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Focus - Focus 9 / New Skin CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.23 | 110 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars 8/15P. What a ridiculously overlong album! There are some pretty good tracks on it, but also a good load of uninspired and overly cultivated easy-listening fusion. Listen to these songs when they're played live - this band has so much more power when they're in concert!

One particular thing I detest about music fan zines is when fans construct absolutely nonsense stories around the song titles of a band. This has nothing to do with humour, it's simply the silliest thing you might do with the work of an artist. But it gets even worse if the band itself does that kind of thing - and they do in European Rap(sody). 'Round goes the gossip of eruption, well done' - no, I cannot stand this and I'm never going to listen to this recording again. And this is a pity since the musical material is pretty promising, the first 7/4 part being based on a curious 1970 video of Focus in which they play some kind of Slavic rhapsody while everyone is eating lots of cheese.

The next annoying thing are some of the vocals. Thijs van Leer surely can sing; he could sing in the 1970s (Moving Waves) and he still can (although is voice went from tenor to bass over the years), but all the funny vocalising was just a great effect in the 1970s, and it seems Van Leer tries desperately to make this kind of growling and yelling a foundation of a song. Most irritating is Aya Yuppie Hippie Yee, a basically pretty exciting piece of riff exchanging until Van Leer's distorted voice regularly sings the song title into the track. A pretty bland Ian Anderson impersonation in Van Leer's flute solo doesn't make it any better. The slightly schizophrenic Sylvia's Stepson/Ubatuba oscillates between elegiac guitar solo parts with swelling Hammond organ accompaniment and maniac riff parts in which Pierre van der Linden really shines as a great jazz rock drummer - but again Van Leer sings ubatuba into the whole affair, distracting from what this piece could actually accomplish. Hurkey Turkey Pt.2 does the same vocalising thing with Mozart's Rondo alla Turka, and the overall effect isn't any different. To me humour is nothing you can warm up again and again, you need to define it anew each and every time to be successful. Hocus Pocus was incredibly funny, the Carnival Fugue in its cheeky rhythmic shuffling, too, but the omnipresent humour of this album is just based on the same old recipe all the time.

Just Like Eddy is seemingly a continuation of the Focus Con Proby stuff which I never really minded purchasing. And after all it's just a slow and overlong jazz ballad sung by a not too charismatic studio singer. Fans might enjoy this recourse to a less known album, but then I guess I am too less of a fan - although the first three Focus albums and parts Ship of Memories are grand albums in my opinion.

Finally, there's Focus 9 on the down side. If it really was the purpose of Van Leer to drive the listeners mad with an ever-turning and rhythmically, let's say, 'varied' delivery of a limited set of slightly variable melodies, this would make the piece great fun in an ironic sort of way. But in its plain form it just moves endlessly through a self-indulgent mass of neat little melodies until everything turns round inside your head. On the few occasions I actually listen to this album I mostly switch the CD player off after this track because it's so exhausting without giving me any kind of reward. It just dances nobly on the ridge between classical music, jazz fusion and easy listening, and the promising reminiscence to the old Focus 1 track doesn't make it either.

So how comes that I still like this album enough to not pull it to pieces? It is because the band itself is doubtlessly really good. The guitarist could be a bit more but has a beautiful sustain-laden tone and some fine phrasings, Van Leer is doubtlessly a great Hammond organ player and Pierre Van Der Linden does an excellent job as well. This quality shines through on the less peculiar tunes, such as the worthy follow-up to the Focus [n] anthology Focus 7, indeed a pleasant piece of fusion with a nice melody which offers enough substance to turn it through the musical meat chopper for a few minutes, resulting in lots of little melodic variations here and there. The multi-part Neil's Skin is similar in its quality, a groovy jam piece on par with some decent jam passages of the Focus III album. Curtain Call adds a beautiful flute solo to the recipe and Ode to Venus, maybe my favorite cut off this album, profits a lot from a smooth Stratocaster tone and some intricate chord changes which do work out fine. It Takes 2 2 Tango isn't any worse, it probably even features the moodiest Hammond organ work on Focus 9 and the inventive idea of adding a few syncopated tango parts in the second half, but you simply cannot stand through this rather uniform album until this point.

The huge problem of the really good tracks on this album is that the pieces all basically sound the same. The new version of the 1969 composition Black Beauty, also reprised in Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee, shows again how passionate the compositions were in the early days of the band. It may be a question of age, a question of inspiration, or maybe both. This album, however, works fine as what it supposedly intends to be: a nostalgic revival of the old Focus sound. It is obvious that the band cannot electrify the listeners with this kind of music, but they can certainly bring a smile to their eyes in certain moments. A weak 3 star rating has to suffice - stabilised by how good some of the tracks sound live. With a running time of 45 minutes and all the dull stuff thrown out it might have been a lot better!

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |


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