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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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4 stars A recent thread in Prog Archives forum that shows how some younger people fail to recognize the transcendence of the most important band from the Netherlands and their enormous contribution to the Symphonic Prog movement, has encouraged me to review all of their albums, a pleasant task that I will start from the beginning, with their debut "In and Out of Focus". Before the review itself, we must remember that this album was released in 1970, Symphonic Prog was already well known in UK and Italy was following their steps with some special characteristics, but FOCUS really crossed the limits and changed radically the approach.

While British and Italian bands were too busy with the lush keyboards and strong melodies, FOCUS was able to combine a distinct and unique guitar jamming, some Jazz elements and a strong Classical influence. In this first album they still don't get rid of the Psychedelic influences of the late 60's but they are already creating a new form of lets call it Flemish Symphonic, where Jan Akkerman plays a role that few Symphonic guitarist had.

The album is opened with the smooth and relaxing "Focus" one of the few vocal tracks in their career, being that Thijs Van Leer later started to use his voice as an extra instrument instead of singing lyrics.

The soft voice makes the perfect introduction for a long Hammond organ jamming very well covered by Jan's guitar..Dreamy, oneiric, relaxing, this song places the listener in mood for something new.

"Black Beauty" is a different track that keeps alive the 60's spirit, somehow late Psyche meets early Prog, the vocals in the style of the British invasion combine perfectly with a strong and well elaborate melody. It's important to notice how Jan with his guitar and Thijs with a subtle piano manage to take the lead one after the other, two strong personalities and different styles blending their efforts in favor of the music.

"Sugar Island" is another typical late 60's track with reminiscences of Carnaby Street scenario but already with a more developed style, when I listen the vocal work, I can't understand why they resigned to sing for ever. A special mention for the fantastic guitar instrumental break of Jan Akkerman and Thijs flute, simply impressive. Some people will say that they try to clone JETHRO TULL'S Folk sound, but as a fact JETHRO was still doing mainly blues until 1971, so it's hard to talk about a copy.

"Anonymous" is the first song that sounds like the FOCUS we all know and love, the flute is clearly aggressive, the strength of the song relies exclusively in the instruments, long jamming passages, radical changes, while Jan concentrates in his guitar, Thijs jumps from the piano to the flute as a human octopus, while Hans Cleuver and Martijn Dresden complement perfectly, specially Martijn who does a breathtaking bass solo. A great song

"The House of the King" was he band's first world hit, Thijs does a frantic flute work with Martijn supporting him impeccably with the bass, the track is simply delightful in its simplicity. Strangely, 9 out of each 10 persons I showed the track, used to believe it was played by JETHRO TULL. "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" is a different track, somehow influenced by Latin Jazz and vocal bands works like a stress relief. Even though the previous tracks seem relaxing, the saturation of instrumental sections with few vocals create some stress that needs to be dissolved, and the band does this job with "Happy Nightmare".

Why Dream" is what I define as weird, starts with a Baroque intro enhanced by a sober organ but the vocals bring us back to the 20th Century. The strong melody and melancholic tune combined with Jan's aggressive guitar are spectacular. The Hammond organ is a constant along the track, don't expect radical changes, just let it flow and you will enjoy it as I do.

The album finishes almost as it stated, with the song "Focus", this time instrumental, as announcing that this is what we will listen from now on, but don't be mistaken, only the name and the central melody are repeated, this time the band exploits their instruments to the maximum, Thijs makes constant Hammond solos, each stronger than the previous, while Jan makes the guitar cry in anguish creating a dramatic atmosphere that contrasts with the pleasant one created in the opening track. Pure Progressive Rock at its best, like only FOCUS can play.

I'm sure this is not the best FOCUS album, but it's the chance to discover a band that will later be revolutionary and transcendental in the development of Progressive Rock.

Four stars for a very solid debut.

Ivan_Melgar_M | 4/5 |


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