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Step Ahead - Step Ahead CD (album) cover

STEP AHEAD

Step Ahead

 

Neo-Prog

3.71 | 41 ratings

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apps79
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Short-lived 80's French band with an adventurous story, starting in 1972 with its leader/guitarist Christian Robin moving to London in order to pursue a career as a musician.He was overlooked by the local players, but still earned money through various occupations, including composing music for ads.By 1979 he returned to Nice, France and worked at jazz pianist Jacque Loussier's Studio Miraval, where he met with amateur guitarist Aldo Gulino.In 1980 a band took shape with the additions of Jean-Yves Dufournier on drums, Alain Lejeune on keys, Antoine Ferrera on bass and Eric Mathieu on voice.Despite having different musical backgrounds, all musicians loved Classical Music and Step Ahead put up a demo, which Robin gave to RCA in Paris for promotion.First departures come in 1981, Lejeune, Gulino and Mathieu quit and ex-Carpe Diem Gerald Macia joined on guitar, followed by Claudie Truchi on keys (sister of Carpe Diem's Christian Trutchi) and later Englishman Danny Brown, whom Robin convinced to stay in France.RCA financed the band's self-titled debut, recorded in September 1981 and released early in the next year.

Despite being French and some other 80's local groups trying to keep up the spirit of classic French Prog acts, Step Ahead appear to have been influenced mainly by the British Prog Rock scene.There is a reason for this, first comes the long stint of the band's leader Christian Robin in the UK during the 70's and then it was the addition of Brown on vocals, which made the English lyrics a pretty comfortable choice for Robin.To my ears of course they sounded pretty close to German acts influenced by British Prog, for example AMENOPHIS, ANTARES or ANYONE'S DAUGHTER to name a few, maybe with a more raw edge in the guitar moves, maintaining a symphonic background via Claudie Truchi's balanced keyboards.Step Ahead were more of a guitar-oriented band compared to the UK acts of the period, either if we talking about the strong electric moves or the elaborate acoustic textures, featuring a decent vocalist.However they managed to keep a balance between rougher ideas and more romantic overtones, playing with Brown's ability for an intense lyricism.The material goes from sharp solos and dynamic riffs to melodic themes as a result.Keyboards are used with intelligence, even if a more pronounced flavor may had a better result.They are delivered mainly through symphonic backdrops and less flashy executions, but their display is a reason for a wider style and the evident links to 70's Symphonic Rock.

By the time the album was recorded Ferrera, Dufournier and Truchi had left the band, replaced by the returning Alain Lejeune, 17-years old Manu Requier on drums and Herve Ferrieux on bass.The album was poorly promoted and a 12-inch promo had to be distributed for commercial reasons.Ferrieux was replaced then by Philippe Recht and Step Ahead kept playing live and recording in the studio.Three live pieces from a performance at Theater De Verdure in November 82' are included in the album's CD reissue by Musea, along with two new pieces, rehearsed by the 1982 line-up.Quite a shame this act was so underappreciated, cause the new material shows them a bit closer to standard British Neo Prog, the sound is reminiscent of bands like QUASAR, PALLAS and THE LENS with some great guitar parts, expressive lyricism, an emphatic rhythm section and a convinving sound, which now lacked obvious symphonic leanings, but had become very energetic with some pompous keyboards added for good measure.

More line-up changes occured after the spring of 1983, Macia, Requier and Recht all quit due to the group taking a more commercial direction, with Norbert Lallemand, Alain Ruart and Phillipe Chayeb replacing them.When Robin met Alan Parsons around the time, hopes for a second work were born, abandoned a bit later, when RCA demanded from Step Ahead to firstly record a single.Robin thought this was a relegation for his band and Step Ahead eventually dissolved in 1984.

Guitar-led Neo Prog with an underground production, driven by the energetic rhythms, brilliant melodies, sharp vocals and decent keyboard lines.Recommended, especially if you're deep into the cult 80's prog sound.

apps79 | 3/5 |

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