Reviews in this issue:
- The Tangent – Down And Out In Paris And London (Duo Review)
- Glass Hammer – Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted
- Armageddon - Armageddon
- William R. Strickland - Is Only The Name
- Psychedelic Shag – The Sunlight Underground
- Abacab - Mal De Terre
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Night Castle
- Jefferson Starship – "Performing Jefferson Airplane @ Woodstock"
The Tangent – Down And Out In Paris And London
Tracklist: Where Are They Now? (19:10), Paroxetine - 20mg (7:47), Perdu Dans Paris (11:47), The Company Car (6:23), The Canterbury Sequence Volume 2, Ethanol Hat Nail (12:55)
Geoff Feakes' Review
When The Tangent released their debut album The Music That Died Alone just five years ago it was greeted with unprecedented enthusiasm by fans and reviewers alike. After four studio and two live albums there has been much tooing and throwing in The Tangent camp with Andy Tillison (vocals, keyboards, electric guitar) and Guy Manning (acoustic guitar, vocals) being the only survivors from the original line-up. Not a total surprise given that the seeds for the band were sown by Tillison as a solo project and his working partnership and friendship with Manning goes back several years. Also along for the ride once more is Theo Travis (sax, flute) who in addition to his numerous involvements elsewhere has been around since the second album The World That We Drive Through. New to the line-up is Paul Burgess (drums) of 10CC, Camel and Jethro Tull fame and Jonathan Barrett (bass guitar) who has previously worked with Tillison in Po90. Both men have their work cut out replacing the outgoing Swedish pairing of Jaime Salazar and Jonas Reingold last heard on 2008’s Not As Good As The Book.
The opening epic Where Are They Now? is a neat idea containing as it does lyrical references to characters from previous Tangent songs especially In Earnest. For the first time the band is without a fully fledged guitarist leaving Tillison to provide the strident guitar work to open and close the piece. Elsewhere keyboards dominate featuring some of Tillison’s best (and most tasteful) playing thus far with excellent support from Travis. I’m not the biggest fan of saxophone but his soaring solo towards the end of the song is truly inspirational. For the most part however the track continues at a medium to relaxed tempo containing some suitably melodic themes particularly in the aforementioned intro and instrumental coda. Here the guitar really cuts loose before succumbing to a rather premature fade. Tillison is certainly no Stolt, Jonsson or Jakszyk but he acquits himself very well in the role of lead guitarist.
Paroxetine - 20mg is a different beast altogether featuring some very piercing and unsettling synth outbursts to underline this dark tale of prescription drug dependency. At times it feels like King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man revisited with its pounding sax riff and processed vocals and there’s even room for a brief drum solo. My only reservation is that whilst on a technical level it’s nigh on flawless with Burgess and Barrett holding up the rhythm end in style, it’s not a song that for me lingers in the memory in the same way as previous songs.
To begin with Perdu Dans Paris is a beautifully evocative song that paints an idyllic vision of Paris. There’s a sting in the tale however as the mood changes and Tillison reflects on the poverty and homelessness that’s part of the city’s split personality. Barrett’s prominent fretless bass lines add a suitably sombre note whilst the lengthy instrumental break that follows provides a more upbeat tone with prominent synth and organ plus excellent lead guitar from a guesting Jakko Jakszyk. It ends as it began with the atmosphere heightened by vintage sounding mellotron samples. Overall it’s something of a departure for The Tangent and one of Tillison’s most thoughtful and mature compositions to date.
The Company Car allegedly contains Joni Mitchell influences but if that’s the case it’s very discreetly done and avoids any obvious plagiarism of Joni’s lyrics (Marillion’s Lavender springs to mind here). It begins in mellow fashion with smooth sax, a lazy vocal and some glorious lead bass articulations from Barrett. As the tempo rises Tillison provides some (typically) fiery synth and (less typical) gritty guitar exchanges. A rhythmic Hammond and piano section has shades of Keith Emerson but again despite the excellent musicianship is not to my ears one of the bands most memorable efforts.
The Canterbury Sequence Volume 2 is exactly what it says on the tin although quite what Ethanol Hat Nail means is for us to guess and Tillison to know (it looks suspiciously like an anagram). Within its 13 minute duration the band seemingly encompass ever nuance of the Canterbury style so in addition to the more tuneful Caravan moments there are several avant-garde Gong excesses. Despite being a 70’s throwback many of the sounds here are instantly recognisable as The Tangent including fuzzed Hammond, spiky electric piano (ala GPS Culture), crunching bass sax and manic synth. Before it all begins to sound a tad clichéd Burgess breathes new life with imaginative use of percussion (especially xylophone) and a jazzy but ballsy drum workout.
I have mixed feelings about this latest album from The Tangent which is challenging my overall assessment. Where Are They Now? and Perdu Dans Paris contain some of the best and most tuneful work the band has ever done whilst Paroxetine and The Company Car are for me far less immediate with The Canterbury Sequence sitting somewhere in the middle. Given time my opinion may change but to be fair I have been listening to this album almost constantly for the last few weeks. One thing’s for sure the lyrics are up to Andy Tillison’s usual high standards with his now familiar mix of social consciousness and autobiographical observations. He’s without doubt one of my favourite lyricists and in terms of song writing, arrangements and playing he seems to have taken a lot more on his shoulders this time around. The downside is that Guy Manning’s contributions to my ears seem very thinly spread. New boys Paul Burgess and Jonathan Barrett on the other hand really shine although it’s not a certainty that they’ll be around long enough for the next album given the increasingly elusive Tangent line-up.
I’ll end with a personal reflection on the words to Perdu Dans Paris. Had Andy Tillison been hanging around the Paris Gare De Nord late one night circa 1980 and observed a tall Englishman attempting to find somewhere to sleep then little may he have realised that the same tall Englishman would be reviewing his latest album some 29 years later.
Dave Baird's Review
I'm going to keep this review fairly brief as you can read an awful lot about the album in the interview I had with Andy, please click here.
The Tangent has always had a floating cast of musicians, Sam Baine departed, Theo Travis replacing David Jackson, Jakko Jakszyk usurping Krister Johnson who in turn took over from Roine Stolt, and Jaime Salazar sitting on the drum stool vacated by Zoltan Csörsz. This has of course led to some changes in the sound of the band over the years, but the core of The Tangent is of course Andy Tillison - he writes the material, sings the songs and plays the keyboards. Add to this the constant presence of bass powerhouse Jonas Reingold and you found a relatively stable sonic presentation between incarnations. Now with this new CD we see the most dramatic changes to date, most notably with Jonathan Barrett (Po90) on bass and Paul Burgess (10cc, Camel, Jethro Tull live) on drums. There's no dedicated guitarist either, Andy biting the bullet and playing himself, although Jakko plays on the one track, Perdu Dans Paris.
I will admit by being quite thrown by the new sound of the band on the first few listens, and it took a good couple of weeks before I was able to see below the changes to the songs beneath. This isn't to say that the bass and drums are bad, absolutely far from it, rather the style of playing is so far from what we've been used to, it's more laid-back and relaxed. Andy himself said "they give the music room to breathe", and I think that's about right. In Where Are They Now Andy resurrects characters from The Tangent's back-catalogue and this is a lot of fun. I won't spoil it as it's nicer to hear it for yourself, although I can imagine Tangent newbies wondering what the hell it's all about. Musically the song is an absolute classic in the typical Tangent mould, think In Earnest and you're not far off. Andy's guitar playing is actually really decent, if you weren't aware it was Andy you probably would give it a second thought, very competent. Andy's voice and lyrics are top-notch, yes not everyone's cup of tea, but as I've said in the past, the closest I can think of to Peter Hammill. The drums are fairly light and the bass deep and bubbling, a really nice tone. Theo Travis' flute is sublime, but the saxophone that soars above the music in the final two minutes really has to be heard, marvelous.
Paroxetine 20mg contains some great oozing fretless bass, but the track fails to grab me for the first half, I just don't like the melody much at all. This all changes after the mid-track vocal break when things pick-up, the rhythm section starts cooking and the keyboards mix it up. As mentioned above, Perdu Dans Paris has Jakko on guitar, but the real highlight is rather the song itself, a great vocal and piano performance with trademark Tillison gritty lyrics. Again there's a lot of nice fretless bass and I find myself liking Jonathan's style more and more. Some nice alto sax playing completes the meandering first third before a more up-tempo mid-section with some more urgent guitar and Moog/Mellotron choir. The song then reverts to the lazy tempo of the introduction to wind down. It's a lovely reflective song that makes you think, but also relaxes at the same time.
The Company Car is another track that doesn't hit me immediately. It's another relaxed song in its first three minutes before all hell breaks loose and we're treated to a superb Emerson, Lake and Palmer/Van Der Graaf Generator style section that for me is one of the highlights of all the music I've heard this year. We even have a nod to the ex band members with a little Mellotron break that could easily have fallen out of a Flower Kings CD. Was this just coincidence or was Andy being a bit cheeky? The return to the chorus is very powerful indeed and despite my misgivings on the intro I totally adore this track. Great stuff.
Everyman's Forgotten Monday was a piece that was played live on the InsideOut tour and is the bonus track for the European CD. It's perhaps the least interesting song on the album although the lyric is poignant and the sax playing once again superb. Closing out there's Ethanol Nail Hat (no, I don't know what it means either, and I forgot to ask Andy…), subtitled The Canterbury Sequence Part 2. This is quite an experimental piece that has several themes that come and go, but seems quite random overall, one thing for sure is that it's not for the faint-hearted and almost defies description. It's a piece that I personally dip in and out of, finding little moments of pleasure in-between the chaos, like an oasis in the desert. I've a limited knowledge of the Canterbury genre, I used to listen to a lot of Gong about thirty years ago, but that's about it, I could imagine my ignorance is making me miss the pointers here. So I'm a little ambivalent still on this one.
So what's the general synopsis? Well very good and once you get used to the new rhythm section you see that it's still The Tangent. One thing I really liked is the keyboards Andy chooses to use on this album, more classic sounds than we heard on Not As Good As The Book predominantly piano, organ, Moog, Mellotron, and none of the pop 80's string pads. If I try to compare with the last two albums I think the quality overall is better - there were a few tracks on Not As Good As The Book and A Place In The Queue that I didn't like at all, this is not the case here. Conversely I'm perhaps missing the killer track, and although Where Are They Now is a classic it doesn't blow my mind the way The Full Gamut or In Earnest did. Nevertheless I'm still listening to this album after many weeks of repeat playing and still enjoying it a lot. I perhaps miss is the guitar of Jakko, sure he's on one track here, but it's rather subdued, I'd love to see him play a fuller role again in the future.
Bold personnel changes and yet another super quality album...
Glass Hammer – Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted
Tracklist: Come On, Come On (3:36), The Lure Of Dreams (5:50), A Rose For Emily (3:08), Sleep On (4:02), The Mid-Life Weird (3:54), A Bitter Wind (4:31), The Curse They Weave (4:27), Sundown Shores (4:34), Schrodinger's Lament (5:09), Hyperbole (7:34), Falling (4:34)
A new Glass Hammer album is always a cause for celebration in my book being one of the premier prog bands to hail from the US. Their most recent Culture Of Ascent was a personal favourite from 2007 whilst 2008’s Live At The Tivoli DVD captured the band in excellent form despite the lacklustre camera work. Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted is their 10th studio album in 17 years and marks a leaner, more streamlined GH both in terms of personnel and sound. The core of Fred Schendel (keyboards, guitars, vocals, drums, mellotron, cello, horns) and Steve Babb (bass, vocals, keyboards, guitars) handles virtually all the instrumentation whilst on this occasion Susie Bogdanowicz (who did such an excellent job with Yes’ South Side Of The Sky on the last album) takes care of most of the vocal duties. Also making a return is guitarist David Wallimann, albeit contributing to just the one song, whilst GH newcomer Josh Bates adds guitar to two tracks.
Come On, Come On is a brave and surprising opener sounding like nothing the band has attempted before. As far as fans of The Beatles are concerned however the psychedelic vibe will have a ring of familiarity about it baring more than a passing resemblance to I Am The Walrus. The only thing that’s missing is Lennon’s “Coo coo ca choo” and at a little over 3½ minutes could this be an attempt to crack the singles market? In a totally different vein is the dark and ominous The Lure Of Dreams with its rumbling bass and a spiralling keys motif lifted from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (surely one of the most plagiarised pieces of music of all time).
The album continues in this pattern with the subject of sleep and dreams being a reoccurring theme and Babb’s retro 60’s style pop songs (The Mid-Life Weird, A Bitter Wind) alternating with Schendel’s darker and heavier offerings (Sleep On, Schrodinger's Lament, Hyperbole). Also falling into the former category is the breezy A Rose For Emily, a jaunty Rod Argent penned pop tune originally recorded by The Zombies in 1968. A curious choice to cover given that it’s an engaging rather than exceptional song. Wallimann makes his appearance during Sleep On where the metallic shredding on the last album is traded for a more traditional heavy rock riff.
It’s when they break away from this pattern however that the best songs are revealed. The freewheeling Curse They Weave contains one of the more memorable melodies with its driving rhythm and spiky keyboard effects. Also from the pen of Babb’s is Sundown Shores, a yearning piano led ballad that contains one of the best vocals I think I’ve heard from the bass player. In a similar vein and finding the band in more familiar territory is the lyrical Falling. This is vintage GH with a plaintive vocal from Schendel and a simple but beautiful melody.
As I alluded to earlier this Glass Hammer is a different beast altogether. Gone are the fussy, sometimes cluttered arrangements of before, replaced with a more direct, no frills approach. And whilst the band has always favoured a more European style, this to my ears is their least American sounding album to date. There is also an almost total absence of proggy instrumental excursions which some I’m sure (like me) will lament. I even found some parts a tad irksome, with the annoying voiceover that dominates Schrodinger's Lament being an obvious case in point. Whilst I’m very much in favour of a fresh approach, the most disappointing factor for me is the strength of the material. With the exception of those songs that I’ve signalled out for particular mention, this in my view doesn’t live up to the high standards previously set by the band. My response overall is not so much ‘Three Cheers’ but more a restrained applause.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Armageddon - Armageddon
Tracklist: Buzzard (8:22), Silver Tightrope (8:25), Paths And Planes And Future Gains (4:34), Last Stand Before (8:27), Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun: (a) Warning Comin' On (b) Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun (c) Brother Ego (d) Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun [Reprise] (11:30)
Armageddon was the last band to feature the talents of Keith Relf, the singer and harmonica player of Britain's finest blues rock band The Yardbirds as well as the founder of folk rock masters Renaissance. The band came together via a mixture of associations and sheer chance. Guitarist Martin Pugh and bassist Louis Cennamo had been together in the last line-up of Steamhammer and after that band ground to a halt Cennamo got in touch with Relf, an old accomplice from the original line-up of Renaissance. As a trio the nascent group headed out to California where Relf was still held in high regard in the hope of landing some sort of deal. Initially focusing on Renaissance-type music, the group took on a whole new direction when they met Bobby Caldwell, a drummer that had not only played with Johnny Winter and The Allman Brothers Band, including the seminal Live At The Fillmore East album, but had more recently been a member of Captain Beyond alongside former members of Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple. It was Caldwell's driving and hard hitting beats that pushed the group into a heavier direction. A chance meeting with Peter Frampton resulted in an audition for A&M Records (personally attended by none other than Jerry Moss himself) and the signing of a long-term contract at the Beverley Hills Hotel in April 1974.
Armageddon were somewhat out of time as when the album was released in 1975 the musical environment was not exactly conducive for a band taking their first steps on the heavy rock/prog walkway. With punk a little over a year away and many of the bigger bands entering a fallow patch of creativity, if not popularity, omens were not good. Add to that a record company who were unwilling or unable to give the band the push and promotion needed and an album cover that made the band look like a dodgy heavy metal act, the writing had already been started to be inscribed on the wall. Which is a shame as the album is a fine hard rock album, even if the progressive elements are somewhat underplayed. Opener Buzzard sets off at a furious pace with a repetitive riff hammering home a righteous thunder. The onslaught continues for a full two minutes with Pugh adding new tones and variations to the main riff giving no relief even when Relf's assured vocals start. There is no let up with the guitarist throwing frantic curve balls all over the place which are only subdued when Relf's bluesy harmonica forces its way to the fore which only adds to the mayhem. Just when you think the harmonica is drawing the song to an end the band push their way through to bring a conclusion to the piece, even adding in a false ending! Silver Tightrope has drawn comparisons with Led Zeppelin for some reasons as it doesn't really sound anything like them. The only slight resemblance is that the track has a similar structure to Stairway To Heaven, but then so do a hundred other songs. The introductory section nicely mixes an echoed electric guitar with an acoustic, overlaid by Relf's gentle choirboy-like vocals. A middle section of bowed electric bass guitar (giving a cello-like sound) and plucked electric lead guitar sets up the final section initiated by the introduction of the drums. Multilayered vocals build the piece to a crescendo played out by a fine solo from Pugh. Paths And Planes And Future Gains, the only track under eight minutes in duration, is rather a chaotic affair that almost seems to find the band looking for a direction to take the song and not really succeeding. Pugh pulls things together with another fine solo but it isn't really enough to save the song from being much more than a filler.
Things improve with Last Stand Before which finds the band getting into a groove and could be compared with one of the more esoteric of Zeppelin's funky outings. The final sonic battle between harmonica and guitar is a highlight but once again it is guitarist Pugh that impresses the most with his variety and economy of playing that is quite inspirational (in many ways he reminds me of a heavier Del Bronham of the much underrated Stray). However, it is with the concluding Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun suite that the band really let rip. With riffs so heavy it makes Black Sabbath in their prime sound lime limp wristed floosies, drumming so thunderous that it will disturb the neighbours two streets away and a harmonica pushed through a variety of effects and panned throughout the entire stereo spectrum, this is not a piece that should be played early in the morning after a hard night of drinking! However, it is one hell of an enjoyable ride, so much so that one easily overlooks that the songs holds no concession to subtlety or that it isn't the best bit of writing every committed to vinyl (as was the medium of the time!)
Not really an album that would sit comfortably alongside collections that are comprised solely of blues albums or Renaisance releases, but for those with wider tastes who are not adverse to the heavier side of music then Esoteric have rescued a great album from obscurity. With Relf dying a year after the Armageddon album was released (as he was reassembling the first Renaissance line-up under the name of Illusion), there was no chance of the band being rediscovered or reforming. But at least the album is once again available and probably more widely than the original release ever was. With the band having never toured outside the US and A&M having never exactly pushed the boat out promotion wise, Armageddon are likely to be an obscure band even to Relf fans. Now's the chance for people to catch up.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
William R. Strickland - Is Only The Name
Tracklist: You Can Know My Body [But You’ll Never Know My Soul] (4:15), Computer Lover (4:47), Romeo De La Route (3:55), Touch (6:41), If I Stand Here Much Longer (7:18), Oops That’s Me!!! (2:14), World War 3½ (11:20)
Esoteric Recordings have a policy of searching out less well-known material from progressive rock’s past for sharing with today’s audiences. My suspicion is that, like me, you’re unlikely to have heard of William R. Strickland before now. Whilst Strickland purportedly still performs concerts on the USA’s west coast, his recorded output is limited to this one album from 1969. Once the album gets into its stride the American flavour becomes more obvious but, at its outset, it sounds like English progressive folk of the type still being written today, for instance by the likes of Creedy, see Privileged Vagabond.
...Is Only The Name was originally issued on the famous Deram label and one of its tracks, Computer Lover, was included on the Decca sampler Wowie Zowie – The World Of Progressive Music, where Strickland’s material rubbed shoulders with music from the likes of The Moody Blues, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Genesis.
Strickland’s approach was to fuse the art of the folk-based singer-songwriter with influences from the psychedelic/progressive world: ...Is Only The Name features one of the first uses of a Moog synthesizer on record. That use is, however, limited; other aspects leading to a “progressive” tag for this music are orchestral arrangements and a certain psychedelic feel to the compositions – three-minute folk songs they are not!
Whilst the music is not without value, its main attraction forty years from its conception is its historical context, in particular for fans of progressive influence in folk music, whether that be American or European, and it is those fans who are likely to get the most enjoyment from this album.
For more general music fans, the first half of the album is the strongest: the style being essentially one of singer-songwriter with arrangemental adornments: You Can Know My Body is fairly straight folk, as is Computer Lover itself, it’s only the “clicks” and various other tricks that result from the wave of the “progressive wand”. Romeo De La Route has a greater pace to it, and its added urgency and Hammond organ sounds bring it closer to Doors territory, or perhaps some of the work Bob Dylan was doing in the mid-seventies. The beginning of Touch, too, is pretty, the flute sounds adding beauty to the singer-songwriter soundscape, before the song becomes a jam and slightly weird.
At this point and beyond, the albums goes a little off the rails, although some might argue that it’s in this section that the album gets its greatest psychedelic/progressive pedigree. However, it’s not very successful and now sounds anachronistic. If I Stand Here Much Longer sounds like a poetry reading to a psychedelic soundscape and Oops That’s Me!!! is purely whacky. The final number is one of those Vietnam-war inspired folk songs, generalised for a future conflict, surely composed and performed under the influence of mind-altering substances, and it is difficult for anyone in 2009 to stomach listening to it more than once. It’s a bit like Tom Paxton’s Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues played at a slower speed and on repeat three times.
In short, this album is for progressive folk fiends and those interested in the murkier reaches of its history.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Psychedelic Shag – The Sunlight Underground
Tracklist: Processor Overdrive (3:25), Zombie Nation (3:59), Go Back To The Bang (3:45), The Orange Season (3:22), Welcome To Fairyland (4:11), The Good And The Bad Aliens (3:22), The Sunlight Underground (3:48), Cosmic Fallout (3:37), Anunaki Powerstrike (3:55), Omnahmashivaya (8:36)
The 1970’s took the spacey psychedelic rock of the ‘60s (e.g. Vanilla Fudge) and gave it an earthy sound that blended the classical rock instrumentation and created a more palatable tilt for public consumption. That point has left an indelible impression that remains and ostensibly keeps producing new material. One such producer is the German based Psychedelic Shag.
With their debut album, The Sunlight Underground, this band has built upon the very sounds that were popular in the ‘70s with such bands as Arthur Brown and Ten Years After. Even the overt flair of Kiss comes through at times. The sound is retro enough that it is almost like going back in time but Psychedelic Shag are able to keep it fresh by not falling into the old acid rock trappings where monotonous repetition used to be the order of the day. This band has taken a more enterprising approach and has blended a great deal of enthusiasm into what was a fairly tired genre.
The band describes themselves on their MySpace page as being comparable to Hawkwind and I agree. It has progressive leanings and displays a lot of variety as the album moves along. The tone shifts from thoroughly ‘70s ilk to a more modern electronic bombastic approach all the while keeping the early Moog roots at the forefront. The drums and bass are quite active and remain true to the busy ‘70s style that might even have early punk leanings.
The vocals are very forward and intense. This is rock that best played loud and enjoyed – not dissected. I never would have guessed this band hails from Germany and I am pleased with this debut. If the variety presented in The Sunlight Underground is any indicator, their next album is likely to build on the original take on an old theme. With each successive listen I have yet to finish with any disappointment.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Abacab - Mal De Terre
Tracklist: Ne Joue Pas Avec Le Feu (6:05), La Cité De Gaïa (6:00), Non Retour (4:08), Ne Me Dérangez Pas! (4:10), Zap Infos (2:55), Les Trois Couleurs (7:22), La Source (11:06), Etrangers (5:21), El Dorado (4:55), Hackers (5:16), Restez Sous Vos Abris! (7:01), Les Pantins (8:08), Les Enfants De Gaïa (6:47)
Being a scriptwriter, I (sadly) very often find movies that are filmed and released way before the definitive (and best) draft has been written. This also happens in literature and, of course, in music. Such is the case of this Mal De Terre by French band Abacab (hopefully this name is not a tribute to one of Genesis’ lesser works…), a (very) long catalogue of good ideas, quite a few old clichés, and plenty of amateurism.
The good ideas are mainly provided by Guillaume Wilmot’s inventive keyboard melodies and textures; also, Thomas Boulant’s vocals (sung in French, just to warn all those intolerant listeners, if there’s any here, who want all their lyrics in English) are surprisingly strong and expressive.
The old clichés come from the album’s storyline, the (by now) trite and predictable (though I completely agree with it, make no mistake about it) warning about the mess the world has turned into, and our responsibility to rectify and lead the future generations to a bright future. The lyrics, then, are full of references to corporate greed, global warming, totalitarian politics and war. All in all, something Roger Waters could’ve written with some more bite and irony; the Pink Floyd reference is not gratuitous in this case, as Abacab’s use of sound samples has had to be obviously inspired by them.
The amateurism surfaces here and there on the performances. Don’t get me wrong, the playing is quite good, but some guitar solos (by Arnaud Catouillard) feel a bit, let’s say, “untidy”. Also, though Yohan Lampis’ drumming is competent enough, it’s fatally hindered by the poor production (it happens with the whole album, but the percussion department gets the worst part). I admire the band for taking the risk and responsibility of recording, mixing and mastering the CD, but next time, please, hire someone who can do it properly.
It’s hard to single out the highlights of the album, as it all sounds a bit too samey for my taste; in any case, I’d choose the instrumental Non Retour, some passages on La Source (previously recorded on the band's 2004 EP Les 3 Couleurs) and darker-edged Les Pantins as the most solid and representative tracks on Mal De Terre. Maybe unreleased track Terre Infeconde (the lyrics of which are included on the booklet) is the hidden gem we’re missing?
This would have been a very promising 40-45 minute demo to promote Abacab, but in my book it hardly has enough legs to make a 79 minute ambitious behemoth walk confidently.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Night Castle
Tracklist: Night Enchanted (5:46), Childhood Dreams (4:25), Sparks (5:59), The Mountain (4:53), Night Castle (3:57), The Safest Way Into Tomorrow (4:57), Mozart And Memories (5:16), Another Way You Can Die (3:54), Toccata - Carpimus Noctem (4:02), The Lions Roar (4:35), Dreams We Conceive (5:10), Mother And Son (0:41), There Was A Life (9:35), Moonlight And Madness (5:04), Time Floats On (3:37), Epiphany (10:56), Bach Lullaby (0:49), Father Son & Holy Ghost (6:48), Remnants Of A Lullaby (3:10), The Safest Way Into Tomorrow Reprise (1:43), Embers (3:47), Child Of The Night (3:27), Believe (6:12), Nutrocker (4:05), Carmina Burana (2:43), Tracers (5:47)
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra started in 1996 and is best known for their Christmas albums. A band with large orchestra finds it's origin in the band Savatage from which it received the bombastic rock sound, but albums of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra are also filled with classic parts and mellow acoustic songs. Their first two Christmas albums, Christmas Eve And Other Stories and The Christmas Attic, are still my favourite albums to be played during Christmas, beautiful seasonal music with a rock/metal edge and enough familiar melodies and orchestrations for the rest of the family. Their third album Beethoven's Last Night was not a Christmas album and tells the fictional story of Ludwig van Beethoven on the last night of his life. There was a big gap of four years until their third Christmas album The Lost Christmas Eve, with even a bigger gap of five years for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra release their second non-Christmas album. This time the story is about a young girl and her grandfather whom discover a castle.
The Savatage album Poets And Madman, after the departure of Zak Stevens, was a big disappointment so I tried to find a band to replace the gap of Savatage. Jon Oliva's Pain was a good replacement but Circle II Circle, Zak Stevens next band, never appealed to me. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra came across my path and proved a solid replacement, but downside is that most of their work is only suitable during Christmas time. I was looking forward for another all season TSO album but the wait was very long and my expectations were very high. When ordering the album I first received five songs as a warm-up. At first listen I could not help but be disappointed as the songs were very basic and lacked inspiration. I put them aside and waited for the whole album to become available, maybe the whole package and story behind the songs could make me more impressed. Sadly this did not happen.
Night Castle is filled with 26 songs and over two hours of music. They kick of with Night Enchanted, not the place to start my opinion. A powerful bombastic song with a choir singing right into your heart. Childhood Dreams is immediately a big step downhill as although the vocals are not bad, they are not as mindblowing as I like so much on their previous albums. That aside the major disappointment is that the sound is dominated by very simple rock chords. This is even worse on the truly horrible Sparks, a cross between ZZ Top and Kiss. As I thought I had reached the bottom I heard a familiar melody and looked at my MP3-player as for sure had the correct file. The Mountain is a remake of "Prelude To Madness", present on the Savatage album Hall Of The Mountain King. Of course a good song but an unnecessary remake.
Night Castle is a concept album - but I never discovered it. When listening to this album I have to skip many songs to find some enjoyable pieces of music. Initially my review started very critical, but there is still good music to enjoy on this album, and sometimes even a glimmer of the brilliance of the first albums. Night Castle is a good familiar sounding song, The Safest Way Into Tomorrow has beautiful vocals and Father Son & Holy Ghost has beautiful scarce female vocals. Epiphany is a beautiful song of almost eleven minutes, great vocals and more variety though the guitar parts are not dynamic. There is another long song on this album but somehow There Was A Life leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. The chorus reminds me a lot of Billy Joel's Goodnight Saigon. To me that is the major downside to this album, many tunes sound very familiar and some songs or parts of songs are literally re-recordings. Besides The Mountain there are three other remakes of Savatage songs; The Lion's Roar features parts from Temptation Revelation from Gutter Ballet (Savatage); Mozart And Memories was originally recorded as Mozart And Madness on Dead Winter Dead (Savatage) and Believe is literally covered (only worse). Also many classic pieces are used and transferred into a TSO song. Toccata (Bach), Child Of The Night (Delibes) and Carmina Burana (featuring O Fortuna by Carl Orff). Nutrocker is a rock version of the Nutcracker for which I have only one word, horrible.
Maybe my expectations were too high but I am very disappointed by this album. Night Castle has some descent songs but on the whole it does not sound inspiring. The production part is, as always, superb and the vocals are at times brilliant. There is a lot of music on this album but also a lot that I have heard before and better and as mentioned, the majority of the songs have standard rock chords and by far the dynamics of previous albums is not reached. Thankfully this album is available just before Christmas so I can listen to my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas album and put Night Castle away.
To end this review on a positive way I would like to state that all other Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums are highly recommended. I am not very fond of Christmas music but the TSO trilogy is absolutely brilliant, so if you really hate Christmas then Beethoven's Last Night is the album to get. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a remarkable band but Night Castle is not the place to start.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Jefferson Starship – “Performing Jefferson Airplane @ Woodstock”
Tracklist: 3/5s Of A Mile In 10 Seconds (4:32), Somebody To Love (3:31), The Other Side Of This Life (5:07), Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon (5:23), Eskimo Blue Day (7:32), Tom Constanten – Deal (6:15), Tom Constanten – I Know You Rider (4:47), White Rabbit (2:58), Volunteers (5:14)
Both the Jefferson bands – first Airplane and then Starship – have a tenuous link to “progressive rock”, but both are iconic and, certainly in the case of Jefferson Airplane, their development of technically-proficient psychedelic rock is enough for qualification of a “proto-prog” tag at the least. Jefferson Starship, of course, were born from the splitting of Jefferson Airplane, whose first album Takes Off goes all the way back to 1966. Like all bands dating back a number of decades, their line-up has changed over the decades: for this particular live performance the band was constituted by Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals and – arguably – the “leader” of this behemoth), David Frieberg (guitar, vocals), Cathy Richardson (vocals), Slick Aquilar (guitar), Jeff Pevar (guitar and bass), Chris Smith (keyboards) and Donny Baldwin (drums). The band are joined by the Grateful Dead’s Tom Constanten for a couple of numbers towards the end of the set.
I must admit to having greatly enjoyed a few Jefferson Airplane/Starship albums/songs over the years and I was looking forward to reviewing this album for you...
...however.....that eagerness was misplaced....
The big problem with this album – and it over-rides any issues about “prog-worthiness”, technical ability, compositional skill or whatever – is that the sound recording quality is very poor. OK, it’s a live album, and one must make allowances for that. But, having made those allowances, the sound is still very poor. So poor, in fact, that it makes the album unlistenable to everyone apart from die-hard Jefferson Airplane/Starship fans. Those fans, who crawl on hands and knees for many miles to see their heroes, have the ability to hear something different to us mere mortals: yes, their brains transform the signals from their ears expertly such that what they hear is the band in their prime, harmonies glistening, recorded on a sparkling sound system – and not what the disc is actually playing. Lucky them!
For the rest of us, the sound will be the factor that condemns this album. It sounds as if there is one microphone on the stage recording the whole show and that it is in the acoustic shadow of some of the players. You get a lot of Kantner and less of the others: very little of some; virtually nothing of the (supposed) crowd – this is a live album with zero atmosphere. Add to that the fragility of ageing voices and the consequent difficulty in sustaining harmonies live and the musical value, to us non-believers, is minimal. Sad, but true.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10