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Citizen Cain - Ghost Dance CD (album) cover

GHOST DANCE

Citizen Cain

 

Symphonic Prog

2.62 | 50 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Citizen Cain are largely known on the prog scene for what you can regard as their "Mark II" lineup - with band founder and lead vocalist Cyrus and keyboardist Stewart Bell as the core of that unit, having emerged from the shadows with the original "Citizen Cain" demo tape in 1991.

However, delve back into the mid-1980s, when the original wave of neo-prog was riding high, and a different incarnation of Citizen Cain is revealed. A three-piece unit consisting of Cyrus, Tim Taylor, and Gordon Feenie, the group made enough waves on the scene to attract the attention of Elusive Records - a label started by Marillion's then-manager with a distribution deal via EMI, which was intended to provide a launchpad for neo-prog acts arising in Marillion's wake.

As it stood, Elusive didn't end up releasing that much; they got Pendragon's debut EP (Fly High Fall Far) and album (The Jewel) out to market, and they put out a sampler entitled Fire In Harmony, and that's it. If you didn't happen to catch Citizen Cain live (they headlined a few shows themselves but were more known as a support act for the likes of Pendragon, the Enid, and fellow late bloomers Final Conflict), the Fire In Harmony album would likely be your only exposure to them in the 1980s, in the form of the track Unspoken Words nestled along songs from the likes of Pendragon, Quasar, Solstice and Haze.

However, that is not the end of the story for Citizen Cain Mark 1: alongside Unspoken Words, they did manage to record a few other tracks during their run, and once the second incarnation of Citizen Cain began to pick up steam Italian label Mellow decided to put out this archival collection - providing the band with a handy stopgap release between Somewhere But Yesterday and Raising the Stones.

This is important context to take into account when listening to this album, because the sound of Citizen Cain in the 1980s is a little bit different from that of the current incarnation of the band, and because the production values on this collection reflect these songs' origins as demos. Don't get me wrong - these are some comparatively nice- sounding demos and the songs are perfectly audible, they just don't quite have the extra clarity and polish that a bit more professional time in a fully-equipped studio would have given them, and if you go in expecting professional- quality sound that might trip you up.

In terms of the musical style, the vocals from Cyrus are the most obvious stylistic link between this incarnation of the band and the one which followed, obviously enough. It's evident that Cyrus was always very, very invested in mimicing Genesis-era Peter Gabriel, and he does a pretty good job at that. Where things go a little sideways here is that this isn't always as appropriate to the musical backing as it could be. In particular, the band's musical style seems to lurch giddily about the place, sometimes going for an update of pastoral Genesis, sometimes engaging in something replete with tricky rhythms reminiscent of the more avant new wave groups of the era.

It feels, in fact, like Citizen Cain's 1980s output is the product of a tension between a desire to go full retro-prog on the one hand and an attempt to sound more modern on the other which was never really resolved during that lineup's existence. At its best, this tension means that the songs are full of twists and turns and surprises, with both the sides of their sound teasing out the best in each other; at its worst, it makes the compositions sound like a disconnected mess of parts, with each part intended to appease one band member or another by focusing on the musical style they favoured.

As such, whilst it's a pretty interesting body of work, I feel like the dissolution of Citizen Cain Mark 1 was a foregone conclusion; if a band isn't willing to bite the bullet and actually settle on a musical direction, it can't last long with such tensions unsettled. Ghost Dance is an intriguing release which would probably be best enjoyed either by existing fans of Citizen Cain who are curious about the band's origins, or by folk who are keen on the 1980s neo- prog scene who want a taste of what Citizen Cain were offering up during that era.

Warthur | 3/5 |

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