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Spring - Spring CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.74 | 168 ratings

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3 stars This is an odd, obscure band with a sketchy history. Apparently the original album came housed in a tri-fold cover that was pretty impressive. I saw a copy on eBay once, but the only copy I've been able to get a hold of is a Repetoire reissue CD from a few years back. There's a couple other reissues floating around the web as well, but be careful choosing one as there was apparently another band called Spring in the early 70's that was associated with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and some of the links I've found mistakenly show this album cover under that album's listing.

I spent some time researching and was able to find a few bios of the band and reviews of their only album, but much of the material is clearly second- or third- hand information, and much of it seems to have simply been copied from other sources. The band apparently hails from Leicester England, and formed some time in 1970. The album was produced by early Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon, and was released on RCA's Neon label, which I had never heard of before I came across this band. The album features three Mellotron players, although it doesn't really sound all that awash with the unusual sound that instrument tends to make.

And I wouldn't say these guys were exactly experts of the device. They have been compared to the Moody Blues, and I can hear the resemblance, although I would say they seem more like what the Moody Blues would have sounded like when they were still playing in their parent's basements or high school gyms, or wherever it was they played before they became really good. Also, if you imagine Justin Hayward with a lisp imitating Boz Skaggs, you'll get something of an idea what Spring singer Pat Moran sounds like. I've listened to this album 25 or 30 times since I bought it, and I've gotten to the point where his voice isn't a distraction anymore, but it is definitely an acquired taste.

Two things are usually pointed out in reviews of this album: one, that the band claimed the only overdubs in the studio were of the guitar player's tracks, which if true is a very impressive statement about the band's abilities in managing to keep the temperamental Mellotrons running; and two, that drummer Pique (Pick) Withers would later become the only really famous musician of the group, as a member of Dire Straits.

Apparently the band toured the UK as the opening act of the Velvet Underground in 1971. As near as I can piece together, that must have been the VU's tour in the fall of 1971 after "Loaded" was released and Lou Reed had left the group, so that's kind of interesting.

There may or may not be another album that was recorded by the group before they disbanded in 1972 - it kind of depends on how accurate some of the various web sites with pieces of the band's history are. There are three tracks at the end of the CD reissue, although the keyboards on these are organ and a little piano, but no Mellotron.

As for the original eight tracks, there's nothing about them or the album that connects any kind of critical dots as far as the history of progressive music is concerned. Other than Withers, and some later studio and production credits for Moran and guitarist Ray Martinez, Spring doesn't seem to have any particularly impressive musical pedigree to their credit.

The songs are kind of interesting though, albeit very steeped in an early 70's sound.

"The Prisoner (Eight by Ten)" is definitely Mellotron-laden, although the tune is fairly simple and at times the keyboardists seem to be more experimenting with different sounds than following any kind of complex pattern. I have no idea what the song is about since Moran's voice is not only garbled and lispy, but has a strong British accent to boot. I think I made out "jumping coins that seem to laugh" and "eight by ten on the second floor, fumes that creep beneath the door", but that's about it. Who knows. There's nothing to make this song all that appealing, although after several dozen listens, it isn't irritating either, so there's that at least.

"Grail" is another slow, very 70's sounding tune, a but less Mellotron here and some mildly interesting guitar chords. There's a short chorus that gets repeated a lot ("nights go on when days pass by, storms blow up and down", but I can't make out the rest of the words. There's also a nice verse - "If inside of Hades I should fall", something. something. something. "could these things mean nothing to a fool", that's rather pleasant, I think, or maybe not - this could be a song about the apocalypse for all I know. There's a short Mellotron moment accented by the guitar at the end that's actually quite nice, but that's about it for this one.

"Boats" is a short acoustic work that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the songs, kind of reminds me of some of the stuff of Elton John's "Honky-Tonk Chateau", or maybe a song from an old 'spaghetti-western' movie. It seems to be a song about a guy's women who took off. Think of it as a British progressive equivalent of Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and you'll get the picture - "I'm sitting and watching the boats on the river, the last train from the station takes you away.". Ends with a soft martial drum rhythm, which is kind of weird.

"Shipwrecked Soldier" starts off with a bit of an infantry march drum beat, possibly taking up where "Boats" left off, and then launches into some ambitious guitar work. This is the one song on the album that sounds like the band actually showed an active interest in the message, whatever that message is. I get the impression this one has something to do with wars and stuff like that. There's definitely a mention of governments, and ships in the mist, and men dressed in black. Selah.

"Golden Fleece" has something to do with disillusionment, not sure what though. Moran is really slurring his words by now, but the Mellotrons are pretty active and they make the song interesting at least. This one probably makes more sense to people who understand Greek mythology and its symbolism and all that.

By the time "Inside Out" rolls around, I can't understand anything Moran is singing anymore. The keyboards here sound more organ-like, and the drums are a bit more prevalent than elsewhere on the album, plus there's an interlude of what I assume is a Mellotron that sounds like a xylophone. Then again, maybe it's a xylophone.

"Song to Absent Friends" is the other Elton John-sounding tune on the album, mostly because the keyboards are just a plain old piano. This is clearly intended to be a sad song, as evidenced by the slow tempo and sad-sounded gargling Moran does in lieu of actual singing. It's a nice tune on the piano, though this probably would have been better as a purely instrumental song. I can't help but wonder if Michael Stipe found some inspiration in Pat Moran's vocal stylings when he recorded the first couple of R.E.M. albums. That would make sense.

The original album closed with "Gazing", which is marked by the absence of Moran's voice for nearly the first minute and a half. He seems to have cleansed his palette, as his articulation is somewhat better here, but I can still only make out about every fourth word. Something about turning pages, and taking paths, and deep sleep. Lots more Mellotron on this one, and also Martinez' guitar really starts to grow on you by now, kind of bluesy and also a bit improvisational at times.

The 'bonus' tracks on the CD are apparently from the aforementioned unreleased recordings. Moran sounds a lot like the guy in Amazing Blondel on these, but is still largely inarticulate. I'm spending a lot of time making fun of the guy's voice, but I have to admit it kind of grows on you if you think of it as another musical instrument in the band, and not as an actual human voice. "Fool's Gold" sounds like a kind of adventure tale of the 'Olde Englishe varietie'. "Hendre Mews" actually has some nice guitar licks that permeate the whole song, more aggressive than anything else the band has recorded here. The bonus tracks all feature some pretty good organ work as well. This is also apparently the longest song the band ever recorded, clocking in at over seven minutes.

The album closes with "A Word Full of Whispers", and it finds Moran at his most coherent, but also his most off-key. The chorus goes "today I turned on a friend, tomorrow I might choose my end", which seems both very hippy-like and also a bit disturbing. There's also a reference to Zachary Smith lying dead in the snow. I wonder if this is Dr. Zachary Smith, the oddball scientist of "Lost in Space" television show fame. Probably not.

So, I've worked over the infamous Spring prog-gem. All in all it was an interesting and not altogether unpleasant experience. I've been playing this CD every few days or so, mostly so I could work up enough material for a review. It'll probably fade to the middle or back of my collection now that I've written this, but I would imagine it will get pulled out and played from time to time. I wouldn't call this one an essential collectible, but it doesn't flat out suck either. Three stars seems appropriate.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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