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Focus - Hocus Pocus: The Best Of Focus CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.52 | 61 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars It may not represent the genuine best of the band, but this 1994 sampler still provides an excellent introduction to the Dutch masters of Focus, even though it shortchanges their 1975 career peak album "Hamburger Concerto". You can of course expect to miss a lot of good music when condensing six entire LPs (actually seven: "Focus 3" was a double disc) into one 77-minute CD. But the highlights of the band's brief but stellar heyday (spanning only half a decade, more or less) are included, from the more familiar singles to the longer, looser jam sessions.

The collection is named (hardly a surprise) after the band's trademark blockbuster hit "Hocus Pocus", included twice here as a prologue and epilogue to the otherwise chronological order of tracks. Not to worry: the shorter U.S. single version closing the disc is a completely different recording, marred only by the unresolved fade out (always a pet peeve) at the start of what could have been another searing Jan Akkerman guitar solo.

Despite the steady pace of their recorded output in the 1970s, nothing else the band produced ever equaled the energy and invigorating madness of that one song, with its killer guitar riffs and wild, operatic yodeling. Not even the copycat single "Harem Scarem", from "Hamburger Concerto", could match it, as you can hear for yourself: the song is included in this collection, the sole representative of arguably the band's best album.

Elsewhere the Focus sound was characterized by the more polite, austere classicism of the ongoing self-titled instrumentals ("Focus", "Focus II", etc) featured in nearly all their studio albums of the era, with occasional jazzy elements thrown in, especially on their earlier material.

The first few selections here, including the JETHRO TULL soundalike single "House of the King", are somewhat crude when compared to the band's better crafted later work. I love the forthright evaluation of the 1970 debut album "In and Out of Focus" by producer Mike Vernon, who worked with the group in their best years and oversaw the digital transfer of this compilation: "I'm still not impressed," he writes in the CD booklet notes, "but it does mark a starting point I suppose." Nice salesmanship, dude.

There are also perhaps too many selections from the sub-par efforts of "Mother Focus" and "Ship of Memories", both released at a time when the band was struggling for inspiration. Note how the pleasantly upbeat title track from the former album resurfaced as a meandering jam over a rhythm box on the latter album (itself a collection of outtakes), proof perhaps that Focus was close to running on fumes by 1975.

In retrospect I wish Jan Akkerman and Thijs Van Leer had let their hair down more often like they did in "Hocus Pocus": strictly a novelty item to be sure, but far livelier (and today less dated) than the admirable but sometimes over-earnest classical rock heard elsewhere in their discography. Never mind: even the weaker tunes are worthwhile, and altogether it's a fair and comprehensive summary of maybe the biggest act in continental Europe at the time.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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