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Klaatu - Magentalane CD (album) cover




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2.63 | 39 ratings

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3 stars This was the final studio release from Klaatu, and in many ways represented a return to form after a couple years of rather directionless activity by the band. The songs here are pretty pop-oriented, much like the debut 3:47 E.S.T. album of 1976. With the notable exceptions "Calling Occupants" and "Little Neutrino", Klaatu's first album was comprised mostly of short, pop-influenced little ditties that can't really be described as progressive music, but were certainly well-crafted with thoughtful lyrics, and were extremely well-produced. Magentalane also fits this description, the only difference being there are no hidden prog gems in the vein of 'Calling' or 'Neutrino' (although "December Dream" comes close).

But that's not to say this isn't an album worthy of some consideration. The instrumentation is a bit leaner than 3:47 or Hope as the album was recorded on 16 tracks, while 3:47 had a number of 24-track recordings, and pretty much the entire Hope album was recorded on 24 tracks. So there are a wider variety of instruments, overdubbed vocals, and sound effects on those albums than what is present on Magentalane. But the band managed to work in quite a few orchestral tracks on the songs here, as well as some more esoteric sounds with a sitar, 12-string guitar, vibraphone and glockenspiel, congas, and a tabla. And the keyboards are exercised aplenty with grand piano, Wurlitzer organ, reed organ, and lots of Korg and moog synthesizers.

The songs themselves are largely poppish tunes, pretty light and airy for the most part, and not at all unlike most of the tracks on the debut album and on Sir Army Suit. Another interesting note on this album is that the rumor of the band being an incognito incarnation of the Beatles was officially dispelled with the photos and names of the band members appearing on the back cover, and with the band's first and only supporting live tour following the album's release. Unfortunately Dee Long left the band early into that tour, followed somewhat later by the band folding altogether. The album was originally only released in Canada, as the band had been dropped by Capitol Records and the recording sessions ended up being financed by Capitol Canada. There was eventually a release in Mexico as well, and throughout the 90s a number of CD reissues were made, including in the U.S. and in South Korea. The album is rather difficult to obtain today, and those interested in listening to it would probably be best off using an on-line service to purchase it as a download.

The songs are nothing that will go down in history as timeless classics, but some of them are quite good, and the album overall is a pretty fun listen.

"A Million Miles Away" is a heavily synthesized rhythm overlaid with a small and up- tempo string section and melodic vocals. I've seen this track described as a 'lost George Harrison song', and I think that's a pretty good description. The theme is basically about daydreaming (hence the title).

For "The Love of a Woman" the band brought a number of Toronto-area studio musicians to provide a richer, guitar and drum-driven sound and what could easily be mistaken as a McCartney tune.

On "Blue Smoke" I assume the band was trying to project a kind of world-music feel, which fits with the lyrical theme of anti-industrialization and ecological awareness. The lead-in sitar and maracas combine with a tight guitar riff and mandolin, and again the vocals are in the vein of later Beatles ala Revolver or maybe Sergeant Pepper's. I've read this described as a song about smoking pot, but a careful read of the lyrics make me think it's actually describing the blue smoke of pollution, not of reefer.

One of the better songs on the album is the mild and airy "I Don't Want to go Home", which very much reminds me of a lot of folkish pop of the mid-70s like England Dan & John Ford Coley or America. This is a largely acoustic work with some light organ work and multi-layered vocal harmonies. This is a love song, and one not unlike some of those that Ray Thomas contributed to some of the early Moody Blues albums. While this is a pleasant tune, "December Dream" is definitely the one hidden gem on the album. This is a sort of depressing tribute to John Lennon, specifically a lament on his murder. The piano here is just beautiful, and the vocals again sound very much like some of the more reflective works George Harrison put out in the 70s. I'm not sure what the thought process was to include quite a bit of soft brass here, but it works out pretty well to flesh out the basic harmony of the track. I actually have this track on a couple of mellow music compilation CDs I travel with, and have been asked several times by uninitiated listeners who the group is that performs it.

The title track is only a couple minutes long, and is very much a throwback to the fantasy-world music of the band's first two albums. The song's working title was "The Land of Kinkajous, Butterflies and Mushrooms", so that should give a pretty good picture of what to expect.

"At the End of the Rainbow" is another classic Klaatu sound, with an irrepressible positive message, light guitar and melodies, and harmonic vocals that practically ooze a feel-good vibe. This has a strong Beach boys feel to it and is bound to stick in your head after hearing it a few times.

"Mrs. Frog's Cookies" is almost completely a synthesized work again with some light string sections, and also some faint female backing vocals. This again is a throwback to early Klaatu music.

The most 'proggish' track (albeit in a casual psychedelic way) is "Maybe I'll Move to Mars", the last song Dee Long contributed to the band. This has all the spacey organ and moody vocals that made Hope so appealing, and the overall arrangement is not unlike some of the milder ELO tracks from Out of the Blue.

At the very end of the album there's a sound of a mouse scurrying around and followed by the snap of a mousetrap, supposedly signaling the end of the band as represented by the little rodent. But in a charmingly pretentious move, that is followed after a few seconds by a very faint sound of tiny feet pattering off into the distance. Pretty funny.

This is definitely not a Klaatu album that will attract new fans for the band, and not one that is likely to win over those who wrote the group's music off years ago. It is quite likely to be embraced by fans of the band, and may be appealing to those who have an affinity for the lighter and more accessible side of proto-prog and progressive- influenced music as represented by bands like ELO, Moody Blues, or Alan Parsons. Overall I think it represents a positive finale for a group after the disastrous Endangered Species album, and may be a fun exercise for those who like to hunt down obscure, out-of-print vinyl recordings. With all the disclaimers above, I'll give it three stars.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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