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The Swan Chorus - Achilles and the Difference Engine CD (album) cover


The Swan Chorus


Crossover Prog

3.96 | 4 ratings

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4 stars Nothing like networking connections to make the web a perfect recipient for new encounters (if its good for the spider, its good for me!), as this veteran Liverpudlian band has sent me a request for review of their new album Achilles & the Difference Engine, a follow up to their 2018 self-titled review which I have yet to discover. Presumably, a recent review of a few UK bands helped the introduction. Main men David Knowles and Colin McKay are multi-instrumentalists and John Wilkinson the lead singer (along with Colin) as well as being super talented, they (John & Dave) also were part of Genesis tribute band Mama. I was immediately struck by some hints of influence as Difference Engine is pretty close to Difference Machine from Big Big Train, a current prog favourite with the community. Then there is a track here called English Electric! Ah, surely just a few coincidences (except, at my 'mature' age, I am positive those never happen). No worries, the album is a sterling collection of 10 tracks that really hit all the buttons, in terms of enjoyment.

"The Waffle House Index" is a jaunty introduction in a rather bright and early atmosphere, perhaps even offering a breakfast treat to provide some tasty morsels. The instrumental keyboard dense presence is paramount, the ideal platform for some mercurial vocals, with Wilkinson having a reverential and overt tone reminiscent of Uncle Phil Collins. There are sufficient dynamics in the arrangement to keep the focus homed in on the subject and as such, is an exhilarating and elongated opener. Effortless change of pace on the tropical-tinged "After Dark", a piece that may come across as a proggier version of Aussie legends Men At Work who featured a delightful vocalist in (are you ready?) Colin Hay, the sunny track has that leisurely stop and start beach volleyball feel which is cool because of the title name. A swirly-twirly guitar rampage (Les Norton?) only adds coconut slivers to the daiquiri. Prog with a large dose of fun. YUP! Then the Swan get really serious with "Being There", a more typical crossover prog track with a classic impressive piano driven intro, though the atmosphere is maintained with reflectively mellow shimmers, crowned with extraordinary vocals, dripping in dramatic expression, always my weakness, particularly in a highly melancholic setting. The compelling lyrics and the heroic orchestrations show off some serious creative thought and execution, keeping the listener engrossed and captivated. Another curling guitar solo takes this into the heavens. Killer tune. Back to earth we come with two shorter tracks, first on the keyboard heavy onslaught that gives us more than "Cold Comfort", a rocking, live in concert delivery, fresh and expansive with a zippy synthesizer flurry, only to be challenged by some huffing organ and more electric guitar acrobatics. The vocals have a slight Fish feel, 'Bartender, another round!'. Keeping things in pub/bar room style, "Contender" is another rocker with a Danny Boy reference, shirt sleeves rolled up and pounding away at the ivories as the vocalist channels a vaudevillian Freddie at times, and even the e guitar has a Sir Brian twang. Back to serious-minded again, as "My Little Vampire" showcases the prog element in vivid illustration, Wilkinson doing quite the Trick of the Tail-era workout on the microphone, at times its uncanny. Massive keyboard settings and those tingling acoustic guitar arpeggios that made the Charterhouse boys famous, slashed with a patented Phillips-ian solo that shrieks like a knife. An album highlight to be sure and my fave track here. With its grandiloquent entrance, "No Idea" keeps the foot firmly on the accelerator, a razor-sharp delivery with torrents of background synths, thumping piano, and a fevered voice, swerving contrasts pushed along by an athletic pace. Though the theme may be one of confusion, the deliverance is secure and confident. The manic synth final section is breathtaking, I am sure. The guitar centric rouser "English Electric" is comparatively speaking a tad more bare bones, a rock piece perhaps better suited for the stage but halfway through, the composition transitions into an altogether different engine with fat bass tones, jangling guitar strings and a more meditative mood, before incinerating it once again with a rambling, bruising and rousing finale. Clever Trevor, as Ian Dury used to say. Speaking of which, "Welcome home" has a slight punkier tone, insistent buzzsaw guitar solo and a snarly disposition, not too far removed from Liverpool stalwarts The Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen or Big in Japan. I actually really, really LOVED this tune immensely. Finishing off with a gargantuan epic, "This Great Adventure "and its 13-minute running time, can only anoint this slick release with high honours. In fact, all the elements described above on the previous 9 tracks are found here in condensed form: technically profuse and inherently progressive, entertaining and riveting, honest and creative, undaunted and ambitious. A fantastic denouement and finale.

Adventurous, daring, diverse, definitely rogue (much to my delight), sophisticated, gritty, humorous, and playful, all these words (and those above) are what the Swan Chorus is about, and it is no coincidence that I enjoyed this album enormously. Intrepid music and otherworldly vocals, what more could you wish for? More please. 4.5 Heels and machines

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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