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Glass Hammer - Three Cheers For The Broken-Hearted CD (album) cover


Glass Hammer


Symphonic Prog

3.01 | 121 ratings

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3 stars A somewhat controversial and mostly unloved release from American symphonic proggers Glass Hammer, `Three Cheers for the Broken Hearted' saw the band, usually associated with lengthy instrumental filled epic arrangements, adopt a more accessible and stripped back format for their tenth album. This is probably one of the last albums from the band that newcomers should begin with, but the idea that's it's a dud, or worse yet, some kind of commercial sell-out is absurd! Female vocalist Susie Bogdanowicz takes the majority of the lead, but Steve Babb and Fred Schendel still get standout vocal passages throughout as well. All the usual romantic prettiness, the sweeping melodies and lush instrumentation are still there, just tightly compacted into more easier to approach settings, and best of all, the band adopted some more modern influences that, in retrospect with what was come, make this a real one-off that should be reconsidered.

Tracks like opener `Come On, Come On' and the sun-kissed cover of The Zombies' `A Rose for Emily' have a Beatles-esque 60's psychedelic pop flavour, Susie's voice offering breathy sighs. The confident acoustic guitar driven gothic ballad `A Bitter Wind' is one of the absolute album highlights, with weeping Mellotron weaving around Susie's wilting tones during the sublime repeated chorus, and it's pretty much a perfect Glass Hammer piece. Fred especially excels on both the strident and somewhat jaunty `The Mid-Life Weird', which wouldn't have sounded out of place as a breather on earlier album `Lex Rex', and sophisticated ballad `Sundown Shores' glistens with his tasteful piano playing and warm urgent vocal.

Several other tracks take some unexpected and welcome changes of direction. `The Curse They Weave' is very surprising, exciting and moody electro pop with dark slinking grooves, and it works a treat! There's a refreshing brooding heavier atmosphere on `The Lure of Dreams', with Steve's thick reverbreating bass, plus imposing Hammond organ, forceful drumming and intimidating searing Mellotron. `Sleep On' has nice muscular electric guitar workouts that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Dream Theater album, while the ambitious `Schrodinger's Lament' has snarling sludgy riffs over somewhat distracting ranted spoken-word samples that drops in and out of floating spectral passsages that almost take on a dreamy Beach Boy's `Surf's Up' quality.

The almost 8 minute `Hyperbole' is the most overtly proggy standout here, but also easily one of the most contemporary and modern sounding pieces ever to appear on a Glass Hammer album. Dominated by Steve's bouncy leaping bass, a brisk up-tempo relentless beat drives electric guitar fire and infernal Mellotron choirs almost sounding like the later Porcupine Tree discs, twisting turning time-changes, ballistic synth soloing, and even Susie bringing a tougher vocal to carry the catchy repeated chorus home. I'd love the band to head in this direction again sometime soon, so many potential new directions they could investigate! Album closer `Falling' is a classy retro piano ballad from Fred that sounds just like the sort of multi-harmony honey-dipped pop that retro-rocker Matthew Sweet excelled at, and it's just as good. A gorgeous Mellotron outro closes the album perfectly.

Of course there's some filler scattered briefly throughout the eleven tracks, and the cover itself is not very special (although it's pretty inspiring to see the results of Fred's weightloss - way to go, buddy!), but `Three Cheers' frequently bristles with a relaxed energy that being free of ambitious extended and vintage flavoured proggy arrangements allowed the band. Despite some 60's pastiche here and there, this is the furthest Glass Hammer ever drifted from the vintage/retro-prog sound, and it seems fresh and full of untapped potential. I feel albums like this are more interesting and appreciated when looking back over a long discography of an artist, where risks and formula shakeups can be admired. It's a shame that the reaction from stuffier, perhaps older prog fans ensured that Glass Hammer never tried anything like this again (to date). As much as I still enjoy their albums from `If' onwards, it seems like the band had a massive panic attack from the response to this and raced back to the safe comfort of 70's sounds from then on.

The connection with Yes may have brought the band and their recent works more popularity and status, but even before Jon Davison joined their ranks, Glass Hammer already had a number of superb modern symphonic prog works in their career, and `Three Cheers for the Broken Hearted' was a very respectable diversion for patient lovers of the band, with frequently daring and unexpected experiments that we may never get to hear the likes of from them again. It's an album that revealed more variety and their own unique personality a little more than the 70's love-fests that have come since, and I wish the band would take a chance like this again...or that more of their fans would allow them to.

Three and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |


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