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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2008 at 14:02
why don't you bump everything down one so that you never have to say 6-stars again?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2008 at 14:50
Then I'll have to say 0-Stars, and that'll be  just as bad :p
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 31 2008 at 15:18
1 doesn't need to change, I don't think you've done very many ones anyways
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 01 2009 at 16:05
Review X, Animals, Floyd, '77
StarStarStar

For some, Animals is the Pink Floyd album. This is entirely understandable. The lyrics are top notch and absolutely venomous. It has a RAWK! percentage higher than its predecessors. It's fairly heavily polished, and the pieces are long and just about as complex as anything Floyd ever did. Furthermore, Waters and Gilmour are both working (relatively :p) overtime as instrumentalists on the first couple of pieces. It's not at all their best album for me, certainly, but I like it. Unfortunately, Dogs is a bit messier than I like, and both it and Sheep have noticeable weak sections. Anyway, introduction: Good album (especially Pigs), but not on the level with the great Floyd albums. Knocks the stuffing out of 90% of The Wall.

The two Pigs On The Wing sections basically act as bookends for the album's three long pieces. They're nice little understated acoustic pieces, with a good set of lyrics, and, as a pair, they work (even with a typically nasal Waters vocal).

Dogs, the album's big piece, opens with a little insistent Gilmour acoustic hook and Wright's rather eerie keys. Even Mason provides some rather drumming touches every now and then while he and Waters keep the background of the piece together. Wright and Gilmour wander between incredibly emotive and well connected solos and backgrounds and rather isolated little lines that don't really go anywhere or fit into anywhere. The howling dogs sound effect is used particularly well, though the 'stone' repeat is a cause for serious annoyance. The main melodies are strong and frequently recalled in new ways. The song's most striking instrumental moment is probably the guitar solo-with electric piano underneath about six minutes in and subsequent brief vocal bit, though all sorts of chipping guitar parts provide brief fascination throughout. Wright's extended atmospheric keyboard solo is more than a little uncomfortable, and while it holds bursts of neatness, and the awkwardness is perhaps an intentional element, the overall sensation is simply one of mild discomfort rather than real directed fear or panic or pain. Another Gilmour solo is slipped in between the last real 'verse' and the final section of lyrics, and though it doesn't really seem to link into the preceding bit, it is exceptional. The concluding section of the song, with all the instruments combined into one acidic, desperate
Floyd entity, comes together fantastically, with Waters' gripping lyrics, vocal overdubs and classy guitar. Strong from the lyrics and vocals side, but I find it's let down by the band's occasional non sequiturs and rather loose grip of mood.

Pigs is a bit more solid, and while Gilmour is just as prominent as a guitarist, it's far more tailored to the piece. His little jibs and almost ironic chugs perfectly fit into the whole reprimanding, aggressive vibe of the song. Wright, though a little less omnipresent, is also much sharper on this one, adding in suitably silly pig effects and a whole range of little synth and piano ideas as well as a simple, but effective, organ theme. Though it's a strong song throughout, the instrumental sections are the definite ups, with Gilmour's fantastic WEBBEH! talk box moments and a lot of subtlety and depth, with a tendency to slip in guitar, synth and bass flourishes quietly enough to skip the attention one time, but importantly enough to catch hold of it another. The conclusion is pure brilliance, with a wandering Waters bassline, multiple simultaneous kicking Gilmour solos and Mason holding the fort by reiterating the percussion from the vocal bits. Another great one in terms of the lyrics.

Sheep is also good, even if Waters' bass is very much One Of These Days lite and the silly bleating effect introduction wanders on without really doing a lot (much as Wright's solo is perfectly nice, I'd appreciate the effort to give me a bit of contrast without such an annoying bass groove). Gilmour is again on top form, with surprisingly edgy and discordant guitar parts, and the way the vocal fades into a choppy organ or synth part is extremely cool. Wright seems re-energised, with generally thicker and more dynamic organ and synth tones, drawing on those of Wish You Were Here and Dark Side Of The Moon. The mid-section of the song perhaps drags a bit, with that hideous bass groove over an initially amusing (but soon ends up feeling a bit gimmicky) parody of psalm 23, but the full-on spacey-madness-among-these-dark-Satanic-mills burst immediately following it is apologetically entertaining. Now, this'd be a perfectly good piece if the bass sound wasn't simply insufferable, and even as it is it has a lot of merits, but I don't really enjoy listening to it just because of that ubiquitous Waters groove. Another bookend Pigs On The Wing section rounds off the album rather neatly.

Anyway, short review, that, but the point is made. Animals is a cool, fun rock album, with one exemplary track (Pigs), two OK ones (Dogs and Sheep) with a couple of particularly weak sections between them and two bookends. Unfortunately, it doesn't really stray beyond that. There's no doubt that Gilmour is a real standout here, and anyone who likes his solos needs to have this one, even if he's not quite as subtle as on some of the earlier albums. Equally, Waters' lyrics are brilliant throughout, with a clear idea of where they're going, wordplay, wit and a healthy dose of truth (and the delivery is to match, though I've basically ignored the vocals in the review). Three stars might seem a bit harsh, but I put this album on for the moments of brilliance, not for the merely OK whole.

Rating: Three Stars, but a high three stars. If you're a Floyd fan, it probably won't disappoint.

Favourite Track: Pigs (Three Different Ones)

A quick note: according to the might of Wikipedia, Gilmour's handling bass in Pigs and Sheep, and Waters is taking a few rhythm guitar parts. Musician references may well be wrong.

---
Well, that's going to raise a few hairs, but I think it's one of my better not-entirely-fawning reviews.
Anyway, opinions on the review and the album are more than wanted. I'm probably going to fix up my WYWH review (don't read it now. It's currently beyond embarrassing), and take a stab at Peter Gabriel IV next.



Edited by TGM: Orb - January 01 2009 at 16:06
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 02 2009 at 01:33
Congrats for the review, Rob, but you're right - my eyes stare at the rating and the last paragraph a bit too much, since I absolutely love Animals. For one thing, it's the most prog-rock Pink Floyd inside the "popular" 70s (so from Meddle to The Wall). And everything sounds fantastic in it.

Oh well...Tongue
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 02 2009 at 02:39
Originally posted by Ricochet Ricochet wrote:

For one thing, it's the most prog-rock Pink Floyd inside the "popular" 70s (so from Meddle to The Wall). And everything sounds fantastic in it.


Yes, my opinion too, it's the most proggy Floyd from their 70s albums. Just for how different it sounds from everything else they made, it is my second most favourite album of the band. Actually there are familiar Floyd refrains throughout but maybe because the band seems so energized and in a mood to kick seriousa**, it sounds refreshingly different.  And you - Orb - have mentioned that too but have pointed out that it could be more tightly bound. Which is true, but I love it so much despite finding the same problem with the album.  Nice review!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 08 2009 at 15:04
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Genesis... Live!

StarStarStarStar

This 1973 live album gives you perhaps an indication of just what a superb act classic Genesis were (even without the loony costumes). Comprising three of their absolute best songs and a couple of not-at-all-bad ones which really come to life in this context, it's a fun trip all the way. Just about every song is improved on in some ways, either by improvisations or better tones or new takes on old ideas. Perhaps the only real weakness is that sometimes Gabriel seems a bit drowned in the mix, and every now and then the weight of the bass seems to drown out Hackett's understated solos.

Watcher Of The Skies is particularly improved. That mellotron introduction I never liked becomes truly quite eerie and haunting, the bass is seething with new energy, and Gabriel, even if he doesn't quite pull off the sort of minstrel-of-the-future storyteller thing he seems to want to do as well as he could, does add new ideas and also isn't somewhat drawn back by the speed of his vocal (as in the studio version). A final word for Collins and Hackett, both are great on this one. The highlight of the piece is certainly that rather nice bit where Banks pulls off the quiet organ counterpoint thing, but certainly all the core strengths of the song are really emphasised here. Great stuff.

Get 'Em Out By Friday follows on with a quick, punchy Collins intro, and a real performance confirming my view of it as the high point of the Genesis rhythm section. Live, as in studio, the percussion and bass is simply superb. Gabriel's vocals are also a big step up, with all the theatricality, character and weirdness merited by the song within his basically really good voice. Banks and Hackett are both on top form, as well, with a particularly classy choppy organ performance and some classy guitar, squeezing out sounds I've never really heard before. As always, the high point for me is the mid-section. Absolutely brilliant performance.

The Return Of The Giant Hogweed gets some sort of infusion from being played live, it seems, and this performance simply flattens the Nursery Cryme version, with a particular improvement in Hackett and Rutherford's kicking little rhythm parts and riff. Hackett even provides a rather scraily solo. Banks' tone seems to work simply so much better here, and Gabriel's dry, mocking tone and off-the-wall vocals are simply brilliant. Collins' tasteful rolls fit perfectly. Brilliance. Such a good version.

The Musical Box is vamped up by Collins' re-thought drumming and a fantastic Hackett performance, bringing out all the rock in his guitar stylings. A sort of contra-bass (I think) part adds a bit of the unanticipated, and Gabriel's vocals sound almost as fantastic as in the studio one, though he can't quite pull off all the tricks in it live. The emotional climaxes, however, are just as powerful, and this is clearly one of Genesis' best songs. More great stuff.

The Knife is another song rather substantially improved here. Collins is absolutely on fire, with a rhythmic performance replete with inspired fills. I mean, he even turns one of the drum parts into a seriously danceable thing with absolutely no prior warning. Hackett fits the song like a glove, adding his own stylings, aggressive and yet sensitive, to the whole thing. Rutherford's rapid bass runs and Banks' solid organ also fit it very, very well. Gabriel adds a very neat flute solo as well as his idiosyncratic voice, and even if in the initial part of the song he feels a little drowned out, he more than makes up for it with the hilarious vocoder. Seriously, that entertains me every time I hear it. Anyway, another absolutely quality performance.

So, to sum it up, a very, very good live album, and vital even for those who aren't enormous fans of the group, and one on fairly regular rotation chez Orb. Just about every piece has some area of improvement on the studio version and two of them (Get 'Em Out and Hogweed) flatten the studio versions in every respect. Superb stuff.

Rating: Four Stars

Favourite Track: The Knife


---

@Rico and Rogerthat:

I agree that it's perhaps the most prog rock (especially on the rock part) thing from the Floyd 70s, but one thing that's left me feeling a bit less amazed by that album is that I don't feel it makes as much real headway the surrounding albums certainly do. Much as I don't really like The Wall, it was certainly pretty revolutionary, and the songs on Dark Side and WYWH, much as they've become so revered now, are mostly pretty damn creative material... don't think anyone had really conceived backing vocals like that before, really, and the pieces are all something that I get the feeling that I really haven't heard before. Not so much so with Animals.

Anyway, Animals is definitely a good album and most of the playing (keyboard solo in Dogs and bass on Sheep excepted, with a couple of other minor things) sounds fantastic. I just don't think it has the direction or, at least, the certainty of mood for which the two previous albums are so remarkable.


Edited by TGM: Orb - January 08 2009 at 15:06
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 08 2009 at 16:08
Another nice one, Rob, but I got to disagree regarding Hackett in "The Knife" - as an Hackett fanboy I remember getting to that track ready to be blown away, instead I spent the next five minutes after hearing it going "WHYYYYYY, STEVE, WHYYYYYY????!!!!".    
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 11 2009 at 13:14
A detail: through all the wordy discussion, I think "Everyone" might mean Roger Powell's "Cosmic Furnace".
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 25 2009 at 10:29
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Review the new one, The Inner Mounting Flame, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1971

StarStarStarStarStar

The original line of The Mahavishnu Orchestra is clearly one of the most instrumentally talented bands I've had the pleasure of hearing, with the excellent John McLaughlin (guitar), Jerry Goodman (violin) and Billy Cobham (drums, percussion) standing out particularly. This, their debut offering, is a fine example of simply how much they could achieve with a unique cross of instrumental fire, improvisational talent and clever arrangement. The big highlight is the awe-inspiring opener, but the rest of the album holds up very strongly. It is weakened just a little, in my eyes, by the more jazz/solo-dominated pieces, which could perhaps have been done with a little more depth, but overall a fantastic album, a pioneering mix of jazz, rock, blues, classical, funk, you name it, and an essential piece in any self-respecting music fan's collection.

The opener, Meeting Of The Spirits, is comfortably my favourite ever Mahavishnu Orchestra piece, and one of my all-time favourite songs (probably top 20 or so... I don't keep track, but it's there). It showcases everything that made the band great: splintering, blistering solos from McLaughlin and Goodman, a swallowing hammond part, creative, lightning-speed, wonderfully thick and chaotic drumming from Billy Cobham, echoed themes and shared violin-bass lines, an insistent tug from the guitar, new touches of piano or violin you only hear after the fifteenth or twentieth listen. Rick Laird's bass also takes a particularly shining moment. The whole feel is incredible, gripping from every angle, creating a vibe of Indian-temple-fires-and-spirits-and-incense with intense bursts of rock guitar, a jazzy Jan Hammer e-piano solo over a thick background, and even one vision of near-classical beauty. More than music. A physical/psychological/spiritual emotion. Worth the price of the album alone.

The following Dawn is one of the more jazzy pieces, opening with a sort of minimalistic Hammer/Laird background over which McLaughlin and Goodman drift with lightning-paced, short solos and brief bits of full-band-coordination. After two and and a half or so minutes, the piece suddenly picks up with a funky keyboard part and assertive guitar jabs backing a bit of phenomenal violin-work. The original theme returns again towards the end, developed by a bit of low-key Cobham drumming, and the overall impression is highly impressive, with a sort of high-density-low-density-high-density thing going on parallel to a low-intensity-high-intensity-low-intensity thing. Interesting stuff.

Noonward Race is more in the jazz vein, definitely, with a relatively few repeated themes, obvious occasions where everyone is taking their solos (Hammer comes off particularly well), but an insidious high-quality funky groove from Laird/Cobham underpins the whole thing. Cobham, excellent as always, shows his ability to change a drum part's nature while keeping it very close. A bit more wandering and maybe the least tight piece on the album, but nonetheless excellent.

The lush acoustic piece A Lotus On Irish Streams is a show of the rather more tender side of TMO, with personal violin and McLaughlin's unique acoustic stylings, sounding almost like a sitar at times. Laird latches onto and prompts McLaughlin's acoustic lines. Particularly satisfying are Jan Hammer's lovely piano runs and occasional classical-sounding motif within the more liberated, but very appreciative, jazz soloing of the whole piece. The mood, the development, the soloing talent and the wonderful moments of unity within the freedom and taste of the whole piece provide plenty to chew on and digest. Endearing, and excellent stuff. Absolutely great piano solo from Hammer.

An intense Cobham drum intro takes us straight onto Vital Transformation, a blistering whole-band workout with charged thick solos from McLaughlin and Hammer, and an entirely unrelenting but very well-directed drum part. It places emphasis on keeping a strong riff or rhythm going throughout, with all five members at some point drifting down to the rhythm part, but never staying complacent, launching into a solo, a rhythm-altering jab or a gradual communal effort to change the rhythm ideas every now and then. A bit of versatility and complete changes are included for effect. Only really weakened at all by the rather light ending, but nonetheless a triumph of drumming and great stuff.

The Dance Of Maya, a sort of tribal blues/jazz thing, opens with a tense, challenging and gradually expanding guitar part, which builds up slowly, as the rhythm gradually becomes a little less ferocious and a little more upbeat every time the fierce guitar thing subsides, and Goodman dazzles on violin, and suddenly, the rhythm becomes less ferocious and more upbeat and is a BLUES! I mean, ingenious introduction... hard listening, definitely, but so, so rewarding... A BLUES, man!! Hammer offers a bit of blues piano, Goodman a violin solo, McLaughlin something which is somehow too rapid and growling to be blues, but nonetheless works well with the background, which seems to be gradually rocking up again, slowly brutalising the general bluesness of it, until a repeat of the blues idea with McLaughlin now both helping and hindering, going gradually back to the tense guitar but also whirling around within the rhythm. The whole tribal tension is restored slowly, with a blare of hammond and a violin solo before the archetypal fiery blues conclusion coupled with a cheeky guitar thrum on the end. Extremely accomplished.

You Know You Know is maybe a bit subtler and more downbeat, with a weird guitar, violin, bass thing under an initial drum solo and then a wonderfully subdued and unusual piano solo. The slow, careful rhythm has a gradual-revelation thing before McLaughlin's terse, unanticipated guitar stabs begin firing things up a bit. A dash more of basically drum soloing brings us to the end. I mean, really, the thing to remark, is that this doesn't sound like any other 'soft' piece I own. It's got aggressive bursts, but they never even really encroach on the softness of the song... yet are absolutely crucial to it. Very interesting.

Awakening, the closer, is, expectedly, a bit of a solo showcase, with a Cobham near-solo intro, a rapid, high-energy riff thing, bursts of whole-band-just-playing-as-fast-as-possible-but-pulling-it-off-very-suavely, solos from Hammer, McLaughlin, Cobham and Goodman inside the main piece. The rhythm section does some quite interesting things changing around as the instrumentalists are cycled in and out of the soloing spotlight, but Laird's solid presence and unusual twists on the bass part have to be heard. The conclusion, with a spiralling McLaughlin guitar, screams to be heard.

All in all, an excellent, interesting album entirely worthy of the term 'fusion'. Cobham is fantastic, the whole band are simply so damn good at soloing and finding a tasteful context in which to do it that the occasions where maybe the compositions aren't as solid are nonetheless very enjoyable. Preferable, in my opinion, to the following Birds Of Fire, and while it's not quite 'flawless' (Noonward Race and Vital Transformation are weaker than the rest of the album, in my view, though by no means bad), it is a masterpiece of high-quality, high-intensity jazz-rock. Essential.

Rating: Five Stars, 13/15
Favourite Track: Meeting Of The Spirits

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 16 2009 at 16:24
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World Record, Van Der Graaf Generator


World Record is where a lot of casual VDGG fans seem to get off, and while it certainly isn't as masterful as the previous four albums, and contains noticeably weak moments without all the psychological satisfaction of working out why sounds, lines and choices had been included, it's not at all bad. Despite a couple of feeble moments in the middles of A Place To Survive and Masks, the lyrics are still excellent, the masterful Banton-Evans team is still on top form, and the band hasn't let up on the experimental, exploratory side of their music. An excellent progressive rock album, but not quite a masterpiece.


The jazzy noodlings of a Jaxon flute and a thumping Evans beat introduce When She Comes, a quirky, vicious and highly musical creature, including some very 'bright' and disjointed organ, a smoky Jaxon riff and a bit of rhythmic insanity. The big feature of this one isn't the neat set of lyrics referencing various intellectual figures, but the absolutely riveting harmonies pulled off by Hammill, whether the clever hook of the opening 'slow' or the ferocious, exuberant, block vocals of 'easy targets, easy crosswords, easy life!' The music is fairly cleverly composed, determined to surprise the listener every time they think they know exactly what will happen, and Evans in particular holds down a unique-to-this-album drum sound. Excellent opener, and really quite cleverly done.


A Place To Survive is a rarity. A VDGG song which doesn't have first rate vocals. Regardless, it comes off fairly well because of the gritty organ, occasionally supplemented by a weird sort of bend thing and the sheer tension that the band is able to contain when all focusing on doing that. Hammill's vocals are clearly on the crazed side here, but really, they only occasionally blow away (perhaps if they were mixed a bit more stridently?). A bit of unfortunately aimless jamming hamstrings the middle of the song, and much as the band, especially Jaxon and Hammill, pulls off a lot of cool sounds and some rather interesting organ licks towards the end, the rest of the song has mixed impact. I have mixed feelings on the lyrics too, some rather neat touches, but a few of the word choices are frankly baffling. One of those songs that gets slightly better towards the end (yes, bass pedal solos for everyone + Schizoid Man warbling), wouldn't be hurt by a mix that placed less ubiquitous emphasis on the organ, and a noticeable weak point in the album.


Masks is probably the most songish piece here, with a very distinct riff within which Jaxon gets to throw his various ethereal saxophone stylings, and Banton and Hammill create some absolutely insane block sounds to enforce the basic content of the song. However, here the music, though excellent, is second to Hammill's vocal, a daring, rapidly sung creature, with all sorts of, often hilarious, flourishes. The lyrics, too, are top notch. Jaxon, for once in this album, lays down some of his scraily sax, and the band both manages to create real tension and expectation as well as put down some chaotic everyone-is-doing-something moments. A marked return to form, even if a couple of the tempo changes come across as obligatory and a bit too abrupt.


So far, by and large not at the standard VDGG had been at for the four preceding albums, but the 'epic' (it's a personal song, and containing a lot of jamming, so it doesn't really count) Meurglys III (The Songwriter's Guild) redeems it almost single-handedly, with a searching Hammill lyric, superb lines (Where I trade cigarettes in return for songs/The deal's made harder the longer I go on!) and a continued musical interest throughout, whether from dark, 'typically VDGG' sections with manic piano, fuzzy guitar and upside-down Banton organ or careful crescendos following a lonely vocal, with accentuating sax. Everyone seems particularly stricken by the reggae section, but it doesn't really 'feel' like one, in that it remains dark and unresolved and fits in perfectly with the rest of the song (goes on too long? Pfeh, it's about a search! It's got to go on too long!). Here, Hammill's guitar is particularly marked, with self-destructive, played-into-the-ground lines, over the absolutely fantastic Banton organ-beat and alongside Jaxon's colourful flourishes. As always, Evans has a unique sound and feel, and fits into the reggae vibe very effectively. An absolute masterpiece of a song, and proof that Van Der Graaf Generator really didn't stop at Still Life. Essential for any fan of Hammill.


Wondering is where the melody really comes back after the warbling guitar rounding off Meurglys III. The song is positive, gradually rises with a swelling, immaculately tasteful Banton organ part and a dreamy Hammill vocal complimented by celestial saxophone runs. The irrationality becomes a part of the reason, a part of the meaning, a part of the joy. It truly is amazing once you get it, albeit emotionally indescribable, a sort of sad elation, reminiscent of Kerouak's 'beat' idea.

Apologies for the rather scattered and not particularly amazing review here, but it's awkward to do. The oddities here are provided by textures and effects as much as by the actual ideas of the songs, and I simply don't have the musical knowledge to express what I'm thinking Banton's doing every time he (in particularly) does something interesting with his organ part. Credit to the bonus tracks, both worthy inclusions, and, in some ways, better than the originals. Anyway, four stars, comfortably, but it lacks the total absorbtion which other VDGG albums achieved.


Rating: Four stars, 11/15
Favourite Track: Meurglys III (The Songwriter's Guild)

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Admittedly not a great review...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 17 2009 at 19:39
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Images And Words, Dream Theater

Images and Words is, on the whole, a fairly good album. It's not, in my view, a masterpiece, and I share Certif1ed's doubts on how 'progressive' most of it is. The instrumental side is generally excellent, even if occasionally perfectly good songs are dragged down by the band deciding to throw in a basically unrelated bit of noodling, the lyrical side is a bit shabby, ubiquitously positive in feel, and completely lacking any subtlety, but not often emphasised enough to be a huge problem (exception: Another Day...). All in all, however, a number of excellently-played good tunes, of which my favourite is maybe Metropolis. No bad effort.

The band can clearly play, and particularly enjoyable are Myung and Petrucci's excellent performances, Moore's understated keys act as a sort of emotional anchor for the whole thing, and generally acquit themselves very well. Labrie is clearly a technically capable singer, and maybe the paragon of the generic singer-with-a-big-range, however, he really doesn't, most of the time, convey a lot of emotion or innovation and his voice becomes really rather unbearable when he's reaching after the high notes. A good singer, but not a great artist, in my opinion. Now, onto Portnoy... he admittedly has a lot of energy, but the drum performances here end up as an annoyance rather than an attraction, with one homogenous thick drum sound drowning out a lot of the other subtleties of the music just about every time he wants to make an impression. Finally, a note on the mix, I wouldn't mind hearing Myung a bit more audibly, and it sounds much better through headphones than through a decent sound system.

Pull Me Under is a catchy opener, from the first twanging guitar note through to the end. The band manages to build up a bit of communal tension, emphasised by occasional One-Of-These-Days-esque jabs from Moore through the intro and the verses, and then release it in the heady chorus before resuming it again, a burst of lone vocal and disorienting guitar-and-bass runs sort of focussing in a point maintain interest, while the solid riff and wailing guitar act as a constant. Mostly excellent, but it could have done without the rather abrupt ending, I'm afraid.

Another Day is, very much, a rock ballad, complete with tacky drumming and god-awful lyrics (I mean, just look at the chorus... 'you won't find it here, look another way, you won't find it here... so die another day'... it's offensively bad) and a rather irritating James Labrie moment, where he's making overtures to innovation by singing fairly high every now and then and adding an 'a' sound to every bloody vowel. Isolate those gripes, though, and there are a few very redeeming features. The soprano sax, courtesy of Jay Beckenstein, is smooth and moving and Labrie manages a rather impressive, if disconcerting, Eva Cassidy imitation at the start, along with a generally strong vocal when he's not messing around with a sounds, if you can shut out the lyrics. Petrucci pulls off some excellent guitar soloing as well as some vague shimmering sounds which don't really add a lot to the piece, Moore's piano, if a bit patronising, is nice. Comfortably the worst song on the album, and if you somehow like the lyrics to this, you're welcome to them...

Take The Time could well have been the best piece on the album, but it sadly isn't. The opening synthy whispering meets a tense bass part, and develops with rather Jacob's Ladder-esque metal drumming into an aggressive, punchy creature, bleeding cool guitar lines all over the place. A bit of impressively funky Myung playing underpins the first verse, with actually superb vocals from Labrie, complete with insidiously awesome high bits. The little deceleration before the lightning playing of the chorus is entirely merited. Thus far, incredible stuff, complete with catchy harmonies, hilarious dynamics and an ability (largely provided by Moore's tender piano) to slow down whenever needed. Unfortunately, the single most forced, unneccessary and baffling bit of random noodling follows the second verse... it's just so blunt, so utterly uncalled for. Despite a rather neat little bit of stop-start guitar thrown in there at some point and a rather cool bit of synthesque, or maybe even synth, soloing the instrumental break could surely have been introduced much, much better. Still, the only reason that annoys me this much is that the rest of the song is so good. Completed with another Cassidyesque outro, and a not-entirely-necessary bit of feelgood soloing and chorus repeat. Still, a very enjoyable song, and it could well hit my top ten bass performances list.

Surrounded is the seond of the 'soft' pieces, opened by a flood of delicate, almost nervous, Moore keys with an obligatory calm vocal, before a lukewarm Petrucci solo leads onto the whole-band bit. A rather tasteless bit of metalness leads onto increasingly annoying Labrie yowling and a tedious pop beat. The only real redeeming features of the latter part of the song are the occasional excellent Petrucci bits, but really, it's a mediocre pop rock ballad which ends up crippled by its own grandiosity.

The majestic, powerful, sweeping Metropolis is probably the album's highlight, opening with a tense distorted guitar riff, mysterious percussive twinklings, and a thick, murky keyboard background. Even the lyrics have shaped up here, or, more accurately, sound a little better without the constraints of rhyming. Even Portnoy comes across as an interesting player, and the keyboard lines run in perfectly with the shredding guitar. The interplay between the steel (I think) guitar and the the bass is intricate and precise. Labrie contributes a highly emotional performance to the piece, using harmonies rather than simply extended notes, to good effect. After the end of the first sung bit, a very nice bit of keyboard work turns up, and the band even manage a couple of rather neat pause-based transitions as well as a fantastic sort of ultra-complex guitar-bass thing. I've no idea what one particular, rather distinctive synth sound is, but my word is it cool. Anyway, I do like the 'jam' in the middle, even if it maybe relies on messing around with a few motifs a bit. The return of the vocals, subtly underlined by Moore, and assisted by a superb bass part leads to a drum-based outro. Fantastic song. Maybe a tiny weak patch somewhere in the middle, but strong enough to make up for it.

Under A Glass Moon opens with a rather tedious bit of grandiose guitar-led metalness, hamstrung by a wallowing tone, much as Portnoy seems in his element. The piece comes together a bit more when Moore adds some frantic organ jabs, and then weakens again as a dire case of lyrics-music non-relation hits home (cf. Red Barchetta... absolutely not convinced about the nervous flashlights bit). Portnoy is particularly agonising as the piece develops, just adding volume, not effect, from behind the drumkit, and the piece is only really redeemed by the weirder keyboard choices, and the fantastic playing of Myung and Petrucci. Admittedly, those are pretty redeeming when we get to the solo part towards the end, but it's a shame that the first part of the piece has no effect on me. Underwhelming, really, searing though the guitar part is.

The tender Moore piece, Wait For Sleep, is a really quite careful piano-dominated piece, and even if I think it could do with a little more challenge, movement and dynamic to live up to the charming intro and maybe a less blanketing string-synth, it's nice. The lyrics are actually quite nice in a slightly naïve way, and Labrie manages the vocal quite well. Pleasant.

Learning To Live is maybe a bit anti-climactic as an ending. Extended feelgood metal song, really. An amusing jumpy synth part complemented by a sort of aggressively-restrained drum part opens the song, and a bit of tension-creation through various keyboard song leads up to the 'main song', which has a quality Labrie vocal and rather Floydian keyboards, even if the rest of the band doesn't seem to be doing a lot of any interest, and though the intent is clearly to keep up the tension, the continual irksome drum stabs let it out as soon as it is created. A medievalish-sounding synth and an unoffensive, but unexceptional, Spanishy guitar solo add a bit of colour to the middle of the song, often underpinned by a rising vocal harmony and more subtle keys. The band pulls together a bit at around the seventh minute, with a bit of effective soloing, a hilarious retake of the Wait-For-Sleep keys, before the fairly nice chorus comes on again. A bass solo, always welcome here, ushers in a guitar motif, vocal backing and all, and the piece fades out to a bit of overriffing. My issues with the song are twofold... one, it's not a satisfying conclusion... it's not invested with any lasting emotion, or resolution... just comparing the end guitar fade with Supper's Ready shows exactly what it's lacking. In Supper's Ready, the fade feels like it's going on endlessly towards an eternal celestial goal. Here, the fade just doesn't feel like it's going anywhere. Two, it's just not as solid as many other songs on the album, and could've lost a bit of the 'metal' parts without anyone noticing.

I'm wavering between a three and a four here, and I think I'll have to settle on the former. The three high points of this album are very high, but I've dropped albums to three for having stronger 'weak' material than this (Nadir's Big Chance and McDonald And Giles come to mind). Anyway, I suppose the point of this review is to say that Images And Words will get the occasional spin from me, I'm certainly interested in acquiring more Dream Theater albums and that's fairly high praise in itself, coming from a not-particularly-metal man.

Rating: Three Stars, but with some exceptional material.

Favourite Track: Metropolis

---
Much better than the last one, I think. Thoughts on DT, prog metal fandom vs. non prog metal fandom, Images And Words, and even recommendations for other DT albums to get are very welcome.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 18 2009 at 01:17
Actually the World Record review was not a bad read at all but I haven't quite broken into that one so maybe those who have could comment on what you did or did not miss out in the review.  As for Images & Words, a good one and quite similar to my views on the album...or much of Dream Theater as such.  I have tried to understand where the praise comes from and given up now:  in my view, they are able to write good songs, usually metal songs with prog elements, not the other way round, but their imagination does not match their virtuosity.  They are the most influential prog metal band though, so unfortunately or fortunately many melo prog metal bands don't sound a lot different from them and differences are at best technical and specific, not the kind of distinction one could make between King Crimson and Gentle Giant, both classified in the same genre here and yet so vastly different and more or less equally satisfying in their own different ways. I generally direct people to Atheist's second and third albums for some truly breathtaking prog metal but one has to be an avowed metalhead or an extremely open-minded, adventurous sort to take in their sheer brutal power and aggression and be able to look beyond and see the creativity underneath.

But enough about them, I would direct you to Awake for a somewhat similar approach, but with the music now more focussed and the mood a bit darker.  Awake has a definite thrust to it which I miss to some extent in Images & Words.  You can't run away from the AOR-isms even here but somehow it always worked better on Awake for me.  I don't dig their epics much, it comes off as prog for prog's sake for me, they are neither the first nor last band of which I would say this but it applies to them. Time and again, they come up with good melodies but not particularly standout-ish and they only get your attention when, ironically, they are overpowering you with their immense technical facilities.  I'd veer between a three and four for most of their albums and a clear four falling short of five for Awake.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2009 at 13:52
Review 34, Godbluff, Van Der Graaf Generator, 1975

StarStarStarStarStar

A few things to note about Godbluff:

1. It's a comeback album, and it's as good, if not possibly better than most of the material released before the band's break-up. A renewed sense of purpose, particularly in Banton's bass pedals and Hammill's rather unique, if rhythm-based, guitar ensures that the new VDGG are just as vital, experimental and interesting as the old, and they certainly haven't become stagnant by '75... even up to '77/78 they were releasing, with a couple of line-up changes, solid material.
2. It rocks as hard as any guitar band I know. Absolute fact.
3. For a VDGG album, it's pretty accessible. aheh.
4. It was my introduction to my favourite band ever. I can't be expected to be impartial, but I still think, if you want an introduction to one of the most idiosyncratic, dark and forceful progressive rock bands, this is a bloody fantastic buy.

The Undercover Man begins with something you didn't hear on Pawn Hearts... restraint. The energy-sapping, nervous bursts of flute lead, supplemented by minimalistic drums and organ, onto Hammill's low-key, careful and precisely arranged vocal, echoing out a set of haunting, insistent lyrics, with a very unusual arrangement/rhyme structure. With the vocal, Hammill, as ever, manages to pull off some very interesting emphasis, placing contrast and urgency and angst wherever it suits. At the line 'and hope that it all works out right/tonight' the instrumentation fills out with an Evans fill and a careful flourish from Banton, and from that extraordinary opening, the piece develops rapidly, but never carelessly, with some very pretty flutework from Jaxon, glittering organ parts and lush bass and piano choices. Hammill's rather excellent clean voice gets a full opportunity to shine in this part of the song. A menacing clavinet (I think) riff leads into a full bit of careful instrumental jamming, with some incredibly guitaresque licks from Jaxon and the ever-subtle Banton's talents brimming in the background. Carnivalian organ and sax, together with the world's weirdest harmony vocals, bring the song onto its intentionally dramatic climax, complete with a grandiose and bizarrely moving rhythm section. It's almost a parody in some ways, but even the parody is moving. A lush sax solo from Jaxon and more precise organ-work rounds the piece off to its incredible conclusion. Magnificent.

Scorched Earth segues straight on from this with a formidable rock edge, blaring sax-and-clavinet (or possibly guitar... with Hammill, you can't always tell), rolling, destroying, martial drumming from Evans, who manages to remain stunningly non-static in this piece. He somehow manages to avoid often repeating much of his drumming part or keeping any really conventional style of a beat, but rather taking quirky drum lines and unfulfilled beats all over the place, particularly in the more 'rock' sections. As always, the sax and organ is phenomenally tasteful and extremely powerful, with Jaxon taking the occasional solo and Banton's not-quite-classical stylings blaring away in the background. Hammill, as ever, is fantastic. He does menace, he does not-sounding-like-anyone-else, he does a sort of vicious, distorted, growling cleanness (contradiction, but there you have it), he does whimsical sound effects, and all without ever cutting off interest. Banton pulls off the most thick and vicious riff he's come up with since White Hammer, and the band goes onto some very bizarre crescendoes. The lyrics are again, unusual, but effective in their own violent way. An absolute standout performance from Hammill and Evans in particular. The least gripping piece on the album, but still excellent. The really quite interesting calmed-down-then-brought-back-to-the-boil conclusion, complete with a bit of rather nifty, though not showy, guitar.

Arrow was the song that grabbed me first time round. A squeaky, swirling jam opens it, with a wandering Banton bass part, some very sharp tinny drumming from Evans and a whirling guitar, drops into a phenomenal rolling, grinding whorl of textures, which then drops off to a desolate strummed guitar and splintering percussion. Menacing, howling sax and the repeated stress of bass-and-drum crescendoes build the atmospheric, Victorian tension up to the entrance of Hammill's ferocious vocal. Extensive vocal-sax-keyboard-melodies slowly create a ferocious, biting, teeth-grinding force as Hammill's vocals and lyrics grow increasingly dark and terrifying up 'til the feral release of his final, desperate and possessive scream. Simply incredible from an atmospheric point of view, and from a musical one, the Jaxon sax soloing has to be heard. Particularly striking lyrics here.

Sleepwalkers is plausibly the most representative track on the album, and maybe the most accessible, although the atmosphere of Arrow outdoes the considerable musicality of the grand finale (Sleepwalkers) for me. Available as a sample here, I think, at the time of writing (listen to it a few times, I suggest... not many people get VDGG right away... I certainly didn't). Possibly the organ performance of rock in general, with some amazingly classical touches, an atmospheric swirling that only Banton in the British prog scene really achieves and a fluid but very, very sharply defined tone which Emerson and Wakeman should envy. His soloing over a sax riff is clear, defined and heavily rocking. Dramatic, and again excellent, vocals from Hammill fill out the music, with a matching set of wordy and yet extremely sharp lyrics. Evans takes on more idiosyncratic drumming, at times simply not adding a continued beat, at others, adding a throbbing pulse to the piece or a classical pomp to Hammill's feverish declarations ('make reason of the sensory whorl/if I only had time'). Great performances by all involved here, and a real masterpiece, including a bit of hilarious 'cha-cha-cha' rhythm which leads into a very dark version of the same. Jaxon contributes some rather unique sax, including a triumphant, liberating blare that could well be the band's most memorable moment. The band also manages to fit a 'jam' into the middle of the song effortlessly, not separating it at all from the content... basically, this is THE organ song, in my opinion, and a fantastic closer.

Revisited:

Original rubbish review replaced by the above slightly better one. One of my most listened to albums. Not one you should expect to appreciate fully on the first listen. I didn't. No idea where it falls in running order of the VDGG classics... below H To He, Who Am The Only One and above The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome. A nod to the bonus tracks: both band performances of tracks from Hammill's solo album 'The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage' (worth picking up, by the way), and both exceptional songs. The sound quality is very raw, but the performances are full of verve and effect... an interesting inclusion. Depending on how you balance verve and sound quality, you will or won't like them.
Anyway, great introduction to the band, great album, and a pretty much certain five stars from me.

Rating: Five Stars, 14/15
Favourite Track: I'd select Arrow or Sleepwalkers if pressed, but I love them all.

---
Rewrote the Godbluff review, because my original one was pretty poor, and I love that album. Credit to John McFerrin for the 'restraint' idea of The Undercover Man... didn't quite find the words for that myself.

@Rogerthat:
I felt with World Record that I didn't really nail the essence of the album... why I like it so much.
Cheers for the recommendation, and Awake has been ordered (along with Scenes, IIRC). I'll take a look at Atheist later (well, I'm not really a metalhead, but I listen to Opeth quite happily, and I'm fairly open-minded). I think DT get their praise as much for their virtuosity as for their writing, but I'm OK with that (great fun winding up metalhead friends by arguing objectively that Phil Collins is a better drummer than Mike Portnoy LOL)... I've got no problem with 'prog for prog's sake' (I quite like prog, believe it or not Wink). Have to admit I don't know loads of prog metal, but I'm at least interested in some areas of it. As always, thanks for posting Thumbs Up

Oh, and, my album of the week/month/however long since I last did one of these:
Got it today. Listened to it four times already... absolutely top notch stuff. The keys and voice combo is on a par with EL, albeit completely different in style, and the rest of the band is no slouch at all. The writing is fantastic, it's clearly very progressive stuff, and for anyone who likes a bit of real attack and dramatic flair, this album is very, very highly recommended.



Just mentioning a song that's impressed me lately:
Hang On To Yourself - David Bowie... been getting into that whole album (Ziggy Stardust) recently, and it's really well written, but that song's been the standout for me... don't know quite why.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2009 at 16:05
mmmmmm.... FGTR in the Peter Gabriel days... good old genesis... current lineup is badass though,.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 02 2009 at 20:34
Great re-write!  This was my first VDGG album too, though I really began to dig them with H to He.  

About DT,  when I say "prog for prog's sake" , I mean constructing long epics with multiple suites and time signature changes simply because those are considered key characteristics of prog.  My view is that an epic -speaking of 20-minuters and not 10-minuters here - should be built around a correspondingly monumental purpose, especially if it tends towards symph/melodic directions.  I don't get that in DT's epics though maybe others do, I feel they are best when they focus their talents into energetic 6-7 minute tracks, not so short that they can't display their abilities but not so long that it gets tiresome. From a metal fan's point-of-view, it is the equivalent of a metal band being loud, fast and distorted because that is supposedly definitive of metal.  But metal is much more than that, so I would call that "metal for metal's sake".  

And Darwin! is a wonderful album, be sure to get Io Sono Nato Libero too! Thumbs Up
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 03 2009 at 16:46
Another rewrite: Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd... was originally my very first review, and that was so embarrassing I had to rewrite it LOL

After the artistic and commercial success of Dark Side Of The Moon, Floyd somehow followed it up with another masterpiece. Now, I'm sure everyone has probably already heard this by the time they're on the site (if not, what are you waiting for? Head for vendor of choice and buy this album), so I'm going to keep this fairly brief.

Wish You Were Here is an album which is quite unlike any other I own. The playing and composition is extremely individual, the lyrics are inspired and unique, and the cover art and style is every bit a match for Dark Side Of The Moon.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond sounds 123% better in the dark, where its surrealism and beauty seem most unique, but regardless of the time of day, it's still the best thing on the album, possibly the best thing Floyd did. An atmospheric extravaganza, with lush, near-religious and heartmelting keys, gentle, liquid percussion and the peak of Gilmour's soulful and bluesy guitar coming together to form an entity of wandering, dreamy and bleak character before the jarring soul of Sid's Theme (an unmistakeable four-note entity) bursts into the vivid dream, chased on by the vibrant life of Waters and Mason and some colourful Gilmour soloing. Wright's keys take a gospel-like significance, building carefully in power as the blazing guitar reaches its climax. A guitar throb adds some extra weight to rhythm section, which is punctuated with some breathless and understated escapes from Mason and Waters. As this atmosphere reaches its zenith, a churchlike organ meets with Gilmour's unforgettable vocal, reinforced with immaculately arranged backing vocals (the way they slowly, individually develop and drop off is breathtaking) and guitar and some perfect bass swells are overshadowed only by the sheer surrealistic beauty of Waters' lyrics. As the vocal part, brief, yet memorable, fades away, a clean, but nonetheless sweltering sax (courtesy of Dick Parry) acts as an unmistakeable voice over the bright, gripping, four-note-based Gilmour theme, and as Wright's glimmering keyboards bring the song down to its conclusion, the sax goes into a maddened life of its own, growing faster and more demanding. Both beautiful and saddening, a true masterpiece.

While we're on this one, a small comment on what virtuosity is wouldn't be out of order. Virtuosity is really not just about technique and speed, and the two lead players on this maybe show that. It takes more talent, in my view, to come up with and bring out the character of themes such as Sid's theme or the lilting accompaniment to the sax than to accomplish any number of cool-sounding riffs or solos... these guitar parts are absolute gold, and this song alone establishes David Gilmour in the upper echelons of the guitar world. Equally, if not more, impressive, is the late Rick Wright's playing on this song. I've yet to hear another song which uses keys quite like this: the subtle, yet insistent effect of the carefully treated organs, the dripping, mystical, clear synths and the cleansing layers of more blanketing synthesisers are put together in a completely unique way, with Wright drawing as much effect out of a change in volume, a modulating pedal or a slight difference in tone as any other organist could draw out of a monstrous riff. Personally, I think this qualifies as virtuosity and great playing as much as any of the Dream Theater, Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra technical fireworks.

A menacing thrumming and short bursts of precisely-planned feedback bring up the insistent mechanical bass pulse of Welcome To The Machine, potentially the world's most avant-garde ballad, introducing the detached, cold and aggressive guitar strumming for mere seconds before the electronic spaciness completely takes over the soul of the song, bringing up the guitar's effect throughout the verses. The guitar returns for the chorus, but any warmth is, rather unusually, provided through desperate keys and the escapades of the bass and near-orchestral drum rolls. Wright pulls off a remarkably individual synthesiser part. The vocals are savage here, and the lyrics match in biting aggression and demand (Welcome my son, welcome to the machine/what did you dream? It's alright, we told you what to dream), here about a disillusion with the music business and even the continual commercial, generic side of music (shown by the coldness of the vocals and the guitar as opposed to the surprising relative warmth of the conventionally more emotionless instrumentation). Simply an incredibly clever and intelligent piece of music, and I have to admit, I didn't get it at first... but nonetheless I liked it... accessible, and yet clear, clear evidence that the experimental, psychedelic and creative Floyd that gave us numbers like A Saucerful Of Secrets or One Of These Days was still around in 1975. And also an interesting thing to bring up when people say Animals was the most prog Floyd album... is prog about complexity... not really, it's about creating tunes which are completely experimental, unique and creative and then making them sound good... this is such a tune.

In stark contrast, the ironically commercialised, sleazy and satyrical style of Have A Cigar shows off the writing side of Pink Floyd. A grabbing little guitar part runs through, with some jazzy Wright e-piano flourishes running through and another swirling Wright synth over the groovy rhythm section. The guitar part is deceptively fast and mobile within the context of its neat riff, and the song has a pretty much perfect pop dynamic combined with a cynically experimental edge and some strained guitar soloing hidden in the piece. A biting set of lyrics adds to the music biz bashing begun in Welcome To The Machine, and Roy Harper's rather good voice belts them out with a vindictive sleaze to match the. The song fades away slowly with a classy bit of bluesy soloing, as well one of Roger Waters' better bass parts. The hilarious, and very well-timed, radio-style fading, acts as a sort of link between this and the follower, and is evidence of Floyd's ability to write two great songs, individually capable singles, and yet link them in a way that makes the album so much more than just the sum of the parts.

Some sound effects lead onto the follower, the immensely and justly acclaimed Wish You Were Here. No gimmicks, other than the slightly reduced volume of the backing guitar, just a soulful acoustic, folky strumming, clear, and completely moving vocals, one of the best sets of lyrics Roger Waters ever wrote ('how I wish, how I wish you were here/we're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year'), and completely memorable piano and synth touches from Wright. Swirling winds lead from this lament back to the the surreal wonderland of Shine On You Crazy Diamond (pts. 6-9). Just about a perfect example of memorable songwriting, and the guitar solo is unique in style.

Jaunty guitar and bass, and throbbing percussion continue the atmosphere of the song, with haunting, interlinked lead synth parts replacing the background organs of pts. 1-5. The gripping guitars and swirling synths provide the jam with increasingly assertive impetus, while Waters and Mason groove along in their own way. As Gilmour returns to the guitar part which marked the vocal section of pts. 1-5, another reverent organ completes the return of the 'essence' of the song (for want of a better word). Another mystical verse, this time replete with Gilmour soloing in between the notes, leads off into another atmosphere-drenched, if rather upbeat, jam, complete with some very collected e-piano, an extremely cool funk riff from Wright or Gilmour (not sure which) and some solid bass and guitar filling out the optimistic madness of the piece. Wright and Mason lead off the whole thing into its majestic, crowning conclusion, with the clear piano chords conveying a real feeling of glory and triumph, counterbalanced by a final melancholy, sax-like synth. Just as impressive as the first part of the song, but it needs a little more time to really sink in and to be thought of as a continuation of it.

So, there you have it. Another rewrite. An essential masterpiece of progressive rock, because it really sounds like nothing else out there, a brilliantly written and very experimental album masquerading as two jams and three 'accessible' songs, and something that you should really treasure as an album if you've any taste for atmosphere or great guitar. Floyd were still on form for this one. And, because I don't say this enough, David Gilmour had a great voice, and Roger Waters was an amazing lyricist.

Rating: Five Stars. Simply incredible.
Favourite Track: Still Shine On You Crazy Diamond (pts. 1-5), but Welcome To The Machine has grown on me exponentially since I wrote my first review here... of this album.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 03 2009 at 16:54
you know Rob.. in a way... I always suspected you'd take to RPI like a fish in water.  If I had to pick THE english group that had the most direct influence on it.... it would be your baby.

Edited by micky - March 03 2009 at 16:55
The Pedro and Micky Experience - When one no longer requires psychotropics to trip
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 01 2009 at 22:36
< ="-" ="text/; =utf-8">< name="ProgId" ="Word.">< name="Generator" ="Microsoft Word 12">< name="Originator" ="Microsoft Word 12">

Review +1, A Saucerful Of Secrets, Pink Floyd

StarStarStarStarStar

A Saucerful Of Secrets is an album that, as the title suggest, breeds mystery, thrives on mystery, on unshared insight, and, to an extent, both ensuring the listener is aware they are only an observer, but also initiating them into a musical/spiritual tradition. As such, the descriptive words are vague, and the music and atmosphere must speak for itself. It remains a peak of Floyd’s early psychedelic career, and also a challenging, bold entity, and is compulsary listening for anyone interested in Pink Floyd, psychedelia, atmospheric or experimental music, with a sort of spiritual significance that goes beyond plain atmosphere. Not to be missed out on.

For a chap who’d heard only Meddle... onwards, Nick Mason’s drumming, in particular, came as a revelation. On this album, a more impressively tasteful, distinctive and threatening drummer could not be found. Mason isn’t just an, admittedly very valuable, cog in the Floyd emotional machine, here; he is a standout in any sense of the word. His classical-sounding fills and rhythms are one of the most interesting aspects of a none-too-shabby album. Barrett’s performance, though brief, is comprehensively winning, and the three remaining members are perhaps at their best in the dark, brooding atmospheres of this album. Gilmour manages to pull off the most mislocated blues solo with verve and grip, Wright holds complete emotional clutches, and Waters’ bass parts are all distinctive, though less obvious than the others. From a playing side, in my opinion, this is where Floyd were at their best.

A chugging rhythmic bass drags us headlong into the psychedelic grandeur of Let There Be More Light, an eerie number, providing a heady feeling of being surrounded by the music. Enigmatic, nervous and invocative whispering is alternated with a superb confident vocal line, trading off ambiguous, evocative, spaced out lyrics. Wright’s organs and Mason’s very ‘psych’ percussion, complete with ingenious fills, provide a feeling of unchartered depth, while the snarling bluesy presence of Gilmour adds in some distinct presence. One of Floyd’s best pieces, in all respects, and the overwhelming menace and atmosphere of the final ‘jam’ needs to be heard.

Of the two Wright pieces, Remember A Day is probably the better, opening with an absolutely enthralling bit of hollow piano supplemented by an understated acoustic guitar, before moving, a bit abruptly, onto a 60s pop number, albeit with distinctive drumming, a screaming background guitar part, and the occasional interesting piano line. Certainly the haunting atmosphere, when Wright moves off the vocals onto the organs, does more than make up for the slightly twee main body of the song. A good effort, and certainly interesting, but I can’t help feeling it could have been better.

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun is one of the archetypal Floyd numbers, a moody, cold and dark piece, with some absolutely stunning presence from Mason (on a very classical set of percussion), a mechanical bass part from Waters and the reverent vocals holding up the stark, daring atmosphere while Wright and Gilmour, menacingly devoted to their effects pedals, remain bleak and mysterious throughout. Almost an incantation: secretive, haunting, and distinctly giving the feel that there is something you don’t know, and shouldn’t know, complete with a foreboding set of lyrics. Stunning, if you’re willing to listen to music that makes you feel out of the loop.

Corporal Clegg is the comic relief of the album, though no less biting or experimental than any of the others, with some very sharp, punching guitar lines from Gilmour, vocal harmonies and madness of all sorts... conversation, theatrical hilarity, multiple voices, ironic lyrics (often going on at the same time), blip blip blip blip. The mocking bassline, curious tish-a-tish rhythm and absolutely hilarious kazoo solos and bulldozer sound effects just add to the general chaos. Cheerfully insane, and a great listen.

The title track, a twelve minute extravaganza, initially relies heavily on volume-shifting, trembling organs, mysterious percussion, coming in start-stop bursts with little explanation, or care, and the background intrusion of other instruments, whether screaming guitars, nervous, twittering harmonica (I think, could be guitar), and thunking, off-key piano chords. Blocks of noise, searching runs, nonsensical bleats, it all adds together to produce one effect: alienation. This drops to a close for the presence of a solid, repeated drum line and desperate, lower-end, vicious piano swipes, overlaid with some screamingly unforgettable guitar effects. The only real constant is a dead end... something that appears one day, and hangs around, and the manic chaos of the other parts gives you little to rest on, this descends into blank noise again, a thundering wall of drums, from under which a dissonant, cathedral-like organ creeps, whence a tingling presence of percussion emanates. Wright, left alone, takes a sudden control, a slow, soul-searching, knowing organ, forming out of the chaos of the rest of the piece a sudden all-grasping order. As choral calls and soothing mellotron emerge to join this framework of peace, the piece reaches its reverent conclusion. Absolutely incredible, and a necessary listen even for those who aren’t fond of Floyd’s more popular material.

See-Saw, the second Wright number, is a bit less memorable, but perhaps (ironically) a bit less unpredictable in quality, since it has a more interesting set of lyrics and a consistent progressive attitude, whether from Mason’s absolutely fantastic, pattering drumming, the crazed production (I love crazed production), some deliberately jarring piano bits, or the plain sound innovation from Wright and Gilmour. Wright’s voice is also great here, and the interest of the song is perhaps let down from the lack of verve behind it.

Jugband Blues, the Barrett finisher, is another highlight, going through as many distinct sections, carnival flare, little acoustic ditty, determined atmosphere, calm, off-beat pop chorus, complete silence as most epics in only a couple of minutes, all of them catchy, effective and moving in their own way. Syd’s vocals and the harmonies are all great, often unusual bass throbs and a menacing Wright organ solo add colour and compositional oddity in a way I’ve never really heard elsewhere. The final words, the melancholy, ‘and what exactly is a dream, and what exactly is a joke?’ bring to an end the mystery, the intriguing secrets  of the album, and also conclude a simply incredibly compact and interesting song.

So, there you have it. An album with tunes I’d want to go and see live, embryonic and developing, rather than a mercilessly perfected statuesque creature like Dark Side or Wish You Were Here. An enigma, and one of, in my view, the most interesting drumming albums I’ve heard. It helps that it contains what’s possibly now my favourite Floyd tune, the incredible A Saucerful Of Secrets. The level of the five strong tracks, all of which are among Floyd’s best is extremely high, and I can say the Wright numbers are weak only in that they aren’t of the same calibre¸ not because they’re bad songs. A must-have, and, a masterpiece of progressive psychedelic music, though not a flawless album.


Rating: 13/15, or Five Stars.

Favourite Track: A Saucerful Of Secrets.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 11 2009 at 07:04
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Something quintessentially English for you

StarStarStarStar

The great albums all possess a charm of their own, and for Caravan’s excellent In The Land Of Grey And Pink, charm is definitely the word. Bright, light-hearted and whimsical, but nonetheless moving and often profound, In The Land Of Grey And Lousy Acronyms is great fun and pretty much obligatory listening. The musicians aren’t perhaps the most mind-bending of characters, but they can hold their own, create a coordinated piece effortlessly, and have, collectively, a distinct and individual sound coming from the light acoustic kitsch, bubbly organ tones and piano and a fun, curious rhythm section. Helped along by the winning voice of Richard Sinclair (and Pye Hastings on one track),Caravan produce a clear benchmark for the cheery side of early English prog.

Golf Girl brings the album off to a bouncy start with a memorable bass groove, neat little interludes, a bundle of fun packed in the lyrics and vocals and an absolutely gorgeous flute part from Jimmy Hastings. Dave Sinclair’s mellotron and organ buzzing, complete with morse-code-imitation is in a curiously non-committal style of his own... it comes off great here, though I tend to prefer more defined organ tones.

The seven or eight minute (Richard) Sinclair-written beauty, Winter Wine, follows this warmly. Its dreaming and reminiscent lyrics are as much a highlight as the sophisticated and memorable melodies. From a pretty acoustic-and-voice intro, through more dramatic, jaunty bass-and-organ-driven parts and its whole romantic dream feel, the emotion stays (and there is one really pretty piano melody there). A strong jam based around the fuzzed organ of Dave Sinclair, moving backing harmonies and a dreamy ending keep a firm grip on the emotions... a triumph.

The parody Love To Love You is simply hilarious, and wanders on smoothly in some quirky time signature, with a load of great fills from the consistently excellent Richard Coughlan, mock-serious verse interludes, another very nice flute part and Pye Hastings’ well-suited vocals and sharp, acerbic, but ultimately carefree lyrics. A personal favourite.

The title track is another pop song albeit with some odd delay in the rhythm or double-beat or something I can’t quite pinpoint. Richard Coughlan provides another particularly neat and individual-sounding drum performance, and Pye Hastings somewhat broadens/expands/fattens out/whatever the term is his light guitar parts to good effect. The stoner lyrics, careful, limited organ climaxes, pretty little piano interlude and truly wibble vocal deliveries all add character, and Richard Sinclair’s more prominent bass part is great.

The lengthy Nine Feet Underground, at its best, is brilliant and spine-tingling, at its worst... it’s perhaps the least focussed thing on the album, and the prominence of Dave Sinclair’s more light organ as the obvious lead, though neatly complimented by sax parts and a superb rhythm section, does get on the nerves during the opening bits just a little, and it’s only when the jam descends into this very neat distorted guitar groove (you’ll know it when you hear it) that the atmosphere takes hold, and Richard Sinclair’s surreal (excellent, though) lyrics and great voice bring in the song’s mood and ideas... death and being underground, and from this point the song really doesn’t let up, with a number of unforgettable little jabbing rhythms as well as more focussed soloing. A few cold, menacing piano chords take us onto the most mystical, secretive and haunting section of the piece... which has, from the moment I heard it, brought this to mind

(Hesiod’s Theogony... Trans. Hugh Evelyn White, 1914, ll. 295-305) And in a hollow cave she bare another monster, irresistible, in no wise like either to mortal men or to the undying gods, even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days.

Maybe not the immediate intent of the artists, but the music is strong enough to create such reactions and associations. The menace and chaos that comes out of this is melded together by simple piano chords from Dave Sinclair and in the Dissassociation section, featuring a lush Sinclair vocal, a tragic-hero vibe (can you feel it in the air? I wonder what it’s meant to be... it’s the thought that can despair, and it brings it all back to me) and some of the most tasteful playing by any of the bands in the 70s prog scene. The band leap out from this resigned, but powerful, soliloquy into a jumpy rock moment with soloing from Pye Hastings and Dave Sinclair occasionally returning to a more central riff... I sort of view this as the upbeat and somewhat manic message of the various souls buried underground... light-hearted, somewhat satirical, and ending with a bang.

The CD reissue includes a few extra goodies as well as a neat attempt to show some of the stages which went into a finished Caravan song – Winter Wine as an instrumental, Golf Girl with its original set of lyrics, and a couple of excellent songs, as well as a particularly poignant mix of Dissassociation/100% Proof bit of Nine Feet Underground... worth getting if you’re a Caravan fan... and nice even if you’re only casually interested in their music.

So, all in all, I’d love to give this a masterpiece rating, but there’s six odd minutes of jamming where not a lot happens at the start of Nine Feet Underground, and much as Dave Sinclair’s organ tone is interesting, it can annoy me if I’m not in the mood for it. So, we’re down to four, but with a high recommendation... great album for a bright Spring morning when you just want to enjoy a good life and good music.

Rating: Four stars

Favourite Track: eh, Love To Love You... I’m such a pop fan ;)

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