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Colosseum II - Strange New Flesh CD (album) cover


Colosseum II


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.66 | 122 ratings

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4 stars First of all, for those who are not in the know, let's get one thing straight: in spite of the name, this outfit has very little to do with the original Colosseum - one of the seminal jazz-rock bands of the late '60s and early 70's - but for the presence of monster skinsman Jon Hiseman (so conveniently forgotten in those boring "best drummer" polls, where everybody seems to think that Mike Portnoy is God's gift to drumming...). Colosseum II, showcasing the amazing talents of keyboard maestro Don Airey (currently with Deep Purple, where he replaced one Mr Jon Lord) and, especially, the fiery fretboard prowess of then 22-year-old Gary Moore - one of THE guitar gods, whatever you may think of his later career - were definitely harder-edged than the band's former incarnation. Nowadays better known for having played with Whitesnake and Black Sabbath, bassist Neil Murray tends to be given less credit than other four-stringers - however, before joining Colosseum II, Murray had played bass with Canterbury outfit Gilgamesh, and would later join National Health, taking the place that should have been occupied by Richard Sinclair. The musical proficiency of somebody who can keep up with both Jon Hiseman and Pip Pyle cannot be so easily disregarded.

Unlike other jazz-rock bands, though, Colosseum II didn't start out as a purely instrumental outfit, enlisting the vocal talents of former Cozy Powell's Hammer vocalist Mike Starrs. For many people, the sometimes overpowering presence of Starrs's otherwise excellent vocals (which, at times, oddly remind me of a richer, more controlled version of James LaBrie) detracts from the overall instrumental brilliance of the album. Personally, I quite like Starrs's singing, but I must also admit to having a slight preference for the instrumental tracks - then, let's face it, Gary Moore's backing vocals can be rather excruciating. I love his guitar playing to bits, and in later years he developed quite a respectable singing voice - but at this stage he couldn't sing to save his life, as proved by the two following Colosseum II albums.

Moore wrote most of the tracks on the album, with the exception of the Joni Mitchell cover "Down to You" - apparently a strange choice, yet rather successful, especially owing to Mike Starrs' passionate vocal performarce and Moore's melodic guitar. The album, however, opens in a completely different vein, with the blistering keyboard and guitar tour de force that is the aptly-titled "Dark Side of the Moog". "Gemini and Leo" is a funkier, jazzier track, with Starrs sounding a bit like Glenn Hughes in his Trapeze years. The following tracks, "Secret Place" and On Second Thoughts" continue in much the same vein, all featuring superb interplay between the four virtuoso musicians, as well as soaring, powerful vocals. Hiseman and Murray's propulsive rythm section is masterful throughout, but Moore and Airey are the ones who really steal the show. Original album closer "Winds" is a 10-minute-plus epic that summarises all that's great about this record, at the same time jazzy and hard-edged, with complex rythm changes and THAT magnificent guitar sound.

The recently released expanded edition contains some real treats for lovers of the band, including some live tracks on the second CD (with a killer version of "Dark Side of the Moog") and quite a few unreleased demos of songs, part of which would end up on the band's following albums, "Electric Savage" and "Wardance" - notably the original versions of blistering, intricate "Intergalactic Strut" (here bearing the amusing title of "Interplanetary Slut") and of beautiful Moore showcase "Gary's Lament", with his guitar at its melodic,wistful best. Shredders of the world, please take note - there's a guy who can really make his instrument speak with an almost human voice. Highly recommended to all lovers of great musicianship combined with heart and soul.

Raff | 4/5 |


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