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Ezra - Big Smiley Sun CD (album) cover




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5 stars The British neo-symphonic guitar oriented rock band EZRA was formed in 1990. They are reminiscent to OZRIC TENTACLES, PINK FLOYD, RUSH, SAGA, SOUNDGARDEN, TALKING HEADS and THERAPY. This is their follow-up to their debut CD "Shapes".

The bass, drums and guitar are very good while the vocals could've been better. The best track is the opening "Under The Bed" with a slight PINK FLOYD touch, the epic title track "Big Smiley Sun" with great guitar playing, "Alone", the absolutely fabulous instrumental "The Seventh Conjecture" and the closing 11 minutes epic "Ming Thing". The production is a little bit too rough though.

This is one of the best releases this year. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#1930)
Posted Saturday, March 27, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars Probably described by some as prog as Ezra are on (or at least they were in 1999) the specialist prog label Cyclops. Instrumentally energetic with an emphasis on the rythm, sometimes hinting on the heavier side, but certainly lacking in a more lush backdrop that most prog bands employ. This album to me would probably have been more of a success had they been an instrumental band as the music changes and evolves well but as songs they're fairly unmemorable. Like a very watered down Rush and Prog in the very loosest sense of the word. Expendable albeit with potential.
Report this review (#1931)
Posted Thursday, April 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Ezra are really a throwback band to the eighties, but not the bad kind of eighties music like Depeche Mode or something. Although sometimes they sure sound like Depeche Mode, or maybe Icehouse without the meds or something. I’m not exactly sure what makes them sound this way, but the male vocals are partly responsible for sure, and probably the fat and bouncy bass line. And lots of rhythm. But as near as I can tell they are a bunch of middle-aged guys who seem to make something of a living playing classic rock type gigs around the UK. I’m guessing most of them have day jobs.

According to the band’s web site there are only twenty copies of this CD left for sale, so jump right on that if you’re interested. I got mine as an Amazon import, so I don’t think that counts against the twenty. Or maybe it does – get one today just to be safe.

This is also a rather deceptive album. The cover shows a Klaatu-like smiling sun (hence the album’s title), and the bouncy rhythms and upbeat guitar makes this sound like a peppy, Welsh, and male Katrina & the Waves or Martha & the Muffins or someone like that (hey – two more well-placed eighties references!). But the lyrics are a different story. These are mostly kind of depressing, with topics generally along the lines of depression, loneliness, disgust with the bustle and distance of modern life, and just angst in general. It’s really hard to take these sentiments too seriously though since the music mostly belies the words.

The band is a trio – drums, guitars, and bass, although Robert Reed adds some Hammond including a lengthy solo (not Robert Reed the sci-fi writer though – he’s dead). And according to the inside liner notes there’s some guy who plays a didgeridoo, but I can’t quite make out where. They apparently add another guitarist and some background singers when performing live, but here the vocals are pretty much just guitarist Andy Edwards.

The opening “Under the Bed” is a boogey-man story, just in case you didn’t get that from the title. “Nobody Loves Me” should be self-explanatory, and the title track seems to be the perfect anthem for this contradictory bunch: crooning about a big smiling sun while lamenting their miserable lives beneath it. This one also has the most prominent ‘big eighties’ sound on the album.

“Waiting for the Day” is another tune whose title pretty much sums up the meaning of the lyrics; and “Blinding Line” is almost a dirge: “It’s best I’m alone sitting here on my own; I’ll destroy myself if I somehow don’t get away”. What a downer. More of the same with “Six Degrees of Separation”, and by the time “Alone” rolls around you pretty much know what to expect.

As near as I can tell the prog label must come from the closing and longest track “Ming Thing”, a rambling sometimes post-rock, sometimes psych, and occasionally acoustic eleven-minute work that has no real point that I can discern, but certainly wouldn’t sound out-of-place alongside Porcupine Tree and someone like Carptree on a compilation CD for your car stereo. In fact I think I’ll put something like that together.

There’s nothing particularly spectacular here, but the overall vibe is pretty good and the album is consistent with a steady pace. Not prog really, and certainly not neo-prog. I’d put them somewhere closer to dredg or Super Furry Animals. If you’re into that kind of thing you will more than likely find these guys appealing, and I recommend picking this up because these are the kind of bands that you feel good about supporting. Not recommended for prog purists though - you guys will almost definitely find these guys way too mainstream. Three stars.


Report this review (#134344)
Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
2 stars Is this supposed to be a Prog version of Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun?

Big Smiley Sun was Ezra's second album, released in 1999. The style of music found here is very different compared to the debut album, Shapes, and closer to the third Ezra album, Songs From Pennsylvania. The latter album as well as the present one bears no relation whatsoever to British Neo-Prog or indeed any strong relation to Prog of any sort. This music has more to do with the Grunge scene and Alternative Rock; it comes across as somehow American and definitely so very 90's. It is pretty clear that Ezra wanted to sound contemporary here, but now, more than a decade later, this sounds dated to my ears, more so than most music from the 70's and 80's. The It Bites influences found on the debut album were all gone at this point, here they instead sound a bit like Soundgarden! Maybe Big Smiley Sun can be seen as a more cheerful version of that band's hit song Black Hole Sun?

There are some discrete keyboards in the background on many songs and a Didgeridoo on one track(!), but apart from that this is pretty straightforward guitar Rock. Despite the fact that some songs are quite long there is a distinct lack of interesting arrangements or complex parts. This music is not really my cup of tea. Even so, I must say that I enjoy this slightly more than Songs From Pennsylvania. I would, however, not recommend this to Prog fans in general.

If you are interested in Ezra, the Shapes album is all you need. Only those with some special interest in the band need to go beyond that.

Report this review (#463322)
Posted Friday, June 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars A much more mature Ezra would get together eight years after this and make a truly great cd called "Songs From Pennsylvania", but this 1998 effort holds some moments of pleasure too.

"Big Smiley Sun" (55 minutes) is sort of a paradox of an album. It's considered by many to be mostly progressive rock, but it's sort of like 1980's pop-prog in spots. Yet there's a Rush-like undercurrent here as well. The cd cover and title are happy and cheery, but the lyrics and most of the song titles are dark, lonely and full of despair. And still, those desperate lyrics fly in opposition to the energetic rhythms and some simply great upbeat guitar playing. Hmmmm...what is one to make of all this?

Well, don't approach this cd with a lot of presuppositions, and you'll be just fine; take it for what it can give you. There are some very memorable melodies (good variety too) and decent "clean" sounding vocals and harmonies. I think the guitar is very inventive on most of this cd. In fact, these guys are pretty good musicians all around. But it's more classic rock than traditional prog, and the production isn't always ideal - some vocals seem to be mixed way low. We prog seekers find our heaven in the last track, "Ming Thing" - an 11 minute gem reminiscent of Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree.

Report this review (#2440055)
Posted Friday, August 21, 2020 | Review Permalink

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