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3 stars This long-forgotten Australian art band arrived with the all the promise the early 1970s had to offer. Mike Rudd's flamboyant vocals, founding partner Bill Putt's easy right hand on bass, keyboardist John Mills and lead guitar of Tim Gaze adding their subtle colors made Ariel's debut one of the brighter and less grimly serious offerings of 1974. A cross-pollenation of Rudd&Putt's Spectrum and Sydney group Tamam Shud, their A Strange Fantastic Dream provided some fun and humor alongside complex songs and soulful performances. Recalled is Supertramp, Babe Ruth, classic Split Enz, period Yes, and Aussie mates Fraternity and though the LP is more sportive party than stoic prog, the skills of the five-piece were unmistakable.

'Jamaican Farewell' starts the ball rolling in the right direction, an easy going swinger led by Mike Rudd's infectious riff continued for mid-tempo 'No Encore' with Rudd's throaty whine, the prog emerging fully here-- John Mills' synth washes, the building rhythms and altered chords of Putt&Rudd's fine compositions. Eight minute 'Garden of the Frenzied Cortinas' is even more convincing, a house of many rooms and a lost artrock treasure featuring a very gooey extended vamp between Mills' keys and Tim Gaze's bluesy lead guitar, climaxing finally with big pageantry and Rudd's plaintive wail. And 'Chicken Sh*t' belies its title and is one of the best cuts here, leaving no doubt these guys were serious if waggish about their music.

There is also material on A Strange Fantastic Dream that is more blues-rock than art, and during the band's final incarnation in 1977 they released the ridiculous single 'Disco Dilemma' as a tongue-in-cheek response to the dance phenomenon. But overall, this one is Ariel at its prime, full of great ideas and good spirits, and should be considered by anyone with a soft spot for the lighter side of the artrock movement.

Report this review (#276507)
Posted Monday, April 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Officially the first Ariel release, this is really a continuation of Spectrum in both personnel - the only musician missing from the last line-up of Spectrum is Ray Arnott - and musical direction. Arnott's place at the drum stool is taken by former Tamam Shud drummer Nigel Macara, and he also brought along that band's lead guitarist, Tim Gaze. The addition of Gaze makes the biggest difference - he is unquestionably a much larger presence as lead guitarist than Mike Rudd was, and along with John Mills adoption of a full battery of keyboards, the new band has a much fuller sound and much more musical flexibility. The new band continues the direction of both Spectrum and Murtceps, finally achieving the integration of the respective commercial and progressive elements that eluded them on the joint album Testimonial. "Garden of the Frenzied Cortinas" and "Chicken Shit" are the most elaborate compositions, showing that if the band had decided to follow a more full-blown prog path they could have been world-beaters. These two are the exceptions - in general the band opt for more straight-forward song structures, but still with layers of keyboards from Mills and excellent guitar interplay. Rudd's trademark sick humour is apparent in tracks like "No Encores", "Confessions of a Psychopathic Cowpoke", "Chicken Shit", and even the love song "And If It Wasn't For You".

An excellent album that stands up well next to the Crossover Prog of the time. Unfortunately, this lineup fell apart soon after the album was released, and the subsequent incarnations of Ariel became less interesting to prog fans

Report this review (#722262)
Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | Review Permalink

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