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The Nice - The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack CD (album) cover


The Nice


Symphonic Prog

3.42 | 150 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars The Great Leap Forward by the Gang of Four

Whether intentional or not, the Maoist connotations of the appalling title wedded to some groundbreakingly inventive music captures some of that heady whiff of revolution that was in the air on this precocious 1967 debut by the Nice. If that were not sufficient grist to undermine the prevailing genteel mill, then the sight of four reprobates cavorting in cellophane on the cover just might have tipped the balance.

The 'who made the 1st prog album?' debate argued with increasingly shrill protestations of certitude is now a game that we should all be heartily tired of. Judging by the adolescent imbecility of some of the propositions on offer, we would just as well conclude that Progressive Rock originated in some primordial soup of an acquired taste, and get on with enjoying music that we care about.

That said, the prevailing reference points surrounding Thoughts have to be acknowledged or else we end up pretending that art is independent of history. (Art is a product of history, and NOT vice versa)

Blah blah blah

So, a balanced history primer might include (but is not restricted to) Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn - Family's Music In a Doll's House - Hendrix's Axis Bold as Love and Van der Graaf Generator's Aerosol Grey Machine as products of the sort of influences that were at play around this time. I'm sure you will agree, as varied a bag as are assembled here, they represent some rip-snortingly fine music.

'Flower King of Flies' - not sure if this is really inspired by William Goldings novel 'Lord of the Flies' but it clearly hardly matters to the band in a very enjoyable slice of poppy psychedelia featuring some knowingly over the top backing vocals and a very fine tune. A distant relative of the similarly acid drenched Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon

'Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack' - This was a single and I could be wrong, but this is Davy O'List singing right? Whoever it is, it's a damn fine reading of a very accomplished and classically tinged pop tune. The faintly silly 'bah bah BAH baaah bah Baaah' refrain on the chorus will be an unwelcome guest in your head for months to come after hearing this. Subtle and restrained use of mood building harpsichord by Keith and trumpet by O'List.

'Bonnie K' - the Nice's recent past as jobbing RnB musicians is brought to the fore here in a raucous blues rock number. Plenty of energy and ferocity but I fear this substitutes for lack of substance in the composition which is really tantamount to a mediocre riff masquerading as a song. Emerson's 'Hammond on Amphetamines' sound is captured faithfully however and his playing is always worth some of your time even on weaker material.

'Rondo' - Where Emerson tosses a Brubeck 9/8 salad into the air and surgically enhances the pieces that land into a galloping 4/4 with the rest being history. On this much lengthier track we get perhaps our first 'peek' at the sort of improvised magic the Nice would subsequently cast with astonishing frequency when allowed the room to breathe and explore as they are here.

O'List's guitar solo deserves special mention as he displays a very finely honed ability to pace his musical ideas and ensure they have a beginning, development and satisfying conclusion, in stark contrast to many of the 'throw enough fuzzed up freakiness at the wall and some it's bound to stick' school of 60's guitar methodology.

Digital technology was good to both Davison and Jackson, as the CD reissues of much of this early material by the Nice at last does some justice to their vastly underrated and innovative supporting work behind the twin barreled assault of the group's two competing soloists Emerson and O'List.

'War and Peace' - Mercifully shorter than the work it alludes to but rather a perfunctory instrumental blues, albeit one that is framed in gaudy psychedelic colors. The energy and abrasive textures employed are of more interest than the composition.

'Tantalising Maggie' - This COULD have been something right up there on a par with See Emily Play calibre Syd Barrett, but unfortunately the many sublime individual fragments of the song are presented haphazardly as if the band were unsure as to how best to show them off to full effect. Something of a missed opportunity.

'Dawn' - Despite some inspired atmospheric effects and Emerson's injection of classical baroque elements, this is a rather ponderous and plodding number not helped in the least by Lee Jackson's whispered narrative which appropriates 'laryngitis' rather better than the intended 'menacing'

'The Cry of Eugene' - Truly wonderful and as good as anything accomplished at around the same time by Floyd, Beatles, Crimson, Family and the rest. The cream of their admittedly weak vocal melodies rises straight to the top and the song is a (completely impenetrable) haunting and yearning slice of melancholia as touching and sensitive as Hang on to a Dream but with the economy of learned pop and the energy of their innate rock. Here lies in embryonic form, one of the seeds that was to flower into what we might recognise as the bouquet of progressive rock.

Andrew Loog Oldham and his Immediate label's 'groovier than thou' manifesto must be culpable in the failure of the Nice to make a significant mainstream breakthrough earlier than they did. Up until they switched to Tony Stratton-Smith's Charisma imprint in 1970, they had still not received a single penny in royalties from Immediate and the band's sole source of income was from incessant gigging.

Tip: Best to avoid any contractual obligation to a Svengali with double barreled name

By the time Five Bridges had been released the band had already gone their separate ways at the behest of Emerson to free the latter in his besotted pursuit of King Crimson's handmaiden Lake for a planned musical menage a trois with an ex-Rooster.

(relax, I meant Palmer)

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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