Reviews in this issue:
- The Pineapple Thief - 12 Stories Down (Duo Review)
- Jethro Tull - Nothing Is Easy: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970
- Dream Theater - Live At The Budokan [DVD]
- Ayreon - Actual Fantasy: Revisited
- White Willow - Storm Season
- Steve Morse - Major Impacts 2
- Magenta - Another Time... Another Place...
- Magenta - I'm Alive [Single]
- Trettioåriga Kriget – Trettioåriga Kriget
- Trettioåriga Kriget – Krigssang
- Marillion - Marbles On The Road [DVD]
- Marillion - Christmas 2004: Baubles
- Ten Point Ten - 12 25
- Ten Point Ten - Eleven
- Aragon - The Angels Tear
- Asia - Long Way From Home [Single]
- Richard Hallebeek Project - RHP
- Ominox - Contemporary Past
- Chill Faction - Eggman On The Deuce And Other Stories
- Chaneton - First Light Of The Century
The Pineapple Thief - 12 Stories Down
Disc 1: Prey For Me (6:54), It's You And Me (4:54), The World I Always Dreamed Of (6:31), Oblivion (3:40), From Where You're Standing (4:02), Slip Away (8:07), Watch The World (Turn Grey) (3:40), Clapham (4:30), Catch The Jumping Fool (6:28), Start Your Descent (3:49), Take Our Hands (8:34), The Answers (5:51)
Disc 2: Sunday 8th August, 19:14 (6:22), Monday 9th August, 18:23 (5:25), Tuesday 10th August, 20:26 (9:08), Wednesday 11th August, 20:45 (8:32), Thursday 12th August, 17:45 (6:59), Friday 13th August, 17:15 (5:13), Saturday 14th August, 12:45 (8:23), Sunday 15th August, 10:54 (8:29), Who Will Be There (4:35), Wretched Soul (5:05), I Will Light Up Your Eyes (3:41)
The Pineapple Thief return with their eagerly anticipated new release, 12 Stories Down. The new CD gets a full release early next year but for those who can't wait until 2005, a limited edition (1000 copies) of the album has been issued that features a unique booklet and three bonus tracks. Both the pre-release album and initial copies of the proper album contain the bonus disc 8 Days Later which continues the experiment of writing and recording a unique track a day following the completion of the album proper, an idea originally conceived while recording the third album, Variations On A Dream.
12 Stories Down differs from previous Thief studio albums in that it is a full band recording. The line-up is the same as appeared on Live 2003, the limited edition CD and DVD that documented the group's first forays into live performance. Main man Bruce Soord (vocals, guitars, keyboards) is accompanied by Wayne Higgins (guitars and backing vocals), Jon Sykes (bass and backing vocals), Matt O'Leary (keyboards) and Keith Harrison (drums and backing vocals) with guests including Richard Hunt (violins) and Libby Bramley (backing vocals) on selected tracks. With Soord writing the bulk of the material - Higgins gets a co-writing credit on From Where You're Standing and Catch The Jumping Fool was co-written by Will Torrens - the style of music has not changed considerably although the sound is subtly different. It sounds rather fuller with more going on in each track, hard to really explain but a comparison between the main album and 8 Days Later, the bulk of which is Soord solo, will highlight the effect of the additional musicians.
Maybe subconsciously this had an effect on my initial impressions of the album as after the first couple of plays I immediately identified with and preferred the bonus disc to the main album. However, like all good albums, 12 Stories Down gradually revealed its delights over repeated listenings. The addition of violin on four tracks enhances the sound, particularly on The World I Always Dreamed Of, while the use of a range of different backing vocalists provides a nice contrast to Soord's own vocals. This is most apparent on Watch The World (Turn Grey) and The Answers where Libby Bramley's contributions are very effective. Although in the main there is a more acoustic vibe running through the album, there is a harder edge to proceedings with opening track Prey For Me skilfully blending acoustic and electric guitars, Oblivion having a rather funkier feel with a predominant bass line (played on keyboards) and From Where You're Standing starts off acoustically but after the 'big chorus' the electric guitars take over. Catch The Jumping Fool (the original name for the album, which explains some of the artwork) is a compelling track which includes a drone (by Will Torrens) running through it - an obvious influence from Soord's work with Sheila Chandra and her producer Steve Coe.
It is not all guitars though, there is a lovely electric piano line running through It's You And Me, Take Our Hands is predominantly performed on synthesisers and Clapham has a slightly more mysterious feel to it. Of the two remaining tracks, Slip Away is a very good slower number that demonstrates how Soord's vocals have improved over the years and Start Your Descent being a beautifully executed acoustic number with Hunt's violin work again shining through.
8 Days Later is a further insight into the creativity of Bruce Soord. As stated earlier, it was this CD that initially caught my attention, the spontaneity of the recording being evident throughout making it unpredictable and exciting. There is also more of a 'traditional' progressive feel to the music (the tracks are predominantly instrumental with vocals only appearing on Sunday 8th, Wednesday 11th and Friday 13th). A varied collection, highlights of which include the very atmospheric keyboards (mellotron sounds abound!) on Monday, the plaintive Wednesday, the guitar-laden Thursday, the vibey Saturday and the most lovely Sunday 15th, a quiet emotional piece being the last thing recorded in the dining room studios before it was dismantled.
As if all the above were not enough, this special release contains three bonus tracks which won't be included on the main release next year. As with the additional tracks on the limited Live 2003, these are no throwaway numbers; each of the songs being worthy of inclusion on the main disc and are essential additions to The Pineapple Thief fan's collection. With nearly 240 minutes of music, the release offers superb value for money. What is more, the whole album is an enticing affair that doesn't outstay it's welcome. Following on from the rather good Persona Non Grata release of a couple of months ago (the return to form release by Vulgar Unicorn duo Soord and Randall), 12 Stories Down is an album that will keep Bruce Soord's star in the ascendancy.
Following the critical and (relative) commercial success of their last album, Variations On A Dream, The Pineapple Thief main-man Bruce Soord must have felt under unusual pressure with regards to the follow-up. With fan expectations high, Soord has decided to take the rather unusual step of releasing the new (fourth) album 12 Stories Down as a ‘special edition’, aimed primarily at the existing fan-base, consisting of one CD of songs intended for the ‘official’ album, plus another consisting essentially of studio jams created in the time he had left in the studio, plus 3 bonus tracks.
It now appears that Soord has been gauging reaction to the album from fans via the band’s message board, and as both a result of this and his own thoughts after living with the album for a period of time, the finished product will be quite different than this version, with all the songs remixed, and two of the bonus tracks being reworked and added to the album in place of a couple of the tracks currently on the main album. This is an unusual decision, and is likely to provoke different reactions from the fan-base, but regardless of this it leaves reviewers with the rather redundant task of casting a critical eye on an album which is now pretty much sold out in its current form. Still, the nucleus of the songs are unlikely to change that much, so a summary of what’s on offer should at least provide a pointer to people wondering whether The Pineapple Thief’s music is for them.
To those new to the band, their sound is best described as a mixture of (The Bends-era) Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay and Porcupine Tree, with a hefty nod to seventies Pink Floyd and modern day Marillion. To call them a ‘prog’ band per se is perhaps stretching a point a bit; although there are clearly sections on each of the albums which fit into this category, the band tend to favour melody and atmosphere over complicated time signatures and lengthy multi-part epics.
As stated previously, the excellent Variations On A Dream set a very high benchmark, and I’d have to say that, on the evidence of the album as it currently stands, 12 Stories Down falls somewhat short of that benchmark. Rather than break much in the way of new ground, the album tends to follow very much in its predecessors footsteps, and neither is there the edge and, well, variation shown on their equally fine second release 137.
However, this should all be put into perspective, as by most standards 12 Stories Down is still a pretty strong release. Whilst on first listen the album is merely enjoyable without seeming to have any individual standouts, on subsequent listens several tracks do stick out as particular highlights. Prey For Me, for instance, is a great opener, an uncharacteristic burst of loud guitar at the start ushering in a strong, melodic track which builds from a quiet verse, where strings are well utilised, to a powerful driving chorus, with Soord and co providing strong, chant-like backing vocals on the latter part of the song. The World I Always Dreamed Of is a gem, moving from a fragile build-up (reminding me of Afraid Of Sunlight-era Marillion) to an instantly catchy chorus which sticks in the head for days. Oblivion is one of the few tracks you could genuinely call ‘up-tempo’ and again has a strong chorus, whilst closing track The Answers is a slow, melancholy song, with its sparse arrangement allowing individual instruments, particularly violin, to shine.
As with The Pineapple Thief’s previous efforts, there are several lengthier tracks on the album, and its perhaps on these that many will focus. Slip Away has a pronounced Porcupine Tree or even Blackfield feel, a dreamy ballad which builds gently, pinpointed by sparse, shimmering keys, with Soord’s vocals at their most fragile. The song has a good instrumental breakdown – nothing complex, but there’s a nice section with some strong lead guitar work over a repeated piano motif. Catch The Jumping Fool is possibly the track that diverges the most from the rest of the material, featuring some strong, driving rhythm guitars and an interesting ‘drone’ effect which gradually envelopes the other instruments. There is an ambient feel at work in the latter section of the song. Less interesting is Take These Hands, which, although one of the more ‘progressive’ tracks on offer, simply drifts rather aimlessly for over half of its length.
Where this album falls down (in its current state) is on two main counts. Firstly, there are too many tracks which are rather similar in feel (a somewhat downbeat feel at that) which, whilst perfectly pleasant to listen to, soon seem to gel into one. The middle of the album particularly suffers, with the likes of From Where You’re Standing, Watch The World (Turn Grey) and Clapham coming across as rather unremarkable Indie rock. Second is the production – its’ simply not up to that much. The sound often lacks crispness and clarity, with sections that should be dynamic and powerful coming across as decidedly undercooked. I know that this is being addressed on the ‘finished’ version, but the fact remains that this wasn’t being sold as a demo, and therefore I’d have expected slightly better.
As I mentioned earlier, the album comes with a bonus disc, the majority of which is made up of Eight Days Later, a 58-minute, 8 ‘song’ cycle recorded in the extra studio time Soord had after recording the main album. A follow-up of sorts to the ‘8 Days’ disk which came with the limited edition version of Variations… , like that set this has moments which are the equal, if not at times better, than its parent album. There is greater stylistic variety than on the main album, and although obviously borne from jams, with some of the pieces clearly still in a somewhat embryonic stage, this predominantly instrumental offering is certainly worth getting your hands on if its available with the ‘finished’ album.
Of the three bonus tracks, the strongest is probably Wretched Soul, with its pulsing bass-line, reverb-drenched vocals and driving, up-tempo feel, with the guitars upfront and pretty heavy, this has a different feel to the majority of the main disc, and for this reason deserves the place it will apparently take on the main album.
Overall then, whilst I’ll admit to being slightly disappointed with it, 12 Stories Down is still a good album which fans of the bands previous work, plus of those acts mentioned above, will probably want to pick up when its re-released in its newly remixed form. As it currently stands, I feel that the rather lacklustre production job means it floats a little below being a ‘recommended’ release, but I imagine the new version will raise the bar a little. Its also worth noting that The Pineapple Thief are an excellent live act, and that if they are playing in your vicinity its well worth making the trip to see them.
Jethro Tull -
Nothing Is Easy: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970
Track List: My Sunday Feeling (5:20), My God (7:30), With You There To Help Me ( 9:58), To Cry You a Song (5:40), Bouree (4:34), Dharma for One (10:10), Nothing Is Easy (5:36), Medley: We Used To Know/For a Thousand Mothers (10:37)
Ah! Pre-Aqualung Tull! A magical era, even if decidedly non-prog (or better, proto-prog). Youthful exuberance manifest. From its inception through the departure of Glenn Cornick, Tull was a vigorous, powerful ensemble blending blues roots, rock ‘n’ roll swagger, jazz flair, and even budding Dickensian theatrics. For my money, I’ll take early-period Tull over Cream, Led Zeppelin, or the Jimi Hendrix Experience because, even if the band lacked a virtuoso guitar gunslinger such as Clapton, Page, or Hendrix, still, it had a thunderous and versatile rhythm section (Cornick on bass and Clive Bunker on drums), Mick Abrahams then the sorely underrated Martin Barre contributing perfectly accentuating leads and amplified crunch, and Ian Anderson, insanely-talented musical trickster extraordinaire, penning classic Tull tracks. Sweet.
So now, we have Tull’s performance at the legendary 1970 Isle of Wight Festival available for scrutiny: Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. Hurray! To be honest, I own a Madison Square Garden bootleg from the same period and the set list is identical with only a few exceptions, BUT … I gain by the comparably improved sound on this CD released by Eagle Records. (And yes, I am surprised to find a Tull offering on such a tiny label, but that’s what the music industry is these days, and the dinosaurs have to take what they can find for sustenance.)
John Evan joins the band at the Isle of Wight, and the set reaches back into Tull’s first album. This was to feature My Sunday Feeling and Dharma for One while also stretching forward into the future to include My God from the then-unreleased classic rock gem Aqualung. To complete the set, Tull chooses the best from Stand Up, Benefit, and its minor (at that point) collection of radio hits.
The set opens with My Sunday Feeling. Ian’s stage presence is rough but developing well, especially with his deadpan comedy. The flute and vocals are both crystal clear, here and throughout. The band sound is suitably thick and fat but a little muddy (although it’s charming in a retro fashion). Ian is in fine voice. Tull delivers a jazz-tinged blues with very earthy lyrics. (Ian later will master both a vague impressionism and a sly irony in his verse.) The mix is fabulous, granting the obvious limitations due to the technological constraints. However, the bass buzzes at times and the piano is sometimes inaudible, buried (mostly) under Bunker’s drumming or Barre’s power chords. As is true in general for Tull at this stage of its career, Cornick and Bunker drive the bus.
Then Ian introduces the fledgling tune My God. It’s fascinating to hear this live, especially with changed lyrics: “The Jewish, Christian, Moslem is waiting to be free/Each claiming just a part of him/also a part of me” and “And the graven image, Catholic/with his plastic crucifix (Are you getting a fix?)” The live version indicates that Ian intended this song as a much more virulent attack on religious absurdities than it become on Aqualung. Musically, the tune is true to the album version with nothing but intriguing alternatives offered. The flute solo is more restrained here than on my Madison Square Garden bootleg but, as there, here the influence of Roland Kirk is obvious in Ian’s lips-to-flute mutterings. Tull showcases a very good control of dynamic shifts on this song, foreshadowing the band’s later prog work.
Next, a nugget from Benefit: With You There To Help Me, a beautiful, haunting song. Ian’s vocal accents are a tad affected in places but it’s OK. This must have been a heavy roar live. Again, the piano is muted but when it crops up, the playing is pastoral and lovely. John Evan then segues into a nifty, very capable piano solo: Here’s a dose of prog-rock with classical and jazz motifs in abundance. It’s all well played but it’s filler, really, until Ian joins in for a little ad lib vamp, followed by a segment that could’ve come straight from Roland Kirk’s I Talk with the Spirits. The reprise of With You There To Help Me is spirited, to say the least.
I can live without Ian’s "1, 2, 3, 5" count in to To Cry You a Song but it’s a minor faux pas. John Evan’s organ is a nice touch. I think the most attractive aspect of Tull’s output, here highlighted, was its ability to wrote melodies and songs rather than just instrumental raves. In fact, the band’s melodic acumen is what made them formidable even as a prog band: catchy melodies and choruses tied to adept and dexterous musical passages. (By the way, Clive Bunker is truly impressive on this track.)
Bouree: A classic within a classic, instantly recognizable bass line. I always loved Tull’s effort at jazzing up the blues riffs. The live rendition doesn’t deviate too much from the version on Stand Up. Unfortunately, the bass solo is marred by an unintentional fuzziness (but, truthfully, this sort of stuff lends a certain credibility to the albums).
Dharma for One, from Tull’s debut This Was, follows, and if the version on Living in the Past is sharper, still, John Evan’s organ work is stellar: bright, clear, and vibrant. This is a truly heavy-hitting song. Martin Barre and Clive Bunker really set a nasty, angry, almost malicious tone. Another approach to prog with good Indian-influenced vocals by Ian (the half-tone modulation was all the rage back then, wasn’t it?) Clive’s solo is a romp but I really dislike this part of any show, in general.
The band offers Nothing Is Easy (a faithful copy of the studio single) and then closes out the affair with a two-song medley featuring We Used To Know and For a Thousand Mothers for Stand Up, both nice inclusions for the die-hard. I’m not a fan of medleys, really: this is OK but I would have preferred to hear the entire songs. There’s a little impromptu jam separating the two tunes: it’s raw and rough and Martin shows off his skill well.
In short: a fine snapshot of early Tull just approaching the prime of its career. For me the album holds a significant nostalgic appeal; I’m not sure you could convince the average music aficionado to give this a spin, but I think fans of Tull and fans of the era will want to have this disc. Though Ian and an altered, expanded line-up would go on to play superior music in terms of compositional complexity, cleverness, adventurousness and maturity, still, there’s a lot to be said for the energetic naïveté and youthful cheek of early Jethro Tull. The band’s Isle of Wight performance may lack subtlety and refinement at times, but the sheer vitality and in places ferocity of the music is seductively persuasive. This is one from the good ol’ days, and damn, those days and Jethro Tull really were both very, very good.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dream Theater - Live At Budokan
Tracklist Disc 1 [172.37]: Intro (0.52), As I Am (7.41), This Dying Soul (12.12), Beyond This Life (19.33), Hollow Years (9.19), War Inside My Head (2.30), The Test That Stumped Them All (4.52), Endless Sacrifice (11.19), Instrumedley (12.09), Trial Of Tears (13.58), New Millennium (7.58), Keyboard Solo (3.58), Only A Matter Of Time (7.25), Goodnight Kiss (6.13), Solitary Shell (5.51), Stream Of Consciousness (10.54), Disappear (5.54), Pull Me Under (9.00), In The Name Of God (17.35), End Credits (3.13)
Tracklist Disc 2 [72.58]: Riding The Train Of Thought - Japanese Tour Documentary (29.49), John Petrucci Guitar World (6.27), Jordan Rudess Keyboard World (6.44), Mike Portnoy Drum Solo (12.10), The Dream Theater Chronicles - 2004 Tour Opening Video (5.44), Instrumedley multi-angle (12.04)
Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy is quite a movie-buff, because of this you can expect any Dream Theater DVD release to be top-notch, and Live At Budokan is no exception. Filmed and recorded at the legendary Budokan theatre in Tokyo, Japan on April 26th, 2004, it gives a good taste of what the 2004 Train Of Thought World Tour was all about.
This is in fact the third Dream Theater live release that was recorded in Japan, and it is easy to see why. Japan is probably the country where they draw the largest audiences, which means that they play larger venues, which in their turn just look better on the screen. It is the ultimate contradiction: small, intimate live shows are always a lot more fun to visit than the big ones, yet the big ones look better on TV!
All the shows on this tour were of the now customary 3 hour "An Evening Of Dream Theater" format, with a changing setlist every night. As can be expected the emphasis of the setlist lies on the band's two albums that have been released since their last live DVD, Scenes From New York.
This does result in a rather monotonous setlist when it comes to the albums they have been taken from (5 each from Train Of Thought and Six Degrees Of Turbulence, 3 from Falling Into Infinity, 1 each from Scenes From A Memory, Images And Words and When Dream And Day Unite and none from Awake).
However, despite the setlist not looking too good on paper, it contains quite a few nice surprises. To my knowledge Disappear had not been performed live before, and Only A Matter Of Time, Goodnight Kiss and Solitary Shell are all quite rarely performed songs too. One of the highlights of the set is the Instrumedley, which is, as the title suggests, a medley of all the Dream Theater instrumentals. The medley is based around The Dance Of Eternity, off Scenes From A Memory (already a sort of melody, really) and includes The Darkest Of Winters, Eurotomania, YtseJam and Hell's Kitchen as well as Paradigm Shift and Universal Mind off the Liquid Tension Experiment project.
Half an hour later though, the band plays Stream Of Consciousness, off their latest album, which is in fact yet another instrumedley (including lots of themes that sound a lot like things they've done before) and in my opinion a rather poor choice. One 12-minute instrumental is enough, really.
The sound and picture quality are both very good. The concert can be played both in Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo 2.0, and both mixes are very good, though obviously I prefer the 5.1 surround mix. It is in fact the first time that I could actually hear John Myung's bass in a Dream Theater live recording. For some reason his sound is always mixed very low in the mix at gigs, but for once the band thought it might be nice for people to actually hear him play. And justly so!
Editing of the footage is truly top-notch. Apart from the usual camera positions around the venue, each bandmember has one or more cameras set-up close to him, including close-ups of fingers, strings and keys, so that you can literally see every bit of what they play. Many of the projections that appear behind the band are also mixed into the footage, giving an excellent taste of the concert experience.
The second DVD consists of several documentaries and some nice bonuses. If nothing else, the Riding The Train Of Thought documentary shows how incredibly hard these guys work to put on this show. Changing the setlist on a daily basis means a lot of time goes into rehearsing (usually done during the soundchecks). So apart from the three-hour show, they also have two-hour soundchecks and spend at least an hour per day practicing and warming up - that is six hours of playing per day!!
And in between that they do the usual stuff of interviews, signing sessions, fan meetings and travelling from one city to the next! By just watching this documentary the band has gained a lot more of my respect.
There's a nice video of Mike Portnoy's drum solo, shot at a show a few nights earlier, and there are also two interesting featurettes in which Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci explain the set-up of their equipment. Then there is the Instrumedley which can be viewed in multi-angle - very interesting if you want to watch each of the individual musicians - and finally the video that was used as an intro to the concerts can be seen in full.
Live At Budokan is available in various formats. Apart from the region 1 and 2 DVDs, there is also a triple CD version, which features the entire concert. Great if you want to listen to the music in the car, but with the superior soundquality of the DVD, there isn't really any need for it. Then there is also the Mike Portnoy version DVD, which focuses on Portnoy's drumming during the concert, which features a drum-only soundtrack and audio commentary by Mike.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Ayreon - Actual Fantasy: Revisited
Tracklist CD: Actual Fantasy (1:45), The Abbey Of Synn (9:20), The Stranger From Within (7:33), Computer Eyes (7:16), Beyond The Last Horizon (7:15), Farside Of The World (6:31), Back On Planet Earth (7:05), Forevermore (7:34), The Dawn Of Man (7:39)
Tracklist DVD: Actual Fantasy Revisited 5.1 mix (62:12), Actual Fantasy 1996 version (61:49), Featurette: Recording Drums, Bass and Guitar 2004 (11:12), Stranger From Within video (4:03)
Faced with the sudden success of the first Ayreon album, The Final Experiment in 1995, Arjen Lucassen felt he had to do something completely different as a follow-up. The result was this album, which was first released in 1996. It was neither a rock opera, nor a concept album and unlike the first album (and later albums) most of the music on the album was played by Arjen himself (only a few synth solos were played by guest-musicians) and he invited only three vocalists.
Fans and critics rarely agree when rating a band's music, however, when it comes to Actual Fantasy, there seems to be a remarkable agreement: It isn't particularly the best Ayreon album out there.
Lucassen has always admitted he wasn't 100% happy with the final result himself and the re-release of the album on the Inside Out label gave him the perfect opportunity to re-visit it. After having experimented with 5.1 surround mix on the DVD of The Human Equation, he thought it would be nice to give Actual Fantasy a similar treatment.
However, as it turned out that he had lost most of the original master tapes, he had to recreate much of the instrumentation. One thing led to another and now about 90% of the music is re-recorded. Peter Vink plays the new basslines (originally played by Arjen himself) and Ed Warby drummed a new drumtrack, replacing the drumcomputer of the original.
Lucassen is known for his thorough approach to things, so besides re-recording most of the album, he also mixed it again, in 2.0 stereo for the CD, and in 5.1 surround for the DVD. And it is the surround mix where the audio comes to its full right of course. There are many samples and effects in the music which are perfect for surround effects. However, Lucassen has not fallen into the trap of creating nausea-inducing effects that circle around the room all the time, and he uses these gimmicks sparingly.
Nice visuals have been created for the DVD as well, resembling a sort of low-key promo video. While you play the music the lyrics appear on your TV in a manner that suits the song, accompanied by abstract images that can best be compared to Mediaplayer visualisations. Very effective, and very original. The only DVD I can compare this to is the DVD-Audio of Porcupine Tree - In Absentia, which uses no more than artwork stills - one for each song, so the Actual Fantasy DVD is a lot more interesting!
Also interesting is the featurette about the re-recording, in which Arjen gives his account on why and how he changed the music from the original. If you've seen the documentary on The Human Equation DVD, then you know what you're in for. As usual Arjen does his best to entertain the viewer with little anecdotes and jokes.
To keep fans satisfied the original 1996 version is also presented on the DVD, and it is fun to listen to both version and try to point out all the differences between the two (in fact, I am sure that people who know the original recording well enough will have many moments where they go 'hey, wait a minute' as in quite a few occasions the guitarriffs have changed, as well as the overall mix.
But visuals and sophisticated mixing techniques aside, what about the music? Well, I think that if you'd rate all Ayreon albums, then Actual Fantasy would probably end up at the bottom of the list, but that is in no way saying that the music is bad at all. It is trademark Ayreon music, which you either love or hate. Bombastic, rich, well-produced and somewhat kitsch. The fact that it isn't a concept album, that the songs are inspired by books and movies and that there are only three singers who all sing on most songs, make the album closer to Star One than other Ayreon albums, really.
The first half of the album is actually very good, as good as anything he has ever done, but after Computer Eyes the album sags a little. The main thing is that the music isn't as varied as the other albums. Though there is some experimenting with Gregorian chants on Abbey Of Synn, the album lacks Lucassen's way of incorporating various styles like folk or classical into the music. Nonetheless there is plenty to enjoy - provided that you like his other albums though. If you don't, then this one won't appeal to you either.
That leads us to the question whether the owners of the original album should shelve out the 20 euros to update their version. I'm afraid I have to answer "Yes" to that. The updated version adds a lot to the original, and the replacement of the drum computer and the new mix give the recordings a lot more depth and make the album sounds less dated, really. After all, it is more than just a mere remaster, it is largely a re-recording and a big improvement in general.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
White Willow - Storm Season
Tracklist: Chemical Sunset (7:58), Sally Left (6:33), Endless Science (3:36), Soulburn (9:21), Insomnia (5:49), Storm Season (4:21), Nightside Of Eden (9:44)
Even before you hear the first note, its fairly clear that Storm Season, White Willow’s long awaited fourth album, is going to see them develop their traditional, folk-tinged prog in an altogether darker and heavier direction. The artwork, with its steely grey, rainswept, utterly bleak landscapes, gives an indication of what’s contained within, whilst the usual line-up changes see ex-bassist Johannes Sæbøe move up to rhythm guitar to give the band a two guitar line-up and add some oomph to the sound. New keyboard player Lars Fredrick Frøislie, meanwhile, certainly makes a positive impression; despite the heavier sounds on display, he utilises his considerable array of instruments (including piano, Mellotron, Mini-Moog, and Hammond organ) very effectively and inventively throughout.
The first notes of opening track Chemical Sunset bear out the notion that this is indeed a bleaker, darker sounding White Willow; whilst the instrument used, flute, is a familiar one in the context of White Willow’s music, the sparse notes played on it here sound somewhat mournful, leading us into what is a lush, symphonic but somewhat downbeat song. Sylvia Erichsen’s breathy, fragile vocals have an underlying sadness in them, as they paint a bleak picture of ‘towers of concrete and steel’ and ‘corpses of burnt out cars’. The use of cello adds to the melancholy feel of the track, with the added edge of the twin guitars giving the song some extra punch, and adding an air of menace to proceedings which contrasts effectively with Erichsen’s vocals. Proceedings close out with the first of many quality melodic guitar solo’s from the band’s mainstay, Jacob Holm-Lupo.
Next track Sally Left continues the dark mood set by its predecessor. Building slowly from a pulsing electronic rhythm, Erichsen’s vocals here are lower in tone and correspondingly more sinister. The song unfolds gradually, and the cello once more plays a prominent part. Midway through the track the heaviness factor is upped once again as the guitars kick in, yet (as throughout the album) they never detract from the other interesting things that are going on. This is one of the highlights of the album, full of dark, haunting melodies which stick in the head for days.
Endless Science sees the band take a breather from the heavier material for a few minutes; it’s a gentler affair, and perhaps the most reminiscent of the earlier White Willow sound. The guitars here are predominantly acoustic, and proceedings have a more optimistic feel than elsewhere on the album. Erichsen’s voice is on top form here, really soaring as the song reaches its conclusion. There’s a pronounced mid-Genesis feel on show here, primarily due to the keyboard sounds Froislie uses.
The mood changes yet again for the lengthy Soulburn. The guitars here are heavier than at any other point in the album, with Holm-Lupo and Sæbøe riffing away as if they were in a goth metal band. The verses see the band easing off on the heaviness, and showcase the rather arch vocals of guest male vocalist Finn Coren – in fact he bears some resemblance to The Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch. The chorus, which sees the guitars back in full force, features dual vocals from Coren and Erichsen, with their contrasting styles working together well. Although the song is perhaps a little overlong, there are some interesting extended instrumental sections, with piano, flute and cello all getting their turn to shine.
Insomnia, written by Frøislie (Holm-Lupo is the band’s main songwriter) brings in some fusion and King Crimson influences, and has a greater emphasis on rhythm and mood than on melodies, although these are still present if you dig deep enough. The title track, meanwhile, features a recurring electro sample, over which Erichsen delivers the downbeat lyrics as if she is reciting a rather nightmarish nursery rhyme, complete with a childlike melody courtesy of Frøislie’s keyboards. The song gradually builds in intensity, but maintains its vaguely hypnotic feel throughout.
Matters end on a high with the excellent Nightside Of Eden. Once again we are in heavier territory here, with symphonic/gothic metal overtones heard throughout. A particularly nice moment occurs halfway through where Frøislie delivers a fine Hammond organ solo against a backdrop of tight, coiled riffing from the two guitarists – maybe this sounds like an incongruous mixture, but it works well here. The classical-style guitar work towards the end of the track is also very well executed.
Overall, this is a fine effort from White Willow. Initially I enjoyed it, but thought it was perhaps a little ‘samey’. However I guessed that it might be one of those albums where further listening would pay dividends, and so it has proved. Personally, I wouldn’t say that this quite surpasses its predecessor Sacrement, but it comes close, and in any case the band are to be congratulated on successfully changing and updating their style and sound in such a way that should see them gaining many new fans without alienating the existing ones.
Although White Willow suffered a setback after the release of Storm Season with the departure of Sylvia Erichsen, they have already recruited a new vocalist, and I hope the band will take Storm Season on the road to as wide an audience as possible, as I think that the material should lend itself particularly well to live performance.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Steve Morse - Major Impacts 2
Tracklist: Wooden Music (4:56), Where Are You? (3:24), Errol Smith (4:37), Cool Wind, Green Hills (3:54), Organically Grown (3:47), 12 Strings On Carnaby Street (4:38), Zig Zags (4:27), Abracadab (4:12), Tri Country Barn Dance (3:50), Air On A 6 String (2:20), Motor City Spirit (3:00), Ghost Of The Bayou (3:05), Leonard's Best (4:17)
I doubt many albums, least of all a guitar instrumental, will cover influences from Bach to Enya; ELP to The Who; Genesis to 60's Brit pop and still not have covered half of the material from the album. However this is the case with Steve Morse's recent release Major Impacts 2 and a deliberate ploy at that. As the title of the album might suggest, Steve has once again looked at the varied musical styles and or artists that have had an influence on his musical outlook. This follows up the not so surprisingly entitled Major Impacts from 2000 and sees Steve continuing his affiliations with Dave LaRue on bass and Van Romaine on drums and percussion. This line-up has now remained the same since the Steve Morse Band's fourth release (Southern Steel) in 1991.
The album opens with Wooden Horse in which Steve sets out to capture the essence of a large gathering (Woodstock) and his "Impact" is derived from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Acoustic guitar, percussion and a melodic bass line form the basis of the track and his lead guitar work supplies the infectious melody line. The guitars are then multi-layered building a hugely rich sound and the final touch is the wordless vocals that truly capture CSN &Y's rich melodic music. What a great opener.
Track two takes us forward a couple of years to early 70s The Who and in particular the period of time which saw Pete Townsend incorporating synths into The Who's sound - Who's Next. Production is always a key factor on any Steve Morse album and what immediately grabbed me about Where Are You was the drum sound. Not a sound that I feel Van Romaine would have picked under normal circumstances - but the production and of course the playing brought Keith Moon's flamboyant style back to life. Again nicely countered by Dave LaRue's observant and sympathetic notions of John Entwistle's bass style.
Walk this way for the next impact (Errol Smith), this time from stadium rockers Aerosmith - monster riffs accompanied by a great guitar solo. In fact the album has a number of these distinctly driving tunes as can be found in Zig Zags which shows yet another string to Steve's bow with a stomping ZZ Top influenced ditty. Motor City pays its dues to Spirit, Deep Purple and Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd are honoured in Leonard's Best. I apologise for skipping over these tracks, however, as good as they are, this is progressive rock site and I fear loosing attention from some.
Cool Wind, Green Hills is a gorgeous track full of space (is that not a contradiction of terms). Delayed acoustic guitar capturing a warm Celtic feel - here Steve plays tribute to the music of Enya. Perhaps one thing to note about the tracks form the album is that they are penned by Steve and not merely interpretations of songs. The latter part of Cool Wind, Green Hills introduces a military snare to the music and a gentle guitar melody reminiscent of Mike Oldfield.
Whilst touring in the States with Deep Purple, Steve got to see Keith Emerson's show every night so with Organically Grown we move into more familiar prog territory. I've always loved the superbly flowing 5/4 riff which opens Tarkus and Steve's tribute retains all that magic. Hammond organ is employed in the main riff accompanied by Steve's guitar. This may seem strange to any ELP fan, although anyone who has caught Keith touring recently with Dave Kilminster then this may not seem so peculiar.
The Yardbirds and notably Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck are targeted in this jangly and instantly hummable 12 Strings of Carnaby Street. No solos to speak of just melodic interweaving guitar themes. It is this weaving of several themes or riffs from a bands (or in this case several bands) catalogue and then moulding them into a concise piece of music that makes this album sparkle. I particularly like all those little snippets that make you think of where you've heard this before.
No prizes for the impact unfolding in Abracadab, yes a play on Genesis' Abacab. The odd but driving bass pulls Abracadab along in similar fashion and once again Steve incorporates an organ sound to give a more authentic texture. The latter part of this track is more free form and is taken from the middle section of Genesis track.
Two tracks that move us to Steve's ethnic or cultural background are to be found firstly in Tri County Barn Dance, here the influences are obvious engaging the melodies and "energy" to be found in Bluegrass. However a slight twist is included by incorporating a simple Country and Western approach. Those familiar with the Morse Band will recognise this "type" of track which frequently appears on their albums. Regardless of musical bent I defy your foot to remain still during this track. Again a little twist in the tale is offered as Dave LaRue takes on the middle solo. Ghost of the Bayou introduces to an infectious Cajun tune. Steve used his Grandfather's fiddle to add rhythm to the chords - a definite feel-good track.
Not the last track on the album, however the last of these brief synopsis'. Air on a 6 String may not take much working out as we turn to this last impact. In the sleeve notes Steve says - "This is a partita, or solo invention in the style that I thought Bach might have done for electric guitar with a plectrum". If Bach had had Steve Morse as an understudy I am sure he would have written something like this for him. Great track.
If you believe that all guitar instrumental albums are recorded for the purposes of displaying the dexterous abilities of their writers, then I suggest you take the risk and give Major Impacts 2 a listen. This is a hugely melodic work from one of the worlds truly great guitar players - yes there are solos, but they are always kept within the context of the song. I make no bones about it, I am a huge fan of Steve Morse, having been blown away by the excellent Dixie Dregs and later on by his solo works - although I have to admit I have not followed his career with Deep Purple as closely. The empathy of the Steve Morse Band is ever growing and Steve's playing matures with each album I hear. Should you not have come across this remarkable musician then all I can say is "where have you been?". Seriously Steve Morse is a truly wonderful guitarist and musician you should check him out. Major Impacts 2 may be a valid starting point however I would suggest you seek out his first solo album The Introduction or What If by Dixie Dregs.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Magenta - Another Time... Another Place...
Disc 1 [57.24]: Opus 3 (2.37), Gluttony (12.00), Lust (13.03), Broken (4.14), Children Of The Sun (20.19), Call Me (5.11)
Disc 2 [51.49]: The White Witch (22.03), Genetesis (12.14), Pride (12.02), Anger (5.30)
Magenta is on a roll. After their excellent release Seven, earlier this year, the band appeared on pretty much every prog festival that exists around the world. Their live act is unusually good for a band that really originally started out as a studio project. The band was voted best live act of 2004 at the Classic Rock Society, so the timing of this live album couldn't be better.
Recorded at various gigs around Europe, over a time-span of two years, this double album enables the band to present a good overview of their music. Especially when it comes to their debut album Revolutions, this is a good way of re-appreciating the songs. Since all of the tracks on this double album clocked in at 20 minutes or longer, it isn't a particularly easy album to digest. When alternated with the shorter (read 12 minutes) songs of Seven and two tracks from their EP Broken you get a very varied and very comprehensive overview of the band's music so far.
Besides the main duo Robert Reed (keyboards) and Christina Booth (vocals) the Magenta live band consists of Chris Fry and Martin Rosser on guitar, Matthew Cohen on bass and Allan Mason-Jones on drums. When the notes of (taped) intro Opus 3 fade and Seven's opening track Gluttony starts it immediately becomes clear that this band is more than capable of recreating the complex songs live. Though the arrangements have been altered slightly for the live setting, Robert Reed does a great job playing all the different keyboard parts, both the orchestrations and the solos. Christina Booth proves she is an excellent singer who is more than capable of reaching the same hieghts as she does in the studio.
The sound quality of the album is excellent and pretty consistent throughout. Apart from some changes in audience size you can't really hear it has been recorded at several different gigs, over a time-span of two years.
Another Time... Another Place... offers a great overview of the band's music and I would highly recommend it as a starting point if you are not familiar with their music yet.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Magenta - I'm Alive
Tracklist: I'm Alive (4.45), Cold [Demo] (5.18), King Of The Skies (4.50), Pride [Director's Cut] (13.56), Broken [video] (4.17)
Earlier this year Magenta released the single Broken and now, to coincide with their live-album reviewed above, they are back with I'm Alive. Well, single is perhaps the wrong term here, as with a running time of 33 minutes, EP is a better word. Furthermore, the songs that Magenta releases as 'singles' don't come from an album, but are basically songs which are too short, or too commercial, to be featured on their albums. A great way to maintain a varied repetoire, but also a great way to spoil the fans. I mean, many bands release singles coinciding with live albums, however, normally such a single would contain live tracks - how many bands will put two completely new studio tracks on such singles?
When compared to the previous single, I'm Alive actually sounds closer to the work that is on Seven than Broken, making the song more representative for the band. Like the tracks on Seven the backing music is almost a classical orchestration, with lots of strings and flutes. It contains a terrific guitarsolo as well. It has a catchy chorus and in my opinion the song is destined to become a live favourite.
Cold is an original demo from 1995, which was originally a left-over from the Cyan album Pictures From The Other Side (which happens to be my favourite Cyan album) and was in fact the first song Robert Reed and Christina Booth recorded together.
Without wanting to scare off readers, I must mention ABBA as a reference. Robert Reed and Christina Booth have actually played in an ABBA-like band together, before they started Magenta, and the influence is very clear on this song. Great multi-layered vocal parts and interesting (slightly dated) neo-prog arrangement. Too bad about the drum computer though. It would be nice if they'd re-record this song with the full band sometime.
King Of The Skies is a new song which might appear on the next album. I already heard them do this song live at the ProgSfest in Chippenham in October, and it struck me then that it is a bit of a departure from the current Magenta sound. It is quite a bit heavier, with also Christina's singing being a lot more aggressive than on previous songs.
The last audio track on the EP is an extended version of Pride, off Seven. The main difference is the extended instrumental intro, which makes a nice, but somewhat unnecessary change from the original album version.
In the enhanced section of the disc the promo video of the previous single Broken can be found. Obvious budget constrains mean that the band had to go for a fairly standard 'band plays live' type video, which in all fairness doesn't portray them as "the next best thing" if this'd be played on MTV. In my opinion this band shouldn't be trying to break into the singles market (and with singles that are too long in running time to be chart elegible they won't anyway), but just continue releasing good albums and performing good shows.
For my conclusion I might as well copy Tom's words from the conclusion of the Broken review: The music's fine, although it doesn't necessarily serve as a representative guide to Magenta's sound. I think it's best seen as an additional purchase for those who already have the albums.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Trettioåriga Kriget – Trettioåriga Kriget
Tracklist: Kaledoniska Orogenesen (5:20), Roster Fran Minus Till Plus (7:54), Fjarilsattityder (5:26), Mina Lojen (8:09), Ur Djupen (3:46), Handlingens Skugga (7:39)
Trettioåriga Kriget – Krigssang
Tracklist: Krigssang (4:40), Metamorfoser (4:40), Jag Och Jag Och “Jag” (3:32), Mitt Mirakel (3:36), Murar (4:25), Krigssang II (17:37)
Bonus Tracks: En Kvall Hos X (5:18), Dagspress -76 (5:15), Moln (3:25)
For a potted history of Trettioariga Kriget, see my previous reviews of Glorious War 1970-1971 and Elden Av Ar. If you’ve read those reviews, you might have guessed that I would be delighted to receive these reissues of the first two albums (from 1974 and 1976 respectively), and you would be right!
With superior presentation (in smart digi-pacs), lavish and informative booklets, spot-on re-mastered sound and well chosen bonus tracks, Mellotronen once again deliver an object lesson in how to handle treasured music from bygone days. Any fans of the band should be glad to know that these releases are a considerable improvement on any earlier CD editions, and an upgrade would be a worthwhile investment.
This is my first encounter with the debut album and it proved to be an experience that I would be glad to repeat. Whilst the sound is (understandably) a little dated, the mix of early guitar-based prog and hard rock - fusing elements of Uriah Heep (the histrionic vocals), Wishbone Ash, a splash or two of mellotron, a hint of Yes and some jazzy complexity – retains considerable power and should still appeal to fans of the era. In fact, T K were always a bit ahead of their time, and there is some foreshadowing of the complex hard rock/prog eschewed by, say, Rush (circa 2112) to be discerned (though it’s doubtful that there was a direct influence). Much more likely is the supposition that modern Swedish bands like Landberk and Anglagard took considerable inspiration from these recordings.
With most tracks falling in the 5-8 minute bracket, there is ample time for thematic variation and most of the tracks are bursting with tricky twists and turns, rhythmic shifts and plenty of meaty riffs, making it hard to pick out highlights, though the mellotron infused Mina Lojen and the storming opener Kaledoniska Orogenesen are fine examples of what’s on offer.
For those who prefer English vocals, the first two bonus cuts should satisfy. Under The Pendant Roof is an early version of what became Ur Djupen but is presented here in a vastly different, and much longer form. I’ve Got No Time is a fairly simple acoustic ballad but enjoyable for all that. The final track is a storming live version of an early track (included on the Glorious War CD as Amassilations) which, considering its vintage, sounds pretty darn good.
I was much more familiar with Krigssang, having owned an earlier CD version for a number of years, but the improvement in sound quality is revelatory! The whole thing really leaps into life, revealing many a nuance and subtlety previously buried in the mix. This was, and remains, my favourite TK disc, refining and developing the sound in no small measure, with the monumental Krigssang II shining brightly, with mucho mellotron, synth and bass solos amongst the riff-rocking guitars to please the greedy prog fan. Whilst retaining a uniquely Swedish character, there are also similarities with Yes Album era Yes. The shrieking falsetto vocals provide a distinctly different flavour, which still startle after repeated listens. Over 17 minutes, this epic track never fails to hold the attention. Marvellous!
The disc is worth getting just for that track, but there are plenty of other goodies too – from the moody title track with its unmistakeable Swedish character and throbbing bass, the more gentle pairing of Metamorfoser and Jach Och..., to the menacing riffing of Mitt Mirakel, and not forgetting Murar, which is surprisingly funky.
Krigssang is, after all this time, still a work of powerful intensity, conjuring strange moods and unsettling atmospheres with its tortuous riffs and complex metres. The Bonus cuts are early versions of tunes that would appear on the next album (1978’s Hej Pa Er) and show a further shift in the sound to reveal a slicker, more polished and commercial (if less adventurous) band, with the addition of keyboards and saxophone courtesy of Mats Lindberg. It’s still good stuff and makes a nice addition to the CD.
Both these discs are very worthy of your attention, with Krigssang being the recommended starting place. Without a doubt, they have got to be my favourite reissues of 2004.
Trettioåriga Kriget : 7 out of 10
Krigssang : 8.5 out of 10
Marillion - Marbles On The Road
Tracklist: Intro (0.15), The Invisible Man (13.15), Marbles I (2.02), You're Gone (6.41), Angelina Intro (1.18), Angelina (7.33), Marbles II (2.58), DHY intro (3.10), Don't Hurt Yourself (5.17), Fantastic Place (7.04), Marbles III (2.07), The Damage (4.29), Marbles IV (1.49), Neverland (9.52), Band introductions and break (2.08), Bridge (2.43), Living With The Big Lie (6.42), Three Minute Boy (2.29), The Party (5.48), Between You And Me (8.00), Break (1.46), Uninvited Guest Intro (1.23), Uninvited Guest (4.18), Cover My Eyes (5.43), End credits (1.00)
Bonus Material: Marbles EPK (12.13), You're Gone promo video (4.48), Don't Hurt Yourself promo video (3.47), Easter egg
Tracklist 2DVD Extended Edition: 'Lost Marbles, The Rest Of The Show' [This Is The 21st Century, Quartz, Estonia, Afraid Of Sunlight, The Great Escape, King, Easter], 'Marillion Weekend 2003' [Angelina, Neverland, Don't Hurt Yourself, Ocean Cloud], You're Gone (Alternate video), Don't Hurt Yourself (extended video), Easter egg
People who don't follow Marillion on at least a weekly basis, may feel the band is releasing an awful lot of material. In a way this is true (just look at the m section of our reviews index) however, most of these releases are basically low-key, fan-only, and more importantly on-fan-demand releases. In fact, it may come as a surprise to many that this is the first commercially released live footage since 1990's From Stoke Row To Ipanema.
As is now customary with any Marillion release, the version that is available through retail differs from the one sold through their website. And justly so! Obviously the band earns more from sales through their own website, so a bonus disc encourages (and rewards) fans to do so. And though I haven't been able to get my hands on the double disc version of the DVD, I think it is safe to say that the 2DVD Extended Edition is the one to go for. After all, why would someone with Internet access opt for the single DVD, when you can order a DVD with twice the amount of footage through the band's website?
The footage was recorded during the last two nights of the UK Marbles tour at the Astoria theatre in London, on July 10 and 11, 2004. Even though it was recorded over two nights, and different songs were played over the two nights, it is presented as if one gig and follows the standard setlist for the tour. This means the band starts with the single-disc version of their latest album Marbles, leaves the stage (briefly) and plays a second set of a rather oddly chosen collection of songs.
These were the final nights of the tour and the band was playing on their home-turf, so the band plays a very relaxed and laid-back gig. Perhaps a little too laid-back for a DVD release, as there is a lot of banter and joking in between the songs. Leaving such banter in enhances the feel of being at a gig, though it completely takes the momentum out of the Marbles set. When I saw the band perform in Holland, it was the start of the tour. As a result of the band being a bit nervous they played a very tight set - something which in my opinion would have been better on this DVD. Now I find myself pressing the forward button everytime Steve Hogarth starts announcing the next song.
Like all the previous DVDs, the footage is shot by THE boom boom BOYS. I have never been overly fond of their work and though their work seems to improve with every release, I still can't understand why Marillion is so happy with them. They seem to have something against hand-held or moving cameras, which results in all of their filming being rather static. They try to compensate this by scattering lots (and I mean LOTS) of cameras around the stage, and then doing a lot of fast editing between these camera positions, but the fact remains that all these cameras only have one viewpoint. The only hand-held camera is situated in front of the stage, filming mainly Steve Rothery, but this too is done in a rather static way. The cameraman doesn't start moving until the final song, Cover My Eyes, where he finally manages to create some energetic shots. Fortunately there are also two crane-mounted cameras, which swoop over the audience and onto the stage regularly, providing some good overview shots.
Another thing is the lighting, which is particularly harsh. It looked terrific at the concert, and really emphasised the mood of the Marbles songs, but the DV cameras used to film this gig have great difficulties coping with the amount of light that is being used. During The Invisible Man the footage is oversaturated in cyan, resulting in very blurry (and blue) footage. It seems as if they have tried to save the footage by adding some sort of diffusion, which makes the footage look rather artful, and intentionally blurred. It certainly adds to the atmosphere of the song, as Hogarth looks a bit ghostly as he sings The Invisible Man, but throughout the gig the footage remains rather blurry whenever there are is too much light.
But what the DVD lacks in image, it makes up with sound. This is the first Marillion DVD that is presented in 5.1 surround sound - about time, I might add!
Michael Hunter, who has worked with Marillion many times since the Brave tour in 1995, has created an excellently balanced surround mix. During the Marbles set Steve Hogarth's vocals seem somewhat detached from the music, but this suits the atmosphere of the album excellently. In fact, I prefer the live mix over the original studio album.
As I wrote in my review of the shows in May, many of the Marbles songs work better live than on the studio album. Opener The Invisible Man is the best example. It sounds a lot more powerful and less like a cut-and-paste job of different recordings. Also The Damage, which is probably my least favourite song on the album, has improved greatly in its live setting. It was released as a downloadable single to promote this DVD.
But there are also some musical changes to some of the songs. Marbles II for example, is almost a minute longer than its studio version and contains a much-needed guitarsolo. That is actually something the band does all too rarely, adding additional solos and extending their songs.
The second set consists of more uptempo songs, of which the highlight is a storming version of The Party, which is preceded by an impromptu piano-vocal version of Three Minute Boy. The encore of The Uninvited Guest and Cover My Eyes make the gig end with a great party vibe.
The bonus features on the main disc fairly standard: It features the Marbles Electronic Press Kit which was already on the You're Gone DVD single, as well as the promo videos of You're Gone and Don't Hurt Yourself. There is also a fun easter egg to be found, which consists of several hilarious outtakes of the crew during the show.
The second disc on the other hand boasts a lot of interesting extras. Apart from the remaining Astoria tracks there are four Marbles songs that were premiered at last year's convention weekend, including the only live rendition to date of Ocean Cloud (at that time still called Pacific Rower). Furthermore there alternate videos of You're Gone and Don't Hurt Yourself, and apparently another great Easter egg.
Marbles On The Road is in my opinion the best and definitely the most complete Marillion DVD to date. Despite the shortcomings in the filming I would recommend it to any Marillion fan.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Marillion - Christmas 2004: Baubles
Tracklist: Marillion's Christmas Message (3:32), Map Of The World [Ordance Survey Mix] (5:02), This Is The 21st Century [Demystified Mix] (6:59), Fruit Of The Wild Rose [2.5 Hearts In The Groove Mix] (5:35), Number One [Whatever Mix] (4:17), If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill [No Monsters Remix] (5:33), When I Meet God [Ontological Mix] (4:23), Separated Out [Latino Freak Mix] (5:41), Between You And Me [Martini Mix] (5:16), Quartz [Hard Time Mix] (6:27)
As a bit of a tradition we keep reviewing Marillion's annual Christmas albums in our New Year's Special, even though they don't really follow the rules we lay down for the acceptance of review CDs - after all these CDs are not commercially available, but given freely to the members of the various international official fanclubs.
Then again, the price of an annual subscription is about the same as a regular CD price, so you might as well say that you get the fanzine free when you buy the CD.
After these albums became more and more sophisticated over the past years, the band opted for the easy way out this year. As the Anoraknophobia remix contest turned out a lot bigger a success than they expected, the band had a hard time choosing the winners. Four runners up were already featured on the limited edition run of the Remixomatosis album, and now nine more runners up appear on this year's Christmas disc.
I guess the band was enjoying a deserved vacation after their world tour, as this year they didn't record a special Christmas message or Christmas cover song, like they used to do on their Christmas discs in recent years. Completely in style with the concept of this year's disc the Christmas Message is actually a remix of all the previous Christmas messages that have appeared in the past years, resulting in something, well, quite useless really.
As for the remixes on the album... I think many people are developing something like an Anorak Remix fatigue by now. It's not that the remixes presented on this album are particularly bad, or anything, it is just that there are so many different ones out there, that these are rather overkill.
There are definitely nice touches, like the latin-style remixes of Fruit Of The Wild Rose and Separated Out, but with already ninety minutes worth of remixes on Remixomatosis, there just isn't much need for it.
One exception must be mentioned though, and that is the remix of This Is The 21st Century. I did have a go at remixing this track myself, but never entered, however, the remix that is presented on this album comes close to what I had in mind. I still feel the original that appears on Anoraknophobia is rather overproduced and the less-is-more approach of this "Demystified Mix" certainly does wonders. Basically the piano, acoustic guitar and most bass-lines are left intact, but the effects have been stripped off the vocals and the drum computer has been replaced with something more subtle. If they had left the guitarsolo at the end intact, then I would even have dared stating that it is better than the original!
To conclude: of course these albums remain a nice gesture and as a freebie they shouldn't really be rated. I'm sure some people will like this year's output, but I for one am looking forward to Christmas 2005.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Ten Point Ten - 12 25
Tracklist: Good Tidings (1:44), Messiah, He Is Born (7:17), Gentle King (3:51), We Three Kings (6:41), Closer (5:20), Myrrh (2:06), Carol of the Bells (6:39), Oh Come Oh Come Emanuel (6:19), Misplaced (4:11), Little Drummer Boy (6:46), Oh Holy Night (9:42)
This is the ultimate progressive Christmas album. I know of no other album with the consistent aim to proggify – with respect – some Christmas classics along with original work. Of course there is IQ’s early Christmas medley and Neal Morse’s Christmas album, but both are tongue-in-cheek. Ten Point Ten’s album entitled 12 25 (the American way of writing the date of Christmas day) is simply what it is: a progressive rock album for and about Christmas.
Please check out the DPRP review of their song The River on CPR Vol. 1 and of their album Eleven for an introduction of the band. They probably wrote and recorded this album to do their work around Christmas time just like they do for the rest of the year. And I bet they had tons of fun rearranging and messing around with those songs. Clearly they attempted to give the big, fat progrock treatment to each song, borrowing freely from many of the progressive rock acts I know and probably good deal more from many I don’t know.
There’s not much point in going through each and every separate song. This album is not about building an epic whole around a concept. Many of the things you may expect from an album with this concept are there, to be sure. The first song, Good Tidings, opens quietly a peaceful image of shepherds and their sheep lying in the fields (synthesizer, chimes), snow falling, when, WHAM! (organ, choir) the angles come down from heaven to declare the birth of Christ. In Messiah, He Is Born (the longest track save one) there is Yessy virtuosity and soloing, warm Genesis chords, and Spock’s Beard turns and skill abound. Messieurs Tanner, Scobel, Gilbert, Hubauer & McGee seem to be able to draw from any musical style and yet keep their music from getting inaccessibly noisy or convoluted.
Of course quieter but equally dramatic pieces are included as well, with woodwind and tubular bells, or just piano and vocals. A touch of Kansas, a hint of Moody Blues, a pinch of Marillion perhaps, and female background vocals with a Iona-like quality, its a true pattern-card of three decades of progressive rock and some of its surrounding musical quarters. Still it remains one tight band with an interesting and recognizable oeuvre of their own, even if they aim for an experimental angle in We Three Kings.
Let me single out for attention one of the centrepieces of the album, the traditional Carol of the Bells turned into an epic with rich orchestration and references to bands with classical influences such as Renaissance, Mandalaband, and The Enid. Great guitar and drum work here in a long instrumental finale. Two more traditional Christmas songs are subjected to a rigorous renovation along progressive lines. These songs obviously have merit, but I’ve heard these tunes too often to care much for any alternative version (maybe that’s just me). And then lastly the closing track of the album deserves a heads-up, for it is a terrific Pink Floyd version of O Holy Night. A really, really wonderful track (also the longest) with great vocal harmonies, slow rhythm and haunting guitar solo, of course. This track alone almost makes your purchase of the album worthwhile.
There is much to enjoy in TPT’s music, certainly on this particular album. Let me therefore take back any impression that their music contains imitations of the bands I referred to. Ten Point Ten are not ashamed to stand in the tradition of progressive rock – just like they are not ashamed of their Christmas message – but they make use of it on their own terms. Checking out their album is recommendable if you are in search of lighter, more accessible progressive rock with an occasional wink to AOR and fusion. In any case, 12 25 grew on me from the start and keeps growing on me still.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Ten Point Ten - Eleven
Tracklist: Remember the Time? (0:27), Arms of Love (4:24), Cinderella (5:07), Higher Ground (5:13), Will We Ever (3:36), To Lead (5:21), When Sarah Sings (3:15), Fly Away (4:05), The River (5:47), Eleven (3:20), Earth and the Water (1:10), Fire and the Wind (5:50)
This album is now enjoying its second career in my CD-player. Initially, I ordered it because I liked the song The River on the compilation disc CPR Vol 1. But when I first heard Ten Point Ten’s album in its entirety, I wasn’t impressed. Too light and mainstream to my taste. Not proggy enough for DPRP. So, I put it to the side for a while. Other albums came along and kept my CD-player occupied. I didn’t really think about it much, even though a little voice in the back of my head kept repeating that I still had to write a review of it for said website. And then Christmas approached and our esteemed review editor Bob started spurring us to wrap up those 2004 reviews. Which made me sigh and look up my Ten Point Ten CD’s. But guess what? This time I was completely taken by surprise by a CD I already knew! Eleven is in fact a delicious album with some tracks that turned out to become great favourites of mine. Has it suddenly become progressive rock just by virtue of being in my progressive rock collection (perhaps by virtue of having shelved between the T of Transatlantic and the T of Threshold?). Of course not. But apparently Ten Point Ten are one of those bands that on first hearing appear to make ‘merely’ quality music but turn out to have created a very rich musical experience once you get below the surface. And so it was with this album.
Let me first introduce the band Ten Point Ten and then highlight some of the tracks on the CD. TPT is a group of experienced musicians who offer their services to smaller Christian congregations that usually have no access to high-profile artists in the Christian music scene. By their high-quality music they provide concerts, lead worship in services and teaching experiences. That’s why we haven’t heard much of them outside of the United States; they’re not after a large international following. Still, they’re worth taking note of.
One of their trademarks is indeed the energy of their musical performance that blends in various musical styles in a high-quality AOR brew, thus travelling along and over the borders of progressive rock. Most of their songs are about struggles, challenges and questions from the perspective of a Christian’s life with God. Surely, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bill Hubauer seems to be the centre of the group. After two albums their female singer Tara Park was replaced by singer/songwriter/guitarist Joey McGee, but speaking for myself I’ve grown very fond of Hubauer’s hoarse, Cat Stevens-like voice.
Back to the album now. Maybe it’s the first few songs that deceive upon first hearing. Although the album takes off with a true orchestral progressive rock intro, we in fact first get a number of light, almost fusion like passages in pretty straightforward rock songs, and connecting them with soundscapes doesn’t yet make a progressive rock album. But, while these tracks proved to be tasteful in their own right, it’s mainly by the time you get to the fourth that the music starts to draw you in. Higher Ground is an intriguing, soulful yet energetic song with catchy choruses that makes one wonder what it is about (salvation from sin and life in abundant grace). There are some Queen-like guitar explosions, Supertramp-ish grooves on keys in there, along with some soundscapes and effects. (Quite naturally, TPT re-recorded a disco-version as a hidden bonus track!)
TPT also know how to handle subtle ‘unplugged’ type ballads. After an example with Americana influences, Hubauer offers two simply moving musical prayers, To Lead about being the best possible husband and father, throwing in organ, drums and electric guitar at the end, and When Sarah Sings about the gift of his daughter who always wants to sings along without knowing the words. Here it’s just guitar and vocal (also by Sarah of course). Delightful. Next is another mid-tempo rock song. So far, progressive rock fans may enjoy these tracks. But it is probably the ninth track The River that they would call prog rock. The best comparison here is possibly Spock’s Beard. Written around a powerful voice and piano chorus and verse, all kinds of unexpected twists and outbursts are included. Multi-vocal harmonies, mellotron and Hammond, great guitar riffs and licks, dual guitar and keyboard solo’s – you get the picture.
Although TPT aim to create interesting listening experiences for their audience, some of the lyrics and song titles will probably only make sense when you already know a little bit about their Christian background. The following track creates a lovely quite interlude in the second half of the album, with just piano and vocal, but the title Eleven (also the album’s title) is one I needed to think about. It seems to me it refers to the 11 disciples who remained true to Jesus, while lamenting Judas’ treason. (Then again, I’m still at a loss to know what their band name Ten Point Ten means!). However this may be, TPT kept the best track as the album’s grand finale. Introduced by a short bombastic treat, Fire and the Wind offers a sweeping, song by Joey McGee about life changing experiences. Around his acoustic guitar and voice, the band build up an emotional epic with pounding drums and soaring guitars. I have not mentioned the bass work on this album, but let me just say here how it is never flashy or over the top, but always spot-on and with feel.
So, all in all, Ten Point Ten deliver quality indeed, which may appeal to a lot of DPRP readers. It is not progressive rock in the heavy and dark sense – it has its playful, acoustic as well as straightforwardly rocking moments – but also melts quite a few interesting musical influences and undisputable musicianship into a tasteful whole, with open-minded lyrics and mature singers. If you appreciate something fresh from time to time, I recommend it.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Aragon - The Angels Tear
Tracklist: Growing Up In Cuckoo Land (3:36), Discovery (1:58), The Room Of Brilliant Light (3:38), In The Name Of God (9:17), Copper Bob And The Pirates At The Gates Of Redemption (2:23), The Angels Tear (12:57), Voyeur (3:49), The Silent Field (5:36)
I'd never dreamed of another Aragon release seeing the light of day. This Australian band emerged in the late eighties with their excellent (though poorly produced debut) Don't Bring The Rain, which contained very accessible, but highly original prog. In the booklet it stated that their next album would be a concept album named Mouse. However, as the nineties progressed it appeared that money and inspiration ran low and they first released an EP called Mouse Act V: The Meeting in 1992, before they finally released their magnum opus 1995, (which did not include act V, so if you wanted to hear the complete story, you'd have to switch CDs halfway).
Aragon were the prodigal sons of Dutch label SI Music, and they had it particularly rough when SI went bankrupt shortly after the release of Mouse (Mouse is the last album ever released on the label).
Three years later the band tried a brief stint at commercial pop with Mr Angel, and they then disappeared into oblivion. When I lived in Melbourne myself I tried contacting the band on several occasions, but to no avail - it seemed as if they had disappeared off the face of the earth. If you look at their website you might think this is still the case, as it hasn't been updated in years (no mention of this new album, whatsoever, and the biography of the band goes as far as 1995).
So yes, it came as a surprise that after a six year hiatus the band releases an album once again. After their obsession with rodents in the nineties, they are now into ethereal matters it seems, as The Angels Tear follows Mr Angel.
Aragon's music is instantly recognisable and hard to classify or compare with anything else, other than their own previous work, which makes this band stand out above many others.
One the things I always liked about Aragon were the lyrics. Les Dougan has the ability of turning a story narrative into a song, and in the past he has written some terrific cynical songs. Unfortunately none of this is present on The Angels Tear - and this is not helped by the fact that the lyrics of only two of the eight songs are featured in the booklet.
From the first notes on the album it immediately evokes the same feeling as their earlier albums. Great, atmospheric songs, with a high accessibility factor. Opener Growing Up In Cuckoo Land is a good example high-pitched, chimes-like keyboards, pounding drums and a very remarkable bass-line. Les Dougan's vocals are a bit of a love or hate affair - you either love his voice, which can best be described as a slightly lower pitched Geddy Lee. His singing is not as aggressive as on earlier albums though, making it easier to digest.
The album is an odd collection of short ditties and long epics. However, the epics don't really classify as epics, as they too are made up from shorter songs or themes. Nonetheless these two epics are the obvious highlights of the album. In The Name Of God is a very long, atmospheric dreamy piece which contains a great guitarsolo that resembles Mike Oldfield during his Voyager period.
The second long one is the title track, which is yet another atmospheric track that builds up slowly with Tom Behrsing's trademark chimes-like keyboard melodies. However, even though the track sounds great, it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. This is a far cry from what the band did in the past with great tracks like The Crucifixion or Rocking Horse.
Of the shorter tracks one that stands out is Voyeur, an instrumental which resembles a cross between Mike Oldfield's Taurus II and the Apocalypse in 9/8 section of Genesis' Supper's Ready. Some excellent guitarsolos here.
The Silent Field is another one that has a great build-up. It starts almost a-cappella with Les Dougan's voice, when a percussion rhythm comes in building towards a great finale (no Aragon album without a decent climax).
So was this album worth the long wait? Well, yes and no. It does not sound as if they have worked on this album for six years. In fact, it sounds as if they got together in the studio only last week and knocked this one out quickly. Many of the arrangements seem half-finished, most songs are very fragmentary (even the two-minute long Copper Bob And The Pirates At The Gates Of Redemption) and with a 43-minute running time you can hardly call this a full-length CD.
Yet despite the negative remarks, I have to admit that I have been playing this album on a very regular basis since I received it. It has an inexplicable attraction, which makes you play it over and over again.
There is also one area in which the band has seriously improved: they stopped using sequencers for the bass and drum parts, and these are now (mostly) played by human beings, making the music a lot more organic than previous albums.
Here's hoping they don't take another six years to record the next album!
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Asia - Long Way From Home
Tracklist: Long Way From Home [radio edit] (3:29), What About Love [radio edit] (4:18), Silent Nation [acoustic] (5:42), Long Way From Home [acoustic] (5:55)
The first (internationally released) single to come off Asia's latest album Silent Nation offers an excellent glimpse what the album is about. As I wrote in my review of the album, it sounds as if it was written and recorded in the mid-eighties. The single version of Long Way From Home (one of my favourites of the album) immediately evokes the same feeling, as the start sounds just so eerily like Alan Parsons' Eye in The Sky.
Singles in our genre usually serve two purposes: give more exposure to the band through the radio (obviously) and to give something extra to their fans (who will be the initial buyers of the single, thus creating more exposure, etc).
From that perspective it is obvious that these singles -whether it be Ayreon, Marillion, or the Magenta single reviewed elsewhere in this issue- will need to contain something that is of interest to fans. Other than, say, a Britney Spears, who can get away with releasing singles that contain only two songs, often the same song even!
Unfortunately chart rules have become rather strict since a few bands that are not 'supposed' to be in the general charts had charted purely by fan-power. So to be eligable to chart a single can contain no more than four songs, and can not be longer than 20 minutes.
The Asia single obeys the chart rules perfectly, but is it interesting enough for the fans to buy it en masse? First there are two 'radio- edits'. While it is obvious that the title track appears in an edit, I can't really see what the use is of the radio-edit of What About Love. Perhaps the main reason for this is that the album version would have made the running time cross that 20-minute mark.
The real treat of course comes from the two acoustic versions of Silent Nation and Long Way From Home. Especially Silent Nation works amazingly well and is as powerful as the electric version (though it is not purely 'acoustic' as it contains synthesisers).
So if you like the album, and you don't mind acoustic arrangements of electric songs, then you should certainly check this single out. If you've not heard the album, then the two electric songs could serve as a good introduction, even though I personally don't think that Long Way From Home and What About Love are the best songs of the album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Richard Hallebeek Project - RHP
Tracklist: Prescription Strength (6:53), Lined Out (7:41), Canoga Park (4:36), Good Food (6:28), Free (6:43), Axe (4:53), Enigma (10:02), Orange Faces Everywhere (3:28), Imagine (5:49)
A quick background story: Once upon a time there was an electric guitarist named Allan Holdsworth. During his musical development in the 1970's, Allan's obsession was to refine his playing and instruments to get as close as possible to a horn-like voice. In 1982 he released his first solo album IOU, so named because it was recorded on a shoestring budget. IOU became the most influential album for guitarists in the last 30 years, because by that time Allan had developed an otherworldly sound and style that could not be ignored - in addition to having become the world's first 'shredder'. Between 1982 and the present, there is not a single metal, fusion or progressive guitarist alive who has not adopted some aspect of Allan's style, from Satch to Stolt. Some have even tried to re-make that first IOU album with what must be embarrassing results.
Now that that's out of the way, lets look at Richard Hallebeek, and the Richard Hallebeek Project. No, he is not one of the imitators who should be embarrassed! RH acquits himself quite nicely actually, a very good soloist who seems to have nowhere to go but forward. It is simply that at this stage, he owes Allan quite a lot, and it is difficult to reference a player like him without acknowledging the influence. Hallebeek has attained a level of musicianship that many aspire to, but few achieve - now, where is he going to go with it? For the time being he seems to be taking the Scott Henderson path through a band that sounds a lot like Tribal Tech. In particular the bassist, Udo Pannekeet, has a definite Gary Willis sound. And the compositions, which are contributed by Hallebeek, drummer Bas Cornelisson and keyboardist Lale Larson, are very much in a similar vein. (Larson, by the way, was for me the nicest discovery on this CD. See Lale Larson's Ominox review below.)
Besides Larson and RH, two guest soloists are spotlighted in most of the tracks on Richard Hallebeek Project. One is Brett Garsed, who contributes his Mike Stern-like guitar style. The other is the late Shawn Lane. I don't have much material by Lane, but he brings a definite change of atmosphere with him for his spots. A very spacey sound and style, almost like he was trying to be the exact opposite of RH.
In all this is a good jazz fusion record, with a nice spread of four excellent soloists - it's not easy to find this kind of music played at this level. If you're into the genre it might be worth your time to check out this and other releases on the "Liquid Note" label.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Ominox - Contemporary Past
Incommunicado (9:10), Contemporary Past (5:22), In Time (7:10), Yes! (9:25), Clockwork (5:10), Solitude (5:33), Ominox (4:05), Virtual Reality (7:56), X-periment (7:12), Android (7:21)
Lale Larson. Remember the name.
This keyboard player is only in his early twenties, but already he's making a major impact in the jazz fusion world. In both his solos and his compositions, he is one helluva jammin' cat - which is to say, over my head but not far enough for me not to appreciate this stuff. For those of you who dig fusion, think: Equal parts Chick Corea (Elektric Band era) and Allan Holdsworth (Secrets - Wardenclyfe Tower era). Larson's music is mature, with complex chord changes & voicings supported by a powerful but tasty & restrained rhythm section that reminds me of Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson (I'm sorry I don't know who they are actually - My review CD came with no printed information and I could not find much on the internet).
As for the solos, when the first one came up I had a feeling this was something I had heard before ... a nice synthesizer patch, playing very dynamic, going from subdued legato ruminations to blistering, soaring runs... Something from the late 1980's maybe ... Oh, yeah I know! Allan Holdsworth's Synthaxe! Now, (I thought) is this a keyboardist, or a guitarist with a synth controller? I really couldn't tell but as I listened more & did some research I concluded it was Larson's keyboard. One big hint: This CD has a second soloist in Richard Hallebeek. Hallebeek is a guitarist in the Holdsworth/Scott Henderson mold, and these two players are just like milk and cookies together. The fact that the guitar and the synth traded solos pretty consistently made me realize the synth had to be Larson's.
The title of this release, Contemporary Past, sounds mysterious but is explained simply. This is a compilation of three recording sessions, from 1993, 1994 and 1995. Kind of makes me wonder what Larson is doing now; it seems these cats are all wrapped up in other projects in the Liquid Note Records family. The Alchemists and J.A.M. are a couple of them. So this label is definitely worth checking out if fusion is your bag, it looks like a little incubator full of future fusion giants to me.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Chill Faction -
Eggman On The Deuce And Other Stories
Tracklist: Down by the Waterfront (4:06), The Affairs of the Heart (4:03), (You Send Me Like So Many) Nuclear Missiles (6:59), Sweet & Sour Sadness of Sunday Afternoons (4:53), Hell Without You (4:46), Don’t Fall in the Crack, Jack (4:26), 42nd Street (4:49), I Am the Walrus (4:20), Whenever We’re Together (4:43), Marilyn (5:08), Dance (5:31), Long Hot Summer (4:52), Hostage of the Heart (5:42), Christmas in the Whorehouse (6:31), Bride of Jesus (6:20)
The promo materials for this re-release call Chill Faction a “post/punk/art/prog/ psychedelic/funk band.” Now, I’m tempted to say that this is a rule of mine, but I’m just making it up: beware when a description of a band’s genre requires more than, say, two adjectives. But in fact I think I can whittle down that list to make it more accurate and to give a better description of the band’s sound. They may well be “post-punk” insofar as the album was first released a decade after Never Mind the Bollocks; they’re certainly funky, made so by the superb bass playing and quirky percussion of David Conrad and Thomas Hamlin. However, I hear nothing progressive or psychedelic in their sound, and so I think they’re best described simply as an “art-rock” band, if we limit the description to the way it was used in New York in the mid-Eighties. Chill Faction sounds to me like nothing so much as an even odder Talking Heads – if you can imagine such a beast. And if, like me, you were a Talking Heads fan, you’ll like this band.
There’s my touchstone for this review, and it’s a pretty fair one, though don’t expect another More Songs about Buildings and Food or even Speaking in Tongues from this album. There are other mid-Eighties pleasures to be found here, too. Whenever We’re Together is less a weirder Talking Heads song than a weirder Cars song: it’s got that nice 4/4 rhythm and a lead vocal that’s more Ben Orr than David Byrne. However, the truly impressive (and bizarre) fretless bass work adds another level of interest to the song. Meanwhile, if you’re a connoisseur of certain quirky one- (or two- or three-) hit-wonder Eighties bands, you’ll relish the sound, both the playing and the production, of songs like Marilyn and Dance, which, with their funky danceable bass and percussion, will put you in mind of such gems as Re-Flex’s The Politics of Dancing.
And of course I should address the album’s only cover song and the one that gives it at least part of its name. I’ve always thought I Am the Walrus was one of the weirdest songs from any band or any era that I’d ever heard – but, if you share that opinion, you ain’t heard nothin’ till you play Chill Faction’s version a few times. I’m usually deeply skeptical about Beatles covers, but I’m pretty sure I prefer Chill Faction’s version of the song to the original, because it not only takes the weird lyrics and runs with them but also weirds up the music, taking the Beatles’ plod and funkifying it, vocalist Larry Kirwan making the lyrics hug the beat almost as if his voice were another percussion instrument. In this version, the oddness of the song is almost scary.
But odd as it is, I Am the Walrus isn’t the oddest song on this album. This was an inventive and quirky group in its own right, and you’ll get a kick out of many of the lyrics. From Hostage of the Heart: “I call up the White House / But they won’t reverse the charges / They don’t accept phone calls / From unidentified hostages.” And from 42nd Street, whose rhythm and overall ambience remind me a bit of ABC’s Poison Arrow: “I wish I could be sentimental when I think of you / I should have known better than to love you / ‘Cause your plastic card is melting from the heat / On forty, forty, forty-second street.” These guys are having fun with the words as well as with the music.
But will you like this album? Well, as I said before, I don’t think there’s much that can be called “progressive” about it. And, frankly, if you don’t, or at least didn’t a couple decades ago, like the Talking Heads and similar New York (or New York-sounding) bands, I can’t recommend this album. However, I think it’s really neat, and I mean with that adolescent adjective to suggest adolescent enthusiasm. It’s strange music, ambitious in a very narrow vein. And if, like me, you’ve ever played some of your favourite progressive music for friends, only to receive the annoying reaction “That’s just weird!”, well, then, maybe Chill Faction is a progressive band. Finally, though, this album strikes me as a snapshot of an era and a place more than as a document of any specific genre, so, if you want a picture of that time and place, you’ll enjoy Eggman on the Deuce and Other Stories.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Chaneton - First Light Of The Century
Tracklist: The First Light Of The Century (9:18), Faces Melting In Your Hands (6:20), Infinite Line (6:34), Across The Sea (8:33), Black Mountain (8:51), Six Flowers In The Room (3:55), On The Edge (4:52), The Man In Grey (6:01), Apocalypse Seller (7:23), Lost Prophecy (12:55)
This is the second album of Argentinean band Chaneton, a review of their first album Questions Inside The Picture can be found here. Since then the band has not changed anything in their line-up and I am sorry to say that all comments made by Hester in that review are still true. Chaneton is still heavily influenced by early-Marillion (Fish-era). They did not really take to heart the recommendations given by Hester, as the English pronunciation is still not too good. Although they are not cloning Marillion, their influence is very evident, with the keyboards reminding me of Supertramp and Arena.
I am not quite sure what to make of this album. Ten years ago I would have really loved this music, but we all have moved on, and somehow Chaneton did not follow. Some parts of the music are brilliant and not original, while other parts are just OK and not original. In the case of Chaneton I find it hard to define what is original and what is not, as said before they are not cloning Marillion (or any other band) but most of the things on this album you have heard before, or could have heard before. The last describes best my feeling on this band: it is music you could have heard before.
I would have forgiven them all of the things described above if it weren't for the vocals: I really don't like them. This album without any doubt has the best intro with the worst follow-up of 2004. The keyboards starts of with a nice loop and the guitars do okay after that but then the vocals come and ruin it all. This is pertinent to the rest of the album: good music - bad vocals. And to make sure we can all hear this, the vocals are kept prominently up front in the mix.
Chaneton is not a new progressive rock promise, granted there are some interesting elements in their music but most of these are borrowed from other bands. So if you like neo-progressive rock based on Pendragon and Marillion you might like Chaneton, however I like both of the mentioned bands but I cannot see (hear?) past the vocals. I do appreciate the music, so maybe if the vocals are more to your taste you might consider giving them a spin.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10