Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Clive Nolan - Alchemy CD (album) cover

ALCHEMY

Clive Nolan

 

Neo-Prog

3.94 | 149 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TheGazzardian
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I spent my New Years Eve last year going through Best of 2013 lists and tossing what I found into a Grooveshark playlist. One such album that I almost skipped was Clive Nolan's Alchemy, partially because I'm not really into New Prog anymore, partially because I could not find the complete album on Grooveshark. But I did decide to give it a shot, despite having incredibly low expectations, and I am incredibly glad that I did!

Clive Nolan's Alchemy is two things that I like: 1. Progressive Rock, 2. A musical. What does this mean, as a person who loves stories, music, dramatics, and the like? It means that this album is one of the most bombastic (in a good way) albums I have heard in a very long time.

I have mixed feelings about this album, however. Every song on it is incredibly good. The melodies are all wonderful and get stuck in my head constantly. There's not a bad song on this album. The way that Clive has built up the tension in various songs, the way he leads one melody into another, the way he piles things happening on top of each other - they are all so damn good to listen to that I just can't help but love the music in this album. The vocalists all do a wonderful job, minus some poor acting in a couple of places. Musical ideas are reprised and used to build upon ideas, improve the drama, etc...

My favorite melody is the song that Amelia (the main character I guess?) learned from her father. This shows up first in 'Waiting for News' as a peaceful little aside, is reprised in a great climax in Labyrinth, and then at the end of the show is played instrumentally in a very victorious / triumphant manner. It's a delicate little melody that has a lot of power and versatility behind it. Clive is a master of re-using themes for dramatic purposes and expanding / building upon them to tie things together. Musically, the album is very cohesive.

Ok, it should be clear by now that I am absolutely in love with this album, I listen to it constantly and have for a couple of months now. I also shuffle a playlist that has this album in it, and whenever a track comes up I get happy to hear it and be reminded of its existence. I am always tempted to play the full album again when this happens. So why do I say I have mixed feelings about it? The story.

The story, ladies and gentlemen, is flawed, and repeated listens continues to diminish the quality of it. Let me be clear - the first time through, the pacing, drama, and exposition suck you into the story and carries you along on a great adventure. So in the sense of considering the story as a journey, one can't complain. But re- listening to songs and knowing where they are leading the story to, one starts to find imperfections. Below is my analysis of such; it will contain spoilers, so please do not read ahead if you want to experience the story for the first time through the music. Also please note that the only reason these things bother me so much is because this musical is so AMAZING that it frustrates me that the story is not quite as tightly woven.

First and foremost, the most frustrating part of the plot is watching the heroes fail again and again, only to eventually lose to the villain, and then have it not matter. To summarise the plot, Henry Jagmond is trying to collect three artifacts with which he can revive Thomas Anzeray, an alchemist that died with the knowledge of how to achieve power over life and death. Jagmond succeeds, despite the best effort of our heroes (lead by Professor Samuel King). However, upon being revived, Thomaz Anzeray, sees how wicked Jagmond is and kills him instead of granting him the power he seeks. It is a great moment of tension in the music, and when Jagmond understands what is happening and begs King to save him, it is a truly great moment; as a listener, you are happy to hear Jagmond be defeated, be so terrified that his arrogant attitude is turned to begging for help from the man he has been competing with the whole show. Nonetheless, this does reveal a glaring problem in the plot: the lead characters need have done nothing. Jagmond could have been left to his own devices and he still would have lost. As there were very few interesting character developments during the musical, it does mar the adventure the characters embarked upon a bit.

In my opinion, the second most frustrating part of the plot is the poor use of the character Jessamine. She is a thief who is introduced in the middle of another song when she tries to pickpocket one of the other characters. She is then given her own song (Desperate Days), which is a wonderful song and really paints the picture of Jessamine as a person who has no place in the world and has been left with no choice but thievery. Something interesting could have developed there, but Jessamine is sent away a few songs later, and is not seen again until just before the end of the musical, where she betrays King + co to Jagmond. This is an interesting twist, and of course Eva (more on her later) is furious and outraged, until King outright says "oh by the way I paid Jessamine to betray us at a key time if we failed so that Jagmond would be stupid enough to gloat to us and give us one more chance to best him". Why did this not come up until now? Why was this necessary? Meanwhile, Jessamine sings about how they were all fools to trust her because obviously she was going to betray them. I just feel like Jessamine was given a very interesting start point and a story that I wanted to hear more about, and instead used only as a cop out way to bring all the characters together at the end (and then she vanishes instead of sticking around to see how things end).

To relate this to my favorite musical, Les Miserables, there are many characters, and they each have their own dreams and desires, which are impacted by the main plot. Jessamine's life through all the events that occur could have been explored more deeply, providing a grander backdrop to the events occurring.

Next, Eva. Eva is one of King's companions, and her role in the story seems to be getting offended about things that shouldn't offend her, and being overly indignant. She is my least favorite character, and if she had been written out, it would have changed almost nothing. It's revealed that she saved King's life, but not on- stage. The only song where she does anything by herself is where she sings about her love for King, and this happens at the end of the musical, after she has done pretty much everything she is going to do, so we don't get to really understand how this love impacts the decisions she makes along the way. Too little, too late, so to say, although I can't think of a place in the musical where we could have inserted this song without interrupting the flow of the story. Personally, I would have liked to see Eva written out and more time given to Jessamine, or at least the amount of stage time they were given reversed. I wouldn't mind not watching Eva butt heads pointlessly multiple times throughout the musical.

One last major flaw is The Labyrinth. Amelia is brought into the story when Jagmond finds her in debtors prison and offers to buy her freedom in exchange for information about the Labyrinth. She gives him the information, but in typical badguy style, he then doesn't free her anyways, instead leaving her to hang (but King, whom Jagmond had also failed to kill earlier, rescues her). Note to badguys: make sure they are dead before you leave them to hunt you down. Anyways, Jagmond recovers the first two artifacts, and the third is in this labyrinth, so King and crew travel to it to recover the artifact before Jagmond can. It is revealed that unless one has the knowledge to navigate the labyrinth, it is certain death, but thanks to a secret from her father, Amelia happens to know the secrets of the labyrinth. In a convenient twist, she did not realise the meaning of her knowledge until after she met King, and as such did not impart it to Jagmond earlier. This means that Jagmond could not have risked the labyrinth without risking certain death. Instead of leaving the last artifact safely out of his reach, Amelia leads the group through the Labyrinth, recovers the artifact, only to then be killed and the artifact taken from her. The Labyrinth is (in my mind) the most musically perfect song on the album, containing some amazing melodies and dramatics, all built together in an amazing way, so I always get super pumped when the song comes on. But I still don't understand why the company would even risk their lives to rescue the artifact if Jagmond lacked the information to safely recover it himself in the first place.

And Amelia's death bothers me; I feel like Clive Nolan thought, "Well, somebody should die, that's always a shocking plot twist, and what's more shocking than our leading lady?" And it was shocking when it happened, but it also killed off the only interesting side-story to the main events: Amelia's blooming love with William, King's last companion. Going back to my point about Les Miserables, each character had their own life, history, character, and made their own choices. Alchemy lacks this dynamic, being purely King vs. Jagmond with allies on each side. Amelia and William's story was the only additional thing going on other than this, and so the story feels fairly static after this story is abruptly put to an end.

William does lament Amelia's death quite emotionally in Burial at Sea (I also super love that ship captains voice!), so musically it's totally worth it to have Amelia die to get that song. William almost decides to abandon the quest, but ultimately decides to stick with it to the end. This was almost some great character buliding, except that, after that point, he does absolutely nothing for the rest of the play! As I said, Thomas Anzeray kills Jagmond at the end, not any of the company, so William's choice not to quit of heartbreak just means he gets to watch along for the remainder of the show. You are probably sick of hearing about Les Miserables by now, but I am going to make one last comparison. In Les Miserables, Marius goes through a similar thing when Cossette is going to leave the country, which leads to him joining the barricades with the intention of dying. He becomes a hero on the barricade, almost dies, and is rescued by another character who goes there because of him, only to be reunited with Cossette and get to marry her. His decision has an important impact on the story, and if he didn't make it, the entire story would play out differently. With William, there is no such payoff for his choice.

As I said, I really love this musical, and I really wish the story stood up as well as the music does. If the story had been at the same level as the music, this album would have contended with the best musicals out there. But nonetheless, a progressive rock musical is basically a dream come true for me, and the music is good and the story does stand up on a song by song basis (or if you don't think about it too much :) ), so I still have a huge love for this album and still listen to it frequently.

TheGazzardian | 4/5 |

MEMBERS LOGIN ZONE

As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this CLIVE NOLAN review

Social review comments () BETA







Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: JazzMusicArchives.com — jazz music reviews and archives | MetalMusicArchives.com — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.