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Renaissance - Novella CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 409 ratings

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4 stars Scheherazade And Other Stories was such an artistic peak for Renaissance that anything following is likely to compare unfavourably. And so it proves - Novella continues with the same formula of marrying intricate orchestrations with their unique 'acoustic' line-up, it is slick and professional, all songs are good and instrumentation is superb. Taken in isolation it is an exquisite experience, yet it doesn't excite or reach the soul in quite the same degree as its illustrious predecessor.

Make no mistake, though, this is still a marvellous Renaissance album, awash with all the trademark features in their proper places: Annie's clear voice, Sullivan's understated drumming and perfectly integrated orchestration courtesy of Richard Hewson. There are some subtle swings afoot: Dunford's acoustic guitars are far more prominent than previously, often as in Midas Man providing the dominant motivator of the song; by contrast, Tout's piano plays a smaller role, even to the extent of being completely absent from Can You Hear Me?; Jon Camp has also upped the ante a little, his bass playing more adventurous and melodic than before; and rich harmonies abound more than ever, in various combinations.

Overall the album has a smooth mellow feel with a lovely flow that washes the listener along on waves of bliss, sometimes surprisingly creating a mood of spacey atmospherics sandwiched between more dynamic and energetic sections. In old LP terms, the first side is the most successful, two tracks that seem to belong to each other. Even though they do not appear to have any lyrical connection they both deliver and develop a similar dark and broody mood: Can You Hear Me? deals with a figurative barren wasteland of city life and how it strangles the soul, while The Sisters paints a more literal and direct picture of despair and loss of faith. Yet, while Can You Hear Me? is a majestic shapeshifter full of classic Renaissance dynamics, the simpler Spanish-tinged The Sisters is a spiritual descendant of At The Harbour [Ashes Are Burning] and Ocean Gypsy [Scheherazade And Other Stories].

The remaining tracks are almost as good. Midas Man, a comment on capitalism and class differences, is not a complex song but massed acoustic guitars build a mood that is developed by various atmospheric devices. The Captive Heart is simply Annie singing a heart melting ballad accompanied by piano and inventive harmonies. Touching Once (Is So Hard To Keep) is a final Prog piece notable for a moody breakdown with some more spacey effects, and a faster workout including a sax solo amongst staccato and bombastic orchestration. Curiously, these last pair have lyrics written by Jon Camp rather than regular lyricist Betty Thatcher.

Novella represents the final flowering of Renaissance at their creative best before outside pressures caused a change of direction in succeeding works. It would not be recommended as a first choice for a Renaissance virgin, but is highly regarded nevertheless.

Joolz | 4/5 |


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