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Focus - Focus Plays Focus [Aka: In and Out of Focus] CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.49 | 329 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars One "Anonymous" track but four anonymous tracks

Focus are in my opinion tragic under achievers. They have shown through numerous inspired tracks, and ultimately through the superb "Hamburger Concerto" album that they are capable of making absolutely first class music. Too often though, they have come up short by including sub-standard fillers and rambling quasi-jazz noodlings in their albums. If this seems a bit harsh, it's because Focus frustrate me. If they had just stuck to the knitting, they could have been one of Europe's biggest bands.

Anyway, this album (my review is based on the Sire records release) takes us right back to the band's roots in 1970. Formed the previous year by guitarist Jan Akkerman with a rhythm section of Martin Dresden and Hans Cleuver, the quartet would be completed later that year with the arrival of the multi-talented Thjis Van Leer. The rhythm section here would last for just this album, which was far from successful commercially. Focus version 2 would of course go on to find great success, but let us focus on this debut, which most people would have come across retrospectively.

At just 36 minutes and six tracks, the band could hardly be accused of flooding the album with a wealth of material, especially when we consider that there are two versions of the eponymous "Focus", one instrumental and one vocal. The instrumental version opens the album. This is a Thjis Van Leer composition, the man writing or co-writing every track. (Akkerman on the other hand only received one co-credit, for "Anonymous".) From the opening bars, you might be forgiven for thinking this is an ambient album of soothing guitar and keyboards. What we have though is an eclectic mix of laid back sounds, striking lead guitar bursts, and fusion style improvisation. Those improvisations move between guitar, keyboard and flute, thus setting out Focus's stall as soon as possible. At a shade under 10 minutes, the piece is an astonishingly brave opening statement by a band reflecting the wonderful spirit of adventure which prog fronted during the early 1970's.

"Why dream" is a Focus curiosity in that it is the first, and as it turned out rare, time they have recorded a vocal led song. Unfortunately, the vocals are mediocre at best and simply serve to suppress the instrumental dexterity of the band. The following "Happy nightmare (Mescaline)" is even poorer, the call and response nature of the verses making for a very dated pop sound. It is a shame really, as the track features some good mellotron in the background. Curiously, the melody of the track has distinct echoes of The Carpenters "This masquerade".

The second side of the album is similar in layout to the first. The 7 minute instrumental "Anonymous" kicks things off in spirited fashion with another largely improvisational recital. The track is less structured than "Focus", and much more rooted in straight jazz. "Black beauty" reverts to the simplistic 60's sounding pop, thus ironically sounding more annonymous than the preceding track! The closing vocal rendition of "Focus" is much shorter than the instrumental version, turning the piece into a soft ballad. It is hard to remember that this is actually a variant of the first track, such is the transformation.

"In and out of focus" is an essential album for fans of the band, as it is a wonderful illustration of their beginnings. For the rest of us, the two instrumental pieces are the contain the Focus we are all familiar with. The four vocal tracks are diverting but largely disposable.

Easy Livin | 2/5 |


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