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Vangelis - China CD (album) cover




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3.79 | 138 ratings

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4 stars This album is regarded by many fans of Vangelis, as one of the composer's greatest achievements. I would certainly agree - China is a magnificent and powerful album, and is possibly the archetypal Vangelis album in many ways. His first proper album for Polydor, China did not sell very well at the time of his release, but has since gone on to be a stronger seller on CD. The original vinyl album looks magnificent though, and again contains artwork designed by Vangelis himself. The artwork was created using a Polaroid SX-70 camera. The photographs - which are of Vangelis in a swimming pool - were taken and then smudged by hand while the pictures were developing. The same process was used to great effect for the cover of Peter Gabriel's third album.

The music contained within the enigmatic sleeve is just as imaginative. As the title suggests, the main influence on the music is the traditional sounds of China. An eastern influence can however be heard throughout Vangelis's recorded output. Tracks like Alpha and Freefall off Albedo 0.39, bear similar eastern influences. This album is merely the culmination of this particular slant. Although the material is in some ways, similar to the contemporary output of Japanese composer Kitaro, particularly with the track The Tao Of Love, the music on China is far more energetic and harder edged. China is also the culmination of Vangelis's electro-acoustic period, that is; the period in which Vangelis effortlessly fused electric and acoustic instruments. On this album you get to hear the Yamaha CS80 polysynth throughout, mixed with traditional Chinese instruments such as the koto, together with lots of the usual percussion. There is even spoken word and violin on one track. The music is varied and diverse, and yet comfortably sounds unified together.

The album opens with Chung Kuo which alludes to the political situation of China at the time in its chaotic intro, which utilises helicopter blade-like sequencer synths with crowds cheering. This settles into a peaceful and calm simplistic melody, played on a Chinese-sounding synth patch, played over a four note slow sequencer line. This leads into The Long March, which is only two minutes long, but contains some of Vangelis's most breathtaking piano playing. He certainly gives Keith Emerson a run for his money! But the melodic material here is similar to that of Chung Kuo - as though the two tracks could be part one and part two. The melody here is beautiful.

The Dragon follows, which is swift and energetic, with lots more trademark Vangelis synth sounds mixed with a similar Chinese-like synth patch performing the melody. The rhythms are choppy, particularly due to the 7/8 meter of the song. There is also lots of percussion banging away throughout, but not in a conventional rock way. This energetic track leads into the three more serene tracks that close side one of the album. The Plum Blossom mixes simple oligato bass piano playing with virtuosic Chinese violin, with gradually building synth lines adding to the dramatic nature of the simple piece. This is followed by the soft and delicate Tao Of Love which mixes koto with fender rhodes, backed with orchestrative synth parts all played on the CS80. Side 1 ends with The Little Fete which has atmospheric synths backing the recitation of an old Chinese fable about a man, the moon, and his shadow.

Side 2 starts off with Yin and Yang which is all over the place, like The Dragon. Kotos, percussion and synths are flying about all over the place creating a cacophonous mix of sounds spiralling about the place. This piece sounds especially good through headphones, as does the whole of side 2. This energetic track leads directly into my favourite track on the album, Himalaya, which really does feel like a treacherous trek up a snowy mountain. The underpadding of the piece is an old drum machine, partly masked by tibetan chanting bells. Over the top of this is beautiful simplistic piano, swooping and swishing synths, and lots of wind effects. This piece gradually builds in tension over its eleven minute duration until it collapses at its climax - the four minute Summit, which is simple and pure atmospherics. It is the end of quite a journey of sn album. Again, I could not imagine living without this beautiful and majestic album. It has that Vangelis-stamp all over it, and yet the tracks on it would not fit onto any of his albums before or after it. 4.5 stars

UnearthlyChild | 4/5 |


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