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Renaissance - Turn Of The Cards  CD (album) cover

TURN OF THE CARDS

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

4.06 | 439 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Turn Of The Cards, Renaissance, 1974

I don't get it. The great Ashes Are Burning, the even better Scheherazade and Other Stories... and in the middle... this? Turn of the Cards (side one, certainly, to a lesser extent, the credible side two) fails to jolt me like those two, and the blame, rather than wandering to one or two little factors, seems to be rolling around in the muck all over the place. The sound seems contrived, the lyrics lack much substance, choruses like those of Running Hard and Think of You seem unimaginative. Keyboardist John Tout seems to be tearing out classical motifs left, right and centre, Annie Haslam's voice, despite its obvious moments, doesn't really make a coherent impression. There are redeeming features, a couple within the not-so-great songs and in the form of an actually very good second side. Much as I love the two Renaissance works bookending this one, if you're not transformed into a quivering, lovelorn jelly by those two, I'd be very wary about exchanging your hard-earned or cleverly-inherited money for this one.

Nine and a half minute songs seem to be the order of the day. Running Hard is made up of a number of fairly nice components and yet completely fails to emotionally resonate with me as a whole piece. I simply don't associate that cascading piano solo introduction with a vocal-and-lame-acoustic verse, or the collection of intelligent. Credit where it's due: the orchestral parts are (this is Renaissance's forte, I think), as ever, convincing and appropriate, the piano solo is really very good and there are brief moments of soul-melting lushness in Annie Haslam's vocal (songs of blackened lace... you know you're dying all the time!'). Blame where it's due: not a big fan of drummer Terence Sullivan's sound here, I feel the piece ends up sounding too contrived, I'm not convinced Haslam's vocal gives a coherent, continual impression of what's going on, very specifically: running hard' sort of breaks the power of the piece lyrically for me... the whole thing seems like a very well-designed Airfix model without any glue. Yes, it's nine and a half minutes, yes, it's a progressive rock song but I'm not convinced it successfully makes the journey from the realm of intelligence to that of excellence.

Think of You is a Renaissance ballad, with some of the carefree sentiment of Let It Grow; alas, the lyrics are devoid of passion, and that has a knock-on-effect on the rest of the content. Haslam's vocal thus has the same effect as a very skilled set of brush strokes without any paint. I can't say the acoustic melody or its piano and bass embellishments (oh look! A harpsichord!) seem to add any much-needed colour to this drab creature. Blech.

Things I Don't Understand feels (oddly appropriately) like a great song lost within a mediocre one. Again, it lasts nine and a half minutes, which I can't excuse, and again it doesn't make any sort of coherent impression (if anything, even less of one). Initially a strident full band piece, with a secure acoustic, slightly awkward vocal harmonies and an echoed-up piano; this rather clumsily, but thankfully, gives way to a charming Haslam vocal solo, and then we're back to thick harmonies over the drummer. Again: a few positives in the middle, whether it's Haslam's gorgeous high vocals at their best and wordless moments, or an opportunity for the excellent John Camp to shine on bass, or some Beethoven-sounding piano chords. Again: no sense of coherence, I don't get any impression of what the lyrics are doing except on occasion, I find the harmonies a bit blocky and some of the transitions seem a tad sluggish and clumsy (not quite sure why). So, that's side one over, and it's really not that special, in my view.

But at last, we have it! Ladies and gentlemen, your first reason for buying this album or listening to selections from it on Spotify... the excellent Black Flame. Immediately from the understated acoustic-and-bass introduction, this strange piece of medievallish mysterious folk-rock is a gem. Haslam's vocal takes over some very nice lines (musically and lyrically) indeed, and the big vocal harmonies seem to gather everything together rather than just being lumped in. Beautiful piano melodies fall off the piece left, right and centre and all the while John Camp's superb bass-playing drags the piece forwards. Altogether mysterious, captivating and great listening. OK, maybe Annie's voice feels a bit too smooth for the lyrical content at times, but I don't really mind.

And, sly theft or not, Cold Is Being is really very good. Haslam's well-rounded and fluid voice seems to suit a pairing with this lone, gripping organ part even more than it does a whole-band-piece. Here, you can see every individual emotional nuance of the piece, and every individual emotional nuance of the piece, whether in the perfect delivery or the suitably bleak lyrics grasps you.

The third of the album's long pieces is Mother Russia, and this orchestrally augmented creature is, at least, a damn sight better than the other two. Big blaring orchestral sounds all over the place, snarling Tchaikovsky-type horns and strings, appropriately epicised lyrics, and a neat contrast between this overall big sound and the lush piano-and-voice at the heart of the song's quieter sections. It has attack, it has coherence, it has a vocal that really blends with the music and the topic. In short, everything our first two epics of the album didn't. Striking, and a really impressive end to a mixed album.

Anyway, it's obvious I haven't the same respect for this album as my fellow reviewers, and three stars, I think, would be too much for an album of which half isn't worth having. Nevertheless, if you're a fan of the band, that second side will be both great in its own right and a really worthy link between the slightly misshapen epics of Ashes Are Burning and the smooth classical/rock fusions on Scheherazade.

Favourite song: probably Mother Russia just about clinches it over Black Flame. Rating: two stars, but a strong two stars. Probably a 7 or 8/15 (these fall in the two/three remit, somehow) or something like that, maybe higher, but I'm lousy with the low end of my 15 rating spectrum.

TGM: Orb | 2/5 |

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