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The Nice - Ars Longa Vita Brevis CD (album) cover


The Nice


Symphonic Prog

3.29 | 119 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Just as Emerlist Davjack reminds me in broad strokes of Procol Harum's debut album (though I admit that this comparison doesn't hold up very well once I start thinking of specific details of the two albums), so this album reminds me in broad strokes of Shine on Brightly. Both albums feature a clear expansion in ambition over their respective previous albums, as manifested in the presence of a messy sidelong track in the second half; both feature a reduction in the importance of guitar (in the case of The Nice, guitar is almost completely gone thanks to the departure of O'List, though there's a small amount of it in the title track); both albums have a chunk of material in the first half that's more in line with the previous albums and is probably better than the more amibitious material that follows. While these albums strike me as having some parallels, however, I end up preferring Shine on Brightly by quite a bit over this one, even if I think that SOB is possibly the weakest album of Procol Harum's "classic" period.

The 19-minute title track, innovative though it might be, is a complete mess. There are interesting individual passages, especially in the jazz-piano section that follows the main vocal section of the piece, but this mix of jazz, classical (featuring a long excerpt from the 3rd Brandenburg Concerto), drum solos and long keyboard passages strikes me as having little, if any, coherence. Yes, "Tarkus" would be longer than this in a couple of years, but "Tarkus" is one of the most cleanly organized large-scale prog pieces ever written, and I enjoy all of the elements within it greatly. Yes, "Karn Evil 9" would be much more sprawling than this, and have some stupid aspects near the end, but that was at least split into three distinct large-scale sections, and each of them had its own clear personality. This one just keeps going and going, dumping in idea after idea with no clear rhyme or reason, and I find it very tedious. Then again, to the band's credit, it's not like they had clear models to base the piece on, so they deserve some credit for the effort.

The first half is more conventional on the whole, and splits between the psychedelic art-pop of the debut and some more excursions into the world of classical-rock synthesis. The latter is represented by the 9-minute interpretation of the Intermezzo from Sibelius' "Karelia Suite," and it's easy to hear the origins of Pictures at an Exhibition in this. The track starts with the trio playing the basic themes of the original more-or-less faithfully, but this turns into a launch pad for some "explorations" that maintain thematic ties to the original piece, eventually culminating in Emerson squeezing all sorts of unhealthy noises from his organ in the end. This is definitely the peak of the band's attempts to fuse classical and rock, though it does sound a little tame compared to Pictures or "The Barbarian."

Ultimately, though, it's the psychedelic art-pop that I like most; at worst, the first three tracks on this album would have been middle-of-the-pack amongst the Emerlist Davjack material. The opening "Daddy Where Did I Come From?" is a great blast of piano-fueled psychedelic rock, with a mid-section consisting of dad making quite the awkward attempt at explaining procreation to his son (among other things he describes how he fornicated a flower). The son's final response to him is hilarious as well. "Little Arabella" is a cheery jazz-pop ditty (with surprisingly decent Jackson vocals) with lots of subtle organ in the beginning and with a brief bit of bombast in the middle. And finally (since I'm not counting the brief 13-second track that precedes the title track) "Happy Freuds" uses all sorts of interesting treatments on the voices of the various band members as they sing about universal love or something over Emerson's organs. This description may make the song seem kinda stupid but the song is quite nice.

This album is difficult to hunt down, and while it's decent enough I'm not sure it's especially worth the effort. As much as a pretty good album can be, this album strikes me as much more interesting than good, but the "interesting" aspects still end up paling to much of what would start happening over the next couple of years in the world of prog rock. Still, it's worth listening to once or twice.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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