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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 25 2009 at 08:08
Death Walks Behind You, Atomic Rooster, 1970
StarStarStar

Atomic Roosterís best known effort, it seems, the darkly titled Death Walks Behind You, is clearly a bit less... bleak than the debut, and maybe a bit more musically diverse: even without the jazzness contributed by Palmer, it comes off with a bit of funk and hard rock that gels pretty neatly with the bandís more obviously progressive moments. The musicians are certainly all talented figures, with Vincent Crane on piano, organ and bass pedals, John Cann taking vocals and guitar and the capable Paul Hammond (sure, heís not Carl Palmer... but heís no slouch, either) on drums. The best parts of the album, in my view, are generally created by Craneís twitching, spine-tingling piano parts and some of Cannís more assertive guitar parts. Unfortunately, Craneís organ parts donít always have the same grip (particularly on the instrumental bits), and the cleverness of some of the compositions is overshadowed at times by a lack of clarity and focus. Regardless, it comes off pretty well, it doesnít sound like anything else out there, and itís certainly a real Ďheavy progí album rather than just a hard rock album with long songs. A real must-have for the Ďheavy progí enthusiast, and a fair buy for anyone else.

Death Walks Behind You opens with the albumís finest moment, a bleak, foreboding clockwork piano part which is promptly backed up by the cacophonic Cann guitar and some swiping bass pedals (I think). The fantastic intro falls nicely into the (perhaps overly) smooth, funky riff of the song itself, contrasted rather sharply with the verseís  frantic guitar. Paul Hammond adds in some fastidious, but not particularly intense drumming, and a smooth piano rounds off the song proper. Thick blobby, ranting vocals (ĎShout and scream/shout for help/there is no one by your sideí), but it comes off as comical, rather than threatening. Contrast remains the order of the day, with a neat piano coming up against block-effect guitar, obvious, jarring dissonants meeting the songís smoothest bits. The piano is a continued, if barely audible, presence towards the songís middle, and is replaced by the organ as the track carries on in its slightly lunatic way. The first twenty, thirty seconds on this one are magical, the strongest of the album, but itís unfortunate that the track simply wallows on, albeit with plenty of clever compositional tricks, rather than keeping its icy tension.

The following VUG is not half as interesting, and in spite of the first really obviously neat use of the bass pedals, the organ just wallows in general funk, and takes about two minutes to metamorphose into anything worth listening to, when the hard rock kicks in and a wailing guitar under a bluesy organ keep the attention riveted. The Cann/Hammond combo remain thick and not immensely impressive for the most part... though I canít criticise them technically, I just donít particularly like the blanketing sound created by Hammondís drums and the bass pedals in unison. Though thereís one very neat bit in the middle, the rest of VUG isnít much fun for me. No atmosphere, and musicality alone does not an interesting song make for me.

Tomorrow Night opens with a neat piano part, and some slyly funky guitar creates an intro to a surprisingly non-depressing song, complete with ambling vocals, an occasionally kicking organ and some neat production/effects jiggery-pokery on the part of Cann, including a blistering double-solo which winds the song down to a suitably negative close. Not bad, really, though the vibe doesnít come through too well after the cool opening.

Seven Lonely Streets opens superbly. A reverent organ opens up the song, before some understated rolling from Cann opens up the song into a classy full-on hard rock thing, before some more jerky organ and irksome vocals drag it down a bit. Craneís inability to settle on one thing to play is still frustrating at times. Very musical, perhaps, but it comes off as nervous rather than controlled. The instrumental mid-section is clear Ďprogí, with some intense guitar-organ interplay, both taking on layered effects and Paul Hammond coming out with some classy fills. A return to riffage and a whirling solo before a stadium-like, strutting conclusion from the whole band rounds off the piece. Again, great stuff in it, but still nigh-unlistenable at one point.

Sleeping For Years opens with very Hendrixian feedback/production messing with a guitar solo before moving onto a more assertive and violent hard rock track with some of Cannís better vocals, an absolutely great use of the bass pedals, some ultra-cool guitar licks and a thunderous multi-instrument riff. As always, the bandís musicality is on show, with a shredding solo, some very well-directed hammond, and (sorry, but someone had to say it :p), some very well-directed Hammond. Comfortably the best thing on the album, early metal or hard rock or whatever you want to call it with a bitingly unique sound and vibe.

I Canít Take No More is another more funk/rock fusion number, with a murky/light vocal, some wonderfully crisp lower-range piano notes, a quirky little organ flourish thing, but otherwise, not a particularly distinctive creature. A Donít-Bring-Me-Down-like bass melody stands out a bit, but the song as a whole varies between awkward individuality and harmless groove.

Nobody Else opens with the crazed mutterings of something, presumably the Nebuchadnezzar figure on the albumís cover, and features a very collected Crane piano with a little rolling addition on the end of its clearer lines. Reminds me a bit of Winter on the bandís debut, I suppose, albeit less neat on the vocal side, until a full guitar and funking drums kick in to fill up the song. Pleasantly sad, and nicely structured, but a bit more tame than Iíd like.

The closer, Gerschatzer is an instrumental, relying, in the band bits, more on sonic force than emotion,  initially slamming a number of notes into the listener with a merely bemusing effect, no matter how good Craneís bass pedals are. However, Crane does get a full solo spotlight after the swamping opening, containing full, fluent, aggressive piano parts, fanatically driven organ and, at last, a use of his musical vocabulary to a full devastating effect for a couple of minutes in a well-rounded, intelligent and extremely individual solo. Another band reprise, albeit with a bit more punch, comes in, prior to a rather bluntly introduced, but nonetheless very enjoyable and capable drum solo from Paul Hammond, with a very measured and fastidious feel. Again, a band reprise of basically the exact same thing comes in before the song wails off into a superb conclusion. Two great solos, three annoying band moments, one great conclusion... pretty good overall, though.

About the bonus tracks: Play The Game is a more plain rock piece, which youíll probably like if the bandís trademark sound is an attraction for you. If not, though, itís a harmless creature. The Devilís Answer is basically the same. A bit more memorable and on the funk side, but still not particularly stunning for me. Now, the version of Tomorrow Night on the other hand, has a fire that the studio version doesnít really... Cannís vocals, still, not great, but otherwise a killer rendition. Shabooloo has a similar treatment, and Death Walks Behind You, in spite of a less obviously neat piano, never sounded better. The finished take of The Devilís Answer, complete with brass, is actually pretty neat. Anyway, whether the remaster is worth getting solely for the bonus tracks, I donít know. Maybe for the live versions, depends on your tastes.

All in all, not a bad selection for anyone, and an interesting style of progressive rock. Unfortunately, perhaps, not up to some of the accolades it receives, and the awkward vocals donít really help, even as someone whoís mostly benevolent to vocalists, I find them actively irritating. Iíd like a little more clarity from Crane, though admittedly, that wouldnít be his style. Dark, brooding, excellent in some respects (Craneís musicality in particular) but not as consistently rewarding as Iíd like: 3 Stars.

Rating: Three Stars

Favourite Track: Sleeping For Years



Edited by TGM: Orb - May 11 2009 at 13:36
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 25 2009 at 16:34
Pfeh, I seem to be on a roll.

A review of Hendrix Live At L'Olympia can be found http://www.progarchives.com/Review.asp?id=212391 I lacked the motivation to put it up here because I'm still working out how to review live albums.

< ="-" ="text/; =utf-8">< name="ProgId" ="Word.">< name="Generator" ="Microsoft Word 12">< name="Originator" ="Microsoft Word 12">

Three Of A Perfect Pair, 1984

StarStar (but a good two stars... fans only in the sense that you really need to be on the band's wavelength to enjoy it, and that you couldn't be criticised for not being on the band's wavelength)

My big criticismís of 80s Crimsonís last studio effort are two-fold. One: it sounds much better live. Two: it sounds much worse in the studio. The first side consists of, largely, decent pop songs plus a calmer ambient number, the second of three weird instrumentals and an absolutely thrilling Belew freakout. Everyone involved, of course, plays excellently, the production is strong. The songs, however, really come out of their shell live, and this studio thing ends up rather as a thing of interest than of beauty. Donít get me wrong, itís good, sometimes enjoyable music, but its artistic pull is greater than its emotional one.

Three of a Perfect Pair, the opener, showcases some of the pop capabilities of 80s Crimson: they make an obtuse song catchy. The guitar loops are eclectic as anything, Frippís solo sounds like a UFOís malfunction, Levin comes up with a crisp, cold bassline, and Brufordís drumming is irritatingly difficult to follow in its own way. And yet itís a very sympathetic, winning and catchy song. The lyrics are fairly good, following in the Ďawkward in theory: but weíll make it workí principle of 80s Crimson. Levinís devastating groove is a highlight, the switches between verse and chorus are clear, well-prepared and effective, and the vocals work just right. Excellent.

Model Man is going after the same ideal, I suspect, but it doesnít succeed as well on either the weird or the catchy bit. A deliberately quirky and extremely subtle guitar part underlines the chorus bit, Levin provides some more memorable bass/stick/whatever parts, Belewís voice is still great, but he doesnít use it as effectively, and the lyrics arenít as individual as some he pulls out. Finally, a note about Brufordís performance on this one: itís not dazzling in the conventional sense, in a way it can be seen as pretty bland and a one-trick-pony. However, the sheer feel and detail he manages to put into the crescendos at the start of the chorus bit is awe-inspiringly new, and show a control of sound which few progressive drummers can really boast.

Iím afraid I can no longer listen to the studio take of Sleepless. I just canít. Not because itís bad, but simply because it is a ghastly, insipid shadow of the roaring dance/industrial number on Absent Lovers: Live In Montreal. The studio versionís big highlights are the complex rhythm parts being played a bit more clearly, and the bing-abingbing guitars. Belewís voice is back in force, the lyrics are a bit light, but they fit the song well enough. Again, Bruford is working with sound more than material, which suits some better than others. Anyway, a great song, but the version on Live In Montreal is simply leagues ahead in terms of energy, force and compactness. Also, the bandís only Ďhití, for some reason.

Man With An Open Heart is another committed pop song, albeit with Crimson trademarks throughout, including some very complete guitar phrases, some of the Tama electronic drums coming out to good effect, and a memorable and someone sarcastic bass part. The vocals are maybe less wowing than they have been elsewhere, and the song ends up as more of a kitsch piece than a stunner.

Nuyages (What Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds) is an atmospheric piece with blanketing synthesised or guitar-synth (or something) sounds and a gloopy, complex rhythm part filling out the expanses of sky. The highlight, though, is the superb Spanish-sounding guitars, later shifted to a full, mournful electric. A clear and interesting experimental and emotive piece, maybe this incarnation doesnít always have the force that Wetton/Fripp/Bruford/Cross carried, but theyíre still producing good, interesting music.

Industry is a similar creature. Again, the synth-things are ubiquitous and blanketing. On the other hand, thereís a chilling, militaristic bass part from Levin, vicious energy in the guitar part, and some muted breakaways by Bruford, as well as a more incisively vicious guitar solo. This is sort of the dark counterpart to Nuyages, and a fairly neat opening to the experimental side of the album.

It transitions smoothly to the insane, enticing guitar-lines of Dig Me. Belewís distorted, metallic vocal mockingly rattles off the tale of an abandoned guitar, and the chaotic control of Bruford and Belew gives a uniquely gripping effect. The plain, almost folk-tinged, style of the chorus contrasts interestingly with the more unusual material, and the immense skill of all the players involved comes out here if you listen carefully. A gripping, out-there monster of a track. Vital listening for Crimson fans

The potent No Warning is another of the more atmospheric numbers, Iím afraid. To its credit, it is very good, with a real soloistic attack from Bruford that heís been restraining for most of the 80s Crimson line-up, as well as thumping bass and tense, moody guitars wailing away in the background. Dark and effective.

A twisted quote from Larksí One opens Larksí Three, which hints at the attack and verve that live 80s Crimson had, producing a full band beast in a way that you feel Belew/Bruford/Fripp/Levin generally tried to avoid. A particularly gritty guitar wails on at times, and the general effect is strong, though not overwhelming in the way that the first two parts were.

The bonus goodies arenít stunning, a light Barber-Shop Quartet is hilarious, Industrial Zones A and B are forgettable and Sleepless is a great song, but clearly the band were so excited about their underground hit that theyíve put three mixes in here. The Dance Mix is the most interesting in its own way, but the version of Absent Lovers is basically the definitive one for me.


Listening to this one again, the thing thatís most impressed me is the roundedness of the players. The precise detail in their parts is truly impressive, even for a non-musician like me. Unfortunately, the songwriting here is rarely as strong as that of Discipline or even Beat, with most of the atmospheric pieces not registering in the brain at all after theyíve finished, and only two truly good pop numbers. A very interesting album to listen to, but Absent Lovers: Live At Montreal is the essential 80s Crimson purchase and this is, if you have that, little more than an occasional curiosity listen, something to be admired perhaps more than it is to be enjoyed. Two stars from me, but keep in mind that I definitely appreciate the album (and itís a damn sight better than some Iíve thrown three stars at), I just wouldnít even try to recommend it to someone who isnít otherwise interested in 80s Crimson.

Rating: Two stars, Iím afraid, not poor, but definitely a fansí selection rather than a general choice

Favourite Track: Dig Me


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 25 2009 at 16:43
ARGH!!!!

This thing has just fusterclucked, so to speak... so, I'll give links to my latest reviews rather than reposting them all here

1. Death Walks Behind You (Atomic Rooster)
StarStarStar
2. Live At L'Olympia (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
StarStarStar
3. Three Of A Perfect Pair (King Crimson)
StarStar (but a good 2 - something only for the fans, but definitely something for the fans)

Sorry about this, folks... no idea what happened


Edited by TGM: Orb - April 25 2009 at 16:43
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 25 2009 at 18:17

Great reviews! Keep them coming. I like the lengthy song by song descriptions and have used that in a few of my own reviews; however I'm trying to move away from solely that type of review. I feel if I can summarize the music and mood of the album while describing highlights, then it will be just as effective. While helpful, I'm thinking now a simple description of the songs doesn't give the music itself justice, as no review really can.

As for your reviews, very detailed and insightful. Your rating system tends to give your reviews more validity Thumbs Up

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 26 2009 at 09:38
< ="-" ="text/; =utf-8">< name="ProgId" ="Word.">< name="Generator" ="Microsoft Word 12">< name="Originator" ="Microsoft Word 12">

Deep Purple In Rock, 1970

StarStarStar

Probably going to raise a few hairs with this one, but here goes. In Rock is clearly considered a seminal hard rock/metal album, and understandably so. Itís dirty, heavy, a bit groundbreaking, has a couple of killer tunes and some of the best straight musicians out there on it. Unfortunately, being heavy and well-played doesnít necessarily make for a consistently stunning album (coincidentally, the progressive leanings arenít jump-out obvious here, sure, theyíre there, but itís a clear virtuosic hard rock album first and foremost). First off, let me say that the opener Speed King is 42,633 types of awesome, almost all the songs are listenable, solid, and have some pretty good moments (as well as the odd killer riff), but none of the others is really an especial highlight for me. Clearly a must-have if youíre a hard-rock person or simply love a plain instrumental/heaviness showcase for what it is, even if you arenít, the historical import of In Rock probably makes it a must, however, from a personal point of view, nothing more or less than a consistently pretty good album with one blowaway song and a couple of other very impressive ones (Flight Of The Rat, Hard Loviní Man).

As I said, Speed King is simply leagues ahead of the rest of this disc, itís leagues ahead of just about any other hard rock Iíve heard... the keening, forceful, hurtling solo from Blackmore, the reverent organ, and then the all-out ear-blasting take on rockíníroll, with thunderous but tight drumming and Gillan belting out with all possible verve the mixture of dirty blues and mock-Presley lyrics adds up to one of the best songs Iíve ever heard, hammering through the speakers right into the gut. A cool organ/guitar duet fills up an instrumental break while Gloverís bass puts out some more churning lines, before the song slides off into its anarchic conclusion. The energy, the riffs, the soloing and the feel are all fantastic, and an absolutely killer sound from the production adds to it. Easily the best thing on the album, in my view, and worth the price of the whole thing.

Bloodsucker is remarkable mostly for Gillanís screaming ĎOh nonono!í, but, to be fair, the riff is pretty memorable and well constructed, even if it wallows a bit, and the whole vocal performance is quite cleverly done. The obligatory instrumental break, in spite of some cool Blackmore soloing and a neat flourish from Lord is so disjointed it virtually loses my interest, and the only change for the return of the verse seems to be an annoying vocal effect. Not bad, but hardly a standout.

The iconic Child In Time, while not as impressive to me as to most others, it seems, does deserve its status in a way. Delicate, but gradually building in power, a great, defined organ tone from Lord, and a much more low-key and accessible vocal from Gillan, perhaps showing off a bit more of his range and contribution to the band, itís an understandable classic and a good song. Really, though, I think the first few minutes are merely nice developments of one melody, and only after that do we come onto the real gold of the harder-rocking mid-section, complete with a slightly meandering, but nonetheless great fun, solo from Blackmore. A return of the vocals, with an ever-excellent rhythm section, marks a considerably more moving and powerful revival of that melody with a newfound sense of direction in the rhythm section and Lordís more chaotic organ-work. Donít get me wrong, itís a very good song, but not, for me, the classic which itís often made out to be.

Flight Of The Rat is another pure rocker, with a hell of a kicking riff, a good vocal, more solid drumming and extremely neat funk-tinged solos from Blackmore and Paice stuck into the mix. The energy is back, and only an overly noodlesome Lord solo brings the song down a bit for me. Approaching the opening in terms of general coolness.

Into The Fire... well, Bloodsucker wallowed only a little, Into The Fire takes it to a whole new level of extended, awkward, shuffling riff with an obvious effort at both seriousness and heaviness, which comes off instead as laboured and plain daft. Basically unimpressive, not even really redeemed by a Blackmore solo, and for once Gillan comes across as a liability rather than an asset.

Living Wreck opens with a cool solo drum part, before a Hammond swipe brings it forwards, and though a particularly cool bass part comes through the mix, the opening and the swipes are definitely the songís most memorable bits. The riffs are heavy and clear, though one is clearly better than the other, I have mixed feelings about the vocals, the more rhythmic use of the drums is great, and the lyrics donít do much for me. One of Lordís better moments, and overall a good thing.

Hard Loviní Man begins with kicking riffs and some ferocious organ dissonants, before Gillan kicks in with a slightly watery but nonetheless energetic performance, and it continues as a sort of showcase piece in its own way, with more great work from Paice, a grinding, albeit unconvincing, organ from Lord, a classy and collected solo from Blackmore, and some of the albumís arguably most progressive moments (mainly messing around with sound effects and production, nothing Hendrix hadnít done earlier), before heading off to a noisy conclusion. Good stuff, by and large.

Black Night opens with a surprisingly calm riff, before Jon Lordís hazy organ latches on and Ian Gillan throws in his fairly fun set of vocals. Itís essentially a slightly volumed-up pop song, with a very neat drum part from Paice and a small, but neat organ solo as well as the immense ability of Blackmore wailing off without all too much direction. Memorable and fun, but not an outstanding number. The rest of the bonus material is either studio chatter or forgettable/missable. Iíd guess itís worth getting the 25th Anniversary remaster for anyone more enthralled with the band than me, though... it has a lot of bonus goodies.

In short, could do with more direction (especially the solos... for a band so strong, the solos manage surprisingly little other than showing the skill of the players), a bit more balance and a bit more real atmosphere rather than plain musicality and heaviness (a criticism Iíve levelled at just about every hard rock album Iíve heard, not just this one). Undeniably very good most of the time, but not my favourite style of music, and perhaps not essential for fans of progressive rock who arenít so interested in a general understanding of classic rock. A conservative three stars from me on a personal level, but four for historical importance/doing what it sets out to do.

Rating: Three Stars subjectively, perhaps four if weíre trying objectivity.

Favourite Track: Speed King

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 26 2009 at 09:45
< ="-" ="text/; =utf-8">< name="ProgId" ="Word.">< name="Generator" ="Microsoft Word 12">< name="Originator" ="Microsoft Word 12">

Deep Purple In Rock, 1970

Probably going to raise a few hairs with this one, but here goes. In Rock is clearly considered a seminal hard rock/metal album, and understandably so. Itís dirty, heavy, a bit groundbreaking, has a couple of killer tunes and some of the best straight musicians out there on it. Unfortunately, being heavy and well-played doesnít necessarily make for a consistently stunning album (coincidentally, the progressive leanings arenít jump-out obvious here, sure, theyíre there, but itís a clear virtuosic hard rock album first and foremost). First off, let me say that the opener Speed King is 42,633 types of awesome, all the songs are listenable, solid, and have some pretty good moments (as well as the odd killer riff), but none of the others is really an especial highlight for me. Clearly a must-have if youíre a hard-rock person or simply love a plain instrumental/heaviness showcase for what it is, even if you arenít, the historical import of In Rock probably makes it a must, however, from a personal point of view, nothing more or less than a consistently pretty good album with one blowaway song and a couple of other very impressive ones (Flight Of The Rat, Hard Loviní Man).

As I said, Speed King is simply leagues ahead of the rest of this disc, itís leagues ahead of just about any other hard rock Iíve heard... the keening, forceful, hurtling solo from Blackmore, the reverent organ, and then the all-out ear-blasting take on rockíníroll, with thunderous but tight drumming and Gillan belting out with all possible verve the mixture of dirty blues and mock-Presley lyrics adds up to one of the best songs Iíve ever heard, hammering through the speakers right into the gut. A cool organ/guitar duet fills up an instrumental break while Gloverís bass puts out some more churning lines, before the song slides off into its anarchic conclusion. The energy, the riffs, the soloing and the feel are all fantastic, and an absolutely killer sound from the production adds to it. Easily the best thing on the album, in my view, and worth the price of the whole thing.

Bloodsucker is remarkable mostly for Gillanís screaming ĎOh nonono!í, but, to be fair, the riff is pretty memorable and well constructed, even if it wallows a bit, and the whole vocal performance is quite cleverly done. The obligatory instrumental break, in spite of some cool Blackmore soloing and a neat flourish from Lord is so disjointed it virtually loses my interest, and the only change for the return of the verse seems to be an annoying vocal effect. Not bad, but hardly a standout.

The iconic Child In Time, while not as impressive to me as to most others, it seems, does deserve its status in a way. Delicate, but gradually building in power, a great, defined organ tone from Lord, and a much more low-key and accessible vocal from Gillan, perhaps showing off a bit more of his range and contribution to the band, itís an understandable classic and a good song. Really, though, I think the first few minutes are merely nice developments of one melody, and only after that do we come onto the real gold of the harder-rocking mid-section, complete with a slightly meandering, but nonetheless great fun, solo from Blackmore. A return of the vocals, with an ever-excellent rhythm section, marks a considerably more moving and powerful revival of that melody with a newfound sense of direction in the rhythm section and Lordís more chaotic organ-work. Donít get me wrong, itís a very good song, but not, for me, the classic which itís often made out to be.

Flight Of The Rat is another pure rocker, with a hell of a kicking riff, a good vocal, more solid drumming and extremely neat funk-tinged solos from Blackmore and Paice stuck into the mix. The energy is back, and only an overly noodlesome Lord solo brings the song down a bit for me. Approaching the opening in terms of general coolness.

Into The Fire... well, Bloodsucker wallowed only a little, Into The Fire takes it to a whole new level of extended, awkward, shuffling riff with an obvious effort at both seriousness and heaviness, which comes off instead as laboured and plain daft. Basically unimpressive, not even really redeemed by a Blackmore solo, and for once Gillan comes across as a liability rather than an asset.

Living Wreck opens with a cool solo drum part, before a Hammond swipe brings it forwards, and though a particularly cool bass part comes through the mix, the opening and the swipes are definitely the songís most memorable bits. The riffs are heavy and clear, though one is clearly better than the other, I have mixed feelings about the vocals, the more rhythmic use of the drums is great, and the lyrics donít do much for me. One of Lordís better moments, and overall a good thing.

Hard Loviní Man begins with kicking riffs and some ferocious organ dissonants, before Gillan kicks in with a slightly watery but nonetheless energetic performance, and it continues as a sort of showcase piece in its own way, with more great work from Paice, a grinding, albeit unconvincing, organ from Lord, a classy and collected solo from Blackmore, and some of the albumís arguably most progressive moments (mainly messing around with sound effects and production, nothing Hendrix hadnít done earlier), before heading off to a noisy conclusion. Good stuff, by and large.

Black Night opens with a surprisingly calm riff, before Jon Lordís hazy organ latches on and Ian Gillan throws in his fairly fun set of vocals. Itís essentially a slightly volumed-up pop song, with a very neat drum part from Paice and a small, but neat organ solo as well as the immense ability of Blackmore wailing off without all too much direction. Memorable and fun, but not an outstanding number. The rest of the bonus material is either studio chatter or forgettable/missable. Iíd guess itís worth getting the 25th Anniversary remaster for anyone more enthralled with the band than me, though... it has a lot of bonus goodies.

In short, could do with more direction (especially the solos... for a band so strong, the solos manage surprisingly little other than showing the skill of the players), a bit more balance and a bit more real atmosphere rather than plain musicality and heaviness (a criticism Iíve levelled at just about every hard rock album Iíve heard, not just this one). Undeniably very good most of the time, but not my favourite style of music, and perhaps not essential for fans of progressive rock who arenít so interested in a general understanding of classic rock. A conservative three stars from me on a personal level, but four for historical importance/doing what it sets out to do.

Rating: Three Stars subjectively, perhaps four if weíre trying objectivity.

Favourite Track: Speed King

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 26 2009 at 12:11
Bang on with DP, Rob. You should definitly try their previous albums, especially the self-titled (oh bliss Hug).
Bigger on the inside.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 02 2009 at 18:01
Prog reviewer in pop love scandal

OK, after the mild confusion of this page for the last few days, I'm going to link the reviews I don't have the energy to repost and see if Open Office can't screw with the site in the way word apparently can.

Thanks, Kotro, and I'll probably check them out in due course (though the jazz kick is still on), and apologies to the gent whose post got mauled in some bizarre microsoft-word-caused chaos. I didn't think it'd be possible for a glitch like that to remove other people's posts, but apparently it can.

< ="-" ="text/; =utf-8">< name="GENERATOR" ="Office.org 3.0 Win32">< ="text/">

Genesis, s/t, 1983

StarStarStarStar

The self-titled revival of Genesis in the 80s features something a bit surprising Ė Phil Collins as an assertive vocalist (well, 81ís In The Air Tonight sort of had that, but here, itís on a whole new level). Heís aggressive, biting, rounded and capable of a range of surprisingly vicious vocals. Complementing this is a lot of great writing, some kicking drum machine programming (I mean, Home By The Sea, Mama... itís great stuff if youíre happy to drop the must-be-a-drummer-behind-the-kit attitude), Tony Banks taking a more tasteful, understated part on the synths, as well as more than adequate guitar and bass support from Mike Rutherford. Yes, you must admit, itís not a 70s Genesis record, but itís not meant to be Ė itís a damn good art rock/art pop album, and much more daring than itís given credit for.

Just take the opening Mama, a moody drum machine repeating the same manic line as some bleak, despondent keys from Banks bring out the atmosphere, then suddenly, the new Collins comes in with a desperate, pleading, and furious vocal and Mike (Rutherford seems too formal for the jaunting guitar coming along with this one) kicks in. Maddened, sickly laughs, the thunderous entrance of the gated drums, the slowly developed (well, one-sided) dialogue, are all done perfectly and Collins manages to bring out negativity in a sympathetic way with the force. Can you really call anything this dark, serious and visceral Ďpopí? I wouldnít say so.

Thatís All features a catchy, clear piano part comparable to Time Table or Harold The Barrel, followed by a slightly funky bass and guitar and a killer vocal from Collins, with the characteristic edge on his voice, now, as well as some very rounded and memorable clean phrases. He seems to be back on the kit for lots of this one, pulling out some neat sounds in more or less unanticipated places, and the general vibe is just on. I really like this one, but hey.

Home By The Sea (first part of a sneaky ten minute suite) opens with the low, sharp guitar thrum before the drums kick in and a mechanical Ďhome by the seaí opens the song, before Banks pulls out on a vibraphone-like keyboard sound some melodies as clear and pretty as anything off A Trick Of The Tail. Itís well-structured, with the memorable vocal hooks coming up several times, includes some very curious drum sounds and a story which wouldnít have been out of place on England or Nursery Cryme, again bringing out the moral ambiguity which has been a characteristic and long-standing feature of Genesis lyrics, and, all-in-all, is a hugely successful merging of the progressive rock which Genesis were coming out of and the melodic pop they were going into.

Second Home By The Sea is more of an instrumental jam piece, reminiscent in some ways of the instrumental numbers off Wind And Wuthering, albeit a bit more structured, and with some fiendishly catchy guitar work and the general feel of story-telling, never losing my interest, and with one of my favourite ever bits of Banks playing (when he brings up the vocal melody again with that scrailing sound in the background), as well as a clean and suave guitar solo. Again, fantastic stuff.


Illegal Alien needs to be listened to with the right spirit. The social message of it is somewhat overshadowed by the generally hilarious Ďgringoí vocals and what-political-correctness? attitude. Consequently, first time I heard it, I was filled with rage and hate, after that, I calmed down, listened to the music, and reallył itís alright. Trite pop chorus, which Iím sure youíll all balk at, a curious-sounding string-synth, a fairly cool talky interlude thing under a descending brass-synth and a bit of cool Collins drumming as well as a sort of steel-drum-like (my intuition says thatís a keyboardís effort at a tymp, maybe, or alternatively my keyboardís just crazy?) sound floating around in the mix somewhere, as well as the neat backing-less take of the chorus. Those are perhaps the best bits, and, I have to say, though itís not my favourite song ever, now Iíve given it a bit of time to listen properly, itís a well-constructed pop song and I like it a bit if Iím in the right mood.

Taking It All Too Hard is maybe the least distinctive thing on here, though itís not at all bad. A nice Collins vocal, a clean, effective drum part and some bleak, minimal keys, but it feels simply resentful and sad, and comes off as a bit light in comparison with the psychological trip of Mama or the I-AM-TRULY-PISSED fire of In The Air Tonight. The little sha-la-la thing at the end of the vocal lines is very nice. Itís not a bad song at all, itís just not stunning.

Just A Job To Do is another surprise, upbeat, thumping and brimming with energy, taking on the perspective of a hitman, . A killer riff from Mike fires the piece with general energy, and a combination of Collins yelling BANG BANG BANG (sounds really cheesy in theory, comes across alright, but my cheese sense is sketchy these days) with an accompanying thud-thud-thud on the drums works just right. The brass synth effect is maybe more a gimmick than a really necessary thing, but it does make the song distinctive, and itís very impressively played, and neatly follows the grooving bass build-up before the last verse. Except for the slightly bland guitar solo, a classic.

The awkward sexual advances of Silver Rainbow, are somewhat matched by the not-quite-yet rhythm section (Mike is on especially good form, here), with the entertaining synth part, and another solid Collins vocal. Itís generally a good song, though it goes on a bit longer than it needs to, but (and I get too excited about these) it ends with a bass solo, so Iím happy.

Itís Gonna Get Better is a calmer number, with a more quiet and yet neat Collins vocal (along the lines of the stuff on Peter Gabriel II or Face Value Ė their voices are quite similar when theyíre singing more softly), as well as a whirling atmosphere contributed by Banks, some carefully disguised melodies, a nice opportunity for Mikeís bass-work to shine, and a calm conclusion to the album.

I have to admit, this is my first real venture into post-Hackett Genesis, and I like it. The first four numbers are fantastic, with a lot of the trademarks of 70s Genesis (morally ambiguous lyrics, both edgy and accessible music, great melodies) while being in an entirely new style, and the succeeding lot all have noticeable up points and are generally decent, listenable tunes, Collins sounds superb on this one, the drum programming is used in an interesting way, and itís possibly better structured and better produced than any of their classics. Maybe not something for the purists, but nonetheless, a great album. Four stars from me.
Oh, and thanks to the excellent Spotify for indulging my curiosity when I wasnít quite ready to part with cash for an album Ė this the first review Iíve written solely from it. A hard copy should be coming up on my next amazon-binge.

Rating: Four Stars

Favourite Song: probably Home By The Sea just clinching it over Mama




Edited by TGM: Orb - May 02 2009 at 18:04
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 11 2009 at 13:35
Peter Hammill, In Camera, 1974

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Peter Hammillís solo career takes a new twist with every album, and Iíve yet to hear anything of a standard which isnít at least good. However, for the more general progressive rock fans, the gold is his 73-4 output, three absolute masterpieces. In Camera is certainly the most diverse of these, with everything from idiosyncratic ballads to the hellish progressive rock masterpieces of Gog and (No More) The Submariner to a piece of daring musique concrete, all complemented with some of the finest lyrics out there. While a general description doesnít do it justice, the big developments from the previous album come in the density of synthesizer and guitar overdubs, representing, for the first time, an entire album of really full and fleshed out solo compositions from Hammill, and his ever-present sense of melody is out in force.

The range of material and its new depth and complexity, however, isnít the only thing to admire. Every piece here is effortlessly experimental, and simply doesnít really relate to anything else, and they come together to produce an album that, if a little disorienting, is nonetheless surprisingly cohesive mainly because of this attitude. Lastly, and it needs to be mentioned, Hammillís voice is  really at its peak in this sort of general time frame, and here every vocal (well, except Magog, but thatís completely something else) is both dazzingly beautiful and intelligently thought out, particularly (No More) The Submariner comes off as one of his best. So, essentially essential: maybe the album to try if you want a real Peter Hammill solo album that isnít singer-songwriter based or, largely, in the style of Van Der Graaf Generator (though, to be fair, Guy Evans has the performance of his career on this one). And, in addition to all the experimental, intellectual and diversity-based respect this one gets from me, itís also simply a great album without one fragile song.

The curious and affectionate Ferret And Featherbird emerges from a slowly converging mesh of acoustic and twelve-string guitars and a tenderly wandering piano, while the tender electric thrums off some inquisitive calls. The hauntingly beautiful two-part vocal, with its expansive and yet very immediate lines, tells the story of two lovers becoming parted and then reconciled by the distance between them, to the picaresque backdrop or idea of these two playful, affectionate creatures  discovering about themselves through their tentative interactions with the other. A very sweet-natured and disarming piece, as charming as it is accomplished.

(No More) The Submariner is completely different. No more charm, not even an effort to bring the listener on side, just a man singing his soul out, tearing mockingly into his childhood dreams and his current existence, backed by tearing, menacing synth lines, which swirl headily around with every change of mood, and incisive bass and piano parts rumbling beneath this near-primordial synthesised void. The stern confidence in the composition and the performance is reflected by Hammillís vocal control, he is immediately comfortable with both the superbly produced watery effect on his voice and his natural vocals, and filling these up with idyllic choral overdubs. No less solid is his control of the mood, he can put uncertainty into as little as a single word (Ďfireglowí) even with that menacing effect on his voice, and the darker range of moods, fear, resentment, mockery and self-pity, are interspersed with moments of hope, of regret and introspection, and the slowly ascending choral section is strikingly well-arranged, with its shimmering mist of voices reflecting the internal voices of youth driving onto the largely concealed personality of adulthood. Rightly regarded as one of Hammillís finest hours, and a seminal progressive rock track, both for what it was pioneering and its overwhelming quality.

The thundering rocker, Tapeworm, rollicks magnificently with the elephantine Guy Evans throwing in overspilling fills to the thumping piano riff and some whirling, at≠-the-man guitar and bass. An acapella-styled break in the middle features some of the distinctly musical humour Hammill was capable of in the midst of all that wordiness, and also how sophisticated his compositions were becoming.  I mean, this break, the fills, the number of different guitar ideas and the cohesion of the whole piece... itís a four and a half minute piece that feels like a ten minute one (only at the time of writing have I taken a look at the running lengths Ė I swear I thought this piece was 7 or 8 minutes long) Ė really, really rich content, and despite the slightly self-parodic (though certainly meaningful) lyrics, the lines Hammill comes up with here are absolutely astounding and the rhyme scheme is equally madly inspired, ĎFeed me honey and watch me rise, to the bait lying on your knife/If you let me I can hypnotise your life!í Took me a while to really appreciate just how good this one is, but now, I think itís a classic.

Again, later reworked by the K Group for a superb group number, is a somewhat Ďsimpleí ballad, based around a simple, mournful acoustic or electro-acoustic, empowered with a subtle reverb, and supplemented by a mournful bass part and a crisp, almost Elisabethan (in feel) piano part, albeit with some very unconventional and understated composition in the mid-section. Hammillís vocal again shines, rich, creative, fluent and positively gorgeous, and his lyrics are equally touching and, while they never lose touch with their basic emotional idea, this is lost love song which creates clichťs rather than using them, and without a wasted word, ĎI see your picture, as though it were a mirror, but thereís no part of you outside the frameí. And, whatís more, it features a menacing electronic conclusion, with the sort of feel of wiping out memories Ė maybe tearing them out. Pretty unique, non?

Faint-heart and the Sermon is an interesting one. I have to admit, at first listen, I didnít like it all too much, I didnít understand what it was trying to achieve, and it seemed almost out of place (more like an archetypal prog-rock song) on an album of such obviously individual pieces. However, now I get what heís doing, itís just as amazing as the rest of albumís songs. First off, that synthesised cello, or bass pretending to be cello is pretty astoundingly neat, and the rest of the largely synthesised instrumentation is very well thought out and interesting. Second, the vocal tracking-the-instruments, the overwhelming, overspilling lines and shimmering mellotron crests are again in the psychology-reflects-music style which Van Der Graaf Generator would later become even more sophisticated in pulling off, the feeling of being trapped in a wave of religious euphoria and yet not quite agreeing with or understanding it, of replying in oneís own voice to this universal voice. And besides, everyone loves the mellotron. Well, except Harry, but everyone loves the mellotron. Yes, Iíve completely changed my view on this one, and though itís probably still my least favourite number on the album, itís very memorable, the vocal lines and vocals are great, the instrumentation is very interesting and itís still something I really look forwards to whenever the album goes in for a listen.

Now, hereís something you donít see a lot of in prog. A guitar quartet (bass, acoustic, twelve-string, electric). The Comet, The Course, The Tail supplements this rather unusual set of instrumentation with a suitably intelligent and interesting philosophical metaphor. Again, there are some masterful vocal self-harmonies, which do nothing to obscure the basic strength of the individual vocals Ė exploring both Hammillís gorgeous clean vocals and his more eclectic stylings. The melodies are extremely memorable, and the thick bass part, admittedly somewhat styled on Modern from his previous album, is particularly satisfying. A very hard one to pin down, with the tails of the various parts weaving together and floating apart effortlessly, and, though not on the original vinyl, I guess, its somewhat self-propelled, but nonetheless dejected conclusion offers a rather interesting starting point for the visceral Gog.

Gog is not just dark, it is terrifying. The breathing, suffocating menace of the harmonium, Guy Evansí tribal, savage, untraceable drumming, thundering cymbals, primal rhythms and unstable crescendos, Hammillís spiteful, arrogant and hateful vocal, filled with disdain, mockery and violence spitting out the most hideously, overwhelmingly single-minded set of words Ė the scripture-like statements and spitting phrases, Ďmy soul is cast in crystal but unrevealed beneath the knife, all wells are dry, all bread is masked in fungus, and now disease is rife Ė WILL YOU NOT RUN FROM THESE and LOVE ME FOR ONE MORE LIFEí in a stream of increasingly irregular and vicious vocal phrases. The instrumental break gives no relief, plunging the listener even further into this place of fire and all-surrounding harmonium and the humming chaos of the bass.

And out of the end of this corridor of flame, this first ring of agony, is only desolation, emptiness and suffering. Magog is almost empty, excepting the demented chants and the scurrying fear of various percussion lines and a tortured cello, leading off one after the other into a distant nothingness, occasionally mingling and coalescing and then fading back into the background of scattered ash. No uplifting melody, not even a sign of hope, nothing except the bleak collection of fear, and concealed behind that, more fear. Truly unique.


The last two Ďnumbersí, comprising about half the album, obviously hit very hard emotionallył and maybe in a way some people wonít enjoy/appreciate. Despite this almost physical impact, the intellectual impression of those two pieces isnít lessened, the very idea of a God who simply doesnít care, the ever-so-precise descent into increasingly fluid and deliberately unrestrained vocal lines is something to behold, and, simply put, it doesnít sound like anything else out there. The lyric, here, is resistant to dissection and yet each individual phrase adds something, and builds on the impression of singularity, disdain and universality Ė a god that doesnít provide security, a god that doesnít care about your attitude to him, a god without anything except a bemused disdain for humankind. The connections between the various verses and lines are so many as to make them inseparable, and the dense fog of imagery never hinders the sense of movement, of tense, clustering fear. One of the most accomplished lyrics of all time Ė I wish I could write like this.

And the bonus material, if anything, is even better. Three live (BBC session) takes of (No More) The Submariner, The Emperor In His War Room and The Faint Heart And The Sermon, all produced very strongly and bringing out the real strengths of those songs, as well as showing that, even without the studio jiggery-pokery, Hammill could still pull off or effectively word around some of those out-there effects covering his ever-amazing voice.

Yes, thereís no way I can give this one less than a five star rating, it resonates, it goes through to the soul, and itís fervently daring at a time when the creative verve of a lot of the main progressive rock acts was beginning to dry up. Not only a five star album, but a perfect 15/15 for me (my reasoning was: can I think of half a dozen albums I clearly prefer to this one? Nope. Can I pick out a weak track? Nope. Does the album work well as a whole? Yes. Is it something unique? Yes. Thatís a sneak peek into the criteria.)

Rating: 15/15, absolute masterpiece, possibly best by artist and an obvious 5 stars.

Favourite Track: Gog, by a hair

---

Been writing that one for a while. Still think the Comet, Course, Tail paragraph isn't really appropriate, because I can't really break down that song that much, but I think I covered the other songs pretty well.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 11 2009 at 13:37
Peter Hammillís solo career takes a new twist with every album, and Iíve yet to hear anything of a standard which isnít at least good. However, for the more general progressive rock fans, the gold is his 73-4 output, three absolute masterpieces. In Camera is certainly the most diverse of these, with everything from idiosyncratic ballads to the hellish progressive rock masterpieces of Gog and (No More) The Submariner to a piece of daring musique concrete, all complemented with some of the finest lyrics out there. While a general description doesnít do it justice, the big developments from the previous album come in the density of synthesizer and guitar overdubs, representing, for the first time, an entire album of really full and fleshed out solo compositions from Hammill, and his ever-present sense of melody is out in force.

The range of material and its new depth and complexity, however, isnít the only thing to admire. Every piece here is effortlessly experimental, and simply doesnít really relate to anything else, and they come together to produce an album that, if a little disorienting, is nonetheless surprisingly cohesive mainly because of this attitude. Lastly, and it needs to be mentioned, Hammillís voice is  really at its peak in this sort of general time frame, and here every vocal (well, except Magog, but thatís completely something else) is both dazzingly beautiful and intelligently thought out, particularly (No More) The Submariner comes off as one of his best. So, essentially essential: maybe the album to try if you want a real Peter Hammill solo album that isnít singer-songwriter based or, largely, in the style of Van Der Graaf Generator (though, to be fair, Guy Evans has the performance of his career on this one). And, in addition to all the experimental, intellectual and diversity-based respect this one gets from me, itís also simply a great album without one fragile song.

The curious and affectionate Ferret And Featherbird emerges from a slowly converging mesh of acoustic and twelve-string guitars and a tenderly wandering piano, while the tender electric thrums off some inquisitive calls. The hauntingly beautiful two-part vocal, with its expansive and yet very immediate lines, tells the story of two lovers becoming parted and then reconciled by the distance between them, to the picaresque backdrop or idea of these two playful, affectionate creatures  discovering about themselves through their tentative interactions with the other. A very sweet-natured and disarming piece, as charming as it is accomplished. For the sake of completeness, probably worth mentioning this one was originally one of the highlights of VDGG's The Aerosol Grey Machine, but the reworking here is very different and, also somewhat better.

(No More) The Submariner is completely different. No more charm, not even an effort to bring the listener on side, just a man singing his soul out, tearing mockingly into his childhood dreams and his current existence, backed by tearing, menacing synth lines, which swirl headily around with every change of mood, and incisive bass and piano parts rumbling beneath this near-primordial synthesised void. The stern confidence in the composition and the performance is reflected by Hammillís vocal control, he is immediately comfortable with both the superbly produced watery effect on his voice and his natural vocals, and filling these up with idyllic choral overdubs. No less solid is his control of the mood, he can put uncertainty into as little as a single word (Ďfireglowí) even with that menacing effect on his voice, and the darker range of moods, fear, resentment, mockery and self-pity, are interspersed with moments of hope, of regret and introspection, and the slowly ascending choral section is strikingly well-arranged, with its shimmering mist of voices reflecting the internal voices of youth driving onto the largely concealed personality of adulthood. Rightly regarded as one of Hammillís finest hours, and a seminal progressive rock track, both for what it was pioneering and its overwhelming quality.

The thundering rocker, Tapeworm, rollicks magnificently with the elephantine Guy Evans throwing in overspilling fills to the thumping piano riff and some whirling, at≠-the-man guitar and bass. An acapella-styled break in the middle features some of the distinctly musical humour Hammill was capable of in the midst of all that wordiness, and also how sophisticated his compositions were becoming.  I mean, this break, the fills, the number of different guitar ideas and the cohesion of the whole piece... itís a four and a half minute piece that feels like a ten minute one (only at the time of writing have I taken a look at the running lengths Ė I swear I thought this piece was 7 or 8 minutes long) Ė really, really rich content, and despite the slightly self-parodic (though certainly meaningful) lyrics, the lines Hammill comes up with here are absolutely astounding and the rhyme scheme is equally madly inspired, ĎFeed me honey and watch me rise, to the bait lying on your knife/If you let me I can hypnotise your life!í Took me a while to really appreciate just how good this one is, but now, I think itís a classic.

Again, later reworked by the K Group for a superb group number, is a somewhat Ďsimpleí ballad, based around a simple, mournful acoustic or electro-acoustic, empowered with a subtle reverb, and supplemented by a mournful bass part and a crisp, almost Elisabethan (in feel) piano part, albeit with some very unconventional and understated composition in the mid-section. Hammillís vocal again shines, rich, creative, fluent and positively gorgeous, and his lyrics are equally touching and, while they never lose touch with their basic emotional idea, this is lost love song which creates clichťs rather than using them, and without a wasted word, ĎI see your picture, as though it were a mirror, but thereís no part of you outside the frameí. And, whatís more, it features a menacing electronic conclusion, with the sort of feel of wiping out memories Ė maybe tearing them out. Pretty unique, non?

Faint-heart and the Sermon is an interesting one. I have to admit, at first listen, I didnít like it all too much, I didnít understand what it was trying to achieve, and it seemed almost out of place (more like an archetypal prog-rock song) on an album of such obviously individual pieces. However, now I get what heís doing, itís just as amazing as the rest of albumís songs. First off, that synthesised cello, or bass pretending to be cello is pretty astoundingly neat, and the rest of the largely synthesised instrumentation is very well thought out and interesting. Second, the vocal tracking-the-instruments, the overwhelming, overspilling lines and shimmering mellotron crests are again in the psychology-reflects-music style which Van Der Graaf Generator would later become even more sophisticated in pulling off, the feeling of being trapped in a wave of religious euphoria and yet not quite agreeing with or understanding it, of replying in oneís own voice to this universal voice. And besides, everyone loves the mellotron. Well, except Harry, but everyone loves the mellotron. Yes, Iíve completely changed my view on this one, and though itís probably still my least favourite number on the album, itís very memorable, the vocal lines and vocals are great, the instrumentation is very interesting and itís still something I really look forwards to whenever the album goes in for a listen.

Now, hereís something you donít see a lot of in prog. A guitar quartet (bass, acoustic, twelve-string, electric). The Comet, The Course, The Tail supplements this rather unusual set of instrumentation with a suitably intelligent and interesting philosophical metaphor. Again, there are some masterful vocal self-harmonies, which do nothing to obscure the basic strength of the individual vocals Ė exploring both Hammillís gorgeous clean vocals and his more eclectic stylings. The melodies are extremely memorable, and the thick bass part, admittedly somewhat styled on Modern from his previous album, is particularly satisfying. A very hard one to pin down, with the tails of the various parts weaving together and floating apart effortlessly, and, though not on the original vinyl, I guess, its somewhat self-propelled, but nonetheless dejected conclusion offers a rather interesting starting point for the visceral Gog.

Gog is not just dark, it is terrifying. The breathing, suffocating menace of the harmonium, Guy Evansí tribal, savage, untraceable drumming, thundering cymbals, primal rhythms and unstable crescendos, Hammillís spiteful, arrogant and hateful vocal, filled with disdain, mockery and violence spitting out the most hideously, overwhelmingly single-minded set of words Ė the scripture-like statements and spitting phrases, Ďmy soul is cast in crystal but unrevealed beneath the knife, all wells are dry, all bread is masked in fungus, and now disease is rife Ė WILL YOU NOT RUN FROM THESE and LOVE ME FOR ONE MORE LIFEí in a stream of increasingly irregular and vicious vocal phrases. The instrumental break gives no relief, plunging the listener even further into this place of fire and all-surrounding harmonium and the humming chaos of the bass. And out of the end of this corridor of flame, this first ring of agony, is only desolation, emptiness and suffering. Magog is almost empty, excepting the demented chants and the scurrying fear of various percussion lines and a tortured cello, leading off one after the other into a distant nothingness, occasionally mingling and coalescing and then fading back into the background of scattered ash. No uplifting melody, not even a sign of hope, nothing except the bleak collection of fear, and concealed behind that, more fear. Truly unique.

The last two Ďnumbersí, comprising about half the album, obviously hit very hard emotionallył and maybe in a way some people wonít enjoy/appreciate. Despite this almost physical impact, the intellectual impression of those two pieces isnít lessened, the very idea of a God who simply doesnít care, the ever-so-precise descent into increasingly fluid and deliberately unrestrained vocal lines is something to behold, and, simply put, it doesnít sound like anything else out there. The lyric, here, is resistant to dissection and yet each individual phrase adds something, and builds on the impression of singularity, disdain and universality Ė a god that doesnít provide security, a god that doesnít care about your attitude to him, a god without anything except a bemused disdain for humankind. The connections between the various verses and lines are so many as to make them inseparable, and the dense fog of imagery never hinders the sense of movement, of tense, clustering fear. One of the most accomplished lyrics of all time Ė I wish I could write like this.

And the bonus material, if anything, is even better. Three live (BBC session) takes of (No More) The Submariner, The Emperor In His War Room and The Faint Heart And The Sermon, all produced very strongly and bringing out the real strengths of those songs, as well as showing that, even without the studio jiggery-pokery, Hammill could still pull off or effectively word around some of those out-there effects covering his ever-amazing voice.

Yes, thereís no way I can give this one less than a five star rating, it resonates, it goes through to the soul, and itís fervently daring at a time when the creative verve of a lot of the main progressive rock acts was beginning to dry up. Not only a five star album, but a perfect 15/15 for me (my reasoning was: can I think of half a dozen albums I clearly prefer to this one? Nope. Can I pick out a weak track? Nope. Does the album work well as a whole? Yes. Is it something unique? Yes. Thatís a sneak peek into the criteria.)

Rating: 15/15, absolute masterpiece, possibly best by artist and an obvious 5 stars. Favourite Track: Gog, by a hair


Edit: took a while to write that one, and it still screwed up the blog, but at least I know now how to not do that.



Edited by TGM: Orb - May 11 2009 at 13:38
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 16 2009 at 13:42
Yeti, Amon Duul II, 1970
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Now this is a very interesting one to try to break down. Amon Duul IIís second effort is huge leap  forwards from the already pretty strong Phallus Dei, and, interestingly enough, it uses the double-LP format to allow the band to both expand their existing lengthy, bleak and atmospheric improvisations and to complement them with the sonic seltzer of a half dozen or so classy, energetic rock pieces. The resultant album has many, many high points, an astoundingly unique mood to it, and throughout displays both compositional and performing excellence and some very charming, despite the accents, vocalists. Where the problems creep in is maintaining the listenerís interest for the whole length of the album and in trying to create a coherent work from so many improv-rooted pieces. That, for me, weakens the albumís impact and keeps it, at least, a notch below Wolf City in terms of listening time. ĎObjectiveí/importance says 5 stars, but my enjoyment only allows for 4.

The lengthy opening suite, Soap Shop Rock, transforms quickly from a slightly clumsy rocker to an intense, involving and surrealistic bit of psychedelia, with particularly memorable work from the rhythm section of Peter Leopold and Dave Anderson, as well as the multi-talented Chris Karrer. More unusual, perhaps are Renate Knaup-Groschweitzís high and distinctive backing vocals, taking over the role a keyboard or two normally would. From the raw rock of the opening Burning Sister to the psychedelic craze of Halluzination Guillotine to the light-hearted operatic vocals of Gulp A Sonata, this piece is excellent, but the real gem is the final Ďmovementí, the astounding Flesh-Coloured Anti-Aircraft Alarm, opening with an absolutely jaw-dropping violin lick from Karrer and then developing with crazy going-off-all-over-the-place vocals and whistling mixing in with the unpredictable rhythm section and some astounding violin soloing and high-register organ. A quick repeat of the opening phrase rounds off the song, and, even though itís quite neat, you have to admit that the anti-climactic ending doesnít quite fit it. An astounding piece of music, in terms of conceptualisation, playing and ideas, and the mood is set quite nicely for the album... as micky remarks, not exactly coherent, and that does hurt it a little.

The following She Came In Through The Chimney is a much more calm and collected number, with a relatively consistent six-string guitar part being imaginatively expanded upon and improvised over, with some particularly superb Ratledge-like work from Falk Rogner on what I think is a lowry organ. The imagination of the bongo parts is very neat as a feature... you donít get all that many bands really treating them in the same way they would another instrument. Smooth stuff, not really a highlight for me, but a nice lead up. Edit: took another look at the reviews already up, and the consensus is that some of said Ratledgeism is a violin. Theyíre probably right... though Iím still somewhat convinced the organís on there.

The most straightforward rocker on the album follows this on pretty sharply, with a kicking main riff, killer drumming, lead vocals throughout most of it and some psychedelic organ and guitar soloing thrown into the breaks. Always nice to see a very eclectic band take on and easily conquer the basic rock song, and Renate Knaupf throwing her range all over the place as a lead vocalist is a real bonus, even if her backing parts are maybe what makes the album so atmospherically dense.

A bit of a storm-in-a-teacup next with the high-tempo folk-based number Cerberus, fully exploring the interplay between the two guitarists, with the bass (Dave Anderson) and the bongos (Shrat) effectively taking on the part of soloists for this one, before electric-feedback-land comes in and takes over the groundwork of the acoustics. A very unique and well-explored piece, with a bit more of an eastern European vibe... maybe the best prepared track on the album.

The Return of Reubezahl is an intense, concise, almost soundtrack-like preparatory piece for Eye-Shaking King, with its smoking blues/rock ending leading into the fiery maw of viciously distorted-vocals, distorted guitar, fuzzed-up-bass and thundering drumming, a heavy trip from that prelude through the wilderness of the mind. Exceptional.

The briefer, on my reissue, at least, Pale Gallery, is a bit less astounding, relying on a slightly insistent and mechanical drum pattern as well as some very interesting organ and violin work. Unfortunately, the sort of ghosts-flitting-around image doesnít really transform into something really solid and striking. Nice, but is it really adding anything?

The second original LP is made up of three distinct, individual and creative improvs, and I think it represents the album and creates a mood even more effectively than the first. You can see the band is confident enough to strip back its sound, and to try some new and effective things even in full improvised flow. Describing it fully is obviously a waste of time, but a general mood thing isnít out of order.

The title track, a dark, brooding, scenic number, in addition to the typically excellent and pacy work from the rhythm section, features all sorts of feedback, demonstrative twangs from the 12-strings, and violently clashing electrics, producing an overall dense forests-and-mountains mood accompanied by an impressively dense aggression and movement. Some wordless vocals, both male and female, fill out the abstract fog in this musical forest, while a more mournful conclusion harnesses all this restless energy to a more introspective and exotic end. All in all, Yeti is an extremely well thought-out and followed-through bit of improvisation, with a wonderful freedom of interpretation, as well as some distinctly avant-garde organ and violin work.

Yeti Talks To Yogi is a bit more light-hearted, starting out with a dense clump of instruments, which gradually collaborate (with some fantastic bongo-work from Shrat) to work out each othersí space and produce a very dense, dark mood, from which the conversational wails of the violin or the feedback from the guitar pre-empt the very loose and touching herdlike vocals. Admittedly, the ending is a bit overly curt, but otherwise another amazing piece.

Sandoz In The Rain, with guest flautist ĎThomasí and a further guitarist/vocalist and bassist, features a much calmer and more capable mood, with some superb acoustic work, a full, probably improvised, lyrical section, pretty work between the violin and the flute, and for me, it conjures up memories of walking along steeper paths by rivers in Wales and the North, with a slight misty/rainy vibe to it. Again, evocative, touching, and excellent improvisation. Particularly lush is the amazing roll of the drums and thundering feel of the line, ĎSundrops in your eyes.í Simply put, the inclusion of the lyrics gives this the most pictorial and absolute feel of the three improvisations, but at the same time, the band adapt that to create a more free-flowing, abstract picture for your mind to fill in. Again, maybe trails off a bit too sharply, but that doesnít obscure the merit of the rest of it.
So, all in all, a collection of The Good Stuff. The second half is particularly good and has clarity in those improvs that Phallus Dei wasnít quite self-confident enough to achieve, as well as a really striking mood, and most of the first half isnít much weaker at all. Still, problems creep in from trying to unite and compile all this work into one album. Yes, itís not quite perfect, and yes, there are some tracks which are markedly less interesting than others, but just look at the release date... 1970: it really sounds nothing quite like anything else out there. Remarkable for its time, and itís a gem of the Kraut Rock and Psych Rock (and, you could say, ĎHeavy Progí) genres... a must have for anyone, and a very secure four stars. Maybe worth listening to the two Ďhalvesí separately if you find it a bit too much heavy going.

Rating: Four stars, ĎObjectiveí five, 13/15
Favourite track: Sandoz in the Rain
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 16 2009 at 19:49
Love Beach, ELP. 1978

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OK, revisionism starts here. Love Beach is a good album. Maybe itís just the Carl Palmer rule, or maybe Iím not righteously angry enough at a band doing pop music or going for a cover without elves, or spacemen or camels, but simply put, the 46% of reviewers whoíve given this one star are really missing out on some of the decent pop music on side 1 and the entertaining, if not fully realised classical fiddling of Canario and the suite on Side 2. Besides, itís 1978, and of the classic Ďprogí bands, only Van Der Graaf, sans the Generator, plus a violinist, are still going very strong. Admittedly, Lakeís voice isnít as secure as it was previously (itís still alright, though), and God knows what happened to Sinfield... probably left a romantically-inspired egomaniac chimp on a typewriter while heading off for a watery frolic with Miss Spain, but apart from that... this is a surprisingly decent album, and vastly better than it is often made out to be. Yes, itís hardly Genesis or Sheet Music in terms of class, but itís still a fairly good pop-based album, with some fun, memorable songs and great work from Carl Palmer.

The album opens with All I Want Is You, which, in spite of Sinfield and Lakeís (I canít understand why he resorts to such laboured twists) concerted effort to ruin the song, Palmer is going strong and Emersonís synths are good fun, if maybe a bit too high for their own good. So yeah, not classic, but itís not really difficult to listen to.

Now, in a scandalous revelation, I think the title track is a great song.  Catchy diao-nao-da-niao-niao guitar lines, memorable vocal melodies, fantastic drumming, canny little breaks in the main melody, a decent vocal from Lake, some of Sinfieldís pet chimpís best lines, even if the lyrics are a bit tacky.  A good pop song. No shame in that.

Taste Of My Love opens with a twenty second synth introduction, before Palmer comes in to provide a great link between Emersonís strident keys and Lakeís flexible, and actually pretty alright vocal, with his bizarre jazz/rock style and rattlesnake growling. Emerson fills up the mood with every synth sound he can pluck out, and, even if heís not 100% in the realm of taste, he does some pretty cool stab things to reinforce the vocal. Again, the lyrics are absolutely dreadful, but theyíre better than Scenes From A Memory Metropolis, so thatís OK.

The Gambler benefits most from the Carl Palmer rule. Bland vocal, bland lyrics, rather obvious, but nonetheless neat synthesiser work, but still, the drumming is fantastic, with its insidious groove and slamming fills... taking on the tin bucket and whatever other silliness heís got around in that kit. And, besides, it all pulls together a bit towards the end. Not a great moment, but still, itís got listenable content.

For You, on the other hand, is an all-round good song. A great synth-guitar-and-drums introduction, with some semaphore keys. A neat bit of guitar and haunting synth soloing introduces easily the most introspective and understated piece of this album, with a bloody fantastic Lake vocal (where was it on the rest of the album so far?), and more work with subtle synthesiser sounds and piano, and Palmer, as ever, is absolutely solid, further assisted by some When The Apple Blossoms Bloom... style synth bits. Anyway, I love this one. It helps that Sinfield, even if heís not at his best here, has probably at least given his monkey some English lessons for this one. Anyway, a great pop song.

The synth-led take on a classical guitar piece is maybe the easiest thing for Joe the Progger to get into here, with its quirky, light-hearted squeaking, lack of Sinfieldís-Monkey lyrics and slightly more confident bass work from Lake, and Emersonís hectic twists are something to behold. Palmer, as always, is a bulwark of talent and taste, and the overall impression is quite neat, even if you canít help feeling that itís really only The Keith Emerson Show with very little relevance to the anything else. Actually possibly the least enjoyable thing on the album so far.

Side two opens with a muted piano chord, lightly and emotionally played by Keith Emerson, who, for the first time here, seems really quite concerned with the subtle range of his playing, and Lake sounds a heck of a lot better than he did on his own pop songs, maybe heís just happy with the pompous mood, and with Palmerís mixture of his more idiosyncratic rock work and the occasional classical crash, this is comfortably the most classic ELP track weíve seen so far.

A lush, smooth romantic piano part connects the prologue to the delicate Love At First Sight, a superb showcase on the part of Emerson, and while Lake is putting himself under a little more stress than he needs to, heís still quite comfortable and capable at the piano-and-voice game, and with the absolutely gorgeous supplementary classical guitar from Lake and xylophone from Palmer, this track goes from a beauty to an understated gem. Simply put, every serious ELP fan should here this superb song at least once in their lives. Preferably a few times in their lives. I canít imagine getting bored of it too quickly.

After a slightly less involving synth-and-drum=chaos in Ďtypicalí ELP style, we move onto the maybe-a-bit-too-twee Letters From The Front, with its excessive coupletage, and the effort at a dramatic twist is admittedly laboured, though it sort of fits the choppy organ from Emerson (and there are some absolutely great spiralling, whirling organ (I think) parts, reminiscent in a way of the solo Hackett piece ĎTigermothí (also a war theme).

An effort at maybe uniting everything pompous about ELP, the military drumming, the ambling bass, the twee synths, is clearly made in the conclusive ĎHonourable Companyí (A March), and if the effects is more of Pomp And Circumstance March than the life-affirmingly British power-trip of Jerusalem, thatís just about forgivable. All in all, the last couple of sections are significantly weaker than the first couple, but it shouldnít overshadow the fact that thereís a fantastic ten minutes in there, and the other few are weak as much by comparison as by content.

So, it comes down to weighing up these ups (of which there are a lot) and the downs (of which there are definitely some). Anything with drumming this good (however frank Carl Palmer is about his opinions on albums heís cut in the past, heís honestly never failed to do his best with the kit on them, and at this point in time, he still absolutely ruled) escapes the Ďonly for completionistsí boundary, and, simply put, there are two ELP classics, and two great pop songs on here, and the rest at least have some redeeming features and, more importantly, never drop below slightly irritating, which means the whole album can be quite cheerfully taken in one sitting. For the moment, itís getting a three in the Ďpop/progí book, obviously non-essential, but itís still an album with a bit of character, and the first two bits of Memoirs are some Emerson, Lake And Palmer that you could do with even if youíre not a huge fan of theirs.

Rating: 3 stars, (higher than Works 2, actually), 9/15, maybe.
Favourite Track: Love At First Sight <3
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 18 2009 at 01:14
OK heres my review of Love Beach
 
ahem...
 
 
Star
 
This album was bagged out completely by the band members themselves on the DVD From the Beginning. They even hated the album cover and for good reason. Its Bee Gees meets Hawaii Five O.

But I had to taste and see for myself. And it left a bad taste in my mouth I had to wash out with dollops of Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery. What a mess this album is.

One track stands out - One! but you have to wade through the sewerage tunnels of 5 tracks that have a stench worse than a full nappy. Track 6 - Canario (From Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre) is a beautiful 4 minute stand out piece that works well both instrumentally and is full of innovative musical virtuosity. Its the only track that is found on the 'Ultimate ELP' compilation. It shows the type of work these guys were capable of. Then 'Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentlemen' begins and goes on..... and on..... and on! It never seems to stop! It feels like Chinese torture by the 10th minute. What were they thinking?

Thankfully albums following this such as 'Black Moon' saw ELP rise to decent levels. What a waste of talent is Love Beach! I don't think anymore needs to be said. Avoid like the veritable plague!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 24 2009 at 08:43
In Spite Of Harry's Toenail, Gnidrolog, 1972#
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Gnidrologís rather striking debut is both a melting pot of styles and also completely unplaceable, musically. Despite the occasional folk-inspired flute interval, an odd burst of jamming, tender acoustics and equally violent edgy dramatics, the material here doesnít really seem to correlate to any particular style but rather to represent a capable bandís very original creation. Obviously, the multi-instrumentalism, with everything from cello to harmonica to piano to guitar handled capably, is an attraction (especially satisfying are Peter Cowlingís menacing bass parts), the dramatic vocals are another, but best of all is the groupís penchants for strident dynamics. The lyrics, though archetypal hippie stuff, are well-written, clever and still hold some meaning for those of us who missed out on it first time round. All in all, fantastic stuff.

Jarring, biting aggression instantly drags the listener into Long Live Man Dead, ten minutes of dynamic madness, juxtaposing the opening chaos with a quirky recorder, and pulling off admirably the sort of false lead that Tull would take so much interest in by 1973ís A Passion Play, crossing wonderfully slippery bass runs with the intentionally stunted aggression of Nigel Pegrumís superbly dramatic percussion work. The lyrics are biting, angry and delivered with as much aspic as Colin Goldringís superb voice can muster. The bandís confidence in their dynamics even on their very introduction to recording as a group is incredible, being willing to fade to nothing and then reintroduce themselves with a simmering cymbal only before the lush, pastoral flute and minute acoustics of a folk ballad, and then to pull themselves back to the vicious rock employing the vocals as a sort of linking point, while the rest of the band subtly builds to return the ferocious anger of the opening. A dark bass, almost imperceptibly complemented by unusual guitar, runs us out and into...

Peter, initiated by a gorgeous cello, flute and recorder trio, sinking and rising mournfully, is almost a lament, regretting the passage of the title character from his revolutionary antics to a tedious desk job. The resentful vocals are underlaid with a subversive medieval-feeling acoustic, and a ticking clock segues the end of the piece. Smooth, meaningful and a bold inclusion.

Snails is another dynamic showcase, with some incredibly frantic quiet material juxtaposed with the eclectically loud splintering of the guitar, occasionally backed up by a piano. Spiralling bass and flute or oboe backing pictorially fills out the pieceís unforeseeable and crazed energy, and throughout thereís both the circular pull of the bass parts, and the gradual dynamic bursts of guitar and e-piano (I think). The vocals feel a mixed need to follow the general dynamic, occasionally complementing with mockery, occasionally using madness as a substitute for violence. Towards the pieceís end, theatrical horn and tenor sax (both contributed, I think, by Colin Goldring... what I hear as sax could be oboe... Iím bad at working these out) play out a vituperative duet. Top notch work from Nigel Plegrum, again, for working up such an energetic and violent percussion part without that much in the way of real Ďdrumsí. Really incredibly violent at times; makes Opeth sound like The Beach Boys.

Time And Space, alternately pretty in a sort of casual folk song way and daringly crazed with its own sort of self-destructive fervour. The calm folk open gives way to a thick, block bass-driven rock piece with the occasional Soft-Machine-like overflow. Unusually produced flute and thunderous bass offers up more chaotic vocal work, with a lot of stress on pronouncing the individual words, and the piece comes together in its jazz/rock meets Van Der Graaf Generator way. The heady rhythm section allows for a two guitar jam, complementing and contradicting each other with equal effect. Ten-second drum solo, and suddenly, scat-sung flute work before the regal power of the final guitar chord. Absolutely bizarre, and yet so brilliantly pulled off.

Who Spoke follows this energy with a less emotionally taxing trip, bringing an introspective acoustic guitar to the high-range, endearingly individual voice of Colin Goldring, ranging comfortably from nervousness to hope to anger and defiance to panic. As far as plain acoustic-and-voice goes, this is pretty far out.

Goodbye - Farewell - Adieu is the precursor of the more Ďsymphonicí and grandiose material their sophomore album would feature, and itís nonetheless significantly more enjoyable than that, with a gorgeous vocal over the sad harmonies (and with such amazing lyrics, ĎGoodbye Ė farewell Ė adieu, I donít know where Iím going to/Iíll return when Iíve found why/Iím going now, let me see you smile), a momentous bass part and a careful development to the crunching guitar chord and a slow bluesy solo, and while that solo could well be from a faster-paced Floyd song, the imaginative resolution straight into an up-tempo jam is something really quite Gnidrolog, a rhythm section jumping about tribally, a smooth, defiant harmonica soloing all over the place and an impeccably tasteful sense of when to have a little communal break. This reviewer gets the whole defiance meets escapism vibe from this one, with a combination of fun rocking out, great musicianship and Schizoid-Man wailing, coming casually off the whole trip with a chord. Fantastic conclusion.

In many respects, much more compelling than its more lauded successor, and though itís not as easy to deal with, this combination of frantic energetic work and soaring beauty is something I keep coming back to. A must-have, one of those albums on the very top echelon of Ďprogressive rockí, both in terms of its originality and creativity and the emotional impact of its compositions.

Rating: Five Stars. 14/15, I think. Maybe 13 if Iím being a bit stingy.
Favourite Track: tough choice... maybe Time And Space or Who Spoke

---

A much deserved five star rating for one of those bands that don't quite get as much credit as some of the big ones... highly recommended, of course, particularly as there's now an In Spite Of Harry's Toenail/Lady Lake double-set available pretty economically. I need to pick up the bonus tracks and their live album someday, but until then, this one is already very satisfying.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 24 2009 at 08:47
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That album deserves a lot of credit. Loved it. Although I stopped at 4 stars Big smile
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 24 2009 at 09:32
Hey, I remember Gnidrolog. Think I liked the debut more than Lady Lake too.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 26 2009 at 16:10
Dream Theater, Metropolis pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, 1999

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To nick half an opening line off a fellow reviewer, ?[Metropolis pt. II: Scenes From A Memory] is not only Dream Theater's most overrated release, nor is it prog metal's most overrated release?, it?s awful.

First off, the ?concept? part of ?concept album?: a good concept album surely needs the following: a good concept, and preferably a well-written one, a strong relationship between the lyrics and the music, appropriate vocals and more importantly, to me, a depth to actually keep the listener coming back to the concept... it?s the difference between Foucault?s Pendulum and the light-hearted The Redemption of Althalus, both are good books, but one is much deeper and consequently more rewarding... in the context that you hope, surely, to listen to an album more than once, the former approach is more valuable.

Now, does Metropolis Pt. II, Scenes From A Memory, which has more depth in its title than the entire damn 70-minute monstrosity, fulfil any of those requirements? Me, personally, I, myself and further I, don?t believe it does. The plot is a gaping hole, in which things happen in spasms, things are very occasionally revealed in between the main character?s angsty soliloquys, conclusions are drawn and a concluding twist is ruthlessly inserted. Unfortunately, these things need connections and arrangement ? is there really any emotional content in someone believing ?The spirit carries on? because they?ve been hypnotized into thinking about their (obviously real) previous incarnations? Or is there any point in the ?Sleeper? and the ?Miracle? ?metaphors? for two of the cast characters? Themes and ideas are introduced, but there is just no depth to these (?Without faith, without hope/there can be no peace of mind??...  the why for this precise, repeated line isn?t there, as far as I can see... it just appears to be an underlying assumption of the speaker). If you genuinely like the plot of this one, I?d recommend action sci-fi film The Core. It?s probably on much the same level.

Now, well-written, obviously not: ?She wanted love forever/but he had another plan/He fell into an evil way/She had to let him down/She said ?I can?t love a wayward man?, and (Exhibit B, your honour), ?Now that I?ve become aware/And exposed this tragedy/A sadness grows inside of me/It all seems so unfair? are representative cuts, and the overall impression isn?t helped by the predictable alternation of the two parallel stories (well, one of them isn?t even happening, it?s just a commentary with an event at the end) ?past event happens? and ?Nicholas comments in an angsty/happy way on the past events, with no sympathetic motivation?.

So, we have remarked that it is a wafer-thin plot, following the travails of wafer-thin characters, direly written, and with a sort of pretence of dual depth (past and present), which , when examined, is unconnected, and, regardless, nothing of interest happens in plot B until the very end. Dire stuff. Now, why does this matter so much? Well, one, it?s a concept album and it?s pushing the concept... it annoys me for the same reason that The Wall?s stress on the Hitler rally does... it doesn?t make sense, and what is presented as if it were a strength is built on the sand of pretence. It doesn?t help either that Labrie is obnoxious to the extreme in his presentation here... his voice is clearly meant to convey an average, normal person most of the time, but, on the other hand, it?s plain irritating.... the occasional efforts at a smoother or more aggressive vocal style, rare though they are, are a welcome relief. He also adds an ?a? sound to every word in some sections, which is a pet peeve of mine. So, basically, he?s over-presenting a hollow, irritating plot in a hollow, irritating way.

OK, I think you?ve probably worked out I don?t like the concept by now, so that?s out of the way... now the album part. Here Dream Theater seem to be hell-bent on alternating the pacey metal riff with the tingling acoustic ballad... unfortunately, they?re not particularly good at either of those. The number of good, memorable riffs in these seventy minutes is in the 0s (well, there?s one salvaged off I&W, but I?m hardly going to count that), and moreover Petrucci is just a lousily generic and tedious acoustic guitarist... if your introduction to progressive rock included the acoustic features of Howe, Hackett and Fripp, you?ll probably hold very, very little affection for the harmless ding-DING-ding (simple acoustics, not always a bad thing, but it?s the difference between a writer with a knack for good melodies and one without... Dream Theater don?t benefit from this difference being so highlighted) we get from such an admittedly capable electric soloist... again, Petrucci?s guitar work, when on an electric, when in a lead role, when soloing, is phenomenal. Unfortunately, at any other given time, he can be unimaginably dull... for instance, for the majority of Scenes From A Memory.

Now, onto the rest... Rudess sort of fits the band, and has to his credit a gimmicky ragtime solo and a generally unoffensive vibe... admittedly his piano parts as a rule don?t seem to add a lot to pieces, and occasionally the synth sounds simply don?t come off. Portnoy, in addition to being technically sharp and complex, is a bore (though not as much so as on Images And Words), and I hear on good authority the brotherhood of the Sacred Ear to this day have a bounty on John Myung?s basslines, so if you can actually hear them on this one, you could be in for the big bucks. There are, musically speaking, two pieces I sort of like on here, and I can remember literally only fragments of them, it?s not a well-written album, in my view, and while the more technical-masturbation-themed songs are definitely a bit more interesting for me, I fail to remember more than seconds of any individual piece, and it says a lot that those seconds are generally the gimmicky ragtime solo or the sitar sampling. So, in short, not a compelling metal album (in my opinion... now, I?m not a metalhead, but there are metal albums I like [by Opeth, especially Blackwater Park, Iron Maiden and Arcturus, to name a few]... this just isn?t one of them... and I can?t say it has the more appealing qualities of those artists I mentioned earlier), not a good progressive rock (indeed, progressive more in derivation than in innovation... a melting pot of styles, rather like making a paella in a mould-encrusted pan) album, not particularly a good album in any sense.

OK, so, I haven?t even discussed the individual tracks, and I?ve explained why I think this is a lousy concept album. I?ve also written 1123 words already, so it?s probably time to bite the bullet and spin the damn album again... I might be brief on individual tracks, because spending this much time writing about Scenes From A Memory when it could be spent giving enjoyable albums such as Awake, Molignak, Darwin! or Skin a small boost in PA?s collective consciousness is probably unneeded.

OK, so we have the spoken hypnotherapist intro, complete with ticking... then an exceptionally vapid acoustic-and-voice number with some warbling synth in the background. Thankfully pretty brief. Paragraph merge, because I can. OK, we have a quote from the admittedly neat Metropolis pt 1, which, while just about unrelated (in the same way as the two Cygnus books blatantly are), is probably the best ten seconds of the album. Some nice soloing from Petrucci is probably the key feature of the instrumental Overture 1928... the occasional foreshadowing of later music by collecting themes is clearly an effort , but at the same time, I don?t like that later music either, so it?s hardly a plus for me. Now, onto the first real vocal number, which, in addition to the thick layers of mind-numbing suffering brought on by Labrie?s voice,  has (presumably Portnoy) providing atrocious backing vocals. The drum part is precise, but trapped by its own precision, so often being rigidly unpredictable in the same fashion that the ?unpredictable? bit of it fails to impress, Rudess?s short piano bits are neat, his synth parts don?t seem to have a lot to them... Myung, when audible, is neat.

The following Through My Words is too safe a piano-and-voice number to really criticise, and if you can ignore the lyrics, that and the opening of Fatal Tragedy are actually quite nice. The latter moves on with some AOR (that?s right, you heard that) choruses and the standard riffing interspersed with some fantastic solos and the occasional organ tone. I?m sort of torn about whether I like the prog-metal thing at around four minutes... very energetic (and I like the shredding, and I think Petrucci, when soloing, has a fantastic tone, though it seems to go out the window on the riffs), actually sort of cool, but it feels so blatant, and really holds no relation to the rest of the song other than having the same track number. OK, out of hypnotherapist talk, we get a riff. Wow. That was really unexpected.

Beyond This Life is the first real engagement with the ?Past? story. Unfortunately, it?s terrible. OK, the riff is slightly better than most of those on the album, and when Labrie?s vocals are under that weird effect thing, and I can pretend he?s singing about hobbits and wizards or something, I can pretend I like this one. There?s some surprisingly atmospheric Rudessage here. I like that. Unfortunately, the lyrics are so badly written, they make the opening virtually unlistenable and Labrie is trying so hard to specifically irritate me. OK, he does the occasional neat operato-aggressive thing, which is good, but otherwise, he?s mechanically and systematically irking my vocal hates. Some of the bland systematic...... .

OK, Myung comes to the surface halfway through, albeit with a completely harmless part. A random bit of daft production fiddling (Dream Theater are just too calculated to do a Hendrixian interlude, sorry guys) leads into what is actually a really neat bit of bluesy guitar before another superb Petrucci solo. A dire brass synth takes us on... well, let?s just say Rudess?s solo showcase here is nailbitingly tasteless with the sounds. Portnoy doesn?t really add anything to my enjoyment, but he?s alright here. It?s a pity that Myung?s remarkable exit to the daylight from the world of very-low-in-the-mix isn?t remarkably good. Bits of this could be really good if I could hear them without hearing the other bits of this soon after.

Some heavy handed Dark Side Of The Moon references (guitars, howly female vocals), complete with an almost hymnal set of keys, followed by a little piano part and the lousy ballad that is Through Her Eyes. Portnoy barely contributes to this bit, obviously, because it?s a soft song. Petrucci strums, yawn. Labrie amazingly manages to mess up even this vocal style on occasion... and his incessant vibrato (is that the word?) is a pain. Rudess is a bland piano note every once in a while, and Myung, still on his exercise hour from the prison of the regular production provides the only thing about this song that?s actually enjoyable (well, the occasional electric burst isn?t terrible, but that?s mooted by the acoustics). So bad I feel like going to youtube and listening to a high school band?s cover of Video Killed The Radio Star to clean my ears.

Home is a rare thing: Dream Theater dabbling in diversity and also a good song on this album. A vaguely sitar-flavoured thing , with an embryonic riff beneath it, and the occasional precise roll from Portnoy, and suddenly, BIAO-BAO, this absolutely fantastic riff with spiralling guitar work coming off it comes in... Rudess has pulled his tones together, I can barely hear Myung, but I assume he?s doing something nice, there?s a sharp metal riff... and now, Labrie, L there goes that run, lads... OK, the lyrics are actually not too terrible, more reminiscent of Pt. 1, but his vocals, at least to start with, are unpleasant. OK, then he pulls together and we get shockhorrorscandal a catchy melody... what?s going on? Has the spirit of 10cc taken over my stereo player for a few seconds? Did I just like that? Yes... well, whatever witchcraft is going on, Labrie again layers his voice with effects over a menacing, Indian-flavoured riff, and The Miracle?s vocal section is slightly less generally irritating... now, if we get past the generic sexual-noises, which would clearly have some sort of affect on me if I didn?t hate the concept so much, the sampled-sitar/electric interplay is nice, and even if the solo bursts of the last three minutes are the definition of forgettable, the points where the band pull together make up for it. Anyway, whatever Dream Theater were aiming for with the rest of the album, they somehow managed to just about hit it here.

The Dance Of Eternity opens with some nervous collective shuffling, all laboriously united by little re-echoed solo bits, and double-kick-drumming covers the whole thing. On the other hand, aside from this opening demented soundtrack thing, there is just about enough of the gimmick to keep this one alive, whether in silly synth things, crazed intensity, little dah-dum-dah-dum  bits, something that reminds me of a particularly theme, but I?m not sure which (James Bond, I?m thinking..., maybe I?m wrong), and a random ragtime piano, which is admittedly a gimmick, but a relatively good one... still, I liked this one at first, but I?m finding less and less to like about it. Then, there?s a tiny, tiny nice bit with piano and band on before the band goes on into crazy dramatics with only the guitar and piano providing any pleasant reprieve from the dumbfounding, soul-crushing irksomeness of Labrie?s vocals on One Last Time.

OK, my ears have switched off by this point... but I?ll try to listen to the following The Spirit Carries On (doncha love concept non sequiturs J) despite Labrie?s presence... there?s a lot of reference of things from The Wall, here, I think... the piano is reminiscent, and Labrie takes on an almost Watersy edge... and there?s the classic Eclipse (Dark Side, admittedly) organ chord... OK, so a laboured Petrucci solo, which I don?t particularly enjoy, and Portnoy in full flow and yet failing to make any impression on me... OK, gospel choir... yeah, right, no reference to a certain band?s crowning moment there? Labrie is trying. Yes, very trying (sorry folks, had to be done). OK. Bland rock with half a million Floyd references... I suppose that?s progressive in itself... Floyd were never bland :p

Finally Free... well about bloody time... could?ve done with that seventy minutes ago. Hypnotherapist again, direly bland synths, an unimpressive Petrucci part, sound effects which are indicating the change in the plot... dun dun dun... OK. There?s not a lot I like about this tacky cartoon stuff... so I?ll say there?s a smooth piano in there, and then Labrie comes in again revealing the GRAND CLIMAX of this grand sham. Victoria?s bit is actually quite nice at times... seems odd that Dream Theater would bring in a female choir just to reference Pink Floyd but shy away from getting a female vocalist to take the female lead on this one, still... ?Then came a shot out of the night? is possibly the most undramatically delivered line I?ve heard in a while, which is odd given how much drama Dream Theater can throw in when the lines don?t merit it... OK, murder sound effects, wow... what next? Grandiose conclusion with particularly lousy vocals. OK... turning back to the comic dramatics... some noodling blandness (me, personally, I like content, having a story doesn?t preclude having that), followed by some more hypnotherapy and a squib which is evidently significant to the story?s grand twist. I dislike it intensely. Very intensely. So, to illustrate the style of lumping this together as a concept album, I?ll mark the thing by ?Scenes? and give you an average grade. Novelty shift in style. Of course, it will have no relevance on the final grade/star thing I give it.

Scene One: 1/15, Scene Two: 3/15, Scene Three: 6/15, Scene Four: 4/15, Scene 5: 1/15, Scene 6: 12/15, Scene 7: 6/15, Scene 8: 1/15, Scene 9: 3/15. Averaged out, we have 4.111etc./15, which would be a one rather than a two.

So, on the final grade: I cannot possibly give a three to an album from which I really enjoy only one song, and which is conceptually so terrible. Whether one track in a seventy minute album and the occasional glimpse of pleasantness qualify an album for the glorious second star is questionable. It?s getting the one from me, which is, admittedly, on the harsher side of justice, but I can see myself very happily not connecting this one to the CD dock again, and once Home is safely ripped to the computer, this will be ?put out to stud? (i.e. collect dust as a glorified coaster).

Rating: One Star, I think 4/15 is actually the mark I?d have given it anyway. 3 if I couldn?t skip tracks. Favourite Track: Definitely, definitely Home.

So, what have we learned from this review (well, I say we, I mean I):

Don?t buy Scenes From A Memory Metropolis. Unless you really feel like you need to have Home. Or are a Dream Theater fan and think Mike Portnoy is the best drummer ever, at which point you already own the album, most likely. Anyway, not a wise introduction choice, in my opinion, at least, compared to the decent Images And Words and Awake, which is great stuff... if you really like other Dream Theater or you feel like a good, nervous, horrified laugh, go forth, DT fans, and multiply.

A concept is not necessarily a good concept.

Writing about albums you don?t like can be fun.

You can write three thousand words about anything.

Credit goes to topofsm... his review was the one my opening line sampled.

OK... there's a line in there where I trailed off, but I can't remember what exactly I was complaining about, and changing it would ruin the 'exactly 3000 words of review excluding title and footnotes' thing I've got going on.


---

A bit acidic and definitely overlong, but hey, it was fun to write.
Edit: oh, and I was still four hundred words behind The T, but he can probably be expected to write more about PM albums.


Edited by TGM: Orb - May 26 2009 at 16:13
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 28 2009 at 06:03
You may just have inspired me to rewrite my review or something, ha ha!†LOL††Nice one, rather scathing perhaps, but can't say it sounds unjustified or prejudiced...opinionated, yes, and no more so than most of the five star reviews for this album in that case. †Good to know you liked Awake (so it seems), I guess the electric energy somehow makes everything come together and fall in place on that one for the band, more so than even the more illustrious Images & Words. †I too find this a meal to listen to; that †said, I still find this easier to digest than the next few albums from Dream Theater. †One point on which I differ though is the Petrucci solo on Spirit Carries On, it may be rather too Gilmour-esque and certainly not his best but I like it, some "tasteful shred" here, too bad LaBrie brings to my mind the more unpleasant and painful Waters-moments (Trial??) on The Wall rather than those where his delivery is more gripping and convincing. †
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 13 2009 at 10:58
An unfortunate place to get a dry spell... but hey. Yes, four or so half-finished reviews coming up that I'll probably end up scrapping and re-doing. Still, for your entertainment and acid-filled-tomato-hurling, here comes:

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Free Hand, Gentle Giant

StarStarStarStar

The man who first proclaimed that the progressive rock musicians shall wear capes and play solos and not, under any circumstances, write catchy songs obviously forgot to tell Gentle Giant. Their very credible 1975 release Free Hand is a full text of how-to-play-well-without-being-accused-of-masturbation, how-to-write-songs-that-are-both-involving-and-catchy and, more importantly, how-to-put-out-a-great-album. Admittedly, the excitement of this one is somewhat consolidated on the superb side one, and pleasant as the medievally flavoured work of side 2 is, it somehow stops at intelligent, pleasant movement rather than making the murky transition to a full-fledged classic.

The opener is pretty much symbolic of the album as a whole, catchy as hell, opening with the infectiously obtuse shifting of handclaps from speaker to speaker and a bouncy piano part. Gary Greene and Ray Shulman leap to create a polyphonic pop song, taking in its stride the lively saxophone-heavy verses, a chorus introduced by a cool keyboard hook and a bizarre instrumental interlude, moving from a well-thought out shiny synthesiser over a calm groove to a theatrical bit of bending moog mastery with a much sharper jazzy backdrop from Ray Shulman and John Weathers. A happily rocking guitar repeat of the piano riff leads us back into the song proper, and before you know it, the chugging bass rhythm and handclaps have taken us out again. Worth mentioning, Minnear (keys) and Ray Shulman (bass) give great performances on this one.

Now, how Iím meant to review On Reflection is beyond me, but Iíll try... here Gentle Giantís amazing capacity for arrangement comes to the fore, with complex vocal parts interweaved with classical density and medieval flavour, interspersed with the bandís incredible range of instruments. Derek Shulmanís bouncy and impersonal energy on lyrics such as ĎIn my way did I use you/Do you think that I really abused you/On reflection now, it doe-esnít ma-atterí is matched perfectly by Kerry Minnearís lush yet fragile and affected ĎIíll remember the good things how can I forget/ all the years that we shared in our wayí, and the complimentary gradually introduced xylophone, glockenspiel and piano tracking the various multi-layered vocal parts supplement the feel of individual voices crucial to the songís lyrical theme, as the exquisite low-tempo keyboard-and-bass support for Minnearís great vocal, and with the introduction of subtle violins and cello, this reflective moment leads up to the energetic burst out of the Ďall around/all around/ all around...í block harmony before the great rock instrumental conclusion, with bass, guitar and organ trading parts just about every time and yet finding the space to add in. An impression you get from the instrumental parts of this one, which maybe wasnít there in the Giantís early albums, is simply what great musicians they are. Ray Shulmanís bass in particular, is probably among my favourite albums for the instrument ever, and this instrumental burst is a prime example of how to play great interesting starts while serving the song absolutely. OK, maybe the fade isnít a perfectly satisfying ending from a musical point of view, but the idea of happily going off from this failed relationship to do oneís own thing is suitably conveyed by the defiant melodies springing up over this, and I canít think of a better way to give that impression. A top notch Giant piece, and certainly among my favourites.

 If at the time of reading, as at the time of writing, this song is a title track here, open another tab/scroll up and click the play button and I can say with a fair bit of confidence that you shouldnít be disappointed. A typically punctuated Minnear piano and a kicking Gary Greene riff, backed up by its bizarre pauses, an incredibly fun and odd bit of bass from the virtuosic Ray Shulman, as well as some choice drum fills from John Weathers, who, if overshadowed by the other band members is a rock of consistent creativity throughout this record. If you can work out exactly whatís going on in the instrumental sections, the first laden with clever piano dissonants and the second a minimal guitar-driven thing with some mystical percussion and a weird marine-sounding keyboard, bulked up by Greeneís jabs, youíre a braver man than I. The melody is just fantastic, and the little details present everywhere. The quintessential eclectic song? Well, either way, great pop music elaborated beyond recognition and with Gentle Giantís charm and great complexity.

Time To Kill continues quite strongly, opening with a sort of inverted outro, taking thrumming static and suddenly throwing in twenty or thirty seconds of a building riff crammed full of their wonderfully obtuse musical knowledge and then pulling together to give the impression that theyíre aiming at a sort of running-out-conclusion already as if on the end of On Reflection... but they donít. The shift is straight on into a slightly remorseful rock song with some of the bulky vocals and a suitably great lead from Derek Shulman, alternating between immensely musical band set-ups and a sort of prowling lead bass thing hunting the voice. The wonderful vocal harmonies are almost the precursor to some of the stuff on the later pop albums that Iíve heard, if much, much better... again, a fade on the end isnít really satisfying, but otherwise a very clever and catchy song... Gentle Giant are fantastic at the combination of the two.

The somewhat tragic and reminiscing His Last Voyage is the albumís first sign of flagging just a little... the bulk of it is a sweet medieval-sounding vocal section, and much as Gary Greeneís gorgeous acoustic guitar and the band joining together, it goes on a relatively long time for a section where making out the words is a challenge and also one where it doesnít really mesh with the intelligently created introduction and interludes set up to add some flavour for it. Now, in spite of this pleasant but slightly inelegant bit, at the three minute mark, it transforms, a sharp coordination between the piano and bass and a set of remarkable airy fills by Weathers are overlaid with an equally ethereal vocal to give a sort of surrealistic web of ghostlike atmosphere over which Gary Greene finally gets the blues-driven, but creative, solo he seems to have been itching for all album, and a return to the tranquil part brings a real conclusion to a mixed, but at times wonderful, piece.

Talybont (a Welsh town, by the way; nice place, Iíve been walking there, and the music fits it nicely) is more of a hearts-on-sleeves medieval piece, with twin recorders and a harpsichord; there is a clear main theme throughout, which is frequently echoed, and the superb production of the album really allows some of the songís subtleties to stand out as highlights here, whether in the form of a solid clavichord or clavinet contrast to the playful main theme, or in John Weathersí matching drum work, placing much more emphasis on a mood than a beat. Wonderful work by Minnear and Gary Greene in particular here... overall, a very satisfying piece of music, achieving character without going to the lengths of the rest of the album to do so.

The ending Mobile is, erm, wearing. Yes, itís clever compositionally, I can remember the main theme, and the dense polyphony is still there, and there are a huge number of neat catches, but, by this point in the album, it maybe feels a little odd after the two cute medieval numbers to return to the style of the first half, albeit with a somewhat more prominent lead vocal and a set of discernable and unimpressive lyrics. OK, so the band have a boundless childlike energy and musical knowledge that allows them to slam in vocoders, violins, wah-wah guitar work, suspicious piano work and a creative intensity to shame their contemporaries and their successors, but I canít really say that, either because itís simply not as memorable as half one, or because my musical brain is getting tired and Iím preparing to switch off before Interview (ah, the banes of two-in-one-CDs)... anyway, as a stand-alone song, itís good, but as the ending to such a fantastic album, it doesnít really hold up, and I canít say the random wait-then-drum roll ending is ahead of the fades that characterise the rest of this one.

So, all in all, rush out to your nearest purveyor of quality music, which probably remains either Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com unless youíre less of an almost-but-not-quite-rural unfortunate than I am, and acquire or order this album. Or listen to the sample; that might be a good idea first. Alas, the fifth star eludes this one on the grounds that a few of the endings arenít exactly decisive, when the bandís ability to write a song ending is really not in question, and Mobile and His Last Voyage fail to stand out in the way the other five songs do. Ah, Gentle Giant, forever stuck on four L, despite it all. Worth mentioning, this is one hell of a bass album, and you get an impression of virtuosity as well as the creativity, individuality and emotion that has, up Ďtil now, been a constant feature of Gentle Giantís repertoire.

Rating: Four Stars, 12/15
Favourite Track: tough choice; maybe Time To Kill or On Reflection


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