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Focus - X CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.44 | 141 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars `X' is the tenth album to appear under the banner of the vintage Dutch prog legends name Focus, and fans can rest assured there's plenty of reliable and comfortably well performed predominantly instrumental rock on offer here. Jan Akkerman may be absent, but vintage members Thijs van Leer (flute, keyboards), and drummer Pierre van Der Linden more than hold the fort, and they're very ably backed up by bass player Bobbee Jacobs (a member since the first Focus comeback work in 2002) and Menno Gutjess on guitars. They help bring an energetic fire to the album and to the original duo, and they're more than accomplished musicians that can hold their own with the older fellas. There's not too much that is exactly surprising about the album, as many of the themes that show up sound very close to some of those original melodies and themes on their 70's albums, but it's kind of nice to know what you're getting into right from the start, and it's exceptionally well played.

Up-tempo opener `Father Bachus', virtually a remake of `Hocus Pocus', barrels along at a cracking pace. Punchy drumming, huffing flute and the rapid-fire nimble electric guitar runs are all in place, and it has a nice acoustic outro, but the "Ladies and Gentleman, we proudly present..." announcement is a bit goofy - still shows the band has a sense of humour I suppose! There's lightly jazzy strolling on `Focus 10', a tasteful variety of themes playing with restraint and dignity from all the band, and it's instantly recognisable as Focus. `Victoria' is romantic prog in the grand Camel tradition, driven by stirring electric guitar and victorious piano, but with a few playful moments in the second half thanks to some singing flute. `Amok in Kindergarten' is a late night jazz mood-setter, with spiralling piano and lurking bass sliding around the background of this twisting and sophisticated piece. There's lots of power on the relentless charging rocker `All Hens on Deck', with constantly purring bass, some ragged Steve Howe-flavoured guitar mangling and even a quick spot of classic silly Focus style scat-vocalizing!

Disappointingly it's when the band tries to shake up their formula the results become a little more uneven. The successful streak the album was on becomes a little derailed on the overlong vocal piece `Le Tango'. While there's a nice raspiness to Thijs' voice, and there's a welcome hint of unease to the flamenco guitar and restrained Hammond, the lyrics in the verses repeat too many times. `Hoeratio' is a welcome return to the classical and symphonic pieces the band does so well, with an added near ambience to the soothing guitar strains, but an intrusive scratchy narration over the top hurts it. Thankfully, Menno's scorching extended electric guitar solo in the final minutes and some unleashing drumming lift it briefly again...sigh, if only the band had kept it as an instrumental. `Talk of the Clown', the absolute highlight of the disc, is a sublime medieval madrigal flavoured acoustic folk ditty, and `Message Magic' takes flight with more rising electric guitar romance. Sadly, closer `X Roads' is ruined by another unnecessary mid-track narration. It's a percussion, snarling electric guitar and glistening electric piano driven jazz/fusion workout that still manages grand symphonic themes (and Bobbee gets a flashy ballistic bass solo in the final minute), but the above mentioned voice-over ruins it.

Make no mistake - this often sounds exactly like many other Focus albums, and the band certainly don't want to scare off existing followers with a radical change in sound. Fans can safely add this album to their Focus collection, as it's often simply `more of the same', if well played and professional `more of the same'. It has to be said, if the band had only reconsidered the silly narrations on two of the tracks and kept them instrumental, I feel this album could have earned another star altogether. But most of the time, it's pleasant, undemanding, very well performed and a perfect background or undistracting listen that makes `X' a decent addition to the Focus discography that fans should find much to enjoy about.

Three stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |


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