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5 stars Hey ..they´re back on track...Kayak that is!!! Oh ye of little faith...Kayak are back an with a this gem.... are suppossedly remastered with new material to boot. Ill tell you just this once: GET IT!!!
Report this review (#4178)
Posted Monday, December 29, 2003 | Review Permalink
4 stars KAYAK is IMHO simply a masterpiece with wonderfully inspired song writing, singing and instrumentation. "Merlin" is a concept album with KAYAK devoting the first five tracks being a musical interpretation of the Arthurian legend. All of the songs were composed by keyboarder Ton Scherpenzeel, co-founder and principal genius behind the group. The artistically poetic lyrics all over this album was composed by both Ton and Irene Linders. The early medieval atmosphere is captured quite well with the use of additional stringed and brass instruments - such as flute and banjo. On the whole the balance tips over decisively in favor of ballad oriented material, giving Edward Reekers and Ton Scherpenzeel every chance to show off their preeminence on vocals and piano. Without a question Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) is one of my favourite prog rock tunes of all time... a beautiful album right thru...
Report this review (#4183)
Posted Saturday, March 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars Good,mostly AOR ish album with some spectacular moments that were to form the basis of their superior later release 'Kayak - Bard Of The Unseen'.This is unfinished business.I would advise skipping this and going for the latter version (see my review-I gave 4 stars for Bard)
Report this review (#4185)
Posted Thursday, May 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars A more frustrating Kayak album I have yet to hear. I've always had a hard time with half-concept albums, where one side is a cohesive whole with a focused lyrical theme, while the other half can't help but come off as afterthoughts, no matter how good the material might be. This is what we get on 'Merlin', the first half based on that familiar Arthurian legend. Musically this half of the album is the best material Kayak had written since their second album, escaping streamlined radio-friendly material for more elaborate arrangements and lush symphonic keyboard layers. It's not quite on par with those first couple records, but it gives much more than I would've expected from Kayak at this point in their career. Rhythms are light but active, bouncing about with a pleasing momentum, and the icing on the cake is Edward Reekers' impassioned vocal performance. I've never really warmed to his smoother-than-smooth delivery, but it works very well with this kind of fantasy-oriented material, especially on beautiful ethereal ballad "Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)". Special mentions also go to "Merlin", "The Sword In The Stone" and "The King's Enchanter", excellent material that reveals Kayak as one of the premier purveyors of slick symphonic prog/pomp. The rest of the album is the most sickly-sweet pap I have ever heard from Kayak, and that's saying a lot. Worse than 'Periscope Life'. Worse than the most pop-leaning bits on 'Phantom Of The Night'. Worse than most of the lite-pop crud you've ever heard. "Seagull", "Boogie Heart" (ugh, what a title!) and "Now That We've Come This Far" are generic early '80s FM radio rock songs that you never actually heard on the radio. "Can't Afford To Lose" emulates the disco rhythms of their semi-hit "I Want You To Be Mine" so closely that it has no hope of standing on its own. But it's pretty silly stuff anyhow, you only need to hear it if you worshipped "I Want You To Be Mine" (all 4 of you out there). Final track "Love's Aglow" is a keeper, reminding of those dreamlike textures that the Alan Parsons Project generate so well. 'Wind And Wuthering' fans will know what I mean when I say it's sort of the "Afterglow" of the album (but without the genius of Genesis preceding it).

If this were an EP with just the 'Merlin' material presented, I wouldn't hesitate to give it 4 stars. Unfortunately, it isn't possible to enjoy the album in its entirety, as the back half is nauseating, bringing the score and overall appeal down to a lowly 2 stars. Fans only, indeed. But fans of the band's early days will be left wanting after the very good first half.

Report this review (#4186)
Posted Tuesday, February 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of those strong albums that can be considered as "almost perfect". This is high- quality pop-prog for sure. Side one of this LP contents a mini rock-opera of 5 songs about the wizard Merlin. The title-track is a 7-minute masterpiece containing wonderful singing by Edward Reekers and female backvocalists Irene Linders and Katherine Lapthorn. Note the crying keyboard-solo and the powerful guitar-solo. Second highlight is the track Niniane. A beautiful piano-ballad with a very dramatic, wonderful instrumental piano-passage and again, excellent singing.

Side two of the LP contains pure pop-songs in the style of the previous album Periscope Life, but even better. The single Seagull is a nice ballad, and the happy Boogie Heart, the sentimental Now That We've Come This Far and the lovely up-tempo song Can't Afford To Lose.

Keyboard player and Kayak-leader Ton Scherpenzeel once said in an interview, that people who hear why "Love's Aglow"is so good, truly understand what Kayak's music is all about. And if you ask me, I will say that the best man is completely right.

Hard to get, but a very, very good album. Check it out!

Report this review (#61641)
Posted Sunday, December 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars This Dutch band released quite regular albums so far (almost one every single year since '73). But the first break in their production is almost there...

The band, although never outstanding, was able to release some good prop-pop music (but their debut album really stands out) but more and more the pop angle was taking the lead.

It is quite a surprise to listen to this album. Some kind of mixed bag feeling since the band was proposing half a concept album (with the A-side of the vinyl) and more a conservative approach with the B-side.

I guess everyone knows the "Merlin" story, and there is nothing wrong here with their approach. At times pompous maybe, but not too much ("Merlin"), at times tranquil and somewhat acoustically "Genesis" oriented ("Tintagel"), more neo-prog "avant la lettre" with "The Sword In The Stone" and a definite sound of when they were three.

Here and there some weaknesses as "The King's Enchanter" but since it is the shortest one of the "suite", not too much harm has been done. As usual, the vocals are particularly crafted and moving. One of the best exercise is the beautiful "Niniane". One of the proggiest track of the whole album (together with the opening and title track). A very emotional ballad which also features a moving guitar break. Outstanding.

The second part of the album doesn't show the same strength and is more a collection of average soft-pop ballads ("Seagull", "Now That We've Come This Far"), some attempts to rock a little ("Boogie Heart"). But these songs aren't too attractive for sure. The worse being achieved with the press next "Can't Afford to Lose". Disco beats etc. Poor indeed.

As a whole I rate the album with three stars, but B-side is absolutely not on par. It is maybe wiser to get their live one released in 2003 as Richard already mentioned.

Report this review (#225079)
Posted Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars The original (and best!) Merlin

The first half of this album is conceptual and revolves around the King Arthur legend. This is, as we know, hardly original because several Prog and Prog related bands and artists had already done this by 1981. Rick Wakeman's The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table from 1975 is just one example. But Kayak's version is, of course, quite different compared to Wakeman's.

The first five songs here (Merlin, Tintagel, The Sword In The Stone, The King's Enchanter and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)) form this half concept album. These songs are all very good and have a strong classic feel. Merlin and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) are particularly beautiful songs that really deserve to be heard. The music is often rather mellow and serene with a strong presence of piano and symphonic keyboards with occasional outburst of harder rocking passages and some good guitar work. There is also a very appealing folky sound and medieval feeling to some passages. Some excellent stuff here for sure!

The second half of the album is thematically and also musically unconnected to the first and has a much lower value. Boogie Heart is particularly painful to these ears, being, as the title implies, something of a Boogie song. Needless to say, this is best avoided. The rest is quite typical Kayak Pop Rock with little or no progressive aspects; tasteful but largely forgettable. The value of this album lies primarily in its first half.

In 2003 Kayak made a remake of Merlin adding the subtitle Bard Of The Unseen. While many people think that the remake constitutes a large improvement over this original version, I must here say something in favour of the original 1981 version. While I agree that the remake is an improvement in some respects, in other respects it is the opposite of an improvement. The new version is better recorded and has a much higher sonic quality but I feel that they turned these very good Merlin songs from the present album into some kind of "Rock musical" or Rock Opera that I didn't much like at all. Comparing the two versions side by side I must say that the original version is by far the one that I personally like best. This original has something special that I feel is not entirely recreated on the new version. And this is not an expression of nostalgia since, as I said, I heard the new version before I heard the original one.

Having defended this original version, I must point out again that it is by no means perfect and doing a remake was indeed a very good idea. However, I don't much appreciate what they did with these songs while re-recording them in 2003. The result was too bombastic, too theatrical and too orchestral. It comes across as a bit overblown and too "big" for my taste. But I should stop talking about the remake as this review is for the original version.

Now, how to rate this album? Had the second half of the album been as good as the first half, this would probably be a four star release. As it stands, however, with the second half being much weaker, I can certainly not go above three stars for the whole. Still, this is one of Kayak's best albums ever!

Recommended for the very good conceptual first half that is better than the 2003 remake of the same (unless you are into "Rock musicals" in which case the new version is probably preferable).

Report this review (#258156)
Posted Sunday, December 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Kayak - Merlin (1981)

In 1981 Kayak returned to their progressive roots with a semi-concept album about Merlin and the legend of king Arthur. The first side of the vinyl was filled with progressive, atmospheric and very melodic, yet rockin' conceptual music, whilst the second side of the record has some of the usual Kayak crossover/pop music.

The opening-track Merlin is one of Kayak's best. Very symphonic, bombastic and it really get's you into medievel times. The composition is very strong. Tintagel is melodic ballad with great arrangements and brilliant vocals by Reekers. The Sword in the Stone is a playfull, proggy track with great medievel compostion and a unique atmosphere. The king's enchanter continues this style. Niniane (Lady of the Lake) is a long ballad with a beautifull instrumental section with the recognisable piano style of Ton Scherpenzeel. The second side has poppy songs, I'm not going to discuss them.

Conclusion. The first side shows Kayak at it's best; melodic/atmospheric symphonic prog with a good concept. For those interested in this material I would however recommend to buy the 2001 Merlin - Bard of the Unseen album. Kayak finished the concept album and wrote many new songs and included these five tracks of side one. This version is more for fans of the band, but it's still strong enough to give three stars (keeping in mind the second side isn't that interesting).

Report this review (#389855)
Posted Sunday, January 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Merlin can be seen as a stolen idea from Rick Wakeman's "The myths and legends of King Arthur..." because of the use of the same legend and even the use of the same songtitle 'Lady of the Lake". Well, it's true, but IMO we deal here with far superior material. Whereby the vocal department of Wakeman's record was at best mediocre, Kayak always had great vocalists. Also the songwriting is far better, although the Merlin concept only takes one side; the other side contains weak pop material. The first side of the record is actually of such high quality that Kayak picked it up again in the 00's and wrote more material besides it to fill a whole record about this legend. The succesfull theatre tour that followed in 2003 was recorded and is highly worthy video material of these Dutch prog veterans.

The concept of "Merlin" begins with the mysterious titletrack which has a very good memorable guitar melodie which introduces the heavy - even bombastic - rockin' part of this song. Later on in this song it turns back to the mystical theme. The earlier catchy guitar melodie is now replaced by a multivocal session, which is quiet intriguing. Then the guitar takes over this melodie and there is some time for a great keyboard solo (the only hardrock solo Scherpenzeel ever recorded?). The keyboard solo flows fluidly over in the guitarsolo which builds up to the climax. This is what I call a good start: this may be the most rockin' composition of Kayak's whole career.

The next songs contain sympho prog ballads ("Tintagel" and "Lady of the Lake") and a medieval influenced rock song ("The King's Enchanter"). The song "The Sword in the Stone" has the same feeling as the opening track, but cannot match that quality. Still a good song. The last track "Lady of the Lake" ends perfectly with great high guitar tunes.

A reason for getting this 80's record aboth the '00 is that this record is more up-tempo/rockin'. In my opinion this semi conceptual record only has one good side, but this side is somewhat better then the average quality of the '00 record. If you can get this one on vinyl you will find a really good quality side. Side one: 4 stars/ Side two: 1 star.

Report this review (#897036)
Posted Monday, January 21, 2013 | Review Permalink
Avant/Cross/Neo/Post Teams
3 stars Beautiful innovative pop gembox, that can be called for this Kayak's "Merlin" soundtrack, especially the A-Side. Honestly to say as a progressive rock reviewer, the five pieces upon the B-Side are so fine pop songs and might not appropriate to be called as "Crossover Prog" that I cannot evaluate at least here if they are good or not, sadly. Contrary to the reverse "poppie" side, the five "Crossover Gems" upon the first appearance of this soundtrack should be listened by all of progressive rock freaks.

The beginning of this Merlin theatre is superb ... started with a gorgeous music phrase of "Niniane", very extensive, brilliant hard-edged rock sounds and clear voices take off one after another. Always pleasant colourful world can be felt under this song. "Tintagel", a short piece but a quiet song Fantasia to brilliant piano plays, is another dream in this theatre ... what a solemn voice Edward has really. In the third track "The Sword In The Stone", heavy backing voices crystallized with strict, rigid rhythm sections' explosive play are beyond expression. The following "The King's Enchanter" is a tad danceable, enjoyable one along with slight eccentric rhythm yay.

"Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)" must be considered as their masterpiece. One of the most incredibly beautiful tracks I've listened to until now, and this excellence can give this album such a kaleidoscopic sound colour, I'm sure. Ton's keyboard storytelling and Johan's crying guitar shout outside in the middle of this track are indeed awesome. Cannot listen without tears. Very suitable for the last song on the A-Side.

Let me mention as follows: this soundtrack should be a fantastic mirror that can project the bright side and the dark one around a progressive rock combo, not only like Kayak but also like other ones drenched in pop / catchy wave in the latter music life. A pathos around the progressive rock scene can be felt, in a sense.

A splendid album nonetheless.

Report this review (#1422058)
Posted Monday, June 1, 2015 | Review Permalink

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