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IN AND OUT OF FOCUS

Focus

Symphonic Prog


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars One understands that the following albums will be almost entirely instrumental when you listen to the poor sung tracks. They will do much better later and become a mostly instrumental group but whatever vocals they will sing after Moving Waves will be superb. Cyril Havermans is an horrendous singer . In the DVD about Focus, there is some interesting footage about this line-up playing in an Amsterdam museum.

Most sung tracks are directly eliminated because of the above-mentioned flaw. this leaves some three instrumental which fantastic and among which is their first hit known even by my grandparents!!! House of the King was their first huge hit , but they must have copied that from something else because Holland has had only queens for a long time now. Anonymous is one of those instrumental that they will rework at least three times and their trademark eponymous theme is just as enjoyable.

I would advise people investigating Focus to not start by their debut or their sophomore because they are much flawed but for those wanting deepen their knowledge of the band, those two albums are much needed.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#22865)
Posted Monday, February 02, 2004 | Review Permalink
greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is Dutch progressive rock. The keyboards are basic: mostly organ and piano. Some songs are more catchy and accessible with very good lead and backing vocals ("Black Beauty", "Sugar Island"). Other songs are more instrumental, with tons of drums and flute through fast bass and electric guitar rythms. For instance, "House of the King" has a melodic flute that steals the show in front of rythmic patterns (It is similar to the JETHRO TULL of the 70's). The instrumental FOCUS is full of good piano, organ, elaborated drums and electric guitar high notes that are even a bit romantic and rythm changing.

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Send comments to greenback (BETA) | Report this review (#22867)
Posted Thursday, April 08, 2004 | Review Permalink
k.mcclure@nap
4 stars Excellent debut. Although I did not hear In and Out of Focus until after my big brother bought Moving Waves, on the back of Hocus Pocus which caught all our imaginations when we heard it on the radio, and Focus 3, which everybody who I ever knew, in the mid to late seventies, had in their record collection. House of the King is clearly a stand out track that, along with several other tracks of that eary period of Focus, was used extensively on television as a theme tune or as background music. Now though is the time to re-evaluate the work of this band. From a Brittish perspective Focus embody two genres of mistrusted and largley despised music from the past thirty years, Progressive Rock and Music from Continental Europe that seems to come to these shore as a ready packaged pheomenon. There are some countries we seem to be able to accept certain kinds of music from but Holland and Prg Rock have only ever had fleeting acceptance in popular imagination. I dug my heels in during the mid seveties against the Soul mania that seemed to grab everyone around me. I resisted taking on Punk and abandoning all the music that I had loved until then. three goups were my badge of honour Led Zep, (whom everyone I knew had abandoned, Soft Macxhine, who I have always felt were cool and interesting and finally Focus who were simply as uncool as you could get. I found myslf drfawn into many different musical cliques whilst never being really part of any, I liked Bob Marley but was clearly not a Rastafarian, ian Dury (the first time I heard sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll in Groucho's Record Shop in Dundee, I was hooked and I started to check out Punk free from the tyrany of the style fascists) but Focus were my private world of uncool. I am pleased to be re-enbacing their music and now that I have much of it on CD (i did get rid of the worn LPs quite some time ago) they are as good as I remember. My other boyhood music which I have yet to confront as it is possibly even less cool than Focus is Status Quo. I found myslf contemplating buying On The Level recently. but I was too self concious. I am after all in my mid forties and I was standing in HMV wearin g a denim jacket, although I have not had the long hair for twenty years, I still thought that I looked too much of the stereotype Quo fan and that was too sad for word so i chickened out. But do not be a coward about Focus, In and Out of Fucus is excellent prog rocjas are moving waves (which I strongly recommend listening to from track two for the first few listenings) and Focus 3 should still be in everyone's Cd collections it is truely indespenssible

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#22869)
Posted Monday, May 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
claudio_garri
4 stars If this album had been the unique one of this prestigious Dutch band, we would be truely in presence of one disc of "cult". Nevertheless the trajectory and the good production of at least five good discs, make us forget and mistake at the time of evaluating this jewel. A music and original sound, incursions in the land of classic music, a surprising musical subject with folk flavor(House of the King), the totally complete Anonymous (perhaps the furrow or track but rocker) , and a series of songs in which it is possible to be appreciated the voices and harmonies that no longer became to repeat in the works that continued later. An excellent beginning for a grouping of first row; and for many, as it is my case, the more interesting in the discography of this legendary band. Execellent !

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#22870)
Posted Thursday, September 02, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars A marvelous debut but somewhat short in running lenth at just over 35 minutes. Nevertheless it contains the formula which would put Focus and the Netherlands on the world music map for the next 5 years. Guitarist Jan Akkerman had just given up his previous post in the pop band Brainbox in order to embark on a musical journey which would lead him into more complex territory. He found this in Focus which was a 3 piece house band for the Dutch stage production of the musical "Hair". There is a lot to be said here starting off with the introductory instrumental piece simply entitled Focus. The buildup in this precious work defies the immagination and nothing like it had ever been heard at the time (1970). This is the Akkerman guitar meets the flute and keyboards of Thijs van Leer at it's finest. Akkerman's fine guitar lines set he stage for this dynamic musical demonstration which culminates into a flute freakout which established by an incredible Hammond riff. It almost seems to me that Van Leer did the riff on the organ and picked up his flute and just started going crazy! Akkerman recedes into the background, doing some unbelievable rythms to complement Van Leer's frantic flutism. (Ian Anderson eat your heart out!) The other instrumental showpiece on the album is Anonymous which was done in a more extensive form on Focus III. This reviewer prefers this original more compact version. All four players are permitted to show off on this one. A classical theme is stated and the individual musicians successfully acquit themselves in the form of solos. A display of the talent pssessed by this remarkable band. Marjtin Dresden's bass slot is one of the most impressive prog bas solos ever committed to record. He can certainly be compared to the likes of Squire and wetton! Let's move on to other aspects of the record. House of the King shows off guitarist Akkerman's compositional abilities. He allows Van Leer to create the theme on his flute while maintaining a solid rythm harmony on acoustic guitar. (another version of this can be heard on Akkerman's solo album Tabernakel which is available in CD form through Wounded Bird Records sans flute). Sugar Island is another example of this simply incredible acoustic guitar/flute interaction only with vocals from Thijs. Other tracks contain thoughtful lyrics and vocals from Van Leer and this reviewer wishes the band could have done more of this on subsequent works. The combination of short vocal tracks and rather long instrumentals work very well. Definitely go for this, the first Focus lineup. A great record which I never tire of. No problem, 4 stars. Classic Dutch rock.

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Send comments to Vibrationbaby (BETA) | Report this review (#22871)
Posted Sunday, November 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
Philo
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Emerging from a wealth of Dutch bands Focus burst onto the scene in the late sixties and unleashed their debut album in 1970, firstly only in Holland but soon Focus started to make waves and the news spread and a second edition of the debut was released which was minus two of the albums important tracks ("House Of The King" and "Sugar Island"), and then finally the whole world, if they wanted, could hear the entire album just as it was meant to be. The album is tight and cohesive as initially the sound is very influenced by the sixties British scene with psychedelic overtures and most certainly in the vocals. "Focus (vocal)" is a gentle swaying opener with a neat organ beat from Hans Cleuver, also Focus' percussionist, as the band then pursue an adventure through a mix of eclectic instrumentation and styles, most notably Thijs Van Leer's sonic and ultra melodic flute playing. Especially on the semi prog/psycyhe and rapid flurry of the instrumental "House Of The King". Jan Akkerman's guitar playing is as exciting and refreshing as anything his band mate could come up with. At this early stage of Focus development the band were in the moment of taming their sound which they would define by Focus III, but here they were still working under the structure of the short tune. A few tracks do contain vocals, which somehow sound almost semi coherent almost stoned like yet under developed. "Black Beauty" is about one of the most accessible tracks in the Focus canon, along with "Sugar Island", a song with references to Castro's Cuba. Initially this track was lifted from the debut due to American disharmony with the communist country. Stupidly in my opinion. "Why Dream?" is an interesting piece of, again with a psyche element. It seriously rams home the mantra over and over in a hypnotic manner and is one of the better songs which has vocals but "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" is not. A tale of bad trips, LSD like, it comes across more annoying (a touch of filler maybe), even a tad instructive than pained and tinted with warning which is what I might have expected. Nevertheless Focus' debut effort is a fine album with a touch of hard rock, a hint of jazz, a splash of baroque all tied up in a very Focus like wit in a very progressive manner. Well worth a listen.

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Send comments to Philo (BETA) | Report this review (#22872)
Posted Monday, January 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars Focus - In and Out of Focus,

This indeed is very good debut album from Focus. The tracks with sung lyrics are good, but I think it was a better choice to do almost entirely instrumental music after this album. I consider Focus as a pioneer of some sort in progressive rock. They were never super famous, but a known prog rock band from the Netherlands. This album came out very early. Keep in mind that it was the end of sixties when progressive music started to breath. This album is very interesting piece of music when thinking about that.

For me, the humour that blooms in their music, keeps it alive and very enjoyable. This piece has it, and the following albums will play with it much more. Of course there are many other things that makes their music great. I love their work, but this debut album is not as good as the following albums are. As a debut, this is good. Fine lyrics, but what really bothers me is the fact that my album's booklet include only commercials about other albums from Focus. The use of flutes are good, keyboards sound fine, guitarring, drumming and bass playing is good. But nothing more.

The album begins with 'Focus (Vocal)', which is very calm track with soft vocals. I enjoy this song much as a starter. 'Black Beauty' is very rocky song. Not very prog, but a good song. 'Sugar Island' is very funny, cheerful and happy song with great flutes. Very fine track. The next bit is excellent. Top notch I would say. The legendary 'Anonymus' shows the talent of the musicians well. It include solos from all the instruments and what a fine solos they are. The sequel of this song much better, but this fits in this album perfectly as an talent impresser. 'House of the King' uses the same melody as both of the "anonymus" tracks use. Floating acoustic guitars with good flute jamming. Short, average guitar solo in the middle. Fine track. 'Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)' begins with sad vocals. Tender vocals in calm music. Very funky guitars in the song. Good, melodic pianos. The song ends as it started. 'Why Dream' has interesting lyrics. "Why dream about the future?". "Now is the present" and things like that, Carpe Diem. Perhaps Thijs is trying to say, that it is better to realize that we live always in the present, and dreaming about the future only mess things, but ends up in the fact that everyone dreams. The last song, 'Focus (Instrumental)' is great track. Marvellous guitar solos and keyboards are great. Good, energetic drumming. Melodic flutes, and funky basses. This represents what focus really is. Great finisher.

All in all, this is a good album. It definitely is not a masterpiece of progressive music, and I wouldn't say that it is excellent addition to any prog music collection. But the three star rating's title fits perfectly. This album is good, but non-essential. If you like Focus, and their work and do not own this album, it is worth of buying. But if you are not familiar about the band and their music, I suggest to start somewhere else, like 'Moving Waves' or perhaps the masterpiece 'Hamburger Concerto'. Though anyone who's a fan of progressive rock, could like this, so do not avoid this album. 3/5 stars.

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Send comments to The Squirrel (BETA) | Report this review (#85245)
Posted Monday, July 31, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Historical Information

On 31 March of 1948, a child named Thijs Van Leer is born in Amsterdam. Heavily influenced by his father, who was a classical flautist, he got a flute at the age of 11. He then studied history of art, flute and composition in Amsterdam's University and Conservatorium. He also studied piano, organ and orchestration and took a degree in flute from Geneva Conservatoire. By 1969 he was part of a trio along with Martin Dresden and Hans Cleuver in which they used to do covers of Traffic songs. Later on the same year, Jan Akkerman joins to form Focus. In 1970, they release their first studio album, In And Out Of Focus.

The album

Like Sean Trane has said in his review the vocals aren't so good in this album (compared to later ones) but the music is pretty good actually. The songs are simplier and less complex than later Focus songs. The classical and jazz influence doesn't really appear in this album. On the contrary, there is a more folk tendency. Not only the flute but also the compositions remind me of folk bands. The track 'Anonymous' really reminds me of Jethro Tull. A flute soloing over rythmic guitar riffs. I can also see similarities with Beatles in songs like 'Sugar Island'. The compositions are good and you can tell that the band knows a lot about composition and orchestration. However, while authentic and original, still the compositions seem a bit "cold".

What you can instantly notice while listening to the record is guitarist Jan Akkerman. He varies from sweet to aggressive and plays amazing little phrases when soloing. The maturity he shows is extremly rare for a debut album and he shows what an amazing guitarist he will become. Thijs Van Leer does fine with the compositions and flute but he doesn't show what a talent he really is. Drummer, Hans Cleuver, does a fine job sitting behind the drum kit while Martijn Dresden doesn't take his left hand off the neck of the bass. It's probably the only thing that doesn't let me give 4 stars.

Overall, a really good debut album. Highlights of the album are the memorable 'Black Beauty', the "folkish" Anonymous that shows the bands skills and includes solos from all the band members and the last two tracks, 'Why Dream' and 'Focus' for the beautiful melodies and Akkerman's solos. This album wasn't really appreciated at the time abroad but the time for Focus to be heard all over the world would soon come. If you are new to Focus you could try it cause it's a pleasant album but I would recommend starting with 'III' or 'Moving Waves'

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Send comments to sularetal (BETA) | Report this review (#99121)
Posted Thursday, November 16, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars And they starts... With this really nice release.

You can find here several songs that became essential hits of the band, like The House of the King, Anonymous and Focus (Instrumental). The sung tracks aren't bad; in fact, the vocal work is, in general, very fine. But the problem with progheads are the voices: they aren't singers really! It's undoubtely a matter of likes and dislikes... Personally, I think that there isn't any problem with the voices, and if you like to enjoy the music itself, the instrumental tracks are pure symphonic rock with jazzy touches, mediaeval-esques for a while.

However, the musicians show us a lot of talent in each track, playing their respectives instrument very finely, although the master line-up comes after this album.

This is the beggining of the best symphonic rock band of all, and for that reason, among others, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection.

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Send comments to sircosick (BETA) | Report this review (#114616)
Posted Thursday, March 08, 2007 | Review Permalink
Atkingani
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars It's amazing and fascinating to know how FOCUS were (and still are) popular in Brazil. They are good and really deserved that distinction but I also realize that their first output came in a moment that part of the younger generation was eager to some new sounds, experiences and perspectives - a new focus, indeed. Those kids that became teenagers in late 60s had received musical information coming from BEATLES, MOODY BLUES, PROCOL HARUM, early FLOYD and CRIMSON, and so they were naturally looking for novelties, a niche filled amongst other by FOCUS.

"In And Out Of Focus" has a fair content of progressiveness, nothing really spectacular but with the exact dosage to amuse many, myself included. Their sound shows several directions and influences: hard and pop-rock, European jazz, psych & space, folk & erudite and even some of then recent acts like JETHRO TULL. All together could produce a tasteless and confusing salad but the result is agreeable since the production got to separate their backgrounds clearly.

The album begins and finishes with the same track, the band namesake song 'Focus', being the first provided with vocals and the later instrumental only - a catchy and soft tune much more in the romantic pop vein with some real rock passages. Vocals in English could have been weird if that was one's native language however for a non-English speaker it sounded interesting.

'Black beauty' rocks pleasantly and a certain smell of 60s pop-rock may be felt while 'Sugar Island' blends Latin and psych tunes - either songs are not remarkable but are perfectly hearable. 'Anonymous' is a fine and real progressive track, the varied atmosphere changing associated with nice musicianship makes this one of the best album moments. This song has also some segments which in the future will shape FOCUS signature.

'House of the king' opens lovably the last part of "In And Out Of Focus". The short song was a hit and became a band's standard. 'Happy nightmare' brings back the vocals, together with catchy folk and jazz tunes - not special but nevertheless hearable. 'Why dream' is simply an average non-skipable track with psych spices.

FOCUS debut album is the starting point for a lengthy and successful career that should be not overlooked when diving into the band's discography. "In And Out Of Focus" could be a plain good album however the legend of FOCUS recommends it as a meaningful addition for all music collection.

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Send comments to Atkingani (BETA) | Report this review (#120341)
Posted Tuesday, May 01, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars The debut of the famous Dutch group.

1. Focus (vocal) (2:44) A nice, soft vocals is followed by simple atmospheric guitar lines and repetitive bassplaying, but nothing that awesome. 3 stars

2. Black beauty (3:05) Sirupy vocals and the melody sounds dated, like coming from 1967. No great instrumental breaks and melody as well. 2 stars

3. Sugar island (3:03) More of the same here, but somewhat better. actually it reminds me of the British band Tangerine Dream. and there is some fine flute playing and fine subtle jazzy guitar from Akkerman. 3. 5 stars

4. Anonymous (7:00) A great, medieaval-like track with a serious rocking groove and marvelous playing from Thijs van Leer. The track soon develops into a jazzy groove with and all the band members get a solo spot as well, including a blazing solo frm Akkerman. 4 stars

5. House of the king (2:20) Starts with the same motif as Anonymous, but is generally more flute driven. The track is midtempo (apart from a short guitar lead passage) and very melodic. 5 stars

6. Happy nightmare (mescaline) (3:56) A sung track with dreamy, psychedelic flavour and jazzy overtones. Still, the melody is not that great, but the mood is captivating. 3.5 stars

7. Why dream (3:57) See the first few tracks. The melody is weak and dated. 2 stars

8. Focus (instrumental) (9:45) Starting rather slow, but then packing on energy. Great guitarplaying from Akkerman all the way through, this is a very energetic track. The melodies are fine as well. 5 stars

Overall rating: 3 STARS

GOOD? BUT NON-ESSENTIAL

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Send comments to Peto (BETA) | Report this review (#132256)
Posted Wednesday, August 08, 2007 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I mostly do not like debut albums from great bands of the late sixties / early seventies (being prog or not). Little jewels to talk about. Very few were the exceptions IMO. Crimson of course, Heep, and ELP. Would Focus be any different ?

This Focus album holds the worse and the best.

The worse being those silly, folkish tunes like "Focus...(Vocal)", "Black Beauty" and "Happy Nightmare". The same could have applied to "Sugar Island" if, all of a sudden, the song wouldn't have turned into a similar-sounded Tull song. Aqualung oriented. Gosh ! This album was released a year BEFORE "Aqualung"! Superb flute playing (but Thijs is of course a master. Probably the best one in the genre).

Things are also on the good side with "Anonymus". A wild instrumental, somewhat jazzy.

I discovered the band at the tender age of almost twelve. Thanks to their appearance on a Dutch TV show (Belgium was a pioneer in cable TV), I was looking at every week. And of course, they performed "House Of The King". I fell in love with "House..." and purchased the single. It was bw with the extremely poor "Black Beauty". "House" was not featured on the original vinyl album.

The best number of this album is without any doubt "Focus" (instrumental). It starts with a brilliant and very slow mood. Sublime melody : keys and guitar. You will have the impression to listen to Latimer and the early Camel. Gosh ! This album was released FOUR years before "Snow Goose" ! The song gets real wild at half time. Precursory to "Hocus Pocus" in a way. Fabulous.

It is a pity that some extremely poor tracks are featured here. This album is extremely avant-guarde for the era. Creative, different.

Three stars. So, the answer to the initial question might well be : yes.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#132333)
Posted Wednesday, August 08, 2007 | Review Permalink
Flucktrot
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Knowing what Focus have accomplished (Hocus Pocus, Hamburger Concerto), it's really amazing to hear this album, because I don't hear many hints at their future ability to write concise rock or to create delicate, intricate prog, though there are notable exceptions. Uneven, at times uninspired, and in a few cases goofy, In and Out of Focus contains a fair amount of genuinely good music, but don't expect to hear a monumental statement regarding the potential of Focus.

House of the King. This is the only real prog song on the album, and while short (under three minutes), it's a great example of the uniquely Focus sound. We've got a bouncy, medieval-ish melody, foot-tappingly played by flute, guitar, and accentuated by handclaps. I can picture dancing in the village square to this!

Anonymous, Focus (instrumental). Here Focus loosen up a bit and decide to throw down some great jam-rock. They really seem to be comfortable here, and the music reflects it--fun, at times virtuosic, and not too extended. The bass seems more lively here than in future Focus, which is most welcome. Both songs begin with melodies introduced in other songs and build to very satisfying crescendos, laying down some memorable grooves along the way.

The rest... There really isn't much else of import on this album. Some of the songs remind me of a mellowed-out Syd Barrett--similar vocals and playful style. The most bizarre is Sugar Island: "this Castro makes the poor man rich, he makes the powers fail", followed by some "daba-daba" scatting. Needless to say, none of it really works, though Why Dream does have a great guitar solo to look forward to.

Worthwhile for Focus fans, but probably passable for those just getting into the band. I strongly recommend Moving Waves or Hamburger Concerto before In and Out of Focus.

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Send comments to Flucktrot (BETA) | Report this review (#140087)
Posted Sunday, September 23, 2007 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars One "Anonymous" track but four anonymous tracks

Focus are in my opinion tragic under achievers. They have shown through numerous inspired tracks, and ultimately through the superb "Hamburger Concerto" album that they are capable of making absolutely first class music. Too often though, they have come up short by including sub-standard fillers and rambling quasi-jazz noodlings in their albums. If this seems a bit harsh, it's because Focus frustrate me. If they had just stuck to the knitting, they could have been one of Europe's biggest bands.

Anyway, this album (my review is based on the Sire records release) takes us right back to the band's roots in 1970. Formed the previous year by guitarist Jan Akkerman with a rhythm section of Martin Dresden and Hans Cleuver, the quartet would be completed later that year with the arrival of the multi-talented Thjis Van Leer. The rhythm section here would last for just this album, which was far from successful commercially. Focus version 2 would of course go on to find great success, but let us focus on this debut, which most people would have come across retrospectively.

At just 36 minutes and six tracks, the band could hardly be accused of flooding the album with a wealth of material, especially when we consider that there are two versions of the eponymous "Focus", one instrumental and one vocal. The instrumental version opens the album. This is a Thjis Van Leer composition, the man writing or co-writing every track. (Akkerman on the other hand only received one co-credit, for "Anonymous".) From the opening bars, you might be forgiven for thinking this is an ambient album of soothing guitar and keyboards. What we have though is an eclectic mix of laid back sounds, striking lead guitar bursts, and fusion style improvisation. Those improvisations move between guitar, keyboard and flute, thus setting out Focus's stall as soon as possible. At a shade under 10 minutes, the piece is an astonishingly brave opening statement by a band reflecting the wonderful spirit of adventure which prog fronted during the early 1970's.

"Why dream" is a Focus curiosity in that it is the first, and as it turned out rare, time they have recorded a vocal led song. Unfortunately, the vocals are mediocre at best and simply serve to suppress the instrumental dexterity of the band. The following "Happy nightmare (Mescaline)" is even poorer, the call and response nature of the verses making for a very dated pop sound. It is a shame really, as the track features some good mellotron in the background. Curiously, the melody of the track has distinct echoes of The Carpenters "This masquerade".

The second side of the album is similar in layout to the first. The 7 minute instrumental "Anonymous" kicks things off in spirited fashion with another largely improvisational recital. The track is less structured than "Focus", and much more rooted in straight jazz. "Black beauty" reverts to the simplistic 60's sounding pop, thus ironically sounding more annonymous than the preceding track! The closing vocal rendition of "Focus" is much shorter than the instrumental version, turning the piece into a soft ballad. It is hard to remember that this is actually a variant of the first track, such is the transformation.

"In and out of focus" is an essential album for fans of the band, as it is a wonderful illustration of their beginnings. For the rest of us, the two instrumental pieces are the contain the Focus we are all familiar with. The four vocal tracks are diverting but largely disposable.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#140911)
Posted Saturday, September 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first release from legendary Dutch symphonic prog band Focus, this album is often overlooked and underrated by less attentive Focus fans. The album has a much more quiet acoustical feel to it than their later albums, making it comparable to the early albums of Genesis and Yes in some respects. However, in other respects this album couldn't be any less like the work of said symphonic bands, dues to both the fact that it is an instrumental album, and to the fact that it is incredibly jazz influenced (arguably more of a jazz fusion album than a prog album). The track that stands out most on this album is the jazzy instrumental "anonymous", which is a deliciously technical six and a half minute jam that sounds something like a cross between James Brown and Jethro Tull. Other great tracks on this album include "House of The King", a great folky song with brilliant guitar playing, and arguably the song which made peoples head turn towards the bands legendary guitarist Jan Akkerman. The rest of the album is generally very good, with it's only real weak spot being the elevator music reminiscent song "Happy Nightmare", which is the only song on the album with spoken vocals throughout, which is certainly not the bands strong point. This album is by no means Focus' greatest release, but it should certainly not be overlooked, and is an essential purchase for any Focus fan.

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Send comments to cynthiasmallet (BETA) | Report this review (#146905)
Posted Thursday, October 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Despite certain criticism, the debut album of FOCUS is a quite original and artistically coherent music statement. True, critics are mainly complaining about the weak vocal tracks and surely Black Beauty and Sugar Island are not the kind of songs you cannot live without. But the rest is pretty much excellent!

The opening - vocal - and the closing - instrumental - versions of the self-titled Focus are pretty solid progressive rock statements and present a blueprint for later albums, where this composition would traditionally be re-interpreted. The instrumental Focus contains some wonderful Akkerman's solo parts that suggest a nice, relaxing, almost lounge atmosphere of the kind Peter Green had composed in Albatross.

Anonymous is another gem presenting a mixture of Medieval/Rennaissance elements with a strong, hard-rocking jazz improvisation, with some wild and vivid use of flute, piano and lead guitar. There is a solo part on bass guitar where M. Dresden shows that his performance skills were not the reason for his departure after this album. The bass sounds like the similar part of the crazy Improvisation suite by their fellow countrymen EKSEPTION done few years later.

Happy Nightmare and Why Dream are vocal tracks, but both are fine melodic and slightly psychedelic songs, an obvious traces of THE BEATLES and early PINK FLOYD influences. There is a fine chamber jazz section in the former, with Mellotron and strings/violins. The vocals are indeed not very convincing, but I would say there were never meant to be in the forefront - much like its use in later CAMEL or LEB I SOL albums - their role is pure atmospheric. Whether this was an intention of the band while recording this album is a different story and I sense they were rather experimental. On the subsequent albums they were reduced to occasional scat and yodelling and that's what van Leer would become a famous for.

Finally, here comes House of the King! Acoustic guitar chords and lively percussive rhythm make just enough space for Thijs van Leer's extravaganza flute solo play. It is one of the most memorable and popular flute solos in rock music, a melody that gained a widespread popularity across generations. I remember it was often used as background music for commercials and announcements in the TV/radio broadcast in the former Yugoslavia, while a popular radio show on Radio Sarajevo in the early 1980s used to have this tune in the opening sequence!

In and Out of Focus is excellent debut of the excellent European continental band that is often overlooked in the wake of later stronger albums. But if you disregard certain weak elements of some of the vocal tracks, you will find this record extremely enjoyable, diverse and if you want - influential (CAMEL fans - this is for you!)

PERSONAL RATING: 4,5/5

P.A. RATING: 4/5

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Send comments to Seyo (BETA) | Report this review (#162233)
Posted Wednesday, February 20, 2008 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars In and Out of Focus is the debut album dutch prog rockers Focus. Unlike a large portion of their later output, most of the songs here on the debut evolves around vocals. Focus is probably the most known Dutch prog rock band and they have made a couple of good albums in their career. This one is a typical debut album which means that Focus is still undecided when it comes to musical style.

The music is symphonic prog rock and in the vocal department I hear a lot of Beatles and to some extent Canterbury scene. This is my enterpretation so you should check this out yourself to make your own opinion. Thijs van Leer has a very pleasant voice and his subtle vocal style also reminds me of Camel. The three first songs are vocal tracks that are somewhat enjoyable while it´s with the fourth song Anonymous that we begin to see the real face of Focus. This is a good instrumental song with a nice flute solo, a soft jazzy piano solo, a bass solo and a guitar solo. House of the king is a short flute driven song which reminds me a bit about Jethro Tull.

Happy nightmare (mescaline) starts side 2 of the original LP and it´s one of my favorites here. Great vocal melody and a bit of eerie atmosphere. Why Dream is a pretty dark song which I also like a lot. The album ends with Focus ( Instrumental) which is an almost 10 minutes long instrumental track with lots of soloing. I like Anonymous better but it´s allright.

The musicianship is pretty good and it´s already showing on In and Out of Focus that Jan Akkerman on guitar and Thijs van Leer on vocals, Flute and keyboards are excellent musicians.

The production is a bit thin but it´s still enjoyable.

Allthough I have never been the biggets fan of Focus this debut is a pretty good album and I ´ll rate it 3 stars. I like that there are more songs with vocals to keep the album diverse than usually on a Focus album. Some of the vocal tracks are still very much rooted in the sixties but they are still very good.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#173348)
Posted Monday, June 09, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars 'Anonymous' is an excellent instrumental song, and if more of the album were like this then the rating would go up accordingly. There are other parts of the album where the music is excellent. But, the songs with vocals are pretty awful. And, Unfortunately, they take up more than half of the album. Focus will later go on to bigger and better things but this not great.

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Send comments to digdug (BETA) | Report this review (#175715)
Posted Sunday, June 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
friso
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars When I heard song like Why dream I was totally in love! I even wished Focus had done more song like this on later albums! It's an emotional feeling I get, intense satisfaction while listening to the songs on this album. OK, the vocals may not be that good, but the songs are fantastic. And besides, prog doesn't always need very good vocals in my opinion.

Besides this. It's the first album of focus, and a great start! It already has everything: interesting moods, great melodies and ofcourse the unhumanly good guitarplaying by Jan Akkerman. He might just be the best Dutch guitarplayer in history.

I also like the way this album was recorded. It sounds very 'real' to me. Like they are actually playing in your room. It sounds a bit old, but that's just the vibe I tend to like on old progrecords. So a perfect production for the time being, though I have to mention this record should be consumed on vinyl. Then only the true meaning of the artist can be understood, because they recorded it for lp, not for cd.

Important record for the band, great songs, great musicians. Four stars!

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Send comments to friso (BETA) | Report this review (#175735)
Posted Sunday, June 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars A recent thread in Prog Archives forum that shows how some younger people fail to recognize the transcendence of the most important band from the Netherlands and their enormous contribution to the Symphonic Prog movement, has encouraged me to review all of their albums, a pleasant task that I will start from the beginning, with their debut "In and Out of Focus". Before the review itself, we must remember that this album was released in 1970, Symphonic Prog was already well known in UK and Italy was following their steps with some special characteristics, but FOCUS really crossed the limits and changed radically the approach.

While British and Italian bands were too busy with the lush keyboards and strong melodies, FOCUS was able to combine a distinct and unique guitar jamming, some Jazz elements and a strong Classical influence. In this first album they still don't get rid of the Psychedelic influences of the late 60's but they are already creating a new form of lets call it Flemish Symphonic, where Jan Akkerman plays a role that few Symphonic guitarist had.

The album is opened with the smooth and relaxing "Focus" one of the few vocal tracks in their career, being that Thijs Van Leer later started to use his voice as an extra instrument instead of singing lyrics.

The soft voice makes the perfect introduction for a long Hammond organ jamming very well covered by Jan's guitar..Dreamy, oneiric, relaxing, this song places the listener in mood for something new.

"Black Beauty" is a different track that keeps alive the 60's spirit, somehow late Psyche meets early Prog, the vocals in the style of the British invasion combine perfectly with a strong and well elaborate melody. It's important to notice how Jan with his guitar and Thijs with a subtle piano manage to take the lead one after the other, two strong personalities and different styles blending their efforts in favor of the music.

"Sugar Island" is another typical late 60's track with reminiscences of Carnaby Street scenario but already with a more developed style, when I listen the vocal work, I can't understand why they resigned to sing for ever. A special mention for the fantastic guitar instrumental break of Jan Akkerman and Thijs flute, simply impressive. Some people will say that they try to clone JETHRO TULL'S Folk sound, but as a fact JETHRO was still doing mainly blues until 1971, so it's hard to talk about a copy.

"Anonymous" is the first song that sounds like the FOCUS we all know and love, the flute is clearly aggressive, the strength of the song relies exclusively in the instruments, long jamming passages, radical changes, while Jan concentrates in his guitar, Thijs jumps from the piano to the flute as a human octopus, while Hans Cleuver and Martijn Dresden complement perfectly, specially Martijn who does a breathtaking bass solo. A great song

"The House of the King" was he band's first world hit, Thijs does a frantic flute work with Martijn supporting him impeccably with the bass, the track is simply delightful in its simplicity. Strangely, 9 out of each 10 persons I showed the track, used to believe it was played by JETHRO TULL. "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" is a different track, somehow influenced by Latin Jazz and vocal bands works like a stress relief. Even though the previous tracks seem relaxing, the saturation of instrumental sections with few vocals create some stress that needs to be dissolved, and the band does this job with "Happy Nightmare".

Why Dream" is what I define as weird, starts with a Baroque intro enhanced by a sober organ but the vocals bring us back to the 20th Century. The strong melody and melancholic tune combined with Jan's aggressive guitar are spectacular. The Hammond organ is a constant along the track, don't expect radical changes, just let it flow and you will enjoy it as I do.

The album finishes almost as it stated, with the song "Focus", this time instrumental, as announcing that this is what we will listen from now on, but don't be mistaken, only the name and the central melody are repeated, this time the band exploits their instruments to the maximum, Thijs makes constant Hammond solos, each stronger than the previous, while Jan makes the guitar cry in anguish creating a dramatic atmosphere that contrasts with the pleasant one created in the opening track. Pure Progressive Rock at its best, like only FOCUS can play.

I'm sure this is not the best FOCUS album, but it's the chance to discover a band that will later be revolutionary and transcendental in the development of Progressive Rock.

Four stars for a very solid debut.

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Send comments to Ivan_Melgar_M (BETA) | Report this review (#180745)
Posted Monday, August 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars If it wasn't for the Dutch accents on the vocals on this album, I would have thought that this was a group out of the Canterbury scene. The songs somewhat airy compositions, with slightly thin vocals singing what sounds a bit like rock madrigals, this could be early Caravan or similar Canterbury artists.

The progness of this album is limited, but then, this was released in 1970, when only a few trailblazers were releasing albums of full blown prog. But still, there are some worthwhile moments on this album. Anonymous, or Anonymus as it's spelled on my CD, is a pretty cool jam, superior to it's sequel on the III album.

Not a bad start, but showing little of what would later come from this band.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#250615)
Posted Saturday, November 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars I quite like this album (and this is coming from someone who generally doesn't like much Focus), and that is strange because this debut is closer to simpler Pink Floyd and not really progressive rock at all. If anything, this is mild yet enjoyable proto-prog.

"Focus (vocal)" Using a steady, easygoing rhythm with a light beat and distant organ, this opening song has sweet vocals and an even sweeter sounding guitar.

"Black Beauty" After an exciting building introduction of drum fills, guitar screams and bass runs, a pleasant acoustic guitar-based straightforward rock song ensues.

"Sugar Island" This song is based around a bouncy chord progression somewhat similar to the introduction of "Yours is No Disgrace" by Yes- it even includes some jazzy Steve Howe-like slippery guitar runs and octave work. The flute solo and vocal harmonies are pluses as well. The lyrics are politically simple enough, but the melody is a happy one.

"Anonymous" Snare drum, bass, and brass open with a stately introduction before a heavier, flute-led passage ensues. The flute is masterful, but the electric guitar, lively bass, and animated percussion have a simultaneously spotlight. The piano soloing brings the piece farther into jazz-rock/fusion territory. And that bass solo is something else. As the piece builds even more and the guitar solo takes off, this sounds like something right out of The Allman Brothers Band.

"House of the King" Evoking a light mediaeval feel with flutes and handclaps, the introduction quickly gives way to more flute and clapping, only over a jaunty acoustic guitar, bass, and straightforward drummer, changing things up with a darker electric guitar solo.

"Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" Very reserved vocals and acoustic guitar introduce a light jazzy song, making wonderful use of the Mellotron and clean lead guitar. While the vocals are not strong, the call and response offers pleasant harmonies.

"Why Dream" Accented chords with acoustic guitar and organ create a song that sounds like something from Chris Squire's Fish Out of Water, especially since the vocalist sounds similar to Yes's bassist. The electric guitar solo is a perfect concluding touch.

"Focus (instrumental)" As one might expect, this is a revisiting of the peaceful opener. Other than a few additional, harder-rocking passages (not the least of which is an extended guitar solo followed by mellow flute), little changes, which ultimately makes the length of this piece questionable.

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Send comments to Epignosis (BETA) | Report this review (#291906)
Posted Sunday, July 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
4 stars The debut album from the classic Dutch band Focus is not exactly what fans of their later albums would expect it to be and it did take me by a surprise the first time I heard it. Today, I must admit that it's one of my favorite Focus albums!

The biggest difference with this release is that the majority of the album is dominated by Thijs van Leer's very lean vocal performance that sounds nothing like his later more sporadic occasional performances. The combination of his vocals and the mellow music arrangements almost remind me of the classic Spaghetti Western soundtracks by Ennio Morricone. Just listen to the opening track Focus (vocal) or Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) and you'll see what I mean! Jan Akkerman, on the other hand, seems at first like nowhere to be found and it takes three songs into the album for us to recognize his otherwise very distinguishable lead guitar sound.

It's not until the album's fourth track, Anonymus, that we finally can clearly hear the collective that brought us such classics as Hocus Pocus, Harem Scarem and the Focus song trilogy, one of which is coming right at the end of this record. Most of the shorter vocal arranged tracks are very enjoyable and might actually work as a great introduction to the band. I say this because it took me quite some time to get into Focus when I originally picked up Moving Waves and Focus 3 as my introduction.

Even though my initial uncertainty towards this release, I'm happy to say that it didn't take me long to begin enjoying the record. Yes, the music does get a bit commercial at times and the jam sections just aren't as grand as they would get later on but Focus was never really a perfect band. I consider the album Focus 3 to be their most progressive effort but I wouldn't exactly argue with people who consider it a bit too excessive. In that regard, In And Out Of Focus is actually one of the few occasions where the band did strike a nice balance of a sort, even though it's clearly not to everyone's liking.

***** star songs: Anonymous (6:33) House Of The King (2:51) Why Dream (3:58)

**** star songs: Focus (vocal) (2:44) Black Beauty (3:08) Sugar Island (3:05) Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) (3:59) Focus (Instrumental) (9:44)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#308413)
Posted Friday, November 05, 2010 | Review Permalink
kenethlevine
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars FOCUS' debut spreads their typically diffuse field of sight into two streams, one familiar from their follow up work and the other never to be rekindled. The first is the symphonic fusion with space for lead guitar, organ and flute soloing. I have already expressed my tepid reaction to this style as practiced by the group. The second is a vocal oriented psych axis that actually comprises 4 out of the album's 6 tracks.

While Van Leer's voice is smooth and spaced out enough for the time frame, and some folky and jazzy touches make these tunes inoffensive enough, they are nothing special and barely progressive to boot. I do prefer them to the "Anonymus" "Focus" of the lengthier pieces. In particular "Why Dream" and "Happy Nightmare" sport an acoustic side that was only briefly taken up in more progressive garb on the next disk. But here it's honestly not far removed from early DONOVAN via PINK FLOYD if you get the gist.

Considering one of the tracks is subtitled "Mescaline", it's no surprise that the focus wavers throughout, which makes this a more typical band album than at first brush, other than being a product of its time period in general. Fans of the group might be glad to know I'm done for the foreseeable future with my reviews of this promising yet consistently disappointing cooperative. For others, as I've said before, start with the sophomore release "Moving Waves".

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Send comments to kenethlevine (BETA) | Report this review (#326865)
Posted Saturday, November 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Focus and Supersister were the first Dutch progressive bands, following one year later (1970) than the British movement. Focus's members consisted Jan Akkerman, who was already famous in Holland since he showed his guitarskills in one of Holland's most popular band of the late sixties - Brainbox (cross-over prog/ psychedelic rock/ folkrock / pop). Well, while Jan Akkerman really got famous for his absurdistic excellent guitarskill in Focus (especially Moving Waves and Focus III and his solo carreer), Thijs van Leer was the most important and consistent member (Jan Akkerman left Focus in the mid seventies). Thijs van Leer plays the flute and organs and is also the band leader and most important songwriter.

In and Out of Focus starts with the bands titletrack which shows the soundscapes that became typically Focus. This symphoprog composition has slow melodies and faster solo's and is totally instrumental. Besides the funny yodelling and other funny vocals, Focus became mainly an instrumental band. In and Out of Focus however was an exception to this rule; Why Dream, Happy Nightmare, Black Beauty and Sugar Island were some rock/pop songs that sounded like sixties pop/rock with slightly jazz added to it. These songs did remind me of the sound Brainbox, but the sang of Kaz Lux was much better than those of Thijs van Leer on this record.

This debut of Focus does (only) contain two progressive rocksongs; the titletrack and Anonymus. These songs are the longest in length however and are great. They show the smart songstructures which even became better on Focus's later efforts.

This album ends with House of the King which is an happy folk/rock song with a great melodie. A perfect ending and a well-played live-act as well.

This debut shows some of the real distinctive styl of Focus and is some kind of bridge between Brainbox and the later efforts of Focus. This record is especially recommended for fans of Focus and Brainbox. Everyone who wants to try out this Dutch band for the first time could better start with Moving Waves or Focus III. 3,5 stars.

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Send comments to the philosopher (BETA) | Report this review (#603047)
Posted Wednesday, January 04, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars What could be expected of an early 1970 album?... Psychedelic rock?

Focus (vocal) (1.50 Out of 5.00) The album opens with this repetitive track (Later it will be reprised)

Black Beauty (2.75 Out of 5.00) Now it gets better, this is a good psychedelic rock song, but there are nothing really extraordinary on it.

Sugar Island (2.50 Out of 5.00) I have the same feeling with this song but this is a bit poor than the previous, nothing extraordinary.

Anonymous (2.25 Out of 5.00) This is the first instrumental song on the album where all members shows their skills; The most prominent were Thijs Van Leer with his flute and Guitarrist Jan Akkerman.

House Of The King (2.25 Out of 5.00) Another different instrumental song and a bit more slower than the previous "Anonymous". They still showing their skill playing this song.

Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)(1.75 Out of 5.00) This song has nothing to offer me but it`s tolerable just because the mellotron.

Why Dream (1.25 Out of 5.00) Another song that has nothing to offer me. This song could be made by anybody because there are nothing outstanding n.

Focus (1.75 Out of 5.00) Almost enjoyable, They decided to show us their skill once more again but I`m tired (ha ha ha).

Overall not a bad debut album but there`s lack of prog

2 Stars well received

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Send comments to raul_siberian (BETA) | Report this review (#808710)
Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2012 | Review Permalink

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