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Renaissance - Illusion CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.08 | 239 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars A bit of a ill-confusion

After their debut album's success (especially in France, Germany and Belgium), the group went in the studio for the follow-up in a state of disunion. Indeed, McCarty had become tired of touring, but chose to remain as a songwriter and studio member (and was trying to build as touring version of the band), and before Illusion was finished, the group had disbanded. Indeed Keith's failing health was also forcing him to stop touring and wanted to concentrate on writing, Cennamo left for Steamhammer via Colosseum (both the latter would meet up again in Armageddon, Keith's fateful end), Hawken coming and going from the group, then finally splitting for Spooky Tooth and later Strawbs, but was persuaded to finish the album. But by the time things had imploded, the album was still too short for release, and it is the reserve/touring group that produced the final track. So Renaissance's Mk II line-up lasted one studio song, but would tour a few months and be filmed for a Belgian TV special.

Again recorded in the Island studios, but this time produced by Keith instead of Samwell-Smith, Illusion was released in early 71 with no promotion and only in Germany, but comes with a superb cosmic artwork gracing the gatefold sleeve, with a mystic inner gatefold artwork enhancing it. (I base myself on the Repertoire mini-Lp for this, because I've never seen the vinyl with my own eyes.) Most of Illusion is very worthy successor of the debut (might even be a tad folkier too) and remains well in its continuity (despite the acrimony about musical direction), even if not quite as inspired. And well beyond the track recorded by the Mk II line-up, you can (barely) see the future Mk III line-up peeking through, as Dunford and future external lyric-writer poetess Betty Thatcher each share a credit, but not the same track.

Opening on the rather-poor Relf-only written song of Love Goes On, while not catastrophic, is certainly not a good omen for things to come, but this is thankfully quickly over. The much better Golden Thread renews with the previous album's style (even if it wouldn't manage to find a space on it) and reassures the fans, and features a humming finale heard on Trespass. Next is a first collab between McCarty and Thatcher (nope, not talking politics here ;-))), the good but also ill-fitting (in the album's context) Love Is All, a song that obviously was lifted (and rearranged) by Roger Glover's Butterfly Ball project. As if not enough confusion, the Mk II track Mr Pine is next (I'd have included it last), but sort of announces sonically the future Prologue album with Hawken playing a rare (for Renaissance's Mk I) Hammond organ. In the Belgian TV broadcast, it would be John Tout that would play this track and the other Illusion tracks they played. Face Of Yesterday returns to the first album's soundscapes (and should've been grouped with Golden Thread, IMHO). The album closes on the lengthy (and over-extended) Past Orbits Of Dust, where the original group is joined by an extra organ player. This track is a bit jammy, comes with incantations, but also augurs Prologue's more psychedelic soundscape.

Definitely not as good as the debut, Illusion is a confused and patchy album (for the reasons stated), but surprisingly still good and a definitely a Renaissance-worthy album, that should not be overlooked, but investigated in a second or third wave. And if you manage to find in its Repertoire mini-Lp form, you might want to go for it a little dsooner than expected, because it is a beauty.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |


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