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4 stars I would say Focus 9 is definitely better than Focus 8. The new album sounds fresh & full of energy and yet it is an unmistakably a Focus album with. Most of the songs are instrumental and very well-played (by the way, Pierre van Der Linden is back in the group). The album covers a wide range of styles and masters them well. Great melodies, it's hard to mention highlights - the album is even. Anyway, Black Beauty & European Rap(sody) are one of the best songs here. European Rap(sody) is also a very humorous song. The only 2 low parts are vocals on one of the songs and some rock-stuff in the middle of the album. In all other aspects it is a great record that would please old Focus fans and probably attract new ones. The old wine keeps getting better with years!
Report this review (#100560)
Posted Monday, November 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars I find it really had to review Focus at the best of times so I am doing '8' and '9' at the same time!

Both albums are very much Focus albums.Nothing strays too much from the core style they are famous for.Plenty of pretty guitar melodies and both are well produced.Thijs Van Leer's Hammond gets a good airing as well as various whistling and yodelling! Drumming wise '9' has the great Pierre Van Der Linden involved and he briings much more of the ''oomph'' factor.The drumming on '8' is just solid and uninspired.That said I think the compositions on '8' are just a bit better.Both albums clock in at 60-70 minutes so not much difference there either.

Overall there is isn't too much too dislike on either disc.Focus offer friendly warm music to be enjoyed with a glass or two of your favourite tipple.

Report this review (#115418)
Posted Saturday, March 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Thjis van Leer has replaced the drummer with his Focus bandmate from the early 70s, and Jan Dumee with a guitarist I've never heard of before. These are some great musicians, but to be honest van Leer's work is not as vital as it once was, and he takes too much creative control here. Focus 9 is even more nostalgic than it's predecessor, which is a bit of a surprise as one would think they would mature a bit. Like the previous album had an instrumental reworking of "Brother" from the "Focus con Proby", this one reworks one of their earliest tunes "Black Beauty" in an interesting way where it's almost not even recognizable. We have not one, but two new additions into the Focus series, and they are probably the best tracks on the album (as usual). We also have a continuation of "Hurkey Turkey", which also features an arrangment of Mozart's Turkish March, with pretty stupid vocals added in. Another interesting piece of nostalgia is "European Rap(sody)", which is a typical Focus ballad but with an added recitation of what must be all of Focus song names spanning 37 years. Some people might find this clever, but I don't see the point. It's still a cool composition though. Let's not forget "Sylvia's Stepson: Ubatuba" a silly track with a silly name. Overall, what we are getting are some pieces of nostalgia, plus some new tunes from Thjis van Leer, and even though it's all done in the classic symphonic Focus style, it somehow fails to excite. Good addition if you are a hardcore Focus fan, but otherwise you are better off with about half a dozen Focus albums before this one. 2.5 stars.
Report this review (#128037)
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars I really liked "Focus 8" released some four years before this one. Should van Leer change directions, stick to this style or transport us again in another crazy musical trip ?

When I listen to the first notes of the opening number : "Black Beauty", I was really expecting the worse. "Focus" playing reggae ! Fortunately, it won't last for long and the remaining part of the song will be "Sylvia" oriented. BTW, the old associate Van der Linden (a former drummer featured on their albums from "Moving Waves" to "Live At The Rainbow") is back.

As usual, one of the "Focus" theme is one of the best song of the album. This one fully follows the tradition so far. Very catchy melody and emotional guitar work. Like in the good old days. "Sylvia's Stepson" is very similar.

"Hunkey Turkey 2" mixes some classic music (a re-work of a Mozart piece), some yodeling and good fluting. Not too bad a combination. The first weak track so far is the jazzy "Neils' Skin". It's only bearable during the great (but short) guitar solo.

The jazzy mood is still there while "Focus" starts with "Just Like Eddy". One of the very few song with vocals (if you exclude the yodeling notes on "Eddy"). The guitar work is fully Santana oriented, this was the case already during several tracks from "Focus 8". For sure, I won't complain about this. Still the melody of the song is not really great (as the vocals).

I can't really be thrilled with "Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee" nor "Focus 9" : the latter being the weakest "Focus" theme ever. Lobby bar- like. For eight long minutes. A piece of tranquility, but tasteless. As "Ode To Venus" and "European Rap(sody)" which is the longest track of this album (clocking at over ten minutes). Grotesque at times (the "Ho Ho Ho Ho" sequence definitely does not belong to the best of "Focus"). It also features some "vocals"...

"Focus 9" will probably please the "Focus" fans who liked their jazzier side. It is not really my taste. The closing number is one of the most pleasant song of the album, but nothing from the other world either.

This album is quite repetitive (same applied to "Focus 8") but the songs in these one were much more inspired and the guitar work from Jan (Dumée) was just great. It is far from being essential to your "Focus" discography. Maybe the album too much. Two stars.

Report this review (#136581)
Posted Thursday, September 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is an hard to rate album. I am a big fan of the '70 Focus and this 21th century version of Focus isn't so different from the original. Theirs one big problem though: Jan Akkerman didn't join the reunion. Akkerman is one of my favourite guitarist in the world, so this is quite a dissapointment. Thijs van Leer and Pierre van der Linden are now the basismembers of Focus. Thuis van Leer was their main songwriter and van der Linden was their best drummer.

First of all, after all these years... does it still sound like Focus? Amazingly, yes it does! The classical influences, the guitarsolo's and the vocals are 100% Focus. The only problem is the sound.. it's a modern recording that somehow doesn't seem to work for this once legendary progformation. The music is somehow more flat then it was, making it harder to creates atmospheres. It doensn't sound so special anymore... the musicianship isn't to blame for this; all the instruments are very well played. Might this be my own feeling of nostalgia?

However, I am now going to discuss the most important compositions of the record. Black Beaty is the opener of the album and a sort of happy jazz composition with Focus-like storyline inversions in musical theory. The melodies end in a unexpected way. Mediocre song overall. The next composition Focus 9 is much better. Its a ballad withoud lyrics, a great composition. This is the truth meaning of building up a song and it's emotions. The guitar parts by Niels van der Steenhoven are very good but still in short for whe used to have Jan Akkerman.

Hurkey Turkey 2 isn't one of my favourites. It's main theme is a standerd rock theme. Then the theme with the flutes doesn't impress me very much an the middle clownsection is irritating. A missed shot. Sylvia's Stephson however does impress me. Great opening melody with those nice organs we expect to hear from Focus. Atmospheric, perfect. But then after minute 2 1/2 some strange theme is intruduced that has nothing to do with the rest of the song. This is a pitty, some other part instead of this theme would have finished the song, but now it's just a bit strange. Niel his Skin is quite boring song. Guitartheme based is doesn't make me feel warm at all. It's almost sounds like elevator music. Music that sounds professional but not interesting.

From here on I'm going to skip a few songs. Aya-Yuppie-Hippiej-Yee is one of the bether instrumental songs of the album. A theme from their first album is recycled however. Nice tensionbuilding and a great achievement of Niels van der Steenhoven and Thijs van Leer playing together. A live version of this song I saw was very nice too. Some great drumpart by Pierre van der Linden finish this good song. Curtain Call is song that's very good but does not get a lot of attention because of the length of the record (73 minutes). Atmospheric, 100% Focus, with flutes!

European Rap(sody) is a strange creation. Beginning like a classical opera overture it sounds great. Some chords are hard for the beginning ear but will be appriciated by the hardcore progfans. After a while suddenly a polka theme is introduced... how strange. However, it does seem to work for Focus. After minute 5 we have another suprise: a main theme with van Leer talking about song they've played. Basically he mentions all their most important songs with nice instrumentation under it. In the end, it's a song hard to appriciate for it's strange form. After this song you get sick of this album with yet another 11 minutes on the clock... when is it going to end? It's way to long! It might have been a masterpiece if all the best parts were used in 50 minutes instead of 73. Some parts are brilliant and others are boring... with the length of this album this is realy a big problem. Its actually the main problem. And boring means elevater like music. Not simple or bad.. but just not interesting.

In Summary; it's an album with great compositions and great musicanship. Though it's much to long; the more Jazzorientated progfans will like it. For me it just doesn't work completely like the older Focus albums did. It's hard for and '70 band to decide wether to have a brandnew sound or more of the old. This struggle is to be found on this album. Three stars.

Report this review (#178538)
Posted Thursday, July 31, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars 8/15P. What a ridiculously overlong album! There are some pretty good tracks on it, but also a good load of uninspired and overly cultivated easy-listening fusion. Listen to these songs when they're played live - this band has so much more power when they're in concert!

One particular thing I detest about music fan zines is when fans construct absolutely nonsense stories around the song titles of a band. This has nothing to do with humour, it's simply the silliest thing you might do with the work of an artist. But it gets even worse if the band itself does that kind of thing - and they do in European Rap(sody). 'Round goes the gossip of eruption, well done' - no, I cannot stand this and I'm never going to listen to this recording again. And this is a pity since the musical material is pretty promising, the first 7/4 part being based on a curious 1970 video of Focus in which they play some kind of Slavic rhapsody while everyone is eating lots of cheese.

The next annoying thing are some of the vocals. Thijs van Leer surely can sing; he could sing in the 1970s (Moving Waves) and he still can (although is voice went from tenor to bass over the years), but all the funny vocalising was just a great effect in the 1970s, and it seems Van Leer tries desperately to make this kind of growling and yelling a foundation of a song. Most irritating is Aya Yuppie Hippie Yee, a basically pretty exciting piece of riff exchanging until Van Leer's distorted voice regularly sings the song title into the track. A pretty bland Ian Anderson impersonation in Van Leer's flute solo doesn't make it any better. The slightly schizophrenic Sylvia's Stepson/Ubatuba oscillates between elegiac guitar solo parts with swelling Hammond organ accompaniment and maniac riff parts in which Pierre van der Linden really shines as a great jazz rock drummer - but again Van Leer sings ubatuba into the whole affair, distracting from what this piece could actually accomplish. Hurkey Turkey Pt.2 does the same vocalising thing with Mozart's Rondo alla Turka, and the overall effect isn't any different. To me humour is nothing you can warm up again and again, you need to define it anew each and every time to be successful. Hocus Pocus was incredibly funny, the Carnival Fugue in its cheeky rhythmic shuffling, too, but the omnipresent humour of this album is just based on the same old recipe all the time.

Just Like Eddy is seemingly a continuation of the Focus Con Proby stuff which I never really minded purchasing. And after all it's just a slow and overlong jazz ballad sung by a not too charismatic studio singer. Fans might enjoy this recourse to a less known album, but then I guess I am too less of a fan - although the first three Focus albums and parts Ship of Memories are grand albums in my opinion.

Finally, there's Focus 9 on the down side. If it really was the purpose of Van Leer to drive the listeners mad with an ever-turning and rhythmically, let's say, 'varied' delivery of a limited set of slightly variable melodies, this would make the piece great fun in an ironic sort of way. But in its plain form it just moves endlessly through a self-indulgent mass of neat little melodies until everything turns round inside your head. On the few occasions I actually listen to this album I mostly switch the CD player off after this track because it's so exhausting without giving me any kind of reward. It just dances nobly on the ridge between classical music, jazz fusion and easy listening, and the promising reminiscence to the old Focus 1 track doesn't make it either.

So how comes that I still like this album enough to not pull it to pieces? It is because the band itself is doubtlessly really good. The guitarist could be a bit more but has a beautiful sustain-laden tone and some fine phrasings, Van Leer is doubtlessly a great Hammond organ player and Pierre Van Der Linden does an excellent job as well. This quality shines through on the less peculiar tunes, such as the worthy follow-up to the Focus [n] anthology Focus 7, indeed a pleasant piece of fusion with a nice melody which offers enough substance to turn it through the musical meat chopper for a few minutes, resulting in lots of little melodic variations here and there. The multi-part Neil's Skin is similar in its quality, a groovy jam piece on par with some decent jam passages of the Focus III album. Curtain Call adds a beautiful flute solo to the recipe and Ode to Venus, maybe my favorite cut off this album, profits a lot from a smooth Stratocaster tone and some intricate chord changes which do work out fine. It Takes 2 2 Tango isn't any worse, it probably even features the moodiest Hammond organ work on Focus 9 and the inventive idea of adding a few syncopated tango parts in the second half, but you simply cannot stand through this rather uniform album until this point.

The huge problem of the really good tracks on this album is that the pieces all basically sound the same. The new version of the 1969 composition Black Beauty, also reprised in Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee, shows again how passionate the compositions were in the early days of the band. It may be a question of age, a question of inspiration, or maybe both. This album, however, works fine as what it supposedly intends to be: a nostalgic revival of the old Focus sound. It is obvious that the band cannot electrify the listeners with this kind of music, but they can certainly bring a smile to their eyes in certain moments. A weak 3 star rating has to suffice - stabilised by how good some of the tracks sound live. With a running time of 45 minutes and all the dull stuff thrown out it might have been a lot better!

Report this review (#848574)
Posted Thursday, November 1, 2012 | Review Permalink

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