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Focus

 

Symphonic Prog

3.51 | 78 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
3 stars Focus are not a band I have indulged in that much over the years but I am very aware of their best material and the impact they have had on the prog scene. My Focus experience is based mainly on hearing odd instrumentals such as Harem Scarem and Hocus Pocus, owning 'The Best of Focus', and apart from hearing the debut, 'In and Out of Focus', and 4 star gems 'Focus 3', 'Moving Waves', and 'Hamburger Concerto', my Focus experience is reasonably sparse when it comes to the more recent lineups. However, a new album from virtuoso musos is irresistible so here we go.

It opens with manic flute, blistering drums and a driving rhythm, worthy of the legacy of Focus. It sounds a tad like the old rhythm of Hocus Pocus but that is okay as they invented it. Father Bachus is one of the best songs here no doubt. It is followed by Focus 10, the name of the album, and it has a cool lead guitar melody and nice flute from the legendary Thijs van Leer, who plays Hammond, keyboards, flute, and has a stint on vocals, though nothing as frenetic as on his classic works. Of course without Thijs it would not be Focus; for me it is like Dave Brock who must be present or it is not Hawkwind. He is joined by Pierre van Der Linden on drums, a triumphant return and one of the great Focus drummers heard on 'Moving Waves', Bobby Jacobs on bass, and Menno Gootjes on guitars. It is the same lineup as 'Focus 9' but without Niels, and only Bobby and Thijs has stuck with the group since 2002's 'Focus 8'. It is great that van Der Linden has returned as his drumming lifts this album to a new level of excellence. The revolving door policy is part of Focus history but I miss Jan Akkerman's guitars, however they play well under the direction of Thijs. Bert Ruiter, Colin Allen, and Jan Akkerman were the definitive line up for me though, and of course the drumming of van Der Linden.

The sound has changed now, no longer dangerous with lengthy excursions, and manic improvised vocals, but this album has neat little packages that can be described as pleasant and quirky jazz fusion music. Victoria is very relaxing melodic guitar driven music with the odd off beat moment. Amok In Kindergarten has delightful piano and jazzy percussion at first, then moves to a night club sound, with jazz keys and guitars, and some King Crimson style time sigs.

All Hens On Deck is a definitive highlight with crazy flute the way we love Thijs to play, and very fast tempo with those distorted guitar crunches. This is terrific with dynamic time switches, and when Thijs begins his loony intonations it is back to classic Focus. I recommend this to any Focus fan as it is so likeable and captures the incredible dexterity of the group perfectly. It actually sounds like Magma's Christian Vander in places especially when Thijs begins the low key intonations. It is a similar style to the 'Focus 3' opener Round Goes The Gossip. The ending is hilarious and Thijs is having a lot of fun obviously.

Le Tango is back to the more serious side of the band and has dreamy flute a catchy piano hook and the vocals are really well executed and way different than other Focus I have heard. The vocals sounds a bit like Robert Wyatt or even the Canterbury bands such as Caravan, it is quite a folk tinted sound, and very pretty melody as well.

Hoeratio is an odd slow piece with ethereal guitars and some low non English vocals that are gutteral and weird; I have no idea what Thijs is saying here but he puts a lot of passion into it. The guitars on this are excellent, soaring and emotional. It gets dark towards the end with weird chord changes and Thijs carrying on like a prog dictator, perhaps not saying anything, but this is again like Magma in style.

Talk Of The Clown is an amusing title so I expected some amusing music, and it is playful joyous Pied Piper flute backed by a medieval guitar sound. It feels like an Elizabethan jig reminding me of the odd Gentle Giant forays into the Middle Ages.

Message Magic has a strong percussive edge and some floating piano lines, and then the guitar brings in a lovely melody. It is one of the more beautiful pieces from Focus. It is very relaxing compared to the quirkiness of past tracks here. The flute augments the beauty and this is definitely a more romantic approach from Focus.

X Roads finishes things off with some fast Latino beats, jazzed up piano and bass, and excellent guitar flourishes. It cruises along nicely with a solid melody, and Thijs has a stint on vocals telling us he does not want to know how he feels at the crossroads, 'and there is no time to lose, love is far ahead and far behind, how can we still look back at the past it doesn't last, we can not change the mad times, I will love you till the end just like the time that keeps on growing.' I like what Thijs says here as it enhances the feelings in the music and it makes sense in its simple message. The bass solo over the manic percussion is wonderful too, and this is another of the highlights on the album.

'Focus X' shows there is still life in these dinosaurs of Symphonic Prog, and in a few tracks it captures the old Focus magic admirably. It is a new approach for the band, way more accessible than 'Focus 3', 'Hamburger Concerto' or 'Moving Waves' of course, as there are no multi movement suites. As Thijs states on the album, 'how can we still look back at the past, it doesn't last' and the band are clearly moving into new directions with this music. It has a great Roger Dean cover artwork which is never a bad thing, though it is not one of Mr Dean's most memorable designs. The album may lead newcomers to the group to check out the 70s material, but they will be in for a shock as this is a different animal. I enjoyed it and they are obviously brilliant musicians, but the album didn't jump out and bite me like other Focus albums I have heard. It is great that the band continue to create even after all these years and they still have a lot to offer, remaining one of the greatest instrumental based groups in history.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 3/5 |

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