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Roy Harper - The Unknown Soldier CD (album) cover


Roy Harper

Prog Folk

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3 stars It's one of life's cruel ironies that Harper's most known and best-selling album in America is among his weaker efforts. This is Harper's first album in the 1980s, and marks a 10-year decline that (so I've heard) was arrested later. (I only know his 70s work the best.) The album is no doubt among his more popular releases in the US due to the presence of David Gilmour. For all you Floyd fans out there, let me assure you that just because Gilmour is here, this does not make it among Harper's more "Floydian" releases. Check out his 70s work for that.

I suppose all Floyd fans will want to hear "You," the duet with Kate Bush. The song is usually highly rated by Floyd fans. Written by Gilmour, guitar by Gilmour, it definitely sounds like an outtake from THE WALL, although I've always felt the song somehow stops short of being all that it could have been, had Floyd actually recorded the song during THE WALL sessions (with Harper on vocals!). And yes, "Short and Sweet" is probably better here than it is on DAVID GILMOUR - but it's certainly not the best song by either artist.

For me, the two best songs on here are "The Fly Catcher" and "Old Faces." These are the two instances where the 80s production actually seems to enhance, rather than mar, Harper's songs.

I've always wondered - why didn't Gilmour recruit Harper into Pink Floyd? He needed a lyricist, and there's no one better than Harper. Harper's acoustic work always had a distinctly Floydian sound. And his vocals, so well known to all of us from "Have a Cigar," would never sound out of place on a Floyd album. We'll never know, but in my mind I always thought Harper was the one person who could have filled Waters' shoes. Oh well, I guess it was not to be... [sigh]

A side-note: I believe this is the last album that Peter Jenner produced for Harper. (Jenner was Pink Floyd's original manager, and produced all of Harper's 1970s albums [John Leckie helped out on some as well].)

Report this review (#247054)
Posted Thursday, October 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Trapped in time.

A common occurrence for many albums recorded in the late seventies, and practically all of the eighties, for a number of reasons that include a trend to bend toward the current pop styles of the day, instrumentation, recording technics and record company interference in order to promote a more 'attractive' product to their consumers.

The Unknown Soldier is one of Harper's slickest sounding albums that veers away from straight up prog folk and finds an array of musical styles that at times incorporate a distinctive Floydian influence on three of album's best songs, "The Flycatcher", "You" and a reworked version, of his co-written song with David Gilmour, titled "Short And Sweet" from Gilmour's first solo album.

They are among the best tracks on the album with "The Flycatcher" displaying an eerie violin accompaniment written by David Bedford, while special guest Gilmour graces "You" with his majestic guitar. You is also a duet with the incomparable Kate Bush, another long time friend and fan of Harper. "Short And Sweet" features the caustic six chord opening riff found on the Gilmour version, but Roy's rearrangement features a galloping bass line and dramatic swirling strings in the song's instrumental middle section that gives the song an epic feel that Gilmour's version only hinted at.

Harper is a great vocalist and handles all of the vocals, usually overdubbed in the choruses, extremely well and is quite actually another instrument on this album.

Where the album starts to go flat is with the songs "Playing Games", "First Thing In The Morning", and "Ten Years Ago" which employ new wave-ish Yamaha synths that are supplemented with choppy new wave styled guitar from Andy Roberts. The drums and bass are also treated 80's style recording sounds, which further help to strangle these songs. This is far from acceptable ear candy to me, but where the album completely fails is that it's totally solo acoustic title track sounds like one of Harper's throwaway pieces and lacks the gravitas of either a song that connotes such serious subject matter, or frankly, as a song used for an album title track. This is stark contrast to album's chilling cover photo of a real skeleton taken at a war memorial site in France.

Anyone familiar with the ways of Roy Harper will know that Roy has a sweet spot for this album based on the extensive babbling liner notes that he wrote for the CD reissue. The only other album to receive this level of attention was the Dream Society released in 1998. The Unknown Soldier was an album that, I guess, Roy consciously made to be either a hit or to at least sound contemporary. He failed at achieving commercial success with it and in the process failed to make a album that's sonically age well. 3 stars.

Report this review (#1469858)
Posted Saturday, September 26, 2015 | Review Permalink

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