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Eclectic Prog

4.11 | 721 ratings

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Prog Dog
4 stars That fateful day 40 years ago is still vivid in my memory, when I held this album in my hands at the record store but decided against buying it. Imagine passing up this classic!

The reality was, in those days as a 12 year old, cash was not flowing. With my earnings from picking fruit in the orchards across the Welland canal opposite from my hometown of St. Catharines Ontario (birthplace of Neil Peart) or with some birthday money, I had to weigh with great care my album purchases (Later on I went through the torturous process of deciding whether I should even buy Yes' Going for the One because several of the songs on it were already on the Yesshows live album we had at home. Imagine missing out on Awaken? or Turn of the Century?).

So when I had a chance recently to buy this on vinyl, I snapped it up. At last, I had my opportunity for redemption as I've been on semi-holiday from prog rock music since the mid 90s more or less.

First, some general impressions: There is a hint of ELP intensity in this album. But no other prog bands come to mind as far as comparableness. It's unique.

I'm amazed with every listen how Bill Bruford's distinct sounding drum kit and playing style brands every song with his unmistakable presence. I love how he moves in and out of juxtaposing parallel rhythms opposite the rest of the band while flawlessly keeping the tempo afloat. He always exercises restraint in his playing- keeping it nimble like a more traditional jazz drummer. Still though, he's no 'rock' drummer. Nevertheless, he fits right into a rock group setting- kind of an enigma!

And then there's Allan Holdsworth. It's hard to trace back and find any guitarists as hopelessly unique. His super quick slurs of notes and brain twisting chords pepper the album.

John Wetton has that familiar and husky sinewy voice. He's a weighty songwriter, a storyteller of substance. I think he's similar to Sting or Geddy Lee, as a bassist and singer combo.

When not playing timeless and exceptionally tasteful keyboard parts Eddie Jobson steps out from the keyboards and plays some mean violin - on full display in songs like Alaska, Time to Kill. He is so adept that at times I thought I was listening to Holdsworth on guitar rather than Eddie furiously bowing the horsetail hair over his plexi transparent violin- the first of it's kind secured in time to use on this album.

Track one, In The Dead of Night, is not a surprise to me: I'd heard it back in the day and loved it, but I didn't realize what I'd heard on the radio was just one part of three sections plus a reprise. It has an iconic 70s feel- almost like the Rocky movie theme done in prog rock style- with plenty of testosterone and fist pumping excitement- a great welcome mat for the rest of the album.

Of all the tracks, Thirty Years reminds me the most of my familiar 'One of A Kind' album by the Bruford band, an album I played to death as a young new prog jazz fan. In fact that would be the album that solidified it for me. Some of the bass tones on this song sounded pleasantly familiar- just like Chris Squire's bass on his classic solo album 'Fish out of Water'.

Nevermore is a treat: listening to Holdsworth on acoustic steel string for the intro- don't think I ever heard that before! Not surprisingly its' one of 2 songs he holds a songwriting credit. It features some of those Holdsworth trade-marked demented brain-twisting chords. Also something I've never heard before: Holdsworth's soloing being mirrored by Jobson on the keyboard. There's also some cool ambient segue's and transitions. I was even reminded of Pat Metheny as Wetton vocalized through some dizzying jazz chord modulations. Good stuff!

The introduction to Alaska reminds me of Saga's intro on a track released in 1980 called 'Careful where you step', and one of my faves off the Silent Knight album. It's obvious they were inspired by UK.

Mental Medication is a cheering piece, a happy number to me. The band's charm shines through. There's some great soloing from everyone, and Bruford feels a bit lighter and more whimsical than usual on this track. There's some nice mild and relaxed moments in the intro, with some subtle violin and wispy Holdsworth chordings, opening the way for some Wetton jazzy vocal calisthenics, and some complex riffing. For the instrumental interludes we hear Wetton break out sweet hot bass lines, thumping and plucking away. We are even treated to Holdsworth going all-out Queen a la Brian May, on some seriously melodic multitracked thickness (also in Nevermore).

But be warned! You may not get this album all at once. I had to return to it a couple times to ingest all the songs as a whole. I couldn't be happier now that I've put in some listening time- it's a rewarding and satisfying album rife with melodic creativity and captured chemistry between a cast of high caliber musicians.

Prog Dog | 4/5 |


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