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Twelfth Night - Twelfth Night XII [Aka: The Virgin Album] CD (album) cover

TWELFTH NIGHT XII [AKA: THE VIRGIN ALBUM]

Twelfth Night

 

Neo-Prog

2.43 | 54 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Those who were there back in the day have assured me that in the original cluster of neo-prog bands regularly headlining the Marquee Club in London, the top tier consisted of Marillion, Pallas, Solstice, and Twelfth Night. (It's amazing to think that leaders of the genre like Pendragon or IQ were on a second tier back then - sometimes headlining in their own right, but rarely if ever put on the same level as the big four).

Solstice, with their roots in the festival circuit and New Age/hippyish attitude, never got signed by a major label - and had no intention to - but the other three all got a big contract sooner or later. And it's really rather striking how different the destinies of those three were.

Marillion, of course, put out Script For a Jester's Tear and the rest was history - there's no question that they had the biggest success out of any of the Marquee neo-prog bands.

Pallas produced The Sentinel, but were the victim of the running order of the album being hacked up and crucial segments of the Atlantis Suite being carved out for single B-sides. (It would have been far better had the label simply left the album alone and kept the more commercial-sounding tracks recorded for it on the singles, so at least the different sides of the band - one highly theatrical and prog-oriented, one much more pop-rock-ish - would be reflected on formats better suited for those styles.) Pallas would, however, keep chugging on after that, and eventually plot a more independent course for themselves and earn a reappraisal in the eyes of the prog fanbase in more recent years.

For Twelfth Night, though, the tragedy is that the much-coveted major label contract seems to have been a death sentence for them. Twelfth Night had put out more material on an independent basis than any of their neo-prog peers, with multiple studio efforts and live albums under their belt (including Fact and Fiction and Live and Let Live, respectively their best studio and live releases), so when they signed to Virgin at the end of 1985 - after Marillion had stormed the charts with Misplaced Childhood and after Pallas's moment in the spotlight had come and gone - it must have felt to fans and band alike as though the hard work of the past half a decade had finally paid off.

What a shame, then, that the product of that contract should be Twelfth Night, AKA XII, AKA The Virgin Album. With a sound drastically simplified and with only the faintest ghosts of their former dark neo-prog stylings present, it's no wonder that the album was the subject of a critical backlash on the part of fans. The band gave up the ghost shortly afterwards, and whilst they have occasionally got back together - there was a 1988 studio reunion with Geoff Mann that yielded Collectors' Item, for instance, and much more recently they've had concerts with Andy Sears and have put out a studio rendition of Sequences - it's fair to say that post-XII, Twelfth Night was done as far as being an active, energetic songwriting unit went (with the various reunion efforts all being dedicated to old material).

Sad to say, it seems like the creative well just ran dry - the band had lost their inspiration for producing further material in the "classic" Twelfth Night style and seem to have spent XII and the period preceding it casting about to see if they can find new inspiration. It's particularly interesting to listen to XII in the context of the Corner of the World live album, for it puts the lie to the idea that Virgin somehow pressured the band into changing their style in order to get a hit. (Given that Misplaced Childhood was a huge hit by leaning into Marillion's neo-prog approach, wouldn't Virgin have *wanted* Twelfth Night to go proggy with it in light of that?)

You see, the Corner of the World live album was recorded well over half a year before the Virgin contract was signed, and it shows that the band were already at the time pivoting towards the style they air here. People like to make Duran Duran comparisons, and I guess Andy Revell does become rather fond here of a guitar tone reminiscent of, say, the lead guitar from Rio, but at the same time Duran Duran were far better at coming up with sleek pop hooks than the band are here.

Perhaps the best track on the album is the concluding Take a Look, which also happens to be one of the oldest tracks on the album; an early version, substantially closer to the classic Twelfth Night style, can be heard on the Night Vision archival live album which captures the Art & Illusion tour. Comparing the two versions, it seems like here the band have gone for a bright, airy production which is more or less the absolute opposite of the dark, claustrophobic approach they had taken for most of their career, taking the edge off the harder and more pensive section of the songs whilst trying to make the chorus the sort of feelgood singalong section people waved their cigarette lighters to back when everyone took cigarette lighters to concerts to wave along to the music to.

The tragedy of XII is that the band clearly are not technically incompetent - they seem to be trying their best to find a new sound to revive their creative juices. If any blame can be attached to the record company, it's the production job on the album which is so alien to the Twelfth Night aesthetic that I can only assume that producer John L. Walters (of the synth-pop group Landscape) either simply hadn't heard any of the band's prior music or just imposed his own aesthetic on proceedings, but a somewhat "off" production can't quite account for all the cracks that are showing in the foundations here. Worth it for fans who want an OK studio runthrough of Take a Look, Blue Powder Monkey, and some of the other material here, but otherwise you can see why this album would be a career-killer.

Warthur | 2/5 |

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