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Abacus - Abacus CD (album) cover

ABACUS

Abacus

 

Crossover Prog

3.38 | 57 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
2 stars 'Abacus' - Abacus (49/100)

Abacus' 1971 debut is arguably the best thing they ever did; while later albums have since been met with the progressive community's dismissal or ambivalence, the self-titled debut has found itself a comfortable niche in the prog rock canon. Like Van der Graaf Generator, Emerson Lake & Palmer and their lesser-known contemporaries in Aardvark, Abacus sought to bring keyboards to the front of an otherwise guitar-dominated style of music. To current ears Abacus at their best sound like they're fusing symphonic prog and Krautrock, and that's all the more of a reason to feel disappointed that this self-titled debut fails to live up to its potential. While the first pair of tracks are very solid, cloying songwriting ultimately prevails, leaving the album feeling much less effective than it should have been.

It's a fairly common point of weakness for debuts, but Abacus end up feeling like they mean to cover as much ground as possible, rather than focusing in on their strongest suits. No doubt the band wanted to get all of their best ideas pressed to record so as to make the best first impression with listeners, but it's resulted in an album that suffers the lack of consistency and coherence. "Pipedream Revisited" is a strong mini-epic that highlights a pastoral atmosphere in their sound, and the excellent organ-based instrumental piece "Cappucino" follows it up nicely. If a brash take on symphonic prog pulls them one way, it's the pop stylings of the past decade that pull them back the other. "Don't Beat So On The Horses" fares decently with the melodic, hook-oriented approach, but everything from the Sitar-infused raga track "Song for Brunhilde" onwards feels half-baked in comparison. It's not the idea of fusing the two styles together that makes the album so uneven, it's the varying extents of success they've had with the different approaches that does it. Virtually every positive thought I have of Abacus is based in their most complex, instrumental work. The rest doesn't fare nearly as well.

Though Abacus are German, they've cleverly entrusted the use of a British vocalist, and even though his voice is a tad too nasal for my tastes, his voice fits Abacus' sound more comfortably than a potentially heavily accented German vocalist would have (I'm looking at you, Eloy!). Although their songwriting is uneven and generally weak, Abacus themselves prove themselves to be quite capable musicians. "Pipedream Revisited" and "Cappucino" both demonstrate that Abacus have chemistry and precision enough to go around. Like many of the bands that have attempted to fuse traditional prog rock with pop writing however, the pressure for simpler songwriting limits their opportunity to express the extent of their musicianship. It almost feels like a bad tease, really; after two excellent prog compositions, Abacus sink into poppy psychedelia, and not even well-written pop at that. I'd much rather have heard more of their heavy psych instrumentals than a bloody "Song for John and Yoko", and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment.

Abacus are really part of an unwitting pantheon of progressive acts that demonstrate skill and potential aplenty, but ultimately fail to match up to it. As good a note as "Pipedream Revisited" starts the album off on, the majority of the songs here range from mediocre to weak, with "Radbod Blues" earning its keep as a downright annoying piece of music. Abacus demonstrated a lot of untapped skill here, but for every moment of potential excellence enjoyed on this record, there's another spent either bored or irritated.

Conor Fynes | 2/5 |

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