Round Table Review
Moon Safari - Lover's End
Tracklist: Lover's End Pt. I (6:42), A Kid Called Panic (13:57), Southern Belle (3:46), The World's Best Dreamers (5:47), New York City Summergirl (4:08), Heartland (5:46), Crossed The Rubicon (9:45), Lover's End Pt. II (1:56)
Geoff Feakes' Review
So enthusiastic was my colleague Mark’s response to the two previous Moon Safari albums A Doorway To Summer and [blomljud] (from 2005 and 2008 respectively) I felt compelled to join him in a RTR of their latest Lover’s End. Encouragingly the six man line-up from the last album remains intact, namely Simon Åkesson (vocals, piano, organ, Moog, Mellotron, keys), Petter Sandström (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Pontus Åkesson (vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitar), Johan Westerlund (vocals, bass guitar), Tobias Lundgren (vocals, drums, percussion) and Sebastian Åkesson (keyboards, guitars, vocals).
Prior to this release my own firsthand experience of Moon Safari was limited to a single song Lady Of The Woodlands from [blomljud]. This at least enabled me to approach Lover’s End with a relatively open mind and I wasn’t disappointed. Infectious tunes, uplifting arrangements, lush vocals and gloriously melodic instrumental sections it’s all here. In fact the wall to wall vocal harmonies are some of the best I’ve heard since the classic 10cc and Queen albums of the 70’s. Think melodic, meticulously performed neo-prog fronted by The Beach Boys and you’ll have some inkling of what to expect. Regular visitors to this site may have noticed that my reviews have been somewhat shorter of late although here I feel a full track by track analysis is in order.
With its rippling piano and harmonica intro, Lover's End Part I sounds deceptively like classic Bruce Springsteen. It soon reveals itself to be a compelling and very romantic song (both musically and lyrically) drawing the listener in and setting the tone for the album. Overall the feel (and rhythm) is similar to The Dream Academy’s Life In A Northern Town with full harmonies and interlocking guitar and synth which eventually fades to a beautiful acoustic guitar and flute (courtesy of Mellotron) conclusion.
I know it’s a late contender but A Kid Called Panic could very easily make my vote for album track of 2010. With soaring guitar, waves of Mellotron strings and a throbbing bass line it sets sail from the land of Yes and makes short work of its 14 minute journey. The wistful acoustic guitar and bass mid section has echoes of the Renaissance song Northern Lights whilst the lively keyboard driven instrumental workout that follows is an absolute dream. The whole band really shows their metal here particularly the nimble Chris Squire like bass runs. An incessant piano motif remains at the heart of the song which is very appropriate given the time of year with the nostalgic but triumphant line “Here’s to my fears, sorrows and tears, there goes another year”.
It may be the shortest, but of the songs on the album Southern Belle is the one most likely to divide opinions. It opens with a celestial a cappella chorus similar to Yes’ Endless Dream followed by individual and massed choral sections to sends shivers down the spine. For some ears it might prove to be a tad too sugary sweet (I could easily imagine Take That doing a cover version) but for others (including me) it’s heavenly bliss. My only misgiving is that it’s far too short.
The World's Best Dreamers is another song that perfectly captures the seasonal mood. With its tinkling piano and percussion and lilting tone it has a real Christmassy feel and an unashamedly nostalgic atmosphere. The extended synth break at the midway point is a real joy echoing the lyrical timbre of Rick Wakeman’s playing in Yes’ And You And I, adding to the heart warming feel of the song.
A change of seasons for the next song, New York City Summergirl which from the rapid, tumbling piano intro and drum pattern sounds initially like a cousin of Queen’s Seven Seas Of Rhye. Despite the title the harmonies are distinctly west coast evoking CS&N and The Eagles and I was also reminded of the excellent Capability Brown from the 70’s (a band surely overdue for reappraisal). A barbershop quartet and sly reference to the Frank Sinatra standard New York, New York provides a light hearted ending.
Some wonderfully fluid guitar ushers in the lively Heartland probably the albums most urgent and triumphant song with a tricky time signature to boot. This is American flavoured prog with overtones of Kansas and Styx (both musically and vocally) and again the dexterous instrumental interplay is up there with the best.
Chiming acoustic guitar and piano places Crossed The Rubicon firmly in Genesis territory although the lavish harmonies add a fresh dimension. Here the compelling instrumental bridge (played first on keys and later on guitar) is deceptively simple although the counterpoint harmonies are anything but. Another memorable chorus to die for with a fitting climax courtesy of a stirring Steve Rothery style guitar coda.
The delectable Lover's End Part II is very different from the opening song of the same name and rounds the album off in subtle but fine style. With exquisite harmonies against a ringing 12 string guitar backdrop, this would have sat comfortably on The Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds album, although with John Lennon providing guest vocals on this occasion.
Arriving as it did at the end of 2010 the release of this album was well timed. Given its mood and tone and the fact that it has dominated my listening over the past few weeks it will forever be associated in my mind with Christmas. That’s not to say that it cannot be appreciated at any other time, music this good deserves to be heard all year round. A superbly crafted, tuneful and optimistic soundtrack to kick start the New Year.
Mark Hughes' Review
Two years on from their sophomore album [blomljud], Sweden's Moon Safari return with possibly their strongest album to date. All the hallmark's that made the first two so distinctive are present with aplomb, from the initial piano and harmonica introduction to Lover's End Pt. 1, to the multiple layers of vocals that eek out the maximum from the lush harmonies that are liberally scattered all over the fifty minutes of the album. Of course, the multitude of harmonies are bound to bring up comparisons with The Beach Boys or The Wondermints and, in particular, the intersection of those two bands that has created Brian Wilson's recent revival. But it matters not one bit as Moon Safari are no mere pop band, they are prog and proud!
This is exemplified by the epic A Kid Called Panic, fourteen minutes of complete gloriousness: a chorus to die for; pinpoint accurate vocals and the full gamut of instrumentation to drive things along. Over the span of the song numerous different instruments can be heard, but it is not just the variety that strikes the interest but the way they effortlessly blend together to create their own unique sound. Keyboards are layered as expertly as the voices and the insistent rhythms keep the song moving along. Suddenly a guitar contributes a brief solo and just as you start to think it can't get any better those marvellous ensemble voices reappear to soothe the soul and calm the waters.
Considering the album was released in the depths of winter and, as the title might suggest, the lyrical matter is largely based around the end of love affairs, the album is surprisingly uplifting with a real summer feel deeply ingrained into the grooves - singing such lines as "Help I need to escape, I don't belong in here, here's to my fears, sorrows and tears, there goes another year" and making them sound almost celebratory is no small achievement. The hymnal beginning to the short Southern Belle takes the tempo down with the song developing into a relatively simple tune the bulk of which is a piano and single vocal duet. This style continues in the introduction to The World's Best Dreamers which I consider to be the weakest track on the album, largely because I am not all that endeared with the keyboard sound used throughout the bulk of the song. However, 'weak' is in the context of the remainder of the album, the song still easily shits over the majority of other music currently about. We are back to the heights with New York City Summergirl which actually possesses an affirmative lyric on love! A couple of nice guitar lines weave in and out the keyboards and the vocals add a new approach to the harmonies, even if the last verse is pure Beach Boys. Nice touch adding the opening musical motif from Sinatra's New York New York at the end!
By the time Heartland starts the superlatives have run dry. Again a great sing-along chorus creates a lift that surges through the listener whilst the instrumental section will delight purist progheads everywhere. Lyrically, Crossed The Rubicon has an elegiac quality and is one of the less up-beat numbers on the album, but the wonderful use of Hammond organ adds new depths with some fine guitar playing towards the end of the song leaving things in a more positive light. The short second part of the title track concludes the album, with the name of the song being the only thing that the two parts really have in common. A lovely end to the album, the final verse providing the concluding statement that no matter what, life goes on - "There will come a day when I don't think about you, that will be a sad day... that will be a wonderful day..."
Moon Safari have certainly lived up to the promise of their first two albums and have managed to keep the quality of their recorded work at the highest level. By rights, this band should be huge as I doubt that many people would be unaffected by the musical experience listening to this album imparts. If this is what they achieve from tales of broken hearts, the mind boggles at what they would come up with to accompany happier experiences!
With two resounding perfect scores from my fellow team members I felt compelled to delve once again into this latest release from Moon Safari, as although I found the album enjoyable it didn't quite grab me in the same way as the two previous releases. Lover's End was ordered immediately on the strength of those albums and expectations were high - perhaps a little too high?
Lover's End shows significant developments from the band with the compositions more assured, the playing strong and the vocals nigh on faultless. Production values are high and the recording and mixing spot on. So what is the problem? As mentioned above I do like the album, I just have some reservations, and reservations that have been fuelled by each subsequent listening - little niggles that gradually started to sway my view.
Now Geoff and Mark have done an excellent job describing the music encompassed on Lover's End so I'll perhaps focus on what I've referred to as the niggles. The album is replete with infectious harmonies, strong melodies, crafted arrangements along with a solid progressive backbone. You can add in here an abundance of classic keyboard sounds, sweet sounding guitars, punchy bass and cohesive rhythm section. Surely there is nothing to gripe about here? For me though, and after great consideration, I feel I need to add the words: too many! Too many rich harmonies, too many strong melodies, too many... Like a delicious cake, the first bite is a delight to the senses, but gradually the experience diminishes as you consume more and more. Too much of a good thing - a cup of black coffee is needed.
Vocally the band have built on the strengths from their previous releases and the influence of The Beach Boys is more prevalent and certainly cannot be mistaken. The album is awash with Brian Wilson-esque arrangements. And superbly performed - Southern Belle in particular is a delight to listen to. In fact the vocal arrangements throughout firmly place the band in cahoots with other rock luminaries such as the likes of Queen, the aforementioned Beach Boys, fellow Swedes A.C.T and so on. Even The Beatles and CS&N came to mind on more than one occasion.
Musically the band are equal to their prowess in the vocal department, with the instrumentation flowing effortlessly within the structures. Again a whole gamut of influences can be heard creeping into the music, with the band drawing from these influences and incorporating them within their song structures. There is definitely an American (West Coast) vibe going on here and that troubled me a little as the Scandinavian essence of the band seemed to be lost because of this. But drawing comparisons with Kansas, Toto and Billy Joel along with the other noted influences surely can't be a bad thing.
I've made little mention of the progressiveness of Lover's End. The later part of the album, from Heartland onwards, more captured the Moon Safari of old, although the almost fourteen minutes of the Yes like A Kid Called Panic shouldn't be dismissed. But I suppose it's the opening Mellotron that sparks off the prog of Heartland - quickly followed by vintage sounding synths and soaring melodic guitar. There's also an extended synth solo in the middle section... Then there's the light breeziness of Crossed The Rubicon which musically had shades of early Gordon Giltrap for me. The track closes out with a superbly melodic guitar solo from Pontus Åkesson.
To be honest the more I listen to Lover's End the more I wonder if I'm just nitpicking. This is a very good album! Perhaps it is all just a little too sweet and a little polished for my tastes - the operative word here being my. So reading this review you may well conclude that a didn't much care for Lover's End. On the contrary this is a strong release in what is a steadily growing, increasingly and more popular progressive rock market, (never thought I'd live to say that again), and this album still stands out in the crowd. I feel sure with the three reviews offered in this RTR you will have enough information to decide if Lover's End is for you.
All considered I would be churlish not to recommend this album...
GEOFF FEAKES : 10 out of 10
MARK HUGHES : 10 out of 10
(Plus extra kudos for including the flowers growing out of the barcode - you'll have to buy a copy of the CD to see what that means!)
BOB MULVEY : 8 out of 10