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Step Ahead - Step Ahead CD (album) cover

STEP AHEAD

Step Ahead

 

Neo-Prog

3.71 | 41 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is a one shot wonder from France that has a vast series of positives going for it, everything from magnificent cover art, a stunning and lightning fast guitarist, a female (that is rare!) keyboardist, a 1982 (read= a very lean prog year) production, an Irish singer who is a cross between Jon Anderson and REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin and finally, enough mood alterations to keep one on the Perpetual edge or Close to it (pun). The instrumental playing throughout is exemplary, to the point where legend has it Alan Parsons was set to produce a sophomore album with a hit single and leader /guitarist Robin refused to prostitute himself and thus fade into oblivion. That characteristic alone deserves recognition but truth is, the material presented here is beyond reproach, jam-packed with exciting ideas, ferocious tonal contrasts and mood swings (very Francais!). This is one of those seminal symphonic prog albums that define the value of one's collection!

The tracks flow from one to another with delicate confidence, highlighting the soaring voice, the sizzling guitar interfering with lush keyboard accouterments and of course, a rock solid rhythm section, not unlike Atoll or Mona Lisa. The initial splendor of acoustic guitar and piano opening up "Eyes" should be enough to captivate the listener from the get-go and then rapidly succumb to the rash guitar, the complex poly-rhythmic onslaught and the grandiose symphonic backdrop. No other word than beautiful will apply! When Danny Brown grabs the microphone, the jubilant ride really takes hold. The second track and longest at over 8 minutes, "Right or Wrong" is definitely a highlight piece, an epic world where airy synths introduce an irate guitar, boldly upfront and seductive, paving the road for an intense vocal performance, strangely very familiar yet utterly compelling. Axeman extraordinaire Christian Robin (somewhere between Page, Hendrix and Hackett) unleashes a series of dynamite leads amid pillows of mellotron (Claudie Truchi) and acoustic guitar (a deadly combo), and then stamps the arrangement with one of those 'I will remember this melody until the day I die' solos, a simply ridiculous prog moment, one for the ages! Shakes! Not content with such brilliance, the flute introduces the next jewel; the bluesy "Thinking" is taken to another level immediately by a ridiculously convincing guitar rant, a sublime chorus and a preposterous vocal line that careens along with impunity! The meowing guitar strains the shuffling beat even further, wham-bam merci, madame! The at-first serene "Heaven" slows down the pace with a pastoral etude on the acoustic guitar, tick-tock drumming ushering in a frenetic pummeling, spooky organ/synth mutterings and a near heavy rock feel, sounding more like Satan's universe than the celestial garden the title implies. In keeping with their mission to constantly search out new horizons, "11 Days" has an Oriental tinge that evolves into a rockier convention, then reverts to pastoral shadings that overwhelm the soul, using the sheer simplicity of gorgeous notes played with feeling. Now in typical cattiness, "Hell' is exactly the opposite of "Heaven" described earlier, a sweet, crystalline guitar piece that soothes the soul into rapturous benediction, using cello orchestrations to heighten the glory. "White Lady" is as close as they would come to a more accessible tune, an instantaneous chorus and verse that catches easily the listener's ear but transported by some interesting instrumental dressing. To cap off the excitement, a superlative guitar solo deals the final blow. "The End" simply serves to encapsulate the tremendous talent that never went beyond this magical album, Robin and Truchi exchange some vicious solos, totally in league with one another. This is just a gimme

"The End" it isn't really, as this re-release has 5 bonus tracks mostly live versions of "Heaven", "White Lady" and errr... "The End" (proving they had the chops for a live setting!) as well as 2 tracks both in the 4 minute range, never before recorded elsewhere, "The Sun Will Rise again" and "Shangri-La". These last two are indicative of the quality dispensed by this group of rebellious prog musicians, who did not "bend over and spread 'em" as would say Frank Zappa.

A 'no contest' purchase and an obligatory hunt for the die-hard prog fan looking for a sensational musical fix. The production could have been better (hey Parsons) but it's precisely what makes it so charming!

5 strides onward

Review is dedicated to Mellotron storm and Greg Walker

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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