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FOCUS 8

Focus

 

Symphonic Prog

3.72 | 96 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

I am usually very wary of those bands that reconvene some 20 years later and do a new album. This has given some horrendous results before, even (especially) with prog bands, partly because the new effort is usually half-hearted, but also because the musicians have become "grown-ups" and don't dare being as idealistic or radical than in their 20's. Truth is I did have worries about Focus' eighth album (I waited until I saw them in concert to buy it), but this was without counting the good old Dutch common sense: Thijs knows what made his band a success and was not about to take a chance with this second use of the group's name. If he was to extract every cent out of Focus, the music would have to be very much in the spirit of their first life. So he gathered a few gifted but unknown musicians and set on to record the new album in 03 and had it released on the Musea label with a basic artwork, photos of the Dutch countryside taken in an ancient car.

And indeed the new album sounds a lot like Focus' better albums (such as Moving Waves, 3 or Hamburger Concerto) and it rather hard to criticize that aspect: this is unmistakably a Focus album. But even if the young musicians accompanying Thijs are good/excellent, they are probably a bit shy of stepping in Akkerman's, Ruiter's or VanDerLinden's shoes and the show belongs to Thijs and him alone. To be truthful, I think that those young guys don't come up to the level of their older peers, because in concert the group does six or seven version of the Focus theme, carefully avoiding some absolutely essential other tracks like the Hamburger suite or an Anonymous theme. Sounds like a waste? Or maybe a way to save up/recycle at lesser costs? Or maybe because the level demanded is too high for the accompanying musicians?

Anyway, the album is a good focus album and would've easily fitted after HC or even the spare track compilation of Ship Of Memories. Yes, Thijs is equal to himself (even pulling some weird scatting we are used to), but he's alone, really. Jan Dumée does pull one or two solos like at the end of Hurkey Turkey (even the jokes are recycled in this country) and can actually temporarily make you forget Akkerman or Catherine, but the key word being temporarily. Bassist Jacob's performance is nothing to write home about, but it's not clear how much freedom he was allowed. One of the problems with this album is Smaak's drumming. Not that he's a bad drummer, but his modern "snarey" sound is simply not meeting up his predecessor's standards, and his playing is hardly exciting either. Little wonder Thijs would welcome back PVDL back into the group for the next tours and albums.

The other main issue is that Thijs' inspiration seems on the saving/recycle mode as well. Focus was never a band of over-abundant ideas and the recycling of classical composers' most famous piece was a common thing in The Netherlands (Ekseption, Trace, Solution, Finch.... and Focus), but here there are particularly few new ideas. Outside the usual Focus theme recycling, there are many borrowings, some of them even plundering their own older works.

"Lesser musicianship, recycling of old ideas, little inspiration and lack of energy" you've been reading!! So you're expecting a rather poor album, right? Well not really!! Thijs and Focus' name still operate some kind of magic. No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to part with this album (I usually get rid of average albums to avoid cluttering up my shelves) and I guess it means that even though I criticize it heavily, it might just be better than average, and if I keep it around, this means that it is at least a 3.5 stars album. Which isn't so bad for one of those comeback albums that group absent for two decades usually botch up. Nice try, Thijs!! Hopefully the next one...

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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