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FLASH

Flash

 

Eclectic Prog

3.65 | 104 ratings

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SonomaComa1999
3 stars REVIEW #10 - "Flash" by Flash (1972). 07/08/2018

Guitarist Peter Banks was unceremoniously expelled from the band Yes two months prior to the release of their second studio album "Time and a Word". Despite playing on the album, its cover featured a picture of the band which included Banks's replacement Steve Howe, although he never appeared on the album at all. Over the next couple years Yes would become a household name and a leviathan of progressive rock, releasing seminal albums such as "The Yes Album", "Fragile", and "Close to the Edge" with their new and far superior guitarist, who brought a classical style which helped define their sound. At this point it might seem like Steve Howe had always been the guitarist for the band, especially considering he's the band's sole remaining "original" member to this day on tour. As for Banks, he became an afterthought, quietly passing away in 2013 with very little fanfare. He did release some material following his expulsion from Yes, but mostly with his group known as Flash.

Flash was formed in 1971 by Banks and vocalist Colin Carter, who did some work with future Camel keyboardist Peter Bardens. Banks added a friend of his in Ray Bennett who he had knew since his time in Yes to play bass guitar, and then recruited Mike Hough to play drums. Initially desiring to be a standard prog quintet, after signing onto Capitol subsidiary Sovereign, the label expressed their desire for the band to add a keyboardist, making the band's lineup very similar to that of the now-immensely popular Yes. Banks would further recruit former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, who had also been unceremoniously booted by the band following "The Yes Album" to make room for Rick Wakeman. Both exiled musicians represented a more mainstream and rocking sound than what Chris Squire and Yes were pushing for at the time, and naturally Kaye appears as a featured keyboardist (not a part of Flash itself) for the band's self-titled debut album. In typical Hipgnosis fashion, the album cover is abstract, this time being a rather shameless drawing of a girl's upskirt. All that aside, Flash presents itself as a rather unscrupulous Yes clone, but unlike blatant rip-offs such as Starcastle and the like, this band actually features past members of the band, while still retaining the original sound which Yes captured on their first two albums. Furthermore, Flash serves as an indicator of how Yes would have went given it kept Banks and Kaye in the band rather than acquiring Howe and Wakeman.

Flash's first album did see some surprising commercial success, largely thanks to the success of a edited single version of the opening track "Small Beginnings". In its original form it presents itself as a near ten-minute rocker, but for radio it was cut down to just over three minutes - both variants are good in their own respective ways. First impressions are pretty clear-cut; Flash sounds very similar to Yes, from the symphonic style all the way down to Colin Carter's voice, which is a slightly deeper clone of Jon Anderson's vocals. Musically it fuses the Yes album and Time and a Word into a concise hybrid, with a more rocking and accessible tone. "Small Beginnings" rose as high as #29 on the American Billboard Hot 100, while the album in its entirely followed close at #33. Given that the year of this album's release was 1972, it coincided with the popularity of Yes's "Close to the Edge" album, which took the world by storm and spawned several imitators. Listening to the single version of this song, it will omit the very progressive instrumental shifts and guitar escapades, opting rather to focus on Carter's vocals in a more succinct way that would work on the radio rather than on a deep cut. That being said, by listening to the edited version you are not missing much; while Banks does a lot of work on the guitar, none of it is particularly resonant, at least on this track. Kaye's keyboards are relegated to a backing act, reflecting the band's desire to follow the quintet style. Perhaps the greatest similarity to Yes comes at the end, when the wordless vocals come in alongside the synth, which provides that sublime sound similar to "Siberian Khatru".

Bennett takes over on acoustic guitar and vocals for the next song "Morning Haze", which apart from being a fine upbeat ballad, still retains that Yes acoustic tinge. It seems that Flash wanted to take Yes's more poppy sensibilities and use those entirely to compose their music. However, this album is still obviously progressive rock; if the three longer cuts did not already indicate that. "Haze" is only half as long as the album opener, and is a rather refreshing interlude, even if it hardly stands out as a takeaway on the album. We return towards more proggy and fast-paced tendencies with "Children of the Universe" which matches "Beginnings" at roughly nine minutes long. Here is where the album begins to pick up steam and allows itself to stand out; this piece features a rather comfortable tempo driven by the bass rhythm and Kaye's keyboards (he is allowed to do a Moog solo through the middle of this one). Just like the music, Flash's lyrics are like a watered-down version of Yes, with the band trying to retain the pretentious and philosophical lyrical style of Anderson. On "Universe" Flash emerges packing a punch with their music, combining the maritime guitar style of Banks with the symphonic vocals to make a song which despite approaching ten minutes, does not drag on like those written by obscure 70's prog acts.

Opening up the second side of the LP, Flash presents their strongest offering in the form of their longest piece, the nearly thirteen-minute epic "Dreams In Heaven" which I consider to be the biggest takeaway from this album. Opening up in a furor, the band shifts back and forth from outright rock to mellow acoustic passages before introducing the central musical themes of this song. Before exposing the lyrics, the band reveals a crescendo that reminds me a lot of the riff from Black Sabbath's 1973 song "Spiral Architect" off the album "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", released a year later. I mean, it sounds remarkably similar, which wants to make me think that Sabbath was somehow influenced by Flash for that song, although it might be a trick of my imagination and/or pure coincidence. On "Heaven" Carter's vocals seem to diverge from those of Anderson's in terms of intensity, which is a promising sign given I can only handle so much of pure imitation. This is a pretty textbook progressive epic, with two lyrical sections book-ending a musically rich middle instrumental section that allows Banks to show off his refined guitar techniques. While I usually never go into obscure prog albums expecting to have legitimate takeaways that I could go back to far after I've made my review, "Dreams in Heaven" might very well last a decent amount of time on one of my playlists; the "Spiral Architect" motif and the intensity of the beginning and end serve as very listenable prog, which is very promising. My favorite part of this song follows the vocal bridge at around the eight-minute mark, when the tone of the song gradually grows sinister thanks to the heavy riffs of Banks, coupled with some jazz influences. Overall this is a track definitely worth giving your attention to. The album concludes with another mellow piece titled "The Time It Takes" which puts greater emphasis on the keyboards of Kaye than an acoustic guitar. The band makes use of the sound of crashing waves in order to conclude the album, which is a nice little touch that sort of salvages a rather weak closing track.

Flash's self-titled debut album is not bad at all; in fact it has a lot of good moments, something which surprised me given that solid obscure prog works from the 70's are few and far between. Nevertheless, this album is more mediocre than good, only being saved by the epic "Dreams In Heaven", and being hampered by the band's reliance on the Yes sound. Flash would release two more albums before abruptly breaking up in 1973, but even then those do not match up to the original in terms of innovation or commercial success. The band found a way to enter all their albums into the Billboard 200 album charts here in the States, which I found surprising - probably owing to the NSFW cover art. A fan of symphonic prog and Yes in particular should certainly give this album a listen, and even a more generic listener might want to give this one a go. As for my review, I will play it safe and give it a three-star (77% - C+) rating which is respectable for an obscure band. Basically a microcosm of the early Yes sound.

SonomaComa1999 | 3/5 |

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