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Pendragon - The Jewel CD (album) cover





3.36 | 349 ratings

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3 stars The Jewel is Pendragon's first full studio album released when the Marillion led Neo-prog scene was at the height of its strength. So because of this it would only be natural to compare this to Marillions output of the time (Misplaced Childhood was released the same year) or to their debut Script for a Jesters Tear. But that would be wrong, Pendragon immediately give of a sound different from other Neo-prog groups that is noticeable from the start of the first track Higher Circles.

So how does this debut of their's stack up. Well its quite definitely a patchy album at best. The opening three tracks of this album (Higher Circles, Pleasure Of Hope and Leviathan) are short, poppy tunes that come across as being poorly written and being very boring, so if you cant stomach the poppier side that many neo prog bands undoubtedly have, this album will wear thin pretty fast, so not a good star then.

The Jewel really starts at the fourth track, Alaska. Right from the opening guitar notes you can get the sense that this is going to be a pretty good song and it most certainly is. A slightly slow track with a spacey feel to it that really lifts your spirits after the dirge of the first three tracks. Its also the first true sign of this bands main influence, Pink Floyd. This is quite evident from the start of Alaska, though a little more well hidden in the earlier tracks, in the guitars and keyboards, but they have added some of themselves into the sound as well, helping this to be a unique work. I'd also like to add that this disproves the laughable theory that all Neo-prog is a poor copy of Genesis.

The following two songs aren't bad attempts but, though better than the opening of the album, Circus has a rather dull middle due to a lack of imagination in the keyboards department, which ruins any atmosphere. Oh Divineo is a pretty good song though, much stronger than a lot of the material on here, with a beautiful sound throughout. This leads into the best song on the album, The Black Night, which, despite the name, has absolutely nothing to do with dragons and swordplay, thankfully. It starts off slowly, and builds up to an impressive instrumental middle section before bringing you back down over the last minute or so. A real sign of what this band is capable of and one of the best Neo-prog songs going.

The album closes out with the songs Fly High Fall Far and Victims of Life, originally recorded in '84 for the EP Fly High Fall Far but later added here to close out the album. Fly High Fall Far is a short, up-tempo song that has a really good vibe to it and a nice listen, but nothing special. Victims of Life is musically similar to Circus and lacks a bit of bite, making it a bit of a let down as the album closer.

The lyrics on this album are a bit hit-and-miss, unsurprising really given that the album as a whole is like this. The surprising thing is that this happens within songs, the best example being The Black Night, were the chorus is a bit drab, but generally the lyrics aren't too bad, just don't expect any lyrical brilliance in the vein of Fish here, you will be disappointed. The musician ship is quite good as well, Nick Barret clearly knows how to get what he wants out of his guitar, although unfortunately some of that was pop tunes, he also proves to be a half decent singer, though nothing special but not hard to listen to. The bass player Peter Gee and drummer Nigel Harris give a solid, if unspectacular, performance here, holding down the songs well but never going all out to steel your attention. Keyboards are a disappointment, at times Rik Carter sounds very good but other times his playing is almost anonymous, and a couple of songs could really have been boosted by a better atmospheric style of playing.

On this remastered version of the album the band has added two bonus tracks, both recorded in 2005. Though Armageddon and Insomnia aren't bad tracks, in fact with Clive Nolan on keys you can notice an improvement in this department, they have a very different feel to the rest of the album, as you would expect considering they were recorded twenty years later. You can basically take them or leave them but I find them to be a bit anti-climactic as they ruin the feel of the album.

Overall this album has three or four songs that range from pretty good to really great, but the rest of the album is poor, and because of this hit-and-miss quality to the songs I'll only give this album 3 stars, good but not essential.

sleeper | 3/5 |


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