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3 stars Poppy, by Grace, is a good solid album with twelve decent songs. I'm not sure that it's terribly progressive, but it contains good melodies, lively beats and catchy instrumental riffs. Perhaps it is a bit twee and old-fashioned in places. The whole tenor of the album is very English in the sense that Miss Marple and bobbies on bicycles are English. It's all memorably inoffensive. A good but not great album.

(Here follows a track by track description. It's the first I've ever attempted, and I don't consider myself much of an expert, but no-one else has yet written a detailed review, so here goes.)

A jaunty opening number. "We ain't burglars, we're captains of the night" proclaims the chorus, evoking memories of those villains with striped shirts, black masks and bags labelled SWAG which used to frequent the pages of 'The Beano' in my youth.

The nostalgic mood continues with "Sing Something Simple", a smoothly upbeat song seasoned with clips from the radio comedy "Round the Horne".

Then we're off to the railway station for "Anorak of Fire" - a lively driving celebration of trainspotting. I'm sure I recognise an old radio jingle in there somewhere. The dramatic atmosphere generated by the music gives a much more heroic picture than is usual associated with the hobby.

I'm not sure who or what "Resurrection" is about, but the music is fast and optimistic with a hard edge and some catchy melodies.

"Oklahoma" commemorates the day of the infamous bombing. There is a relentless tension as people go about their business unaware of the tragedy soon to hit them. This is perhaps my favourite track on the album. It's a tuneful and memorable song which is somewhat at odds with it's subject matter.

"Heart and soul" is as passionate at the title suggests, with a repetitive sing-a-long chorus.

"Secret Garden" starts with a long gentle guitar melody. Then it launches into a folksy song which I think is about a father promising to care for his children. In any case, it continues the run of pleasant tuneful songs. The flute adds a touch of earthy good humour.

I've no idea what "Touch" is about. The lyrics are snappy and hard-hitting, delivered in short punchy phrases, and the tune in more grim and moody than other songs. "He say! He say she say! She say we say! We say they all say...." What's that about, eh?

I think the next track is about the hidden "Wolf" inside a human heart. It's has a starkly dramatic verse and a richer melodic chorus. There's also a chunk of heavy instrumental and what sounds like a reprise of "Anorak of Fire".

From the generally downbeat mood, whoever "Emily" is, she is not in a particularly cheerful frame of mind. Dark hypnotic thumps are not terribly uplifting.

The style of "Rich Men Singing" is that of the folk band at a Barn Dance. I can just picture the audience swaying merrily to the beat, waving their pints of ale as they join in the chorus.

The same style continues for the final song, "Court of Despair". As the title suggests, it's a somewhat melancholy conclusion to the album, but the rolling beat is enough to keep up the spirits and the tunes are just as catchy as ever. Then comes a lively instrumental jig (still in a minor key) which grows wilder and with added lead guitar before bursting into a final chorus.

Report this review (#93593)
Posted Friday, October 6, 2006 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Poppy prog

I have to confess to being extremely impressed with this 1996 album by British band Grace. At time of writing, "Poppy" is their fourth and latest studio album, the band having been around since 1979. I should say straightaway that this is more of a prog related album than a bona fide neo-prog album as such, but the music here is written and performed with an assured confidence which questions why Grace as not far better known than they appear to actually be. Anyone familiar with the band Dare will be pleased with what they find here. There are also distinct influences of bands such as Marillion and perhaps more specifically Fish, along with residual nuances of their early influence, Jethro Tull.

The six man line up commands an instrumental array which offers a diverse range of sounds including sax and flute in addition to the ubiquitous guitars and keyboards. The style is generally from the pop prog end of the spectrum, drawing in sound of bands such as Supertramp, It Bites and Stackridge. The opening "Burglars" is particularly reminiscent of the latter, being an upbeat, bouncy affair with whimsical lyrics.

"Sing something simple" takes us back to the pre Radio gaga days, the song sounding a bit like a hybrid of the Fish and Hogarth era Marillion. Mac Austin's vocal style varies considerably from track to track, but here he sounds rather like Pendragon's Nick Barrett.

These opening tracks set the scene for a succession of highly enjoyable sophisticated pop songs which are developed well through instrumental breaks and embellished arrangements. While the album is generally upbeat, occasionally the band will take on something more serious. "Oklahoma" sensitively examines the impact of the bombing there, especially in light of the "it could never happen here" attitude which prevails in most of us.

At a shade under 8½ minutes, "Secret garden" is the longest track. Its length is in part due to a pleasant acoustic guitar intro which stands apart from the rest of the track. The actual song is an acoustic number with strong flute, which develops through an anthemic chorus, the song celebrating the joys of parenthood.

"The wolf" and "Emily" seem to move the band more towards Roxy Music/ Bryan Ferry/ David Sylvian territories, the former featuring saxes and a quivering vocal, while the latter is a much moodier piece in the sparse style of Sylvian. "Rich men singing" is a mildly amusing rant about the use of lottery funds to underwrite the cultured arts such as Opera. "Hearing Italian without any rhyme sung by unpronounceable figures, but they're sure that they're having a wonderful time while the rich men behind them just snigger", says it all really.

In all, a very enjoyable album but one where the enjoyment mainly comes on the first listen. The arrangements are good, the songs are well written, and the performances are of a high standard, but there is perhaps a lack of underlying depth to the album as a whole. Worth a go though.

Report this review (#178388)
Posted Tuesday, July 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars Arriving on the heels of the excellent "Pulling Strings..", "Poppy" came as both a shock and a disappointment. I kept waiting for those adventurous song structures, dark subjects, and imaginative melodies, but they are few and far between. The first cut starts off sounding like FOREIGNER and ends up like SUPERTRAMP, although it must be said that even when wounded GRACE has more subtlety than FOREIGNER and more restraint than SUPERTRAMP, so "Burglars" is in fact one of the highlights.

If the album title was not supposed to be a play on words, it should have been. Many of the songs are relatively simple even allowing for the confines of pop music, and seem like more than a mere step backward from "Pulling Strings...". But once I get passed that reality, I find much to enjoy in "Anorak of Fire" and "Heart and Soul", with its best BE BOP DELUXE imitation, while "Oklahoma" does capture some of the suspense of the federal building bombing that took place in 1995. "Rich Men Singing" is in the best tradition of the British legends LINDISFARNE, while the closer "Court of Despair" bows out with the album's most Celtic passages.

Still, at least half of what's here seems to be going through the motions, when we know that GRACE is capable of so much more. Even "Secret Garden", clocking in over 8 minutes, ultimately fails with its lackluster vocals and cutesy whistles. Several tracks again hearken back to the band's 1980s lineage (thinking JAPAN), such as "Touch" and "Emily". Even though parts of these songs are appealing, I end up just wanting them to do something...mostly end. That is never a good sign, so at the risk of popping a few buttons I must downgrade from 2.5 stars again.

Report this review (#198479)
Posted Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Sing me something simple

Poppy was a bit of a letdown after the two great previous albums, The Poet, The Piper, And The Fool and Pulling Strings And Shiny Things. The history of the band goes as far back as the 70's with a debut album being released in 1979 after several years of touring and releasing singles. However, after the release of a live album they broke up in the early 80's and did not reform again until the early 90's. The group have since released three further full-length albums in the 90's of which the present release was the last. While, as implied, I thoroughly enjoyed the band's previous two albums, I must issue a word of warning concerning this follow-up. In my review of Pulling Strings And Shiny Things, I said that Grace occupies an area of music where Crossover Prog, Prog Folk, and Neo-Prog meet. On the present album however, not much of the Folk and Neo-Prog remains. The album title pretty much gives it away even if this is not by any means your paradigm "Pop Prog" album. A song title like Sing Something Simple is also quite revealing concerning the level of intricacy involved in the compositions. Still, when the initial disappointment had settled, I found myself enjoying this album nonetheless.

There is surely lots of talent here and the sound they produce in the end is clearly professional. The voice of Mac Austin is somewhat hard to pinpoint, but he sometimes sounds a bit like Fish of Marillion and sometimes like Brian Ferry of Roxy Music! Most of the songs are rather cheerful and almost nowhere do we find here the dark and brooding atmosphere of the previous album. The presence of saxophone on many tracks adds further to the Pop feeling and whatever Folk leanings that are still present are mostly represented by the inclusion of a few flute passages. Most of the songs are rather short and vocally driven rather than instrumentally so. An exception is the appealing (but short) bridge that ties Burglars and Sing Something Simple together. The lyrics are also sometimes questionable and overly simplistic, particularly some choruses like that of Sing Something Simple and Heart And Soul which basically consist only of repetitions of their respective song titles.

The longest track is Secret Garden with its over eight minutes, but the first two minutes consist of a lovely acoustic guitar instrumental that is musically unconnected to the rest of the song. The main part of the song reminds me a bit of Barclay James Harvest but with Ian Anderson-like flutes. Still, this is one of the highlights of the album together with Oklahoma and, the best of them all, the Celtic-flavoured closer Court Of Despair. Emily sounds very much like it could have come straight from a Roxy Music album, complete with strongly Brian Ferry-like vocals! It's quite a variation of styles and there seems to be no clear direction.

The album runs for over an hour which is too much given that the 12 tracks are musically unconnected to each other, it would have benefited from the exclusion of a couple of songs. I still haven't heard anything from the early incarnation of Grace, but the music found on this album from the band's come-back years is quite pleasant. While I would certainly recommend going for the much better, and more progressive, albums The Poet, The Piper And The Fool and Pulling Strings And Shiny Things first, Poppy is still a worthy addition to your collection in addition to those two albums.

Report this review (#291345)
Posted Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | Review Permalink

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