Reviews in this issue:
- Resistor - Rise
- Yoso – Elements
- The Tangent – A Place On The Shelf: A Special Enthusiast’s Collection
- Acute Mind - Acute Mind (Duo Review)
- Circle Of Bards - Tales
- Arcadia - So Red The Rose (Special Edition)
- Hawkwind - Alien 4
- Rayburn - Rayburn
- Mechanical Organic - Disrepair Part Two ~ The Pleasure Fled [EP]
- Mechanical Organic - Disrepair Part Three ~ Genesis Of A Germ [EP]
Resistor - Rise
Tracklist: Side One The Secret Of The Open Sky (7:00), Beyond This Masquerade (4:40), Spaceghetti (5:19), Ether (5:43) Mimosa (16:04) Side Two The Land Of No Groove (39:22) (i Prologue [3:43], ii Dusty Plain [3:23], iii Jagged Mountain [4:59], iv Land's End [3:48], v Off To Sea [2:36], vi Sea Monster Battle [5:29], vii The Isle Appears [2:17], viii Convincing The Islanders [5:01], ix Sailing Home [3:07], x Groove Revolution [4:55])
Following on from the DPRP recommended solo CD, Challenging Gravity earlier this year, Steve Unruh and his band Resistor unleash their second album Rise. Harking back to the days of vinyl, the release is being marketed as a double album on one CD with the first album being a collection of five songs and the second album being the epic 39+ minute The Land Of No Groove. Somehow one just knows that secretly the band would have loved to have released this as a double vinyl album in a lavish gatefold sleeve! The line-up of Unruh (guitars, vocals, violin and flute), Fran Turner (guitars), Barry Farrands (drums and backing vocals) and Rob Winslow (bass) remains unchanged with Unruh taking most of the song writing (and all of the lyrical) credits although The Land Of No Groove is a four-way collaboration. Given the outstanding nature of the group's debut album, Rise has a lot to live up to.
Unruh has an unnerving ability to come up with great opening numbers and The Secret Of The Open Sky is no exception. Gloriously upbeat with a fantastic chorus and some great riffing throughout, the song displays a great depth, effortlessly flowing between the heavy opening and closing and slightly more restrained middle section. The subtle violin flourishes are an integral part of the piece although initially it is easy to be unaware of their presence. A really great beginning. The mixing of the guitars with Unruh in the left channel and Turner in the right channel gives plenty of opportunity to hear the two playing styles of the guitarists, particularly when listened to via headphones. Unruh is also credited with the next two tracks, Beyond This Masquerade and the instrumental Spaceghetti. The first of these two numbers opens with acoustic guitar but before long the rest of the band joins in with the two guitars intermingling perfectly. The bass 'bomb' is a nice addition to introduce the chorus and subtle backing vocals add dimension. The instrumental prominently features Unruh's violin which carves out the melody line while Turner's guitar provides a galloping riff that really does make it sound like it comes from a futuristic spaghetti western! A brief pizzicato gives way to a Turner's solo and then onto Unruh's own solo with the bow sawing across the strings. Although some people think that it isn't real prog without keyboards, there is no room in this piece, and in most of the others, where keyboards would fit in and, indeed, their presence would undoubtedly detract from the dynamics and interactions between the already existing instrumentation.
Ether, a Turner composition, is a degree more darker in tone with the solo guitar picking out a repeated pattern underpinned by some strong drumming echoing the guitar. Unruh adds splashes of violin and flute that keep the song ticking over until after about two minutes things are unleashed! Everything seems to be going on at once: descending scales wrought out of the guitar patterns matched by the flute and second guitar. There is so much to hear on this number that it takes several listens to even begin to get to grips with things. Mimosa, presumably the tree and not the cocktail, is the epic of the first album and combines the writing strength of both guitarists. Beautifully written and performed, the 16-minute piece has just about everything the discerning prog fan could wish for. The first five minutes is a lovely melodic section, wonderfully sung with perfect balance. The second section rocks with both guitars adding bite, before the levels are taken down for a violin interlude with layered vocals leading into a reprise of the first section but this time Unruh excelling with his flute contributions and Turner donating a luscious solo to the cause - it is perfectly pitched, paced and played. With three and a half minutes to go the mood changes and the group slide into a slow blues with some exceptionally fine guitar playing. Simply wonderful.
The Land Of No Groove is a fantasy tale of a voyage of discovery but instead of elves and hobbits and other such clichés, the group of travellers is the band themselves! The journey is mapped out in the centre pages of the booklet so one can follow the group's progress as the track plays. Although the individual sections are sequenced separately, the song needs to be heard from start to finish in one go; the musical themes only making complete sense when played in context with one another and in terms of the story. When I first heard the piece I was a bit perturbed by some narrative sections, particularly on Jagged Mountain. However, more concentrated listening revealed the humour inherent in the writing. With lines like Their legs turned to metaphorical gelatine and Cursedly broadcasting antenna I would smite thee, er if only I had a hacksaw one can appreciate the intelligence and somewhat tongue in cheek nature of the endeavour. But of course, all this would mean nothing if the music was not up to much. But the quality of the 'first' album is maintained throughout and the nature of the piece allows some fun to be had along the way, such as the pseudo sea shanty in Off To Sea, and the magnificent Sea Monster Battle were Barry and his drum fills save the day! There is a tremendous amount of variation within the ten sections and the band are obviously having fun throughout, culminating in the great Groove Revolution which brings almost 79 minutes of quality music to an end.
There is no doubt about it, Resistor are really a class progressive rock band and have displayed over their two albums to date a quality of song writing that many bands fail ever to achieve. The debut album was well received and Rise should easily please those that enjoyed that first album and hopefully expand the group's fanbase even more. The group have played a handful of gigs in their local area but thoroughly deserve wider live exposure as I am sure that one of their gigs would indeed be memorable. Even if the idea of The Land Of No Groove doesn't particularly appeal, then the other 40 minutes of the album are well worth the price of the CD and is arguably better value than a lot of CDs released these days. I thoroughly recommend heading over to the band's page and picking up a copy of this album and whilst there adding a copy of Unruh's latest solo album to your shopping basket as it is highly unlikely you will hear two such consistently great albums released this year, particularly as they have largely derived from the pen of one man.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Yoso – Elements
Yoso (4:18), Path To Your Heart (4:22), Where You’ll Stay (3:42), Walk Away (4:38), The New Revolution (3:44), To Seek The Truth (4:26), Only One (3:42), Close The Curtain (4:44), Won’t End Tonight (4:00), Come This Far (4:19), Time To Get Up (3:52), Return To Yesterday
Yoso (5:31), Rosanna (8:18), Owner Of A Lonely Heart (6:19), Walk Away (4:47), Good For You (3:38), Yes Medley You R Is No (8:59), To Seek The Truth (4:27), Hold The Line (4:18), Cinema (2:04), Gift With A Golden Gun (4:21), White Sister (6:17)
Yoso’s line up consists of Bobby Kimball (vocals), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (bass & vocals), Johnny Bruhns (guitar & backing vocals) and Scott Conner (drums & backing vocals) with Elements being their debut release.
Yoso are a progressive rock / soft rock supergroup which are a spin off from a band called Circa. This is a bit of a convoluted band / journey but the name is a marrying of two band names Yes and Toto. When it is stated that Yoso are a progressive rock / soft rock, this is in the same fundamental area as Asia, more rock than progressive, AOR in fact, but still retaining some progressive elements.
The Yes connection being predominantly Tony Kaye, who played keyboards for Yes during various phases of their recording career, (1968 – 1971 and 1983 to 1995), having played and contributed to the first three Yes albums, Yes, Time And A Word, The Yes Album before being dismissed for the more favourable Rick Wakeman. Tony returned to the Yes fold to record 90125, Big Generator, Union and Talk before leaving again. Billy Sherwood appeared on the Union, Keys To Ascension 2, Open Your Eyes and The Ladder albums. Messer’s Johnny Bruhns from the Yes tribute band Roundabout and Scott Conner from Genesis tribute band Gabble Ratchet.
There are several commonalities between Kaye and Kimball but the main ones being thus, both were involved in the biggest selling albums of their prospective bands careers, both bands have had several line up changes and surviving. But does having two very famous band members make you a supergroup? That I am not to sure of, but what I do know is that they have produced a most outstanding album which is a game of two halves.
The path chosen here by Yoso is that of a high standard, choosing to stay in the 90125 era of Yes and any Kimball era Toto album. The opening track has some very faint Anderson harmonies, but be under no illusion Bobby Kimball’s vocals are very recognisable, with some nice vocal contributions by Sherwood too. Bruhn’s guitar work is second to none with some really nice lead work as well as dreamy rhythms which can be best heard on To Seek The Truth. There again with the pedigree on offer here you wouldn’t expect any less. Sherwood’s style of playing is complemented by Conner’s precise work. Kaye’s keyboard contributions are very stated and cleverly worked, effective, really holding the melodies, giving the music an air of freshness. The New Revolution allows Kaye to really get to grips with his passages coming more to the front, leading the way but yet sitting just far enough back in the mix to add depth and character. Won’t End Tonight is a harder sounding band sound with some fantastic lead vocal work by Kimball, the band are on fire playing this track, with it melodies and dynamics in abundance. Return To Yesterday is the fitting and closing track of disk one which opens with some really nice vocal harmonies, sounding vaguely like Anderson and thankfully is the nearest thing to a ballad.
The interest for proggies is with the second disk which is eleven live tracks, reworks of past glories of Yes and Toto. The sound quality is good, allowing the band to be heard in their full glory, with even the softer songs having a bit more about them, offering them a new lease of life, Rosanna being a good example of this. Owner Of A Lonely Heart is a good take on the multi platinum original release again offering it a new lease of life. The Yes Medley You R Is No is for me worth the whole admission price alone. I’m not going to spill the beans or spoil the surprise, but I will guarantee that you will love this take. I could speak for ages on the merits of the gazillion times I've played Toto hits, but is was nice to hear renditions of White Sister and Good For You. Cinema from 90125 is another stunning version with Sherwood stamping his authority all over it, the track bounces along with his frenetic bass work. This is a very powerful and good statement about what the band are about, how they feel and what they are achieving, which all in all makes for a very impressive second disk.
Egos are nowhere to be found on this album, all the guys have really plied their trade creating a fantastic album with its memorable melodies, harmonies and catchy hooks, being a press play again album. The studio tracks are real growers and will have you singing along with their air of familiarity. The nice thing about Elements is that there are no filler or weak tracks on the whole album. This is really sitting on the fringes of being in my top ten list of the year.
Frontiers Records are a label that are well renowned in Melodic Rock / AOR circles setting very high standards, having yet again hit the mark. Over the years I have spent copious time and money on Frontiers releases and I have yet to be let down, their team really know how to select and release top quality recordings time and time again, something which isn’t easy.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Tangent – A Place On The Shelf: A Special Enthusiast’s Collection
Tracklist: Le Massacre Du Printemps – Part One (11:44), Everyman’s Forgotten Monday (5:09), I Wanna Be A Chick (4:34), Live On Air (21:47), Le Massacre Du Printemps – Part Two (14:43)
First things first, this isn’t a new Tangent album. As the sleeve notes point out:
“it was originally not for sale and existed only as a gift to those who decided to help us make our “Down And Out” album. This second edition has been released by request by the many who didn’t get the first edition”.
It consists of demo recordings – for the albums Down And Out In Paris And London, Not As Good As The Book, the unrealised Le Massacre Du Printemps – and a song, Everyman’s Forgotten Monday, that originally appeared on the album Lifecycle by Gold Frankincense & Diskdrive.
The tracks are not demos in the traditional sense – they are fully fledged and fully produced songs – so don’t think that the material was discarded because of quality considerations. There are a lot of bands out there who would, I’m sure, love to have released something as good as this. Andy Tillison provides illuminating sleeve notes behind the rationale for the songs not making it on to regular albums.
For example the longest song, Le Massacre Du Printemps, which is spread across tracks 1 and 5, had to be shelved because the record company that controls Stravinsky’s Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) on which it is based were not prepared to let Tillison release it. The instrumental first half is the Tangent’s Pictures At An Exhibition moment as they rework the original well known classical piece. Keyboards are to the fore, weaving in and out of a solid rhythm section, completing the ELP analogy, whilst the second half is more Tangent-y with a fantastic harmonised chorus that reappears several times throughout the song.
Everyman’s Forgotten Monday must be a first for a prog album, coming as it does with a warning regarding strong language. It’s a song about Burma, with soaring saxophone and restrained soloing by Andy, and a version (the one here is the ‘Fast Mix’) appeared as a bonus track on the limited first edition digipak version of Down And Out.
Instrumental I Wanna Be A Chick has a laid back, lounge room jazzy vibe punctuated by staccato synth breaks.
Live On Air is, according to Andy Tillison:
“so controversial that we simply have not been able to make it a part of our normal release schedule. It was written on the heels of the appalling Tube bombings in London, but sought to explore some of the possible explanations of why it happened”.
It’s a traditional multilayered Tangent epic, over twenty minutes in length, withdrawn only because Tillison didn’t want the lyrics misinterpreting. Unusually for a Tangent song it contains “found sounds” – including TV pundits commenting on the day’s events and the final message of bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan. It may also be the first Tangent song to contain a rap section.
This is an absolutely essential purchase for Tangent fans. Do note though that in order to distinguish between the "Limited Edition" originally made available to hardcore fans who heeded the call and supported the band (and paid a premium price), this album does NOT now feature the bonus live track or the Po90 Jitters preview. For those new to the band, or unfamiliar with their work then I’d suggest the studio albums would be a slightly more accessible and hence better place to start.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Acute Mind - Acute Mind
Tracklist: Grief And Pain (5:28), Garden (6:28), Misery (3:33), Sweet Smell Of Success (4:34), Faces (6:30), Bad Incitements (3:38), Bonds Of Fear (5:40), Prophecy (5:25)
Andy Read's Review
Does every Polish child automatically get a musical instrument for their first birthday? I only ask because I’m becoming increasingly amazed by the quality of music coming from this Eastern European nation.
Mention Poland and Prog and I guess Riverside is the name that would spring to most people’s minds. But in the past year or so the likes of After, Believe, Leafless Tree, Division By Zero, Inducti, Votum and Pinkroom have all brought me many hours of great listening. The latest name to add to that list is Acute Mind and it’s barely been out of my player in the past fortnight.
Formed by guitarist Arek Piskorek four years ago, the band tested the musical waters with a couple of demos and a seven date tour with Quidam. This self-titled offering is their debut on the fledgling Polish label Electrum.
Musically the bands sits in what some would call crossover prog. All of the songs have a great melodic character. The guitars are to the fore with Arek and Pawel Ciuraj capable of conjuring up a wide range of styles. Numerous metallic moments are mixed with much lighter sections and frequent straight rock guitar stylings. There are plenty of progressive noodlings around the melodies especially through the keyboards and piano. Although the songs are short and to the point there’s no shortage of little details to reward repeat listens.
Singer Marek Majewski is certainly one of the better Polish singers. With barely a hint of accent he will develop a richer tone and depth to his voice as the band develops its career.
The closest comparisons I can give lie somewhere between Fair To Midland and Abigail’s Ghost, especially in the way the songs manage to hit a very engaging groove. However that would be to over-simplify. Across the eight songs particular moments also bring to mind Arena, Wolverine, Porcupine Tree, Votum, Satellite, Believe and of course Riverside.
I’m not going to select any favourite songs, simply because I change my mind every time I listen to this album. All seven songs are of a consistently high and memorable standard. The instrumental Faces breaks up the songs nicely halfway through. Some may find the playing time a little on the constricted side, yet it does at least leave you wanting some more!
To conclude; this has been a more than pleasant surprise and along with the fantastic new Votum will certainly be among my top 5 albums of 2010. I’d strongly recommend Acute Mind to anyone who enjoys any of the bands mentioned above. If you need any other excuse, the album comes in a smart gatefold sleeve from the label website for the amazing price of seven euros. Go get it!
Gert Hulshof's Review
Once again Poland brings a new band into the growing reigns of progressive rock. This time the band is Acute Mind, a six piece band in a more or less traditional line-up for progressive-symphonic rock. The sextet's porformance duties are: Marek Majewski – (vocals), Arkadiusz Piskorek and Pawel Ciuraj (guitars), Dorota Turkiewicz (keyboards), Wojciech Rowicki (bass guitar & acoustic guitar) and last but not least Dariusz Hanaj (drums). They also had some help during the recording process from Slawek Guadky Gladyszewski (additional keyboards & guitars) and apart from this he plays lead guitar in Faces.
Acute Mind’s music is best described as Polish progressive rock, which they do this quite well I must say and in the vein of Riverside, Satellite and other Polish progressive rock bands. All songs are well crafted, with nice melody lines and well built up lyrics.
The album consists of eight songs, the first of which is Grief And Pain, which blows open the album with a blast, followed by helicopters flying over and instantly giving away what must be what the song is about; war or terrorism. Both of course always bringing grief and pain. The song is very dark in nature with pounding bass and drums, scorching guitars and mostly spoken textlines. Immediatly giving away Marek’s Polish accent.
Second song Garden sounds a lot like music also produced by German proggers RPWL. Almost ballad like but then coming out strong with heavy distorted guitars, only to come back to softer atmosphere, with a strong melody and chorus line along with it. Almost pop/rock. Nice bass line in the break or bridge of the song.
Misery is a true ballad, here the Polish accent becomes even more clear, singing a ballad is what Marek is good at. The whole sound of the song is how Riverside and other fellow Polish proggers build up a ballad.
With the next song in line Sweet Smell Of Success, the band show why they claim a spot on the hit lists of the progressive rock scene. Marek sings differently again here, his style of singing suits the band and he enables all members to play across the symphonic styles. Other influences of the band become clear and I get hints of the British symphonic scene with Pendragon and IQ influences present in this song.
Faces, the next of the tracks is an instrumental one. Dream Theater style playing with a thumping backtrack, melodic keys, guitars on top and even some shredding. They show us they know how to play progressive rock.
Bad Incitements is another track in the veins of their Polish brothers. There's a good bass line present throughout this song conjuring some Porcupine Tree influences here and there. The bass guitar really drives the song forward.
With the seventh track on the album Bonds Of Fear we get our second ballad, piano and acoustic guitar. This is a song drenched in emotion, building up to a fierce climax right at the end with heavy guitar soloing.
Last but not least the band wants to tell us their own Prophecy. Another well crafted song with a good melody line. One thing is certain, Acute Mind is at its strongest when playing near to ballads. These songs seem to suit them best, well at least that is what can be said about this album. Most of the songs are not in a high tempo, but more or less slow ballad like songs, with strong melody lines.
As a conclusion I can honestly say, I bought the CD in a whim after hearing only a few snippets of two songs by Acute Mind. I do not regret buying the album. The band have not disappointed me for a minute, I did get my money’s worth - every penny of it. A strong debut album, nicely packaged and with a booklet containing the lyrics.
ANDY READ : 9 out of 10
GERT HULSHOF : 7.5 out of 10
Circle Of Bards - Tales
Tracklist: Welcome (0:50), My Magic Song (4:43), Scarlet Moon (3:53), Fighting The Dragon (1:57), Our Own Land (3:36), Czarne Smoki (2:46), Bridges We Shall Pass (5:09), Teczowy Most (3:07), When The Bards Sings (2:30), Circle Of Bards (4:28), Farewell (0:34)
Arriving from Electrum Productions, and with the Acute Mind's album (reviewed above), was this CD from composer, guitarist and vocalist Mariusz Migalka, under the project title of Circle Of Bards. The cover initially caught my eye with its mystical artwork and a musician playing an instrument akin to a lute. With a keen interest in acoustic music I decided to give it a spin and what started as mild curiosity turned out to be an enjoyable discovery.
As my Polish is none existent I'm not entirely sure as to whom Mariusz Migalka (vocals & guitars) is accompanied by on Tales. The inside booklet has: Mariusz Ostnaski (bass, percussion & orchestrations), Sylvester Lastowski (additional guitar on certain tracks) and Anna Bielecka (flutes). Whereas the Circle Of Bards' MySpace has the following listed with Mariusz Migalka as band members: Mariusz Ostnaski (bass & percussions), Marcin Król (guitar), Anna Bielecka (flutes), Paweł Świderski (drums & percussions). Hopefully I've covered everyone. Collectively they have produce a CD that is delightful and certainly worthy of investigation.
This is an album that on first listening is pleasant and ear friendly, however Tales has more to tell and it took a couple more spins before its full potential unfolded. To set the scene, Tales has a common theme throughout, possibly even a concept. Themes are referenced and revisited and the album is nicely bookended. Lyrically we are taken to Arthurian times; mystical lands with tales of demons, dragons and deeds of valour. I'm sure you've got the picture...
Musically we have well executed folky, Celtic, balladic songs with superb musicianship throughout. There are no electric instruments to speak of and to my ears Tales came across as an "unplugged" release. What I'm edging towards here is that I can envisage this album as a full grown prog release complete with bass, drums, keyboards galore and electric guitar and with this album being a stripped down version for an intimate live performance. Resounding acoustic guitars, acoustic bass and a full vocal ensemble. Which neatly brings me to the vocals and something that caught me slightly unawares and why it initially took me longer to get into the album, was the anthemic chorus sections. Multi-layered AOR arrangements that the likes of Styx or Kansas would be proud of - at first the two didn't quite sit comfortably together for me...
The key word for the album is, infectious - and this is not confined merely to the vocal lines. Tales is replete with hooks, whether it be in the guitars or the excellent flutes of Anna Bielecka. The orchestrations bring in different instruments and form a nice backdrop in some of the pieces. Even the percussion draws you in and gets the feet tapping and the hands clapping. The production values are very high so all the detail - vocals and instrumentation are crystal clear in the mix.
So are there any downsides to this release? Well just a few. I did find the lyrical content a little twee, perhaps a tad fairytale(ish) for my tastes, and although not a huge problem for me was Mariusz Migalka annunciation of certain words. So personally I enjoyed the two tracks sung in his native tongue, (Czarne Smoki and Teczowy Most), which lyrically flowed more eloquently and added to the mystery of the songs. Finally the album clocks in at thirty three minutes, which by modern standards is a bit lean, but the album had run its course and Farewell rounded off the proceedings appropriately. All these, therefore, are fairly minor issues overall...
Highlites? Bridges We Shall Pass has had a few extra plays. The delicate classical guitar motif carries the song along beautifully. As throughout the album the vocal melody is very catchy and the icing on the cake is the brief instrumental break with Anna Bielecka's flutes. The aforementioned Czarne Smoki and Teczowy Most - but all the tracks have their own charms.
Tales is excellently presented and along with the Acute Mind album comes as an inexpensive package.
As to pointers, well I suppose Blackmore's Nights is the obvious one, although I don't necessarily wish to make comparisons...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arcadia - So Red The Rose (Special Edition)
CD1: Election Day (5:30), Keep Me In The Dark (4:32), Goodbye Is Forever (3:49), The Flame (4:24), Missing (3:40), Rose Arcana (0:51), The Promise (7:30), El Diablo (6:05), Lady Ice (7:32) Bonus Recordings Say The Word [theme from 'Playing For Keeps'] - 7" Edit (4:29), Election Day - Single Version (4:30), Goodbye Is Forever - Single Remix (4:16), The Promise - 7" Mix (4:45), The Flame - 7" Remix (4:05), Say The Word [theme from 'Playing For Keeps'] - Soundtrack Version (5:06), She Moody And Grey, She's Mean And Restless (4:28)
CD2: Election Day - Consensus Mix (8:39), Goodbye Is Forever - 12" Extended Vocal Mix (6:37), The Promise - Instrumental Version (5:35), Rose Arcana - Extended (5:37), The Flame - Extended Remix (7:20), Say The Word [theme from 'Playing For Keeps'] - Extended Vocal Remix (6:30), Election Day - Cryptic Cut (9:06), The Promise - 12" Mix (7:02), Goodbye Is Forever - Dub Mix (5:13), Say The Word [theme from 'Playing For Keeps'] - Extended Instrumental Remix (5:46), Election Day - Early Rough Mix (8:41), Flame Game - Yo Homeboy Mix (2:05)
DVD: Filming 'Election Day', Election Day (7:47), Filming 'The Promise', The Promise (4:46), Filming 'Goodbye Is Forever', Goodbye Is Forever (4:11), Filming 'The Flame', The Flame (4:00), Filming 'Missing', Missing (3:40)
And now for something completely different ... I actually asked the guys in the DPRP team if it was a good idea to review the rerelease of the classic Arcadia album on the website. I was surprised by the many positive replies and how I seemingly wasn't the only person that loved this Duran Duran spin-off. So here it is ladies and gentleman... Arcadia !
Back in 1985, after releasing their hugely successful album Seven And The Ragged Tiger the band members of Duran Duran took a short break to try some other musical directions. This resulted in two interesting bands. John Taylor and Andy Taylor teamed up with Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson to form The Power Station releasing the self-titled album and hit singles like Some Like It Hot and T-Rex cover Get It On. While this band was a much more straightforward rock band than Duran Duran, the other band members (Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor) took the synth pop of Duran Duran a few steps further in their Arcadia project.
At the time Simon Le Bon described So Red The Rose as 'the most pretentious album ever made' and he might well have been very right in this. All Music called it 'the best album Duran Duran never made'. The album sounded very avant-gardish (seemingly inspired by bands like Japan) and the band members took on an almost gothic dressing code to match. Compared to Duran Duran (which at times was already quite groundbreaking) Arcadia sounded much more experimental. The B-side of the original vinyl LP consisted of a short instrumental intro (Rose Arcana) followed by three relatively long songs for a 'pop band'. Songs like Election Day used massive synth chords and weird percussive effects that even today sound as fresh and remarkable as 25 years ago, thanks to the open sound of the production and mix by Alex Sadkin. The album was a success, selling to platinum status, although only Election Day was a major hit as a single.
Another thing that made So Red The Rose special were the many guest appearances by big names. Pink Floyd's David Gilmour played guitar on the albums highlight The Promise, while Herbie Hancock played synths and Sting provided distinctive backing vocals on the same track. Grace Jones can be heard reciting spoken words in Election Day and The Flame. Other names worth mentioning are guitarist Carlos Alomar (David Bowie), bass player Mark Egan (Pat Matheny Group), percussionist David van Tieghem (Laurie Anderson, David Byrne), sax player Andy Mackay (Roxy Music) and guitarist Masami Tsuchiya (Japan). As you can imagine, all of these professionals add to the diverse and eclectic feel of the record.
The first CD of this Special Edition brings us the full original album plus all the single mixes, including She Moody And Grey, She's Mean And Restless (the instrumental B-side version of Election Day). While these singles are a 'nice to have', the main strength of this first disc is of course the remastered original album. Election Day has it's effects, guitar fiddling, menacing vocals, drum rolls and powerful synth chords. Songs like Keeping Me In The Dark and Goodbye Is Forever are catchy and betray the band's heritage, echoing Seven And The Ragged Tiger while adding a more experimental flavour to the mix. The Flame gives a whole new meaning to powerful rhythm sections. After these very accessible tracks the ambient and almost spooky percussionless Missing - which is mostly vocals, fretless bass and synths - is a huge change.
The B-side of the original album was very different from the more commercial A-side. It started with the ambient experiment of the shortened version of Rose Arcana before going into what might well be the highlight of the album: The Promise. Enormously powerful, with Gilmour's weeping guitar, great lyrics sung in a drawn out manner on the up-tempo song and Sting's backing vocals this is a true gem. El Diablo has a whole different feel, quite mysterious (especially the intro and outro) with pan flute, violin, etc. What Missing was for the A-side, Lady Ice was for the B-side; an exploration into ambience. Besides the album the band also released a track (Say The Word) on the soundtrack of the movie 'Playing for Keeps'. Even though the song sounds more Duran Duran than Arcadia it's good to have the song and it's various mixes included here.
The second CD captures 12 remixes of the single releases. Back in the eighties I used to spend all my money on 12" singles and this disc does not only make some of my vinyl collection obsolete, it also offers quite a few remixes I didn't own yet. And great mixes they are! Even the instrumental remix of The Promise is substantially different from the album version (while the 12" Mix hardly differs from the album version). Another treat is the full length version of the experimental Rose Arcana with its Asian flavoured synth work. The Flame and Flame Game have an excellent extended section with funky guitar. The remix of Say The Word, on the other hand is a typical 'Latin Rascals' style eighties mix, not unlike some of the remixes that would accompany Duran Duran's singles of the Notorious album and feels slightly out of place.
There's some confusion over the Election Day remixes. The remix that is referred to as the Cryptic Cut is actually the rare ´Cryptic Cut/Fact And Story Mix´. There´s another version of this remix, the ´Cryptic Cut No Voice Mix´, which is half a minute shorter but not enormously different. It´s a shame it hasn´t been included here since that would have made the collection 100% complete. Also, there seems to be a different US extended mix of The Flame and a shorter instrumental version of Say The Word, though I haven´t heard these and don´t know how different they are from the versions included here. Another rarity that's missing is an unreleased instrumental track that was left of So Red The Rose because of lack of vinyl space.
A nice extra with this Special Edition is the DVD disc featuring material from the original VHS Release 'Arcadia The Videos'. Not only are we treated to promotional videos for 5 of the band's songs (including Missing, which was never released as a single), but also interesting 'making of' mini-documentaries. Whereas the music has stood the test of time, these vids take you straight back into the eighties and are fun to watch (think exploded hair and guys with make-up). We see the band working on the videos in Paris, Cote d'Azur and London.
Each video has a different style, with Election Day being an arty-farty affair and The Promise using footage of the third world to support the lyrical content. Missing is a lovely still-photography animation making great use of light and atmosphere. The remaining videos are a lot less serious than the music would have you think. Goodbye Is Forever is a real fun take on the theme of time with Simon and Nick taking a weird ride through the inside of a clock (spot the Poe reference in the video!). The Flame finds Simon acting out the role of clumsy nerd in a Hitchcock-like thriller/slapstick, where he undergoes various mishaps at a weird dinner party. Special mention goes to the video for Election Day, which is almost eight minutes long and uses large sections of the remixes. Remarkably, drummer Roger Taylor is not present in the videos, most probably since he had resigned from the music business after recording the Arcadia album.
Unfortunately the music video for Say The Word is missing from this DVD. Even though it's mainly made up of outtakes from the other videos and fragments from 'Playing for Keeps' it feels like a missed opportunity. It wasn't included on the original VHS release, but like the missing remixes it's a shame it was omitted since it would have made this the ultimate complete collection of 'all things Arcadia'. And maybe some bonus material on the DVD would have been nice as well (e.g. interview footage from the concerned period or a retrospective view with the band members).
If you like your prog with a melodic and poppy touch - think It Bites or IQ with Paul Menel - or bands like Duran Duran you should definitely seek out this 3 disc set, which comes with an 8-page booklet with a few liner notes and source information for all tracks on the album, but unfortunately no lyrics. But if you, like me, have already known the band's music for 25 years you'll be delighted to have this package available now and will not hesitate to get reacquainted with Arcadia. It sells for a very reasonable price in many webstores, so buy your copy and enjoy a blast from the past!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hawkwind - Alien 4
Tracklist: Abducted (2:45), Alien (I Am) (7:46), Reject Your Human Touch (2:21), Blue Skin (7:08), Beam Me Up (4:10), Vega (3:51), Xenomorph (4:51), Journey (3:12), Sputnik Stan (7:03), Kapal (5:10), Festivals (6:48), Death Trap (3:57), Wastelands (1:23), Are You Losing Your Mind? (2:35) Bonus Track Space Sex (2:56)
After the abomination that was White Zone, the next release by Dave Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick was issued under the Hawkwind name and was much more of a return to the space rock sound so characteristic of the band. The album also saw the introduction of a new member, vocalist Ron Tree, who, besides adding his voice, would provide a focal point during live performances whilst Brock and Davey created the sonic landscapes between them.
Alien 4 is a loose concept album based on alien abduction. Whether by coincidence or design, the voice of the aliens is uncannily similar to that used by The Stranglers in their Meninblack tales and at time during Alien (I Am) it could almost be the erstwhile Men In Black themselves. As with many Hawkwind albums there are a mixture of songs and instrumental pieces that act as links or scene setters. This album is no exception and I have to say that in the context of the complete album things flow along very well. This is in contrast to the live album of the accompanying tour, Love In Space, where without the visual elements of the performance things can get rather disjointed. There is an immediate impression that the group were really trying to recapture the essence of their glory years as the sometimes too obvious Calvertisms of Tree's performance indicate. The ever-present space keyboards are prominent throughout but also Brock plays a lot more guitar over the album even recruiting the services of Jerry Richards (from Tubilah Dog) to add additional guitar on three of the tracks. Of course, out of the context of the concept, some tracks don't stand up to well as individual numbers, such is the fate befalling Beam Me Up and Vega. However, as part of the overall listening experience they fit in well and Vega in particular comes over a lot better than it does on the live album. Similarly Xenomorph has a much harder edge than the live rendition with some frantic guitar and synth interplay, particularly towards the end of the song.
Sputnik Stan is one of the longer tracks on the album and although containing many of the vital Hawkwind elements is marred by a very dull and unoriginal drum pattern. However, Brock does get to fly up and down his fretboard and Davey adds all sorts of cosmic backings but overall it is rather too long and somewhat reminiscent of the longer directionless jams the band indulged in at the very start of their ventures over 25 years previously. Festivals is almost a regular song with a chorus and everything! Again, possibly extended too much with an excess of unexciting drum patterns, the piece at least goes through several changes in style and tempo, although I don't understand what role the Afro-Caribbean vocalist plays, nor come to that, what a song about festivals has to do with alien abduction. The re-recording of Death Trap is rather good and the years of performing it live has allowed the band to generate a version that maintains the essence of the original yet still infuses it with the excitement of the new. The last two tracks of the original album are also reworkings of older material, as I observed in my review of Love In Space. But credit where credit is due, both Wastelands and Are You Losing Your Mind? slot nicely into the album and the addition of the lyric to the latter track ends the album on a rather ominous note.
As ever, Atomhenge/Esoteric have the fans in mind and so the rare Space Sex has been included as a worthwhile bonus track. Again, as per usual, the artwork has been fully restored and a new essay (by uber Hawkfan and band confidante Brian Tawn) on the recording of the album has been included in the booklet along with archive photos. If anything, Alien 4 and the other Atomhenge reissues has proved to me that I have been wrong to so easily dismiss the Hawkwind of the late 1980s and 1990s as they could still deliver the goods when required. No band can survive by simply living off past glories and Hawkwind have never tried to do so, always trying new things even if they didn't work out. I am glad I had the opportunity to hear this album to prove the error of my ways and it will certainly find a place in my collection alongside the albums of earlier years.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rayburn - Rayburn
Tracklist: Your Mind [Doubt] (3:12), Got To Get Ready To Die (6:37), Steam Shuffle (3:07), Said, I Love Only You (8:03), Righteous Man (5:22), Songbird (6:56), See My Eyes (4:14), The Trail Is Gone (2:05), Your Mind (3:15), America (2:17), Saltless Tears (4:36), Hey Friend (3:13), Working My Way Upstream (5:10), Your Mind [Doubt] (3:49)
Rayburn hailed from Little Rock, Arkansas, were active in the early 1970s and featured Mark Price (bass, vocals), Jimmy Roberts (guitar, piano, vocals), Robbie Carder (drums, vocals) and Steve Stephens (keyboards, vocals), with guitarist Steve Burchfield joining the group in their later years after the unfortunate death (at the age of 21) of Roberts. It is yet another case of "almost, but not quite", not through any fault of the band whose deal with a subsidiary of RCA Records was scuppered when Stephens' father bought out the contract behind the band's back as he wanted his son to abandon a musical career and work in the family business. The original quartet had laid down a collection of demos at various recording sessions and the reformed group (with Burchfield) laid down further tracks, including some written during the Roberts era, as a tribute to their friend and as a swansong for the band. After several decades in obscurity, the songs of Rayburn finally see the light of day on this CD release.
Although the songs are demo recordings, it doesn't mean that they are of poor quality as they were recorded in top studios, including the Memphis studio owned by legendary guitarist Steve Cropper. Additionally the young band had yet to develop a truly original sound with these initial recordings, but there is no mistaking the talent, and potential, within the band, in particular the blossoming musical partnership between Stephens and Roberts. The music is varied but incorporates a lot of the classic elements of the era: lashings of Hammond organ, plenty of guitar breaks and layers of vocals. The three versions of Your Mind [Doubt] are all somewhat different although, to my mind, neither of the later versions can match the original rendition that opens the CD. Steam Shuffle shows how together the band was and that as a rock combo they smoked, while the slower numbers, such as Said, I Love Only You and Righteous Man bear resemblance, both musically and vocally, to early Caravan. Elsewhere, the strains of the country-rockish Songbird, exquisite harmony singing on the prog ballad See My Eyes and the Hammond-soaked Saltless Tears show the band were capable of performing in a variety of styles and certainly had the technical abilities to tackle complex musical passages and vision to ensure the songs were wrapped in engaging arrangements.
Thirty years down the line, Rayburn are not going to be hailed as a classic undiscovered band but they do, however, deserve their Warholian "five minutes of fame". The band was a solid group and for fans of that musical era are worth hearing. It is one of those strange quirks that had the band released an album on a small independent label in the early seventies, it is likely that original copies would these days secure vast sums of money and the group would be the subject of great intrigue and reissue (or bootlegging) campaigns. As things stand, the intrigue remains but tracking down the music is easier and won't cost the world. A worthy release.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mechanical Organic - Disrepair Part Two ~ The Pleasure Fled [EP]
Tracklist: Into The Fangs Of Lunacy (17:19), Into The Fangs Of Lunacy [radio edit] (4:39)
Mechanical Organic hail from Australia. They are a trio in theory but in practice they are more like a one man band, as vocalist and keyboardist Eddie Katz (ex-Vauxdvihl) seems to have taken up all of the songwriting, recording and artwork. Other group members played with Australian technical progressive metal band Taramis that released some good albums in the early 90s and Spasticator. What we have here is apparently the part two of a trilogy (tetralogy, pentalogy?). In fact they inform us that part four will be the start of a six part subseries to follow... This time around we have one long song and its radio edit, which is simply a cut down version of the long track.
What is it about? Well it's progressive metal with a dark touch. Or to be more specific, it's progressive metal trying to sound a bit avantgarde. They do bring to mind Doom/Death Metallers (more like they once flirted with this genre) but they're now gone progressive and melodic. The music is mainly guitar driven with a lot of piano behind, and drifts between heavy and doomy riffs and bare guitar solos with spoken text behind. One could argue they sound a bit like Orphaned Land or Anathema, but it should be said that they are far from having the richness or the originality of either band. The vocals remind me more of experimental dark metal bands, such as Ulver around the Themes From William Blake era, however there is nothing here to match the paranoia of Garm's (Ulver's frontman) singing.
The song is rather basic in its production and sounds more like a demo; and it fact it is something of a demo since everything here is self-produced. Riffs and tunes are definitely over-melodramatic and tend to be more to the obsolete and trivial side rather than novel. The style the band chose is almost overexploited and has nothing more or new to give to progressive music. Technically it is quite ok but not exceptional. Well, it's not hard to make up your own mind: the edit version of the song can be heard in their MySpace.
Not having heard any of the band's older material, I cannot compare this to their history. There is some potential in their dark tunes but as they stand now I cannot find any reason to consider this as something groundbreaking or exceptionally interesting. There is a lot of stuff (and much more conmplete and convincing) out there that sounds like this. The band seems to love conspiracy theories: as they advertise in the accompanying leaflet, the songs they are recording now are about mind control, AIDS as a manufactured disease and so on. But I can assure them there is no conspiracy behind this low rating...
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Mechanical Organic - Disrepair Part Three ~ Genesis Of A Germ [EP]
Tracklist: The Cut Hunter Theory (25:02), The Cut Hunter Theory [radio edit] (4:13)
Mechanical Organic is a bunch of musicians from down under, consisting of Eddie Katz (vocals, keyboards, harmonies & programming), Connie D (heavy & lead guitar) and Evan Harris (bass, Chapman & NS stick).
This album, EP or track is part three in a series they have produced, (part two reviewed above), with each of the parts dealing in social issues. Part three is about viruses that seem to hold the world in a firm grip. Like Ebola, HIV and more of these. The song has a theme which can be heard throughout the whole. Also overall present is some kind of interview or background info journal where a woman and a man speak about the viruses, and the information they have on this. Overall for an album (track) about such a subject you will need to have good information if you want people to listen to this.
Musically speaking the The Cut Hunter Theory is well crafted, although I take it the drums are a programmed as there is no information about a drummer. Mechanical Organic have created a modern day protest song masterpiece within progressive music - which is not often seen. The track is as unpredictable as viral strings apart from the theme, likewise in a virus.
The first time I listened I thought to myself, what is this? I must say however it really grew on me now I have listened to it more often. I can tell you 25 minutes is not a long time in a lifetime, when your healthy, it probably is a lifetime once you have been contaminated with one of the viruses the song is about. The second track is no more than a radio edit, which I think it’s just a waste of time to listen to. The track does not do justice to what the band created with The Cut Hunter Theory.
I simply have no other artist I can compare this to, experimental, post rock, art I don’t know where to put this. What I do know is, I like it.
As a CD it is rather short though and which has brought the end result down a little.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10