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Renaissance - Prologue CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 441 ratings

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3 stars So here is only the third Renaissance studio album and already the front lineup is devoid of any original members. Vocalist 'Binky' Cullom and pianist John Tout had replaced the last vestiges Jane Relf and John Hawken respectively around the same time the band's second album 'Illusion' was being readied for German release. But Cullom would be replaced by Annie Haslam in early 1971 and though Tout would remain the rest of the players on that album were bounced by manager Miles Copeland shortly after Haslam joined.

By the time the band reentered the studio they had gone through a succession of bassists and settled on Jonathan Camp to fill that position for this album. Guitarist Mick Parsons, a young up-and-coming guitarist had been signed by Copeland but died shortly after in an auto accident and was replaced by another young and relative unknown guitarist Rob Hendry. Tout has said that Hendry's presence felt "jarring" to him and it wouldn't be long before Michael Dunford, who had continued to write songs for the band including two on this album, was asked to return to play acoustic guitar. Terence Sullivan was recruited on drums through Melody Maker following Slade and Cullom's departure (they later married) and following a brief stint with a touring drummer whose name the rest of the band can't even recall today. And although Betty Thatcher had been primarily an acquaintance of the Relfs she continued to expand her role as lyricist for the band, penning the words to all but the title track and closing "Rajah Khan" which were both Dunford compositions.

Speaking of "Rajah Khan", most of this album is quite a bit lighter and less folk-oriented than the first two Renaissance albums with the exception of that track, which is by far the longest song on the album and much like "Past Orbits of Dust" on 'Illusion' in that it seems to be highly improvised although does come off as more organized than 'Dust' which had clearly been included as filler.

The band hadn't quite hit their stride as a Haslam-fronted entity by the time they recorded 'Prologue' but the differences between this and the last lineup/album is striking. Haslam clearly owns center stage on most of the songs and the dominance of Romantic era- inspired piano is mostly gone here. The band had also begun to reveal an odd and mostly unexplained fascination with Russian music and themes, as evidenced by the song "Kiev" and the opening piano piece on the title track which borrows heavily from Chopin's 'Étude on the Bombardment of Warsaw' written in tribute to the November Uprising.

Like the four tracks on 'Illusion' that were written by the Relf/McCarty-led version of the band, these tracks have as much popular music influence as they do folk, and overall the movement away from the MkI version of the band's classical/folk bent is even more pronounced on this album. While Tout continues in Hawken's shadow to deliver strong piano passages in classical style, the emphasis is clearly more on creating songs with some popular appeal than on the purely experimental music-making Relf and McCarty had in mind when they first formed the group.

"Sounds of the Sea" is probably the closest the band gets to a folk-rock composition with its strong use of Haslam's vocals, light harmony backing and piano amped enough to hear it but clearly intended to play second fiddle to Haslam's singing.

The group also started to show some interest in unusual meters and odd notes, particularly on the two Russian-themed songs and "Spare Some Love" which also combines brief solo passages of bass and guitar along with exceptionally strong piano and bass sequences in the second half of the song.

The late Betty Thatcher gets some mention here as well even though she was never a member of the band. Her legacy as lyricist for some of the most famous Renaissance songs is well-deserved, but on this album the words she wrote for the middle four songs are fairly shallow compared to later works, although in the end it doesn't really matter since Haslam's rich delivery gives them deeper meaning then their raw semantics would indicate.

There seems to be a shadow of the former band's legacy hanging over these songs, something many members of both assemblages have acknowledged over the years. That would be definitively erased when "Ashes Are Burning" really launched the Halsam/Tout era, but for now I have to say this is a good but not exceptional offering from the group. Three stars definitely, but the best was yet to come.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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