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The Nice - Autumn To Spring CD (album) cover

AUTUMN TO SPRING

The Nice

 

Symphonic Prog

3.82 | 14 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Reviewing this exemplary relic from the earliest days of progressive rock affords me the opportunity to expound on a topic that interests me no end and probably will till the day I'm cremated so indulge me, if you will. Why did God bestow upon the British Isles such an exclusive, bountiful anointing of genuinely phenomenal musical creativity in the 60s? Although the beneficiaries claimed that they were, almost to a man, obsessed with and unequivocally influenced by obscure American R&B artists and a pale, skinny kid named Buddy from Lubbock, what they turned those primitive notes into and shipped back over was a product we couldn't get enough of or duplicate to save our souls. No matter how hard we tried, with few exceptions the most talented of bands in the USA were wholly incapable of coming up with anything near to even the likes of Freddie and the Dreamers. Perhaps the post-WWII generation stateside was too paranoid about the Red menace to relax; whereas the English were happy as clams that their parents had somehow survived the blitzkrieg and were gleefully letting it all hang out without worry over what tomorrow may bring. Or maybe it was something in the fish & chips. We'll never know for sure but I'm one of the lucky ones who came of age during that tumultuous decade and, as far as I was concerned, the only rock & roll that truly thrilled me to the marrow was the brand being imported from the UK. Face it, we Yanks just couldn't keep pace with their imaginative and adventurous capabilities and when it came to symphonic prog - fuggitaboudit - the Brits literally had no competition.

This is the first LP of The Nice I've ever owned and, despite its contents being well over four decades old, listening to it as a Nice virgin makes me feel like I'm 17 again, filled with adolescent wonder over the resourcefulness and ingenuity these guys injected into their art. Where did they come up with such a splendid blend of influences? How did they combine such a non chalant looseness with such impeccable skill? How did they include such a feisty sense of humor without the end result becoming vaudevillian? How did they consistently break every rule of making records without losing their validity? It's a mystery to me but the bottom line is this: If not for the British Invasion the 60s would've been a lot less fun, exciting and liberating for this land-locked na´ve native of the north Texas plains. For a kid like me groups like The Beatles, Who, Stones, Yes and Jethro Tull invigorated and challenged me to think outside the Top 40 box constantly. And if The Nice had garnered even a smidgen of radio time in my area I know I would've owned every album they released. Alas, better late than never, eh wot?

By 1973 the Famous Charisma Label had seen more prosperous days. Due to the immense popularity of ELP, repackaging the endeavors of Keith Emerson's former band seemed like an effortless, profitable way to cash in on his fame. "Autumn to Spring" sounded better than "greatest hits" and I figure the execs thought that sneaky ploy might trick some into thinking this was a new recording so, voila, this collection that relied heavily on their first album's material (6 out of the 9 cuts) taped between Fall '67 and Spring '68 showed up in the platter bins. Gotta admit that the simplicity of the cover design with its raised leaves sitting on a white canvas is effective and quite fetching. Kudos to the art department.

"The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack" says everything I clumsily attempted to put into words earlier about clever English musicians. It starts like something you'd expect from Petula Clark, then takes an abrupt left turn into a shadowed alleyway. What at first sounds corny and patronizing becomes a very poignant statement of remorse uttered by an older person who, in reflection, "knew that I was right/then everything moved/I wandered out of sight." The juxtaposition of a mindless, dancing-down-Carnaby-Street pop atmosphere against those rueful lyrics is brilliant, especially at the end when they contrast the song's "groovy" theme with the singer's delusional and foolish exhortation of "I'm going back to be young again." It's a great tune I wish I would've heard when it was still fresh. "Flower King of Flies" is next and it opens with clattering wind chimes followed by a stark upright piano and compressed vocals from bassist Lee Jackson. It has a grand, pompous chorus and a chord progression far ahead of its time. On the down side there's a somewhat dated psychedelic guitar ride from Davy O'List and a lot of brittle organ tones to contend with.

"Bonnie K" is a bluesy rocker with a pair of big ones hanging low. More gritty and aggressive than anything Mick, Keith & Co. were putting out there, this was the kind of raucous rock that we puberty-stricken teens were ravenously hungry for and weren't getting from our homies. It ain't complicated and it didn't need be. It's a shame we didn't get proper exposure to this song because it embodies the full-throttle garage band abandon we so craved and we would've eaten this right up. The only track I ever heard on the FM dial from The Nice was their revolutionary take on Leonard Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story and the belated but significant airplay it finally received was yet another reason for this album's appearance. It is nothing short of groundbreaking and should be revered by all proggers. It has a misleading (but gorgeous) cathedral organ beginning that leads to Keith's growling, percussive Hammond that dominates without mercy. The band displays intricate and precise playing throughout, especially the rhythm section of Jackson and underrated drummer Brian Davison. Davy's guitar lead is a bit off-kilter but it doesn't last long and Emerson gets to dazzle for the rest of the way. Their bold, spirited interpretation of this awesome piece of modern composition (with wisps of Dvorak's "New World Symphony" tossed in because they could) is one of the earliest and greatest examples of pure, unadulterated symphonic prog there is. They unlocked and opened wide a huge door with this one.

"Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon" with its extremely exploratory in nature use of sampled noise to set up the initial beat brings to mind embryonic Pink Floyd but that observation begs to query "just who was influencing who, exactly?" The renegade trumpet is cool and the tune goes tumbling out the same strange way it tumbled in. "Dawn" is next and I must confess I don't like it much because evidently I have a phobia about whispering I didn't know about until I heard this number. It's creepy and this track has too much of it going on for my comfort. It's a queer duck, too. Keith lays down a blanket of classical scales for a while, then it changes over to a spell of some weird kitchen utensil percussion being banged around, it returns to a marching feel, then they collectively fall into a vat of trippy improvisation before Emerson emerges from the melee straddling a harpsichord and knifing out a mess of distorted Hammond organisms. Unable to stand for long, he falls back into a sea of psychedelia and they end it with more spooky whispering. Stop it, man, you're freaking me out. Seriously.

"Tantalizin' Maggie" is so raw and brash that Johnny Rotten must've been weaned on it. This is punk before The Ramones were potty trained! The in-your-face, rebellious, up-your- mother's-nose-with-a-rubber-hose vocal delivery plastered rudely over Keith's electrified, classically-structured progression is a hoot to hear. On the technical end Emerson stretches the limits of what was possible in the studios of that day with numerous overdubs of different instrumentation and the luxurious piano flurries that arise in the finale are outstanding by any measure. "The Cry of Eugene" follows and it's as close to a ballad as they probably cared to venture, keeping their edge intact by allowing O'List's eerie guitar feedback to lurk about in the surrounding scenery. Overall the song is rather dreadful but if you lend an ear to the incredibly brave things they manage to work into the track you'll be impressed by their tenacity, at the least. They finish up this set with a previously unreleased version of "Daddy Where Did I Come From," a riff-driven steamroller of a tune served up with a large spoonful of quirky British humor, complete with shrill, silly voices. The marvelous thing is that the boys in this band (and many of the others hailing from the island regions) had absolutely no self-consciousness or qualms about being goofy blokes on tape. To us in the no-nonsense USA this wasn't music from the mother country, this was hatched on an alien planet in a distant universe! Not one American combo could've gotten away with such irresponsible shenanigans even if they'd thought to try. We were way too uptight to laugh at ourselves.

I'll honestly admit that what I thought this quartet was and what they actually were are two different animals entirely. But it was a "nice" surprise to find that out. I like them in much the same way I have great affection for The Move, that eclectic group of musical asylum inmates that I fell in love with circa 1970. Madmen Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne had the same slightly slanted frame of reference and disrespectful attitude that I find in this collection of tunes and I'm drawn to that mindset like a lab moth to a flaming Bunsen burner. At the same time it's easy to see why Keith Emerson would feel limited by this environment and eventually break free to scale the heights of Mount Prog alongside Greg and Carl but it's obvious that he cut his sharp teeth on the tough chew toy that was The Nice in the late 60s and I sadly regret not discovering their charms in a more timely manner. I would've been a rabid fan, no doubt.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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