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Renaissance - Renaissance CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.76 | 406 ratings

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4 stars Even though the albums produced by Renaissance mk-i and mk-ii are not necessarily so radically dissimilar (at least on the surface), lot many of their fans seem to split distinctly into the Relf-camp and the Dunford-camp (or Annie's band as Jim McCarty referred to them). I could not initially make much sense of this split until I hit upon their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Basically, the strength of Renaissance mk-i is the music, especially their mix of genres and the way the musicians play. Whereas, the strength of Renaissance mk-ii is the vocals. I can see where there is potential to offend fans of Jane Relf with what I just said, but the thing that stands out to me immediately in Renaissance mk-i is the music. They are much more heavily influenced by 60s American psychedelic rock and play with a lot more bounce and energy in general than the Dunford-led mk-ii (also a much greater reliance on syncopation). I can see why they would appeal a lot more to fans of 70s prog rock generally while it takes a measure of patience with folk-classical pretensions to enjoy mk-ii. Indeed, some fans of mk-i describe the original Renaissance as a band of and for hippies.

However, this romantic association with flower power is perhaps not entirely accurate. Make no mistake, mk-i does still have its similarities with mk-ii. I don't know about the views of ex-members of mk-i on this but members of mk-ii have at times referred to the new band as more a continuation of the original one than a clean break.

This is most evident in the role of piano in mk-i. As in mk-ii, it is the dominant instrument rather than guitar. There is also the tendency to break into long sections of music that get pretty close to outright classical quotations. On the more vocal-oriented tracks Island and Wanderer, the music serves as a rousing intro before giving way to a fairly generic verse-chorus routine. Again, pretty much like mk-ii, except mk-i run all this through a rock filter. So, make no mistake, guitars do play a much more prominent role on this album than on any mk-ii album and are quite frankly a lot more delicious. Maybe I notice this especially now because I have been listening to a lot of guitar driven rock lately but it is yet another aspect that would appeal to 70s prog rock fans in general and can be immediately recognised as germane to that 'sound'.

On mini-epics Kings and Queens and Innocence, this version of Renaissance pretty comprehensively distinguish themselves as compared to mk-ii. From a left brained prog geek point of view, Kings and Queens is a delight, possessing quite an appetite for unorthodox and bold choices while remaining piano oriented. This band may not space out their instrumental sections and play them so affectionately but for cerebral interest, Kings and Queens beats out Trip to the fair or Touching Once or you name it. Of course, it's all just my opinion. ;) Innocence is a lot more nomadic and less satisfactorily resolved as is Bullets (this one especially tests my patience a bit) but the band's rocking energy carries them through.

What doesn't carry so well, for me anyway, is the vocals, especially those of Keith Relf. I can relate to them from a 60s rock perspective but if I had to listen to 60s rock, I would much rather listen to a Jim Morrison than this kind of singing. It doesn't matter so much because about two-thirds of the album is more about the music than the singing. But it just holds back these tracks from standing out from the crowd a little more.

As for Jane Relf, she readily evokes female rock vocals of the era and it is understandable, again, why fans of 70s prog would take to her style. As for me, I am indifferent; she sounds pleasant while she sings and...that's it. There are moments of really nice singing here and there but I am not sure I would listen to an album just because it has Jane's vocals on it. Again, being that I am more interested in the music on this album, it doesn't really matter.

I have to admit that circa 2013, I find this album an enjoyable affair but not especially engaging or notable for my personal interests. But I do have to consider the release date and observe that it is a pretty remarkable album for one dating back to 1969. The eponymous Renaissance debut is already full fledged prog. There's nothing proto about this and would qualify as prog even if it had been released in 1974. With that in mind and out of gratitude for nearly 40 minutes worth of rocking, I rate it a 4.

rogerthat | 4/5 |


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