar one song (Balance, a group composition) is penned by Danny alone. Initially I was concerned that this would make for a one-dimensional album but in the event I needn’t have worried; this is possibly one of the band’s most musically diverse albums, whilst the standard of songwriting is as high as ever. The textbook Anathema sound is best illustrated by the likes of opener Harmonium and Flying, songs which build gradually from atmospheric, symphonic openings into an emotional maelstrom of flailing guitars, carried by Vincent’s powerful, resonant vocals. Pulled Under At 2000 Metres A Second is a fast, aggressive track on which Vincent’s primal scream of a vocal (recalling Roger Waters at his most scathing) and the pummelling bass-line recall Pink Floyd’s Sheep, whilst the title track is a slow-burning, slightly bluesy number, sung by John Douglas’s sister Lee, whose voice could be compared favourably with Texas’ Sharleen Spiteri. Danny’s own fragile but effective lead vocals can be heard on a couple of slightly mournful, atmospheric ballads, Are You There? and Electricity; the latter reminds me very much of mid-nineties Marillion, particularly of the track The Hollow Man.
Perhaps the two strongest songs on the album are those which really see the band pushing the envelope. Closer is a pulsing, predominantly electronic track, with Vincent somehow managing to convey strong emotions despite the fact that he sings through a vocoder. Parts of this put me in mind of a (slightly) rocked-up take on Kraftwerk’s classic Neon Lights – one of those songs you’re not sure should work, but does. The album’s closing track meanwhile, the ten-minute-plus Violence, is a superlative instrumental in three distinct parts; a classically-inspired, haunting piano piece introduces proceedings before gradually subsiding as chiming guitars enter the fray and start to build ominously; the song works itself into a real head of steam, with Douglas kicking up a storm on percussion – proceedings constantly threaten to explode but stop just short. The melody lines played by Danny in this segment are superbly evocative. The cacophony gradually fades into the distance, with the classically-inspired melodies again taking over – the resultant four or five minutes see sparse piano notes played over an ambient wash of keys, and is a very effective ‘chill-out’ piece - a fine illustration of the calm before, and after, the storm.
Production here is perhaps slightly rougher around the edges than usual, but this only serves to add a pleasingly rawer edge to the heavier sections; this is certainly no ‘back to basics’ set, and Les Smith’s keyboards are prominent in the mix throughout. The performances of all members of the band (completed by new boy (and Vincent’s twin) Jamie Cavanagh on bass) are top-notch throughout, though perhaps unsurprisingly its Danny’s whose stand out – this is his baby, after all.
Overall then, an excellent release which is certainly within touching distance of the band’s finest hour to date, 1999’s superb Judgement. I don’t imagine it will sell huge quantities outside of the band’s current loyal following, but it certainly deserves to. The best part is that, with Danny penning this album, the band’s other songwriters apparently have a big backlog of songs, so hopefully we shouldn’t have to wait long for the next album – and with Anathema on this sort of form, it should certainly be something to look forward to.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Threshold - Critical Energy
CD1: Phenomenon (6:06), Oceanbound (6:24), Choices (8:40), Angels (6:47), Falling Away (7:09), Virtual Isolation (6:10), Innocent (4:21), Long Way Home (6:06), Fragmentation (7:00)
CD2: Clear (3:41), Lifeflow (3:53), Narcissus (5:25), Sunseeker (5:25), The Latent Gene (7:56), Light And Space (6:15), Sunrise On Mars (5:29), Paradox (9:25), Sanity's End (10:16)
This first, full, live effort by top British ProgMetallers Threshold, nicely closes the circle that began a decade ago with the release of their debut album Wounded Land on a small English label. Two more albums, Psycedelicatessen and Extinct Instinct, followed in good time. Sadly, it took five years for this humble scribe to come across the band, when I was given a copy of their third album Clone. Since then I’ll happily admit that they’ve become one of my favourite bands.
The circle came closer to completion three years ago with the release of probably their best album Hypothetical. The slightly-less addictive Critical Mass became their firth studio album in March 2001. Two live, mini albums; a couple of fan club releases and three superb live shows have kept me rather contented ever since.
Having already released an album with some very clever acoustic re-workings of their songs earlier this year (2003), I get the sense (and rather hope) that this live collection closes the first chapter of the Threshold story.
Critical Energy comes in the usual Inside Out formats or either double CD, DVD or a bumper collection of both. The gig was recorded in June 2003 in Holland. Providing almost two hours and 18 tracks, it sees the band in its usual fine form.
The DVD also includes live footage of the songs Light And Space, The Latent Gene & The Ravages Of Time recorded at ProgPower USA in 2002, plus photos and a documentary section. As I’ve only got the CD to review, I can only comment on the audio pleasures contained within.
Musically, the album is as you’d expect - top notch. The set includes tracks from every album. They’re listed above, so I won’t go into a detailed breakdown. As they say in a current UK television advert for wood preserver – ‘it does what it says on the tin!’
There’s a great mellow section halfway through, where the band unplugs for a run through of Life Flow. This then leads to an acoustic build-up into the fuller weight of Narcissus, which works great. As you’d expect the band is as tight as the proverbial ducks derriere and I continue to be impressed with the development of Mac’s truly distinctive voice.
However a great live album really has to be more than just some great live versions of a band’s back catalogue. It has also to capture the character of a band and of the concert in general. A live gig should be an exciting event and a great live album really has to capture that excitement. This is where Critical Energy falls a bit flat. Whilst his humour pops up occasionally, Mac isn’t one of the most talkative frontmen around and the band’s music is hardly blessed with bountiful crowd participation opportunities. A lot of Mac’s crowd interaction is actually done on a visual basis – with his face and hands. This does work really well in the hall but of course not on record (natch). Only on a few songs – Paradox in particular – does the crowd add that extra spark and the record really smokes as a live album should. The lack of in-between song banter also clearly made it a tough job for the editor. Many of the between-song edits are far too obvious and interrupt the flow.
The other aspect to consider is the track selection. Obviously the band has considered that many fans will have bought the Live in Paris set recently and don’t want to hear the same stuff again. As a result, only three of the tracks re-appear here. I’m sure some will argue that its good to have a few ‘unusual’ songs in the list but without at least three of their best live songs (Freaks, Devoted and Tune On Tune In) I don’t think you can really say this is a record of the band at its very, very best. Also the decision to close the set with Sanity’s End off their debut is a strange one – hardly their best/most energetic track and it hardly ends the performance on the same high as say Paradox or Angels would have.
Nevertheless, fans will no doubt see this as a nice addition to their collection. As an almost-best-of round-up of Threshold’s career to date and with the quality of the performances on offer, this would be an ideal introduction to the band for those who’ve yet to give ‘em a try. However of you can afford it/play it, then I’d guess the DVD would give a better indication of the Threshold live experience. With the extra material from Progpower as well, it is also probably the better value.
PS: To help you decide, the link under 'Live Video' at the top will take you to the Progpower USA page where you can download a full live video of Falling Away (NB 11mb file size!)
PPS: Critical Energy is not released until February but samples of every track and one full track, Sunseeker are now available from the band’s excellently informative website.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Snowy White - Bird of Paradise
Tracklist CD1: Bird of Paradise (4:41), Good Question (4:16), Open Carefully (3:02), At The Crossroads (5:09), Snow Blues (6:50), Rush Hour (3:49), Someone Else is Gonna Love Me (5:15), Only Women (4:38), Birthday Blues (4:34), Highway to the Sun (3:53), Love Pain & Sorrow (5:13), All My Money (4:09), Judgement Day (5:05), Blues on Me (4:52), Out of Order (3:20), I Can’t Help Myself (4:21), Land of Plenty (5:30)
Tracklist CD2: When You Broke Your Promise (3:55), Walking the Streets (3:44), Chinese Burn (5:27), Cat Flea Jump (3:41), The Answer (3:38), Muddy Fingers (3:07), Voices in the Rain (4:53), That Certain Thing (6:15), I’ll Be Holding On (5:41), When I Arise (8:52), For the Rest of My Life (Live) (8:25), The Journey (parts 1 & 2) (6:32), Waters Edge/Stepping Stones (5:46), For You (4:25), Bird of Paradise (2000 re-mix) (3:56)
Snowy White, one of the UK's most underrated guitarists, has had an enormously diverse career. His compilation album Gold Top (1995), gives quite a good overview of his session work in the seventies, including work for Al 'Year of the Cat' Stewart, Pink Floyd (with whom Snowy worked on the Animals and The Wall tours), Floyd's Richard Wright, Thin Lizzy and Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green. Another compilation album, called Pure Gold (1999), contained 76 minutes of music from Snowy's solo career. Now, since this compilation contains quite a few rarities and no tracks from his two albums with Snowy White's Blues Agency, it could hardly be considered a representative anthology for his solo career. This new compilation, a double album with no less than 32 tracks, does a better job, even though it only covers the years 1983-1994 and therefore ignores the four albums Snowy made with his new back-up band The White Flames.
In the period covered by this anthology, Snowy released 4 solo albums and 2 albums with his band Snowy White's Blues Agency. The style of these albums varied quite widely. Whereas his first three solo albums, White Flames (aka Bird of Paradise) (1983), Snowy White (aka Land of Freedom) (1984) and That Certain Thing (1987), mainly consist of pop songs, the Blues Agency albums contain good old fashioned blues. While the songs on his debut album and follower still had a slightly bluesy and fusion-like leaning, the 1987 That Certain Thing consisted mostly of throw-away pop songs.
Snowy's first album, White Flames, is represented by Open Carefully, At the Crossroads, The Journey, The Answer and Snowy's biggest hit ever Bird of Paradise, as well as The Rest of my Life (live), which appeared on the re-released CD version.
Snowy White (or Land of Freedom), the guitarist's second album is represented by Chinese Burn, The Water's Edge/Stepping Stones, When I Arise, as well as Someone Else is Gonna Love Me, Muddy Fingers and Good Question, all rarities from the same time period.
His poppy third album, That Certain Thing, is represented by That Certain Thing, I'll be Holding On, Voices in the Rain and the single For You. Rush Hour was a B-side from the same period.
Snowy himself was highly dissatisfied with the direction the record companies had pushed him into with the sugarsweet production of That Certain Thing (including loads of female backing vocals). He therefore decided to return to his roots and do what he liked most and does best: play The Blues. He released two albums (Change My Life and Open For Business/Blues on Me) with his Blues Agency in 1988 and 1989 featuring Graham Bell on vocals. With this band Snowy played a collection of blues classics and his own compositions. Of the latter, Judgement Day, Blues on me, Out of Order, I Can’t Help Myself, Land of Plenty, When You Broke Your Promise and Walking the Streets are included on this double CD.
After having played with Roger Waters at his performance of The Wall in Berlin - Snowy would join Roger again for his extensive In The Flesh world tour some 10 years later - Snowy picked up his solo career again in 1994 with his splendid album Highway to the Sun, still one of my personal favourites. This album saw Snowy maintaining the pop-blues direction while moving into a somewhat Dire Straits-like style. As such, Snowy's play can best be described as 'David Gilmour meets Mark Knopfler', combining Gilmour's masterful sustained notes with Knopfler's seemingly random choice of frets and quickly changing notes. Snowy's Highway to the Sun album is represented by Highway to the Sun, Love, Pain & Sorrow (featuring David Gilmour himself on lead-guitar) and All my Money (a rarity from the same period).
The rest of the albums consist of four rarities which were previously released on the Gold Top and Pure Gold compilations (Snow Blues, Only Woman, Cat Flea Jump and Birthday Blues) plus a rather strange re-recording of Bird of Paradise from 2000 which removes the characteristic lyric-less bars from the song.
As you can imagine from the aforementioned different styles, An Anthology is quite a mixed bag, ranging from Fusion-like instrumentals with outdated keyboard sounds and eighties-style pop songs to timeless blues songs and overall marvellous guitar play. Also, as always this compilation contains some personal favourites while I would gladly have exchanged lots of songs for others which are not present. Furthermore, some of Snowy's best work (with The White Flames) is unfortunately missing from this album. Nevertheless this double album presents the best representative collection of Snowy's career in the eighties and early nineties.
This compilation is filled to the absolute edge of the discs with 157 minutes of music and comes with a booklet with 7 pages of liner notes. Considering that this CD is sold for about 20 euros this is quite a bargain. The music on this CD will certainly not appeal to every prog rock fan, but this CD will offer something to most people's liking. If you like dreamy instrumentals in Dire Straits style, good blues in the BB King tradition or good guitar playing in general check this one out ! For those who like a more experimental and free-formed approach, see if you can find a copy of Snowy's amazing No Faith Required album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
CAP [Consorzio Acqua Potabile] –
Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah
Tracklist: Intro (1:24), Opener (7:56), L’Attesa (3:31), L’Illusione Della Sfera (8:51), Luna Impigliata Tra I Rami (2:21), La Danza (3:34), Ginevra: Regina Senza Regno (6:32), Grande Ombra Gentile (4:12), Pastelli (7:18), Il Regno (22:15), Including: Nello Spazio Di Una Notte Per Magia (5:30), Trova Quel Vento Che…(2:49), Si Dice Ai Delfini Sussurri (1:08), …Alla Marcia Del Sole (1:36), Tra Piccole Storie Di Lune Impigliate (2:18), Cosa Rimane Di Quei Giorni (2:53), …Nel Tempo Di Dooah(2:49)
What a fantastic way to end my first year as a reviewer for DPRP! There has been some great music sent my way, but this outstanding CD from CAP has exceeded all my expectations and is easily my favourite so far. It should be noted that I am a huge fan of Italian Progressive rock, so I have a natural bias towards this kind of music, but this CD is such a superb example of its type that it should have a wide appeal.
Taking its cues from the best of the Italian masters of the 70’s like PFM, Banco and Quella Vecchia Loccanda, CAP weave a multicoloured tapestry of sound which, whilst undeniably retro in inspiration, sounds remarkably fresh and alive. CAP is no derivative clone band either. They, like each of the above groups (and also the English groups who inspired them: Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes, VDGG), fuse elements of Classical, Jazz, Folk and Rock into an astonishingly cohesive whole.
There has been something of a resurgence of bands attempting to rekindle the flames of the classic 70’s prog sound amongst Italian bands of late, taking over from the heavily Genesis - inspired wave of Neo bands, which flooded the market in the 80’s. Bands like La Maschera Di Cera and La Torre Dell’ Alchemista have produced some very strong material. CAP outstrip most of these bands in both ambition and execution, though this may not be surprising, as they were formed back in the 70’s (but did not have anything released at that time) so they have a wealth of experience to draw on. An album of live material recorded in the 70’s has now been released, but that was pretty disappointing, probably largely due to the poor sound quality. There are no such problems with this new CD.
The whole thing is a concept piece, but being entirely sung in Italian, its subject remains a mystery to me. I realise that the absence of English vocals may put some listeners off, but I always prefer to hear vocals sung in the native tongue to avoid dodgy pronunciation, and a lot of Italian vocalists are very expressive and emotional singers, as is most definitely the case here.
The first nine tracks can be enjoyed as a flowing suite of music, with most tracks segueing smoothly into the next. To cap (pun intended) it all off, there is a twenty-minute epic track, which is as good if not better than what has gone before.
Musically, we are presented with an embarrassment of riches, full to the brim with enchanting melodies, twisting riffs, time and tempo changes aplenty, acoustic passages and harder moments, all jostling for attention in a fulsome stew of keyboards, guitars, recorders and woodwinds. Heart-renderingly beautiful piano refrains rub shoulders with swirling synths and furious hammonds. This really is a fully blown prog epic in the grand Italian tradition, aping PFM and Banco in as much as it makes full use of their immensely rich classical and folk heritage in fashioning a wondrous work of art. There is rarely a dull moment to be found, with each composition being a veritable box of delights to bewitch and entrance the hardest of hearts. There is a very natural, organic feel to the compositions, with nothing jarring or feeling at all forced. Each piece is appealingly fluid, moving from one captivating motif to the next with consummate ease.
I suppose there may be some who will find the (brief) use of school children’s singing (in the final track) a mite cheesy, but the only real problem I have with this disc is the end. Not that there is anything wrong with the ending, merely that it has to end at all.
This disc really will stand up in the exalted company of the classic Italian albums like Per un Amico (PFM), Darwin (Banco), and the best of Le Orme and Osanna. It wouldn’t even look too shoddy alongside Thick As A Brick or Foxtrot!
If you want to get the New Year off to a flying start, pick up this album soon - Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Marillion - Say Cheese, Christmas With Marillion
Tracklist: Marillion's Christmas Message (0.38), Stop The Cavalry (3.10), I'm The Urban Spaceman (2.49), Seasons End (8.28), Gabriel's Message (3.15), Neverland (10.12), Stille Nacht (1.11), 12 Days Of Christmas (5.00)
It's that time of the year again. Another year is over, DPRP presents the annual New Year Review Special, Marillion releases their free annual CD for their fanclubs, DPRP reviews the CD... Getting kinda predictable, no?
For the sixth year in running Marillion has released a CD to say thank you to their fanclub members, and once again it's an odd collection of rarities, Christmas covers and more. It remains a great gesture of the band, though their annual cd's aren't of a particularly constant quality. This year's CD for instance, is rather short. Only 35 minutes long, of which five consist of a horrendous version of 12 Days Of Christmas, sung by the staff of the Racket Club studio - yikes!
Also rather short is the annual Christmas message of the band, but then again, I normally tend to skip those after the first listen anyway, so I can't complain here.
This year's Christmas cover is Jona Lewie's Stop The Cavalry - quite like the original and Marillion's version certainly isn't an improvement (unlike the previous covers, Three Ships, Lonely This Christmas and Gabriel's Message).
The Urban Spaceman is a Neil Innes cover (of Monty Python fame) and is a demo recording by Steve Hogarth, and has already been released on his Cage EP. Rare, but not *that* rare.
We are then presented to some live recordings from their Christmas show at the Union Chapel, last year. (recently released on DVD). The great Seasons End, which in its live version is preceded by the carol O Come Emmanuel, and a rare performance of Gabriel's Message - a Christmas song which has been given such a Marillion treatment that they can play it more often as far as I'm concerned.
Now the real treat is presented in the form of another live track: Neverland. This is a new track of their forthcoming album Marbles, and was recorded at the Convention Weekend in Butlins, earlier this year. And it's a great track! A bit like a mixture between some of the work from Brave with Fish' Cliche (loooooong guitarsolos). At 10 minutes it may be a bit overlong, but the fact that this one song contains more guitarsolos that, say, the This Strange Engine and Afraid Of Sunlight albums combined is a welcome factor. If the rest of the album is of the same quality we'll be in for a treat.
The last two tracks are once again only nice for one or two listens. Stille Nacht is performed at a German Christmas show some years back, while the Racket Records staff show with 12 Days Of Christmas why the band only has one singer.
One final remark on the artwork - I quite like the work the band keeps on putting in the little details that make an item such as this one special. The CD comes in a nice carton sleeve, which is designed like an old-fashioned vinyl LP, with very tongue in cheek liner notes.
Though the CD isn't as good as some of the previous ones, the song Neverland alone makes up for a lot. Now I'm not gonna go as far as saying that Neverland alone is worth the price of an annual subscription to a Marillion fanclub, however, the song does make this CD an item well worth tracking down.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Mostly Autumn - Passengers
Tracklist: Something In Between (3:52); Pure White Light (4:33); Another Life (4:36); Bitterness Burnt (4:56); Caught In A Fold (3:52); The Simple Ways (6:13); First Thought (4:46); Passengers (6:05); Distant Train (4:50); Answer The Question (5:01); Pass The Clock – Part 1(2:40); Part 2 (5:49); Part 3 (3:39)
British band Mostly Autumn have made remarkable progress since their debut album For All We Shared was released back in 1998. The band’s combination of Pink Floyd atmospheric prog, traditional folk and more straight ahead rock is certainly an appealing one, and through almost constant gigging (both as headliners and as support to bigger names such as Blackmore’s Night and Uriah Heep) the band have managed to make quite a name for themselves, even in their homeland, which is not the easiest of places for original bands playing music which doesn’t fit into whatever the current trend is.
Up until now, I don’t think the band have managed to surpass For All We Shared; both Spirit Of Autumn Past and The Last Bright Light had their moments but didn’t manage to capture the freshness and magic of that first release, whilst Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings was very much a stop-gap, as have been the live releases and re-recorded versions of earlier songs the band have put out (too many in my opinion). Passengers however manages the trick of moving the band’s sound towards the ‘middle ground’ of classic rock whilst still containing those elements which attracted people to them in the first place.
The album starts (as per all Mostly Aututmn albums) with the last few notes from the last track of the last (proper) studio album (in this case Mother Nature from The Last Bright Light. Swirling piano notes then introduces Something In Between. A fairly simplistic pop-rock track featuring the dual vocals of Bryan Josh (also guitarist and chief songwriter) and Heather Findlay, this song brings to mind late-80’s Fleetwood Mac and, whilst nothing earth shattering, is a good introductory track. Pure White Light ups the ante somewhat, the rather dark, heavy verses punctuated by a strong, melodic chorus that sticks in the head. Division Bell-era Floyd is perhaps a good comparison here, especially given the Dave Gilmour influence (both as vocalist and guitar player) which can be clearly heard in Bryan Josh’s performance.
Another Life sees the tempo taken down a notch; a strong, somewhat sombre ballad with effective use of strings and a fantastic lead vocal performance by Heather Findlay, who has really come on leaps and bounds since the debut album, both in terms of range and confidence. Josh also gets to unleash a fine, again very Floydian, guitar solo during the instrumental break.
Next up are a couple of Findlay-penned tracks. Bitterness Burnt, written in memory of her late father, is the first of the new tracks to herald the band’s folky past, featuring Angela Goldthorpe’s excellent flute playing, acoustic guitars and the first of several guest appearances by Iona’s Troy Donockley, this time on Bazouki. Caught In The Fold meanwhile is an almost bluesy rocker, with excellent stabs of Hammond Organ from Iain Jennings, some great slide from second guitarist Liam Davison and some very Tull-esque flute playing from Goldthorpe. The chorus is superb, with Findlay’s voice taking on a deep, powerful timbre that would give many male heavy rock vocalists a run for their money.
Simple Ways calms things down again, an atmospheric track, again making good use of dual male/ female vocals, which builds gradually, eschewing clever time change and the like for solid musicianship – it bears some comparison with the band’s earlier Winter Mountain. I particularly liked the keyboard-led instrumental conclusion, which, with its mass of synthesised choir sounds achieves some kind of grandeur.
The introductory part of First Thought initially reminded me of Floyd’s Run Like Hell, but the track soon emerges as something of a power ballad, with as per usual a superb lead performance by Findlay. Once again, the hooks, once embedded in your head, won’t leave very quickly.
The title track is in some ways a more sedate affair, one of those track which doesn’t necessarily have that many peaks and troughs but, rather, gradually works its magic through building a powerful wall of sound. In fact this really makes much more sense when heard in the live arena, where it takes on another dimension. Special mention should be made of the excellent, almost gospel-style backing vocals that give the track additional atmosphere. Bryan Josh’s extended solo here is also, once again, of the highest quality.
Distant Train is a fine instrumental penned by Iain Jennings; onto a pulsating, almost ambient synth backdrop are woven a number of melodies, played by instruments as diverse as the cello and the unmistakable Uilleann pipes (played by Troy Donockley) - a fine blend of the traditional and the contemporary. The track gradually builds in power and tension, with Josh’s guitar once again coming to the fore. The outro blends into the chugging hard rock of Answer The Question; with Josh taking lead on the slightly menacing verses and Findlay singing the powerful chorus, this is another song made for the live stage – helped by an another strong instrumental climax.
Most bands might leave it there but not Mostly Autumn, who end the album with the three-part, twelve-odd minute epic Pass The Clock. Dedicated to the band’s late friend Duncan Rayson, the first part starts gently, with acoustic guitar, piano and flute backing Josh and Findlay’s dual vocals, here at their most wistful. The second part is a far more uptempo affair (at least in the first half), with Josh singing lead, and Jennings providing some driving Hammond. Donockley once again contributes Uillean pipes, which again blend well with the more conventional instrumentation, as does a fine violin solo from Chris Leslie. The track very suddenly breaks up, for a short, atmospheric instrumental section combining acoustic guitar and violin, before an almost a cappella duet between Findlay and Josh leads us into the uplifting Part 3, which ends things in passionate, positive fashion and features a wonderful, almost alternative jig-like section - this song certainly seems poised to be a live set-closer.
Well, as you can probably tell, I rate this album very highly. As I’ve come to expect from this band the musicianship is very strong, but this time the band seem to have managed to raise the songwriting bar much higher – there’s no filler here, and I can see all the tracks slotting in well into a live setting. The production is fuller than previous efforts, which especially helps the heavier tracks to make a strong impact.
I guess there may be some who aren’t that comfortable with the move towards more straightforward rock, but I thinks it works well, and it also gives the band a real chance of reaching a wider audience. I’d also say to any doubters to give the album some time as, although most tracks come over well enough on first listen, their impact grows the more you hear them.
All in all, a fine album that is highly recommended to all prog and rock fans. I would also add that, should you get the opportunity, you should try and catch the band in concert, as they have become an extremely effective live unit.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Mostly Autumn - The Next Chapter
Tracklist: The Forge Of Sauron, Greenwood The Great, The Gap Is Too Wide, Never The Rainbow, Noise From My Head, Please, The Last Climb, Shindig, The Spirit Of Autumn Past, Prints In Stone, Mother Nature, Something In Between, Goodbye Alone
Bonus Material: Pure White Light (rehearsal footage)
Mostly Autumn have quickly established themselves as one of the most promising prog bands of the new millennium. Their first three albums have all become modern classics (in my rather humble opinion) and their big break seemed to be imminent.
The Next Chapter seems the logical successor to their previous DVD The Story So Far. The Story So Far was a live registration, showcasing the band's greatest compositions and this new DVD shows how the band has evolved since. It consists of live footage from gigs around the world, interview snippets, studio footage of the band working on the new album and a few promo videos.
In fact, the DVD is one big promo video, as it is clearly designed to give an overview of what the band has accomplished so far and which direction it is going -- the story so far, so to speak.
And that's where the problem lies, in my opinion, as this is yet another introduction to a band, which shouldn't really need to be introduced anymore. In the two years since they've moved to the Classic Rock Productions label, they have only released one new studio album Passengers (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), and one partially new studio album (Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings). But they have also released two compilation albums: Heroes Never Die and Catch the Spirit, a live CD and DVD (The Story So Far) as well as three more 'official live series' albums, a new live DVD and this semi-live DVD in 2003 alone. That's a release schedule which rivals even that of Marillion's! However, one can't deny that this looks as if the band has reached a creative stand-still and more effort is being put into re-introducing the band's previous work rather than actually continuing the excellent work they've been doing for the past four years.
Though the DVD begins pretty well with live footage from The Mean Fiddler in London, with the powerful Forge of Sauron and Greenwood The Great, however things get rather corny with The Gap Is To Wide, which is basically the studio track (the re-recording from Catch The Spirit) with images of the band miming to the song in a rainy forest in Barrowdale, Cumbria. Then Never The Rainbow shows the band during their tour in the USA, but is also edited like a promo video (well done, though).
But after that we are presented with footage from the band's short set at the Canterbury Fayre festival in Kent, which is intercut with more footage of the band in Barrowdale and to give an explanation to the lyrics of The Last Climb, we are also treated with footage of a guy climbing a hill.
And the rest of the songs go on like this. We see the band play live, somewhere, and half the times the live footage is intercut with footage of the band miming to the lyrics in Barrowdale - or worse, in Central Park, NY.
The idea is clear. This DVD is to showcase what the band has achieved so far. But wasn't that exactly what The Story So Far already established? Or the Catch The Spirit Anthology CD? And is there really any need to see the band miming to live recordings, while standing in a rainy forest pretending to be actually playing very electric songs on non-amplified instruments? I personally could have done without all this and I for one am glad that there is also a new live DVD out, which I'll try to get my hands on as quickly as possible.
If you are new to the band this might give a nice introduction to their music, however, the Catch the Spirit double compilation or The Story So Far CD and DVD would have the same effect. Or, better still, you could just buy their first three studio albums instead!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Tracklist Movie (95:10): Opening Titles (1.59), When The Tigers Broke Free (part 1) (3.52), In The Flesh? (3.46), The Thin Ice (3.13), Another Brick in the Wall (part 1) (4.05), When The Tigers Broke Free (part 2) (2.06), Goodbye Blue Sky (3.32), The Happiest Days of Our Lives (2.06), Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) (3.25), Mother (7.19), Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now (4.55), Young Lust (3.08), One of My Turns (4.50), Don't Leave Me Now (3.05), Another Brick in the Wall (part 3) (1.16), Goodbye Cruel World (1.03), Is There Anybody Out There? (3.45), Nobody Home (4.50), Vera (2.01), Bring The Boys Back Home (1.31), Comfortably Numb (6.34), In The Flesh (3.56), Run Like Hell (2.28), Waiting for the Worms (2.26), Stop (2.37), The Trial (6.41), Outside The Wall/Closing Titles (4.22)
Bonus Material: Documentaries [The Other Side (25:41), Retrospective Part 1 (18:35), Retrospective Part 2 (24:18)], Original Music Video for Another Brick in the Wall (3:11), Hey You (4.34), Production Stills & Gerald Scarfe Artwork Gallery, Theatrical Trailer (1:52), Technical Sound System Set Up Guide, Audio Commentary by Roger Waters & Gerald Scarfe, Interactive menus with 'secret' buttons, Scene/Song Selection.
Subtitles: Lyrics (English), Spoken Text (English, French or Spanish)
I know, it's been out for quite a while but since it has taken Santa a bit longer than normal to get it to me and this is a highly interesting release for all prog fans, I will review it nevertheless. Now, I'll not go into describing what the movie itself is all about. Instead I'd like to refer you to part 4 of my extensive Counting Out Time article on The Wall, which contains loads of information about the movie.
Many of you will probably know this movie very well. For me personally this grim story by Roger Waters, visualised by Alan Parker and Gerald Scarfe, has played a big role in my own childhood. There were so many things in the story I could relate to from personal experiences and the frustration and aggression often were a welcome soundtrack as I went through the ups and downs of my own teenage life. I studied every detail in the movie for hours as I didn't quite understand it when I first saw it. Together with interviews I read with Roger Waters and Alan Parker I eventually pieced together the symbolical meaning of the whole thing. And now it is a delight to go and rediscover all thos secrets and more on this excellent DVD.
As far as the quality of the movie itself is concerned, it is superb in sound and vision, especially considering that it was originally released in 1982. Some parts are much clearer than they have ever been on my own taped copy from a TV broadcast in the eighties.
The animated menu's are both wonderful and weird. Wonderful because they use (slowed-down) footage from the movie while the menu buttons slowly descend into view from different corners of the screens. Weird because the sounds to these animated scenes often consist of non-Wall Pink Floyd tracks (Set the Controls, Echoes, Have a Cigar, Shine On, Dogs, etc) and even sometimes the occasional snippet of Waters solo material, which seem very out of place. Also, every menu has a 'hidden button' which isn't really all that hidden. Clicking on it triggers a sound-effect from the movie or album, and again sometimes sound-effects from Waters' solo stuff (eg the drill at the start of Pros & Cons). I can't really see the sense in these buttons. Considering this product was released at what could be considered the start of the DVD era, it probably seemed like an exciting thing to do at the time.
The Any Title You Like menu is all about the subtitles options and track selection. 'Subtitles' enables you to get subtitles in English, French and Spanish for the very few bits of spoken dialogue in the movie. More interesting is the option to switch the lyrics on and off, enabling you to have the lyrics to the songs appear as subtitles (in English of course). It's a shame these lyrics are only available in English. My old taped copy of The Wall had Dutch subtitles for both the lyrics and spoken words. Not that I personally really needed them, but it would help people who might struggle with the English language to understand the story better.
Even more annoying is the song selection option. You have to go through no less than three screens before being able to select a song. And even then you can only select a track number. Now, since neither the DVD menu nor the DVD inlay has a track listing, this makes it incredibly difficult to find the right track, especially for those who are not all that familiar with the tracks and the running order on The Wall. And even if they would be knowledgeable, the tracklist is quite different from the regular album. As a matter of fact, for those who don't know the songs there is no way of finding out what they are listening to at a specific moment in the movie. I find this stupidity at large.
The Set The Controls menu deals with the audio options of the DVD. Not being an audiophile, and not being the owner of one of those fancy home cinema thingies, I can't really comment on that aspect of the DVD. Suffice it to say that you can play the movie in PCM Stero Surround and Dolby 5.1. The DVD even contains an extensive sound system setup test for 5.1 systems. Nice, although I doubt if the owners of such a system haven't done such a test already.
The best part of the extra's are the items under the Saucerful of Features menu, which contains documentaries, additional footage and more. First of all, you can switch the running commentary to the movie by Waters and Scarfe on and off. The commentary is basically Roger Waters and Gerald Scarfe watching the film again after many years. There's a continuing dialogue between the two about the story, topics touched upon by the movie and some unrelated serious things like pedofiles. It is highly interesting to hear how much of the movie was influenced by Syd Barrett or exact copies of Roger's own experiences, but also Scarfe's own memories of World War II. All in all the commentary makes for some highly interesting anecdotes.
Perhaps the biggest revelation on this DVD is that - contrary to his well-known doses of sarcasm - Roger Waters has a sense of humour. Not only does he consider the movie 'deeply flawed' since it doesn't have any laughs, he also reveals himself to be a real stand-up comedian in the commentary, often tittering on the edge of complete silliness. As such the commentary is at times highly informative and at other times painstakingly daft.
The Documentaries present on this DVD are a 26 minute 'making off' documentary called 'The Other Side' from the early eighties which, although it sounds and looks slightly dated and is of course a standard promotional documentary, is very informative. It has lots of behind the scenes footage shot at the time. Also, there is a 44 minute Retrospective documentary filmed in 1999, which strange enough is split up in two parts for no obvious reason whatsoever. It featuring interviews with Roger Waters, Gerald Scarfe, Alan Parker, music producer James Guthrie, producer Alan Marshall and director of photography Peter Bizou. All very good stuff, though I would have loved to hear the two people playing Pink in the movie, Kevin McKeon and Bob Geldof, about their experiences as well. They are sorely missed. Combined, these documentaries are the highlights of the DVD and make it a must have for all Floyd fans.
More good stuff can be found under the Oddities sub-menu, which contains the official music video for Another Brick in the Wall (part 2), which was of course shot prior to the movie and is completely different from the version in the movie. It does however contain some of Scarfe's animations and the big puppet of the Teacher for the stage show. Another treat is the 'lost seventh reel' which was presumed to be lost and contains Hey You, which was cut from the final movie. Although the quality is indeed inferior and the whole thing is in black and white it is great to finally see this original footage (most of which was cut up and used in other parts of the movie).
Finally, the sub-sub menu Promo contains the official trailer for the film, some nice production still (including David Gilmour's only appearance on this DVD) and 40 even more fabulous pieces of artwork by Gerald Scarfe (especially for Goodbye Blue Sky, Don't Leave Me Now, In The Flesh, The Trial and Empty Space) some of which was used for the movie and some not. I've seen some of this artwork and stills before in Floyd fanzines, but they will probably be new to most of you.
If you don't like The Wall as an album, you won't like this release. If you liked the music of The Wall and if you're sure there must be something better than the live version in Berlin, give this one a try. If you saw and survived the movie on an earlier occassion and would like to get another peek into the twisted minds of Waters, Scarfe and Parker get this DVD. If you loved the movie and know it by heart there's tons of goodies on this CD to enjoy. Despite some minor flaws I personally consider it to be one of the best DVDs in my collection.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Peter Gabriel - Hit
Disc 1 [76:01]: Solsbury Hill (4:23), Shock The Monkey (3:59), Sledgehammer (4:51), Don't Give Up (5:55), Games Without Frontiers (3:57), Big Time (4:28), Burn You Up, Burn You Down (5:26), Growing Up (4:48), Digging In The Dirt (5:15), Blood Of Eden (5:06), More Than This (4:33), Biko (6:58), Steam (6:02), Red Rain (5:39) Here Comes The Flood (4:32)
Disc 2 [74:13]: San Jacinto (6:31), No Self-Control (3:54), Cloudless (4:47), The Rhythm Of The Heat (5:19), I Have The Touch (4:19), I Grieve (7:24), D.I.Y. (2:38), A Different Drum (4:47), The Drop (3:03), The Tower That Ate People (4:06), Lovetown (5:23), Father, Son (4:47), Signal To Noise (7:34), Downside Up (5:32), Washing Of The Water (3:54)
It's been 13 years since the previous Peter Gabriel compilation (the excellent Shaking The Tree). So you would guess it is time for another, right. Time for The Essential Collection, so to speak. However, in those 13 years, Gabriel has only produced two studio albums and a couple of soundtracks, not really warranting another double best of compilation - or does it?
Upon looking at the tracklist it struck me that half of Peter Gabriel's latest studio album, UP, is included on this compilation. If you consider that this album wasn't quite the hit it was supposed to be, it is quite easy to figure out the inclusion of these songs.
So the value of this compilation for collectors is rather meagre: a few rarities and a new song. However, since my copy of Shaking The Tree is suffering from a bad case of CD-rot, and I haven't gotten around to acquiring Gabriel's entire backcatalogue, I was quite interested in this compilation. Plus, there's also a special offer on PG's website, for his new DVD and this compilation CD.
The first disc is called - like the compilation - "Hit", and features, understandably, Gabriel's singles that were a hit in some form somewhere in the world. All the usual suspects are there: Sledgehammer, Solsbury Hill, Shock The Monkey, etcetera, as well was somewhat more rare radio edits of More Than This, Steam, Blood of Eden and an interesting remix of Growing Up.
It also features a new song, Burn You Up, Burn You Down, which is best described as a typical Peter Gabriel song, or a rather obvious left-over from the UP sessions. The melody line of the vocals is pretty similar to that of the earlier single Kiss That Frog - not one of my favourites either.
The second disc is quite self-mockingly dubbed "Miss" and features both album tracks and singles that, well, weren't exactly a "hit".
As most interesting tracks this disk includes Lovetown (from the Philadelphia motion picture soundtrack) and a live version of the OVO track Downside Up, as well as excerpts from Peter Gabriel's soundtracks for The Last Temption Of Christ (A Different Drum, from the Passion album) and Rabbit Proof Fence (Cloudless from the Long Walk Home album).
Personally I could have done with some different choices here and there. The Drop, Washing Of The Water or A Different Drum are all nice, but should not have been included at the cost of tracks like Family Snapshot or I Don't Remember. In that respect the US version may be a better buy, as this version does include these two songs, as well as Love To Be Loved and In Your Eyes, instead of DIY, No Self-Control, I Have The Touch, A Different Drum and Washing Of The Water.
To confuse you even more: the German version comes with a completely different tracklist as well, including German versions of Not One Of Us, I Have The Touch, Lay Your Hands, Family Snapshot and Here Comes The Flood - a collector's dream... or nightmare, depending on your viewpoint.
Just like the recently reviewed Growing Up DVD this CD gives access to an exclusive remix track for the Noodle program. Remix afficionadoes can play around with the track The Tower That Ate The People.
Great fun, though not particularly worth the full price of a CD.
To sum it up: Yes, this is pretty close to the definitive Peter Gabriel collection, though it has little to offer for fans who already own the majority of his albums. If you are new to Gabriel's music, this is a good starting point, though if you already own Up, then Shaking The Tree and Secret World Live may be better (and cheaper) alternatives.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Trey Gunn - Untune The Sky
Tracklist: Sozzle (4:41), The Glove (live) (5:02), Killing For London (6:26),The Third Star (alternate mix) (3:42), Take This Wish (alternate mix) (6:41), August 1997 (1:37), Rune Song (5:40), Puttin' On The White Shirt (7:59), Brief Encounter (5:49), Arrakis (5:20), The Cruelest Month (unreleased) (9:00), The Gift (4:14), Hootenanny At The Pink Pussycat Cafe (2:10)
Trey Gunn, King Crimson bassist for the past 10 years, prolific solo artist and session man extraordinaire, provides a retrospective of his six solo albums in this latest release. With due consideration for his fans the album contains two alternate mixes and a previously unreleased track that provides over 20 minutes of 'new' material. The full release also comes with a bonus DVD of live performances, interviews and video montages although the promo version of the album received by DPRP only contains the CD so no review of the DVD here I'm afraid!
The alternate mixes of The Third Star and Take This Wish, prepared by Trey himself prior to the final mix by David Bottrill, are different interpretations of what elements are important to a composition, this time from the artist's, as opposed to the producer's, point of view Not that this negates the previous released versions, nor does it imply that the artist was not happy with the producers decision on what to leave in or take out of the mix, it's just a different point of view. The most notably different from the previously released versions is Take This Wish, which has the extended tabla solo by Bob Muller reinstated. The tabla features on several of the other tracks, particularly on the impressive live version of The Glove and Puttin' On The White Shirt, which counterpoints the percussive rhythm with the jazzy trumpet of Dave Douglas (taking a similar role to that provided by Mark Isham on several David Sylvian songs). Sylvian himself seems to be the template on the previous unreleased The Cruelest Month, which could easily have come from the same sessions that produced Sylvian's two albums with Holgar Czukay. Snippets of treated spoken word are weaved within a repetitive guitar motif that insinuates itself into one's brain. The whole thing is laid over a Soundscape drone, until it eventually the track fades away to an the ambient wash that contains, what to me, sounds like an electronic representation of a didgeridoo! A bit arty but quite hypnotic.
The Gift is pure ambient music, demonstrative of Trey's musical breadth but something that feels rather out of place on the album, particularly as it is comes immediately before one of the most energetic tracks on the album, Hootenanny At The Pink Pussycat Cafe. Fretless bass, wild organ and manic drumming drive this track all over the place, great fun to listen to and, I imagine, to play. Sozzle is also an upbeat number with a strong percussive beat while Rune Song features the ubiquitous tabla and a guitar arrangement that is very Fripp-esque - there are certainly shades of Red to be heard.
If you are a fan of Trey's then you'll know what to expect but, if like me, you are mostly familiar with his work with Crimson, then Untune The Sky represents a very good introduction to his solo releases. However, just don't expect King Crimson!
Trey Gunn is probably best known as a (now ex) member of the current incarnation of King Crimson (joining the band for their Thrakk album of 1995), although he is also a much sought-after sidesman, playing with the likes of David Sylvian, Vernon Reid (Living Colour) and John Paul Jones. Gunn is an accomplished player of both the Chapman Stick (which fans of Peter Gabriel will be familiar with – Tony Levin also uses this instrument extensively) and an instrument known as the Warr Guitar, an 8 or 10 string ‘touch’ guitar with the range of a piano. Due to both the uniqueness of the instruments he’s playing, and his own individual style of playing, any solo material by Gunn is inevitably going to draw comparisons with Crimson. This will only be increased with the presence on a few of the tracks of Pat Mastelletto (drums) and Crimson maestro Robert Fripp (on ‘organ guitar’(!)) is taken into account. However, whilst it’s probably true to say that this album is undoubtedly Crimson-flavoured in places, Gunn does branch out and embrace areas of music outside the scope of that band.
Untune The Sky is not actually a new album; rather, it’s a compilation from the six solo albums he’s recorded thus far (all, as far as I can tell, during his King Crimson tenure). Given his recent departure from the band, its seems both obvious and sensible that Gunn will now concentrate far more on promoting this material, and in all honesty probably only dedicated Crimson followers will have heard much of this before; therefore a well-chosen and varied compilation such as this is probably as good a way as any of spreading the word.
The music presented here can certainly be labelled ‘fusion’; although the elements it fuses varies from track to track, recurring ingredients are jazz, avant-garde prog/ rock, ambient, loose-limbed funk, and world music. Many of the songs ride along on a solid bass-line provided by Gunn, over which Gunn himself and other musicians overlay a variety of sonic textures, melody and layers of percussion.
It’s interesting to note that, whilst it’s his Crimson band-mates who are the best known musicians appearing here, its actually percussionist and tabla player Bob Mueller whose contributions are most notable, driving the music forward with a whirlwind of ethnic-flavoured percussion on the likes of Sozzle, whilst also providing suitable backing to slower and more ethereal works such as the Arabic flavoured Rune Song (which features a wonderful recurring guitar solo) and Brief Encounter. He’s also a significant presence on the jazzy work-out Puttin’ On The White Shirt, a track which manages that tricky task of making ‘jazz-fusion’ both accessible and musically challenging; here, its trumpet player Dave Douglas who gets his chance to shine. The song which best fuses ambient soundscapes with a sinewy, funky groove, meanwhile, is probably Arrakis, whilst the gentle ambient wash of The Gift has a definite new age feel about it.
Vocals are used on a few tracks, and are generally fairly workmanlike – the sort of half-spoken, half-sung delivery that listeners to modern-day Crimson will be used to; in effect the voice is generally used as another instrument rather than as the lead one. The one exception is The Third Star, featuring a deep, rich female vocal (courtesy of one ‘Alice’) which suits the simple yet haunting central melody of the song.
For the more dedicated Trey Gunn fan, who will presumably have much of this material already, there are some rare tracks included on here. The Glove, which with its discordant, fuzzy bass tones and harder edge is definitely one of the tracks most reminiscent of King Crimson, is labelled ‘live’, although I’d assume this means live in the studio (if there’s an audience here they’re being very quiet!). The Third Star and Take This Wish are presented in alternate mixes, whilst there is one completely unreleased track, the nine-minute, sample-heavy The Cruelest Month, which I must admit to finding rather rambling and difficult to get into.
Overall, this is a fine introduction to the solo work of Trey Gunn. People’s views on this album will very much depend on their tolerance of both recent King Crimson specifically and (mainly) instrumental fusion music in general – if both are your thing, this is probably a must-have. The variety and quality of the musicianship, combined with the (relative!) accessibility of much of the material means that it’s also an ideal introduction for those wanting to explore this type of music. I would say that, at nearly 70 minutes, it’s perhaps too long for one sitting (except as background music), but works better (for me at least) in shorter bursts, where each composition can be better appreciated as a work in its own right.
It should be said that the album will come with a DVD featuring live performances, interview footage and video montages, which should certainly add value to the package as a whole, especially to those who already have the solo albums.
Mark Hughes : 7 out of 10
Tom de Val : 7.5 out of 10
Twelfth Night - Art And Illusion
Tracklist: Counterpoint (5:57), Art & Illusion (3:51), C.R.A.B. (4:34), Kings & Queens (5:43), First New Day (5:53), Blue Powder Monkey (7:22), Blondon Fair (5:34), Take A Look (11:59), Counterpoint (alternate) (3:56), Kings & Queens (alternate) (5:52), Take A Look (alternate) (4:31)
Despite what anyone may say, Twelfth Night were the foremost English group in the progressive rock revival of the early 1980s. Superb technical ability, great musical depth, vision and imagination plus a willingness to expand the notions of what progressive rock was all about made Twelfth Night the band that everyone else looked up to. From the earliest days as an instrumental group, through the classic Geoff Mann era and onto the prematurely truncated time with Virgin, Twelfth Night could always be relied upon to produce stimulating and absorbing music. They really smoked live as well!
Art & Illusion was something of a watershed album. After years of steady progress that had begun to pay off with several major labels sniffing about, vocalist Geoff Mann had, for purely personal reasons and on completely amicable terms, decided to leave the group. The replacement was one Andy Sears, not only a fine singer but also a composer in his own right, although the only tracks to have seen a commercial release were a couple of songs with Davy Jones from The Monkees. However, they were only released in Japan and their legitimacy was questionable. Writing for the new Twelfth Night album started afresh in the spring of 1984 with most of the unrecorded material written with Geoff being pushed aside. As part of the deal with Music For Nations that secured release of Geoff's farewell live performances, the group were contracted to provide the label with another album - Art & Illusion.
To much surprise the album was a mini album, five tracks and 26 minutes long. Although sufficient material had been written for a full-length album, the groups management had advised them to hold back some of the stronger, more progressive music for a major label release as they were confident that a deal would be struck soon. Of the five original tracks, album opener Counterpoint was a biting attack on the Conservatism of the time, the era of yuppies and 'greed is good'. An energetic song, it displayed a new Twelfth Night style. Yes, Clive Mitten's bass was still prominent in the mix, Rick Battersby's keyboards added the characteristic flourishes, Andy Revell's echoplexed guitar was there and Brian Devoil's double bass drum kit provided the impetus and drive to give a stunning opening number. Two 'older' numbers followed this impressive beginning. Art & Illusion, the only song written with Geoff and recorded with Andy, justified its inclusion as it fitted the style of the newer material. In a different universe it would have been a hit single, possessing a great hook line and having all the qualities that would appeal to people who were normally scared off by the 'Progressive Rock' tag. Probably why it was such a popular encore number. C.R.A.B., which simply stands for 'Clive, Rick, Andy, Brian', is a reminder of the bands instrumental roots, being a reworking of a section of Keep The Aspidistra Flying from the second tape album of 1980.
Side two of the original album consisted of Kings & Queens and First New Day. The first of these tracks follows a similar template to Counterpoint, although the distorted guitar part in the middle displays some of the more adventurous and original aspects of the band that was rarely captured in the studio. First New Day, an impassioned and questioning song about Governmental priorities regarding funding for aid and medical research compared with arms and the military, is a fantastic track. Performed entirely on keyboards and programmed drums with Brian contributing a single snare part in the second half of the song, it brushes aside media accusations that the group were living in the past.
The bonus material extends the album to almost three times its original length. Admittedly, three of these tracks are alternate versions of the album tracks which were sent to producer Gil Norton to give him an idea of what the band were planning to record. Nether-the-less, these 'works-in-progress' versions give a fascinating insight into the development of the songs. Another rehearsal track is a fast version of the opening section of Take A Look that was, even at that time, a potential candidate for a single. This track is also present in a full, very early (and considerably different) version recorded in May 1984 as a demo for MCA records. Two other MCA demos, the highly original Blondon Fair and the historical tale Blue Powder Monkey make up the rest of the bonus material, and again show how these songs first sounded before the definitive versions were recorded during the Virgin album sessions.
I make no excuses for being thoroughly biased in my review of this album Twelfth Night were, and are, one of my favourite bands, I was fortunate enough to see them on numerous occasions and I freely admit to having had a hand in the preparation of this, and other Twelfth Night re-releases. However, it is purely for the love of the music and the sincere belief that they deserve a lot higher profile and wider audience that they currently achieve.
This album stems from the time of "way back when"... The time in which progressive rock was in the spotlights for a little while (and even in the charts). Marillion released Misplaced Childhood, Peter Gabriel released So and Yes released 90125. Unfortunately at this time Twelfth Night had not yet found a "larger" record company. Just after releasing this mini-album, Art & Illusion, they signed a deal with Virgin.
It took me some time to get interested in progressive rock, or at least some time to understand that the music I liked had that name. And Twelfth Night's Fact And Fiction was one of the first albums that made me realize that that there was music out there that would not ever be played on the radio or shown on television although it was great music. Fact and Fiction had been released nine years prior to the time that I discovered it and to this day I believe it is one of the most underrated progressive rock albums. And it sure is a real classic!
It is that special bond that I feel to Twelfth Night that makes my somewhat reluctant to write this review. I have been trying hard to like this album and, as you might understand, things like that can't be rushed, however this album will not become one of my favourites. Andy Sears voice (as opposed to that of Geoff Mann) is more of the yelling kind and all tracks are less progressive and more "poppy". It is not hard to make out that this is a real mid-eighties album. Over a number of spins there are of course tracks that I like more than other but none of them has that pizzazz like all (!) tracks of Fact and Fiction have.
The intro to Counterpoint might promise music that would be more in the old Twelfth Night vein but as soon as Andy Sears starts singing that illusion is gone, this is a very different band. Art & Illusion is a nice track but it seems to be mixing two Marillion tracks: Market Square Heroes (very prominent) and Forgotten Sons. C.R.A.B. is an instrumental track and because of that one of the best tracks on this album. Kings & Queens is an track of up-tempo and slower parts but that description is all there is to it. First New Day can best be compared to Love Song it has the same theme but is much sadder. Blue Powder Monkey has a nice build up and is a smooth track compared to the others, maybe a bit too smooth. Blondon Fair is one of the least poppy tracks and because of that I like it, it is also a real Twelfth Night track. Take A Look was not on the original Art and Illusion album but luckily it is on this re-release because it is one of the better tracks and certainly very interesting.
By comparing this album to another, that besides being a classic and also has a special meaning to me, might not be honest. But I realized that this album on it's own did not really interest me and because of that I started comparing it to Fact and Fiction, not the other way around. It has some highlights though and anyone that likes Andy Sears voice more than I do might be less critical of this album. And yes, still large parts of my criticism might be caused by the "after Fact and Fiction - disappointment".
All things apart it must be said that it is very recommendable of Cyclops to re-release albums like this. If you are a Twelfth Night fan this might well be your chance to finally obtain a copy of this album. If you are not a fan you should order Fact and Fiction, as it also has been re-released by Cyclops, and listen until you are a fan - I think it won't take you too long.
Mark Hughes : 10 out of 10
Dries Dokter : 7 out of 10
The Mars Volta -
De-Loused In The Comatorium
Tracklist: Son Et Lumiere (1:35); Inertiatic ESP (4:24); Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of) (7:31); Tira Me A Las Aranas (1:29); Drunkship Of Lanterns (6:20); Eriatarka (7:06); Cicatriz ESP (12:29); This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed (4:58); Televators (6:19); Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt (8:42)
I must admit that this is one of those albums where the hype machine which was in full blast at the time of its release served to put me off investigating further – in my opinion a lot of major label releases which are feted by the more fashion-conscious segments of the media are often a triumph of style over content. However, on listening to The Mars Volta’s debut album, I have to say that on this occasion the hype was justified, as De-Loused In The Comatorium is certainly one of the most original releases to arrive on the progressive rock scene in many a year.
The Mars Volta was put together by vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez after they dissolved their last band, the highly-regarded melodic hardcore outfit At The Drive-In. The main reason for the band’s disintegration appears to have been the very fact that Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez Lopez felt somewhat musically straitjacket by ATDI’s commercial success, and wanted to explore wider musical pastures – something they’ve certainly done here.
In the best progressive rock traditions, De-Loused… is a concept album, a fictionalised account of the life of a friend of Rodriguez’s, Julio Venegas. The rather downbeat tale has our hero attempting to commit suicide by over-dosing on morphine, but failing, and instead lying in a coma for a week. During this time he experiences a fantastic series of adventures in his dreams, reflecting the battles between the good and bad aspects of his conscience. He is given a choice of living or dying when he emerges from his coma, and chooses the latter (in reality Venegas committed suicide in 1996). This is just a summary of what is undoubtedly a far more complex and convoluted story; the (utterly bizarre) lyrics are available on a number of fan sites (try www.inertiatic.com) although whether this will enhance your understanding of the story is debatable!
In keeping with the off-centre lyrical content, the music that the band have come up with on De-Loused… is not exactly what you’d call conventional, nor indeed is it particularly restrained or understated. In fact, there is in fact so much going on here that its actually difficult to describe what the album sounds like; a (very) general overview would be to say that it sees the melodic hardcore style pioneered by At The Drive In colliding with the spacey atmospherics of early Pink Floyd (the band have clearly listened to Interstellar Overdrive more than once), Red-era King Crimson and prime time Led Zeppelin (a comparison which extends to Bixler’s appealing vocals, which have more than a hint of Robert Plant about them). The band’s website also name-checks the likes of Spirit, Can, Fugazi (a legendary hardcore act) and Miles Davis, and the album takes in everything from modern Jazz to thrash, often moving from one to the other in a blink of an eye.
With all this going on, it is to The Mars Volta’s credit that they manage (in general) to keep things from going off the rails – whilst there are some obviously improvised jams, the band manage to pull the disparate musical strands together rather than noodling off into musical dead-ends, and the melody content is kept high throughout. Basically, whilst the music is pretty self-indulgent (as prog often is!) it’s usually enjoyably so. The way the band switch between mellow, spaced-out passages and furious high octane guitar-heavy passages in a seamless and apparently natural manner is highly impressive, as are the constantly shifting rhythms and cascading guitar riffs which appear from out of nowhere. It should also be said that, although this is a concept album and works most effectively when listened to in its entirety, the likes of Roulette Dares, Eriatarka and particularly the (comparatively) laid back Televators work perfectly well as songs in their own right, courtesy of distinctive structures, strong melodies and recognisable choruses.
Rodriguez and Bixler have assembled an excellent band to accompany them on this album – respected Californian musicians Jon Theodore and Ikey Isaiah Owens provide fine work on drums and keyboards respectively, whilst the pulling power of the band is illustrated by the presence of Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea on bass (with bandmate John Frusciante also contributing some guitar to Cicatraz ESP). Perhaps the most telling contribution, however, is from ‘sound wizard’ Jeremy Michael Ward, who provides a wall of ambient soundscapes and samples which both fill in the gaps and add extra atmosphere to the songs themselves. Sadly, Ward has since passed away, but this album is certainly a fitting testament to his talents.
Overall then, this is an intense, exciting and original album which has certainly served to increase the interest of the wider public in progressive rock. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and is (to be honest) perhaps a bit over-ambitious at times, but at least The Mars Volta are trying to push the boundaries and create something different and unique. It is also one of those albums which, on repeated listening, you always find yourself discovering something new.
The survival of progressive rock as a viable entity and commercial art-form is dependent on high quality, genre-crossing works from high-profile, major-label backed artists such as this, and with bands like The Mars Volta leading the charge I’d say that the future is pretty bright!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Michael Schenker Group - Arachnophobiac
Tracklist: Evermore (5:22), Illusion (5:24), Arachnophobiac (4:47), Rock And Roll Believer (4:07), Into The Sands Of Time (4:39), Weathervane (5:02), Over Now (5:48), One World (4:06), Break The Cycle (3:51), Alive (4:51), Fatal Strike (4:25)
I bet that quite a few "bells" will start to ring when the name Michael Schenker is mentioned. This guitar hero is probably best known for extracting fast notes from his Gibson Flying V. Schenker started out as the lead guitarist in The Scorpions at the tender age of 15, played a few years with UFO and - again - with The Scorpions before embarking on a solo trip. Within the Michael Schenker Group (MSG) and McAuley Schenker Group (MSG2) format, Schenker obviously felt more at home, although he did return to UFO for a brief stint and played with fellow-axeman Tracii Guns in the metal supergroup Contraband for one album. Arachnophobiac is the name of the latest album by the Michael Schenker Group.
When I started to play guitar, I was enormously impressed by the almost impossible sounding guitar acrobatics that people like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Jennifer Batten could perform on their instruments. Still, after a while I began to grow tired of their albums which mostly sounded like a means to showcase their command of the six strings and not to convey emotions by way of some cohesive songs. Speed was everything for them, it seemed. I was therefore positively surprised to hear that MSG's Arachnophobiac was a song-oriented album and not yet another example of guitar masturbation.
On Arachnophobiac Schenker is joined by a bunch of seasoned musicians. Vocalist Chris Logan (Pat Travers), drummer Jeremy Colson ( Marty Friedman, Steve Vai, James Murphy, Dali's Dilemma) and bass beast Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Ritchie Kotzen, Steve Fister, Tommy Aldridge) clearly show why they have such big names on their respective CVs. Logan has a strong metal voice, which sounds like a blend of ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Greyhaven's Brian Francis and a drop of Axl Rose (don't think I need to mention which band he played with really); no falsetto, but very powerful and leaning to a vicious snarl at times. Colson and Hamm's rhythm tandem is rock solid, but still imaginative.
The music that Schenker and co make on Arachnophobiac does not have a lot to do with its almost namesake Anoraknophobia by Marillion. Apart from some Rush-like influences on Evermore (lovely, subtle guitar riffs!) and Over Now, there is not a lot of progressive rock or metal to be spotted on the album. Most songs are a mixture of classic hard rock, blues and metal, seasoned with some great melodic guitar solos.
Some names that come to mind when listening to MSG's latest album are the aforementioned ZZ Top (most clearly in Illusion, which starts out as a quiet song, but erupts into a steamy bluesrock track), Guns 'N' Roses (e.g. in the title track - which features somewhat silly lyrics about big black spiders crawling all over the place - and in the guitar solo in Break The Cycle), The Scorpions (for instance in the rock ballad Over Now) and Survivor (in Fatal Strike). Rock And Roll Believer and Weathervane are pure bluesrock/-metal tracks and remind me of various songs by artists like Gary Moore, The Black Crowes and Extreme (traces of which also can be found in Break The Cycle). In the one-but-last piece on the album, Alive, MSG gears up even more. This track is a good example of the fact that power metal does not need to contain cheesy heroes-with-swords lyrics, but can actually work with a religious text as well (which is an interesting remark to be made by an atheist, I realise, but hey, good music is good music after all!).
To wrap things up, Arachnophobiac by the Michael Schenker Group is an album that really rocks, but most likely will not appeal to the die-hard prog fan (leading to it not getting the "DPRP Recommended" label). However, if you like classic hard rock and (blues) metal in the vein of The Scorpions, ZZ Top, Guns 'N' Roses, Extreme, The Black Crowes and Gary Moore sprinkled with the odd bit of guitar pyrotechnics, then you should certainly give this CD a spin!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arena - Contagium EP
Tracklist: On The Edge of Despair (5:43), The March of Time (7:30), Confrontation (5:33), Special remix of Salamander (4:47)
Multimedia Extras: Painted Man Special Video, Ghost Vocals, Contagion - The Story, Tour Photo Gallery, Lyrics, Contagion Screensaver, Master Tracklist.
When Arena wrote material for the Contagion album they ended up with enough material to fill a double album. Instead of going for two CDs they wisely decided to select the strongest of the 23 tracks and 95 minutes of music and release it on a single CD. However, instead of discarding the remaining music as was done during previous sessions the band decided that these songs were strong enough to release on additional EPs. To make these packages even more interesting, they would include various goodies in a Multimedia PC section. The first of these EPs was Contagious and was released a few months ago. Now the second EP, Contagium, closes the Contagion chapter for the band.
Contagium's audio tracks consist of three new pieces and a remix of Salamander. On The Edge of Despair uses the familiar riff of the This Way Madness Lies instrumental, but combines is with semi-acoustic vocal sections which remind me a lot of Shadowland, and not just because Clive Nolan is very present on backing vocals.
March of Time sounds a lot like a remake of the first bit of Moviedrome. You know, the bit that goes 'as I listen to the rhythm of the fax machine' etc. The resemblance is striking. The track does however contain one of those characteristic Arena one-liners (think 'I will always find you') where the music stops and something creepy is said. This time it is 'Am I Invisible ?'.
Confrontation is another fine instrumental, as more can be found on Contagion and the first EP. As the others this one is quite heavy and bombastic, although it also features a break with acoustic guitar and a Mellotron-like choir. To top it off, John Mitchell plays another fine guitar solo.
Although these tracks might fall short of the quality and originality of the tracks on Contagion, they are great tunes in their own rights. The two vocal tracks might well be the best of the four remaining vocal tracks while the instrumental is another treat, just like the two on Contagious.
Like the remix of Witch Hunt on Contagious the new version of Salamander is quite a nice surprise as well. It shows that one doesn't have to turn something into a techno track when remixing a song and the rock style can be maintained while giving a song its own identity. For instance, this version includes completely new riffs and breaks.
The Multimedia section of the EP, which can be played on PC's, contains - besides the obligatory website link - a lot of good stuff this time. First of all we get the lyrics and earlier versions with John Mitchell's ghost vocals for On The Edge of Despair and The March of Time. John's ghost vocals sound a lot more inspired than those on Contagious. Then again, on that EP we got ghost vocal tracks for songs we were already very familiar with. Still, these two tracks stand up quite well with fine performances by John.
The video footage of The Painted Man, which was used for projections during the live show, is less interesting than the footage for Skin Game on Contagious. The footage for Painted Man mainly consists of colour flows and effects with a few snippets of the band playing live and words from the lyrics. Further live show related material can be found in the Tour Photo Gallery section with nice shots of the gigs.
The Screensaver on this EP - which also runs as part of the animated menu - is highly interesting since it contains sketches and unused ideas and proposals for artwork. Still, the absolute highlight of the Multimedia section is the presentation of Clive Nolan's short story for Contagion (previously only published in an issue of The Cage, the official fanzine). Initially the whole concept album was based on that story written by Clive. Well, it isn't really a story but more a series of very short chapters in a story, each just a few lines and most of them representing one of the 23 songs. On the EP they are beautifully presented with the matching artwork for the songs. Now, based on the quality of this piece I certainly wouldn't advise Clive to go and pursue a career as a writer. It's all a bit too fragmented and full of cliches. Nevertheless, this is a very welcome present to the fans since the story of the concept album can hardly be discerned from the lyrics. The lyrics of the songs are not only symbolic, but also describe the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist instead of the actual story. Without this short story there is no real way to figure out what is actually happening. Roger Waters needed to explain the story of Radio KAOS in the liner notes of the album, fans of Arena need this short story to understand Contagion even more.
Finally, a nice little extra is the Contagion Master Tracklist, showing the original intended order for all the tracks, including the 7 extra tracks released on the two EPs. This enables you to create your own playlist of the full length concept album. I tried it and although I still think the band made a wise decision to cut out these extra tracks it does make for a highly interesting listening experience. Strange enough though, the running order for the tracks differs from the running order of the segments in the short story. Oh well, creative freedom.
The EP is sold for 12 Euro's and rest assured that you get a lot in interesting stuff for this amount. This release is therefore highly recommended to all fans of the Contagion album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Badger - One Live Badger
Tracklist: Wheel Of Fortune (7:52), Fountain (7:24), Wind Of Change (7:19), River (6:51), The Preacher (4:01), On The Way Home (7:39)
Badger were one of those seventies bands that are barely remembered outside the circle of hard-core Yes fans. Only in existence for a couple of years, they managed to produce two albums, White Lady, the 1974 studio album which was a fairly mellow, soul-influenced affair featuring ex-Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax, and the altogether more interesting progressive rock debut One Live Badger. Formed in mid 1972, the roots of the band stretch back a few years earlier when Tony Kaye linked up with David Foster who was getting material together for a prospective solo album. Foster, a former band mate of Jon Anderson in The Warriors, was first introduced to the Yes camp when he co-wrote Sweet Dreams and Time And A Word with the vocalist with for the band's second album. Although the solo album was eventually scrapped, Foster and Kaye kept in touch and following Kaye's departure from Yes and brief involvement with Flash, set about remixing and reworking the original material.
Deciding to form a band to play and record the songs, drummer Roy Dyke was recruited from the recently disbanded Ashton, Gardener and Dyke who recommended that guitarist Brian Parrish, who had recorded a largely ignored album with Adrian Gurvitz, should complete the line-up. After intensive rehearsals, the band made their debut at "The Rainbow Theatre" in December 1972 supporting Yes at the infamous concerts that spawned the sprawling Yessongs live album. Atlantic Records, to whom both groups were signed, decided that as the equipment was in place they should make the most of their financial outlay and record the support group's set as well. In a bold move that seems rather extraordinary by today's standards, it was these recordings that formed the basis of One Live Badger.
And what a great album it is, the material is strong and the group sound as if they have been playing and writing together for years. The production, by the group, Jon Anderson and Geoffrey Haslam, is crisp although somewhat more raw and aggressive than the resulting Yes recordings from the same concerts. As expected, Kaye's signature Hammond organ sound is to the fore on most of the tracks (and in particular on the album closer On The Way Home), although he does use other keyboards to add different textures: the chorus of Wind of Change features the mellotron, The River utilises an electric piano to great effect and a Moog synthesiser is evident on other tracks. Guitarist Brian Parrish plays some great solos, although nothing too flash (excuse the pun!) or overburdened with technical virtuosity. The solid and efficient rhythm section are quite prominent in the mix, as one would expect from a live recording, Foster's bass in particular being particularly clear - the dynamic mix of driving bass, riffing guitar and wailing Hammond during On The Way Home is superb and probably something that could only be got away with on a live recording. The closest comparison would be akin to a rockier Traffic.
Overall, a wonderful live album and worthy of inclusion in the collection of any fan of 1970s rock music, not just those drawn by the Yes connections. My only complaints are with the quality of the packaging. Roger Dean's cover artwork is poorly reproduced (the band name and album title are hard to see in detail), the booklet (four sides with only the front and rear artwork in colour) contains no extra information aside from the original sleeve notes and just reproduces the four colour photographs from the tray inlay in black and white. There are probably no bonus live recordings that could have been added to the album, 40 minutes would no doubt have been the length of the support act's set, and the inclusion of any existing rehearsal or demo cuts would have been incongruous, but one does feel that the addition of a few extra photos, a potted history of the band and even some reminiscences from the group members themselves would have helped justified what is effectively a full-price release. Still, it is the music that matters and on that score you can't complain at all.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10