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First Aid - Nostradamus CD (album) cover


First Aid

Symphonic Prog

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2 stars Oh, waiter! I'll have an order of Well-Past-Its-Sell-By-Date English Progressive Rock. And could you garnish that with a side order of extra cheese?

Of the small handful of "new" British prog bands that released albums [i]after[/i] punk exploded, First Aid were easily the lamest. When you're responsible for the sort of portentous narrative recitations that even The Moody Blues had abandoned five years earlier, lyrics like "Nostradamus was his name/Seeing the future was his game" and orchestrated seven-minute suites that seem to repeat the same nine notes over and over like a litany, you [i]know[/i] you're in Prog Hell!

High point, keysman Keith Parkinson, who kind of overdoes it on the synth effects at times but who's really talented. Low point, the aforementioned "Two Brothers", which seems pretty obviously thrown together to fill out the album side. (With an orchestra, no less! How profligate!) The thirteen minute "The Shape Of Things To Come" that closes the album is actually fairly strong. Now if only they didn't muck it up with still [i]more[/i] of that tacky narration, plus a clichéd montage of speeches by Winston Churchill, FDR and Hitler just to add insult to injury. Thank God England came along a year later with their classic [i]Garden Shed[/i] album, allowing the progressive rock genre to save face a little.

Report this review (#73292)
Posted Tuesday, March 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Team
3 stars I don't know if it was planned, or if it is just a coincidence, but "Nostradamus" has the appearance of being a big farewell to grandiose '70s prog. Being that it was released in 1977 (the golden age of punk), and it is First+Aid's only release, leads me to believe this. The classic prog bands were already adjusting their sounds by this time. However, this one album band decided to record a pompous, ultra-pretentious, symphonic, concept album. I think it was their way of giving one last bombastic blast.

As you may have already guessed, the concept is based on Nostradamus, and his prophecies. In the middle, it shifts to a bit about Catherine de Medici. Sometimes it works quite well, at other times it is downright cheesy. The lyrics in the title track are especially trite. The compositions, however, are very strong. The instrumentation is also worked out very well with a blend of straight rock, and a studio orchestra. The vocalist also has a strong voice, but I wonder if this might have worked better as a strictly instrumental affair. With the absence of the lyrics, it might have been a very powerful musical interpretation.

There is keyboard straight out of the Keith Emerson playbook, guitar grooves, and lush strings. Oh, and the pomposity, I can't forget the pomposity. It would be easy to immediately write this one off as a result of listening to "Tales from Topographic Oceans," and "Brain Salad Surgery" one too many times, if it weren't for the fact that it is good music. Forget the concept, and listen. There is much to enjoy here. It's a about a 3.33 star album, so I have to round down.

H.T. Riekels

Report this review (#134836)
Posted Saturday, August 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars It is obvious, from any standpoint, that First Aid was out of touch with what was fashionable in 1977. Had they recorded this album, say, five years prior perhaps things would have turned out differently for them. You see, their brand of pompous progressive rock was simply not in fashion anymore. I do not think that punk music should be seen as the sole reason for the decline in prog popularity but Sex Pistols and their comrades are generally seen as the conquerors of the musical landscape in the last few years of the 70's. Anyway, this review will not take any definite stand regarding that issue. Tally ho!

Pompousness. Just let that word sink in for a moment. What does it mean? In general the word is used in it's negative form, describing someone or something as totally distanced from reality, wound up in themselves and thus being anything but likeable. I guess that's a fair assessment. However, when it comes to prog the mere word sends shivers down my spine. Not shivers of dislike but rather of excitement. A part of prog is and must be pompous, larger than life, ambitious and visionary. And that is the meaning of the word, for me, regarding prog music. Yes, First Aid were pompous and gloripusly so. Taking inspiration from the old Nostradamus, the fortune teller or viewer of the future, what they created was a minor masterpiece of majestic progressive rock.

Starting with a spoken introduction, along with the winds and howls of time passing, one instantly gets the idea. This is not an album to take lightly. The concept and visions within are seriously meant. The title track with the chanting of dark voices and heavy musical approach is quite stunning. The vocals are very pleasant and the combination of dense keyboards and heavy guitar which then transforms into lighter textures before going back to heaviness is really brilliant. "The awful truth" is a piano led short piece of quite impressive complexity, preceding "By royal appointment", a sort of announcement piece. "Catherine" is a gentle, string laden thing which is a real beauty. Lush and jazz-folky, if you can imagine. "Two brothers" is yet again a quite dense and heavy piece with thick keyboards. Then comes the ending "The shape of things to come". This is really the big winner. Starting with a narrative voice and foreboding instrumentation, proclaiming doom and disaster, it turns into a majestic and powerful piece of progressive rock. Really heavy in a jazz-rock kind of way. It ends with Hitler serving us some nonsense before Churchill has a word or two aswell. Really effectful.

It's a pity they were out a bit too late, really. This is high quality progressive rock with ambition, vision and pompousness. A really satisfying slice of keyboard driven prog, heavy on the orchestration and rough touches, though highly accomplished and tightly performed. I really appreciate this album and think it is a great listen for anyone into older progressive rock from the glorious 70's.

Report this review (#1948635)
Posted Monday, July 16, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars The British band FIRST+AID got together to record their one and only album "Nostradamus" in 1977. I prophesise that if you like the sound of some overblown Symphonic Prog, then this memorable ELP-style album may be just the prescription you need. Let's open the medicine cabinet now and see what the prog-nosis is. Will the album require medical care and attention or will it be given a clean bill of health? Well, let's find out.

"Visions" opens the album in dramatic style and starts as it means to go on with the sombre voice of the narrator announcing, "When the two great powers of the world unite, Their greatness will be seen to grow, But their power brings fear to the East, And the man of blood is angered, Then it will begin!" ........ I don't know what it all means, but it sounds ominous. The spoken word prologue precedes the doom-laden sound of a swirling solo synth before launching into an ELP-style free- for-all where two manic keyboardists appear to be competing with each other to see who's the nimblest keyboard wizard of them all. Shades of Keith Emerson vs. Rick Wakeman. Now we come to the title track, the 6-minute-long "Nostradamus". Play it loud! This song is full of pomp and ceremony in the best traditions of classic Symphonic Prog in all of its glorious splendour. It's everything you'd expect, including a powerful singer, a male chorus, and two sonorous synths competing with full orchestra, which is guaranteed to reverberate around the room and rattle the windows. If Phil Spector was a Prog-Rock producer, then this is what it might sound like. It's the prog equivalent of the "Wall of Sound". Now comes "The Awful Truth" where the listener is given a bit of a breather when the keyboard player displays his classical credentials with this pleasant little piano interlude. The next brief tune "By Royal Appointment" lives up to its name as it sounds like the kind of dramatic fanfare that might herald the announcement of the arrival of royalty at some historic occasion. "Catherine" closes out Side One. It's an emotionally appealing and heartfelt tribute to Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France (1547-1559) back in medieval times when France still had a royal family.

Opening Side Two is "Two Brothers", a 6-minute long instrumental piece with the uplifting sound of two swirling synths playing along side by side. When the full orchestra emerges, it feels like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds and bathing you in its warm glow. Who needs lyrics anyway when the music sounds as good as this. Now follows an orchestral reprise of "Visions", a gloriously beautiful piece of music which would make a marvellous film score. This orchestral piece is full of dramatic flourishes which wouldn't seem out of place gracing the screens of a Hitchcock thriller. To round off the album in impressive style comes the 13-minute-long opus "The Shape of Things to Come". The song title sounds dramatic and so it proves to be with the music. It's a suitably rousing song to end an epic Symphonic Prog album, with sudden shifts in tempo and time signature, so you never know quite what to expect on the first hearing. Prepare to be impressed though, because this long epic really grows on you and it's worth hearing for the stirring chorus and dramatic finale with voices from the pages of history, including Adolf Hitler and John F. Kennedy. Pretentious? Au Contraire!

This album may sound like an overblown Symphonic Prog effort to some ears, but if you like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, then this album should appeal to you. An interesting album from a historical perspective, released at a time when punk was just emerging and prog was accused of being overblown and pretentious by the snooty music press, but what do they know? Not that this album was even noticed by many people at the time of its release. It's not an essential album, but it does have impressive power and symphonic majesty and it's definitely worth a listen. A good dose of Symphonic Prog is the best medicine. It's just what the doctor ordered!

Report this review (#2283625)
Posted Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Review Permalink

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