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Pell Mell - Rhapsody CD (album) cover


Pell Mell


Symphonic Prog

3.27 | 37 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Few countries took the idea of "classical rock" more seriously than Germany in the 1970s, as anyone will tell you who was exposed at the time to the music of WALLENSTEIN, TRIUMVIRAT, or this all but forgotten outfit. PELL MELL was one of many groups following in the well-trod footsteps of Keith Emerson, updating the classics in a modern rock format, in this case the work of Rachmaninoff and Franz Liszt (both duly credited: these guys weren't grave robbers).

Unlike ELP however, the instrumentation was more traditional (for the '70s, at any rate), with a big ensemble sound divided between the sextet of musicians. Keyboards were dominant, of course: the grand piano, crunchy Hammond organ, lush string synths (no Mellotrons here) and ubiquitous clavinet were shared between three featured keyboard players, one of them also doubling on flutes and violin. Guitars are less evident, and are mostly in the classical/acoustic vein, although there's some funky electric stuff happening on the final tracks.

The highlight of this 1975 album is the 16-minute title track, a retooling of Liszt's popular "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2", with interpolated material written by the band and, like a lot of Continental Prog acts, sung in what sounds like phonetic English. There's certainly a lot of variety here: a quiet acoustic ballad with recorder accompaniment (recalling the "Stairway to Heaven" intro), a burning organ solo in a honky-tonk blues mood, and lots of playful violin, straight from a gypsy café in post- war Vienna.

The finale is a hoot: a Loony Tune Saturday morning cartoon soundtrack with everything but Daffy and Bugs, including a brief nod to the local Bavarian beer hall. So why is it called "Can Can"? There's no relation to the familiar Offenbach Folies Bergere thing, memorably covered a few years later by (of course) the crafty Krautrockers of CAN.

The original compositions that round out the rest of the disc are a little less fun and therefore less immediately attractive, but still show a flair for romantic melodies and memorable hooks.

It's not surprising that the band fell into obscurity: they were very much a product of their age, and need to be heard as such. Less forgiving listeners might dismiss the album as a time-capsule of mid '70s clichés, but in retrospect there's a genuine innocence to such lofty middle-brow ambitions toward the rarified strata of high art. Look at the cover, with its cheesy proscenium arch framing laughably amateur pencil- sketch portraits of each band member. You can't find such disarming naiveté in today's corporate controlled, mass-produced entertainment industry.

The music is still worth a listen too, and not only for nostalgia value. It's a very minor slice of unjustly forgotten pop culture, but my guess is that the album might even surprise a few jaded Progheads who think they've heard it all.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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