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Triumvirat - Illusions On A Double Dimple CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.95 | 385 ratings

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3 stars One should extend admiration to anybody who can play, for example, the piano like Chopin. It takes years of practice to be able to perform even the simplest of his etudes with expertise. However, there is a vast, yawning chasm of difference between being able to master one of his pieces and being able to compose something comparable. Originality trumps the competence to merely mimic in every scenario and that's how I feel about Triumvirat's "Illusions on a Double Dimple" after listening to it many times over. The band's musical talent is not in question. They are truly gifted craftsmen. But what separates the men from the boys, especially in the field of progressive rock where innovation and ingenuity are of the utmost importance and valued far above hair styles and such, is the elusive component known as "uniqueness." With this trio I gave them every benefit of the doubt I could muster but not once was I able to attribute that rare virtue to what I experienced on this album. That's no cruel knock, rather a fact of life in the major leagues. Uniqueness is what makes a group like King Crimson stand out as an icon of the genre and no amount of dedication or rehearsal can force it to become an adhering adjective that justly describes a band's endeavors. As the saying goes, if having "It" was easy then we'd all be stars. Unfortunately for Triumvirat, along with a host of others, they just don't have that crowning jewel.

If you've casually scanned over the other reviews for this record then you already know of the overwhelming comparisons to Emerson, Lake & Palmer it elicits with regularity. Therefore, references to ELP will be appearing often in this essay, possibly to the point of aggravation. Can't be avoided. Any prog outfit consisting mainly of keyboards, bass and drums is likely to hold that great combo in high regard, especially back in the early to mid 70s when ELP was riding their tallest crest of worldwide popularity and acceptance like a championship surfer team. If Triumvirat had named themselves "Alison's Leaky Plumber" then I could've written them off as a competent tribute band but these guys earnestly set out to equal the feats of their famous idols by writing, arranging and producing their own material. Being a fan of ELP, I deem this trio's gallant ambition to be worthy of moderate respect yet, at the same time, sadly foolhardy. For there is, and ever will be, but one Emerson, Lake & Palmer. They are the unbeatable incumbents of their esteemed seats in the prog senate.

The first of the disc's two epics is the album's namesake. It begins with the brief "Flashback" in which the piano and a lone vocal carry the onus. It's the opposite of bombastic, somewhat quaint yet not demoralizing. "Schooldays" follows and it's surprisingly un-ELPish in texture in the early going. The singer's voice is weak but not unpleasant on this pop ditty that eventually wanders into faux ELP territory in the end. They then present an extended cut (almost 7 minutes long) titled "Triangle." Here the group spins through some tight musical gymnastics that might've impressed me more sans the tinny Moog synthesizer (Jurgen Fritz's cheesy settings are at fault) that spoils the journey. Hans Bathelt is a decent enough drummer but the overuse of the gating effect is another drawback to this number's success. Jurgen's Hammond B-3 organ sounds better than anything else but there's not enough of it to coalesce this jumble of proggy ideas into a solid song. I hate to use the term "amateurish" but that's what this track hits me as being. Dramatic piano chords lay down a stern foundation for "Illusions," a tune that reminds me of Pink Floyd's more accessible detours from psychedelia in their early days. "Dimplicity" is next and when they reprise the melody from "Schooldays" and "Illusions" within its borders it becomes clear what they're up to. From here on out they keep bringing back earlier themes instead of taking the listener to new places. This wouldn't be so bad if they were more engaging melodies but they aren't strong enough to support constant revisits. Neither Jurgen nor guitarist Helmut Kollen are designated as lead vocalist but whoever it is they really exaggerate why Greg Lake's unmistakable voice was an essential ingredient to ELP's rise to fame. The keyboard extravaganza that dominates on "Last Dance" is enjoyable but Fritz poses no threat to Keith Emerson, let's put it that way. It's one of those tracks that probably worked better on stage but the finale is so ELP-like that it's amazing they didn't get sued for plagiarism.

Splendid news! The second half of the album, "Mister Ten Percent," is an improvement. Jurgen opens it with a flurry of energized piano for "Maze" but the odd vocal intrusions are copped directly from Yes' "Siberian Khatru" (maybe they meant it to be an homage). The driving, jazzy feel they settle into offers hope for where they're headed with this thing and the rawer sound they utilize on the drum kit substantiates it. "Dawning" offers more of Fritz's excellent technique on the piano and I have to admit that he's good. Real good. "Bad Deal" is a grandiose rocker and the singing includes much-needed grit to give it the punch required for a proper tirade against greedy agents and managers. They segue into "Roundabout" wherein a menacing, churning organ/synth riff leads right to an ill- advised bass guitar solo. Helmut must've griped about never getting to step into the spotlight but he doesn't do very much with his shining moment so perhaps he should've stayed put. A slightly dissonant organ movement reclaims my attention and Jurgen's growling Hammond ride is well-executed. The man knows how to make his B-3 roar. They then evolve into a pseudo military march cadence with Hans clanging on a loud cowbell. (Christopher Walken would be proud.) "Lucky Girl" is a giant step backwards. Their attempt at manufacturing a radio-friendly pop smear fails woefully as this song brings to mind the early Small Faces, a style that seems very passť for 1974. Fritz doesn't help anything by finding yet another thin, reedy setting on his Moog that makes it sound as plastic as Tupperware. The closer is "Million Dollars" and on this big-build-up cut they retreat to the safe environs of ELP land and then blatantly ape Vanilla Fudge's signature "You Keep Me Hanging On" pattern. After that they drop into an organ-led jam session that suffers from the rhythm section having tea. An orchestra and vocal jump in, attempting to shore up the tune's cracking levees, but the session engineer defeated their emergency repairs by not recording them with the necessary power. By the time they wind this shebang up you'll have been ready for it to end minutes in advance.

Some may say that I've been grossly unfair to these German dudes but I didn't step into the prog coliseum to challenge the fierce tigers and gladiators, they did. With that brave adventure comes the very real risk of being garroted and/or eaten alive. Such is the nature of the symphonic prog arena. Triumvirat took advantage of landing a record deal and I have no misconceptions that they gave it their best shot, dancing with the girl who got them in the door. In this case that fetching, glamorous lady was their ability to pull off Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Nice songs in crowded Berlin hot spots. But once the grand parade started it became obvious that their empress had no clothes. Without being in possession of extraordinary writing skills this threesome of well-intentioned musicians were destined to blend inevitably into the ever-swelling ranks of the mediocre. Don't despair their fate. They have plenty of company. 2.5 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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