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Focus Focus Plays Focus [Aka: In and Out of Focus] album cover
3.47 | 355 ratings | 33 reviews | 12% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1970

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Focus (instrumental) (9:45)
2. Why Dream? (3:57)
3. Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) (3:56)
4. Anonymus (7:00)
5. Black Beauty (3:05)
6. Sugar Island (3:03)
7. Focus (vocal) (2:44)

Total Time 33:30

Extra track on Polydor 1970/71 LP and all CD releases:
7. House of the King (single) (2:15)

Line-up / Musicians

- Thijs van Leer / vocals, organ, flutes (not confirmed: piano, electric piano, Mellotron, harpsichord, vibes, trumpet)
- Jan Akkerman / electric & acoustic (?) guitars
- Martijn Dresden / bass, vocals (?)
- Hans Cleuver / drums, vocals(?)

Releases information

LP Imperial - 5C 180-24572 (1970, Netherlands) Original release entitled "Focus Plays Focus" (later abandoned) w/ 7 tracks
LP Sire - SAS 97027 (1970, US) Entitled "In And Out Of Focus" and with different cover art
LP Polydor - 2344 003 (1970, US/1971, UK) As above & different tracks running order (including 1 extra)
LP Sire SAS 7404 (1973, US) As above & only 6 tracks (omits Sugar Island)

CD EMI - CDM7488632 (1988, Europe) Again entitled "In And Out Of Focus" and w/ full 8 tracks list
CD IRS - X2-13059 (2001, Netherlands)
CD Red Bullet - RB 66.187 (2001, Netherlands)
CD Victor - VICP-61530 (2001, Japan) 20-bit remaster

Note: The initial releases use the title "Focus Plays Focus", later changed globally to "In And Out Of Focus"; Worlwide there were 4 different covers, and the track list changed also on several editions. The CD reissues would finally include all 8 tracks, only found together before on Polydor LP editions.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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FOCUS Focus Plays Focus [Aka: In and Out of Focus] ratings distribution

(355 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(12%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(44%)
Good, but non-essential (38%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

FOCUS Focus Plays Focus [Aka: In and Out of Focus] reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars One understands that the following albums will be almost entirely instrumental when you listen to the poor sung tracks. They will do much better later and become a mostly instrumental group but whatever vocals they will sing after Moving Waves will be superb. Cyril Havermans is an horrendous singer . In the DVD about Focus, there is some interesting footage about this line-up playing in an Amsterdam museum.

Most sung tracks are directly eliminated because of the above-mentioned flaw. this leaves some three instrumental which fantastic and among which is their first hit known even by my grandparents!!! House of the King was their first huge hit , but they must have copied that from something else because Holland has had only queens for a long time now. Anonymous is one of those instrumental that they will rework at least three times and their trademark eponymous theme is just as enjoyable.

I would advise people investigating Focus to not start by their debut or their sophomore because they are much flawed but for those wanting deepen their knowledge of the band, those two albums are much needed.

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is Dutch progressive rock. The keyboards are basic: mostly organ and piano. Some songs are more catchy and accessible with very good lead and backing vocals ("Black Beauty", "Sugar Island"). Other songs are more instrumental, with tons of drums and flute through fast bass and electric guitar rythms. For instance, "House of the King" has a melodic flute that steals the show in front of rythmic patterns (It is similar to the JETHRO TULL of the 70's). The instrumental FOCUS is full of good piano, organ, elaborated drums and electric guitar high notes that are even a bit romantic and rythm changing.
Review by Philo
4 stars Emerging from a wealth of Dutch bands Focus burst onto the scene in the late sixties and unleashed their debut album in 1970, firstly only in Holland but soon Focus started to make waves and the news spread and a second edition of the debut was released which was minus two of the albums important tracks ("House Of The King" and "Sugar Island"), and then finally the whole world, if they wanted, could hear the entire album just as it was meant to be. The album is tight and cohesive as initially the sound is very influenced by the sixties British scene with psychedelic overtures and most certainly in the vocals. "Focus (vocal)" is a gentle swaying opener with a neat organ beat from Hans Cleuver, also Focus' percussionist, as the band then pursue an adventure through a mix of eclectic instrumentation and styles, most notably Thijs Van Leer's sonic and ultra melodic flute playing. Especially on the semi prog/psycyhe and rapid flurry of the instrumental "House Of The King". Jan Akkerman's guitar playing is as exciting and refreshing as anything his band mate could come up with. At this early stage of Focus development the band were in the moment of taming their sound which they would define by Focus III, but here they were still working under the structure of the short tune. A few tracks do contain vocals, which somehow sound almost semi coherent almost stoned like yet under developed. "Black Beauty" is about one of the most accessible tracks in the Focus canon, along with "Sugar Island", a song with references to Castro's Cuba. Initially this track was lifted from the debut due to American disharmony with the communist country. Stupidly in my opinion. "Why Dream?" is an interesting piece of, again with a psyche element. It seriously rams home the mantra over and over in a hypnotic manner and is one of the better songs which has vocals but "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" is not. A tale of bad trips, LSD like, it comes across more annoying (a touch of filler maybe), even a tad instructive than pained and tinted with warning which is what I might have expected. Nevertheless Focus' debut effort is a fine album with a touch of hard rock, a hint of jazz, a splash of baroque all tied up in a very Focus like wit in a very progressive manner. Well worth a listen.
Review by Atkingani
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars It's amazing and fascinating to know how FOCUS were (and still are) popular in Brazil. They are good and really deserved that distinction but I also realize that their first output came in a moment that part of the younger generation was eager to some new sounds, experiences and perspectives - a new focus, indeed. Those kids that became teenagers in late 60s had received musical information coming from BEATLES, MOODY BLUES, PROCOL HARUM, early FLOYD and CRIMSON, and so they were naturally looking for novelties, a niche filled amongst other by FOCUS.

"In And Out Of Focus" has a fair content of progressiveness, nothing really spectacular but with the exact dosage to amuse many, myself included. Their sound shows several directions and influences: hard and pop-rock, European jazz, psych & space, folk & erudite and even some of then recent acts like JETHRO TULL. All together could produce a tasteless and confusing salad but the result is agreeable since the production got to separate their backgrounds clearly.

The album begins and finishes with the same track, the band namesake song 'Focus', being the first provided with vocals and the later instrumental only - a catchy and soft tune much more in the romantic pop vein with some real rock passages. Vocals in English could have been weird if that was one's native language however for a non-English speaker it sounded interesting.

'Black beauty' rocks pleasantly and a certain smell of 60s pop-rock may be felt while 'Sugar Island' blends Latin and psych tunes - either songs are not remarkable but are perfectly hearable. 'Anonymous' is a fine and real progressive track, the varied atmosphere changing associated with nice musicianship makes this one of the best album moments. This song has also some segments which in the future will shape FOCUS signature.

'House of the king' opens lovably the last part of "In And Out Of Focus". The short song was a hit and became a band's standard. 'Happy nightmare' brings back the vocals, together with catchy folk and jazz tunes - not special but nevertheless hearable. 'Why dream' is simply an average non-skipable track with psych spices.

FOCUS debut album is the starting point for a lengthy and successful career that should be not overlooked when diving into the band's discography. "In And Out Of Focus" could be a plain good album however the legend of FOCUS recommends it as a meaningful addition for all music collection.

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars I mostly do not like debut albums from great bands of the late sixties / early seventies (being prog or not). Little jewels to talk about. Very few were the exceptions IMO. Crimson of course, Heep, and ELP. Would Focus be any different ?

This Focus album holds the worse and the best.

The worse being those silly, folkish tunes like "Focus...(Vocal)", "Black Beauty" and "Happy Nightmare". The same could have applied to "Sugar Island" if, all of a sudden, the song wouldn't have turned into a similar-sounded Tull song. Aqualung oriented. Gosh ! This album was released a year BEFORE "Aqualung"! Superb flute playing (but Thijs is of course a master. Probably the best one in the genre).

Things are also on the good side with "Anonymus". A wild instrumental, somewhat jazzy.

I discovered the band at the tender age of almost twelve. Thanks to their appearance on a Dutch TV show (Belgium was a pioneer in cable TV), I was looking at every week. And of course, they performed "House Of The King". I fell in love with "House..." and purchased the single. It was bw with the extremely poor "Black Beauty". "House" was not featured on the original vinyl album.

The best number of this album is without any doubt "Focus" (instrumental). It starts with a brilliant and very slow mood. Sublime melody : keys and guitar. You will have the impression to listen to Latimer and the early Camel. Gosh ! This album was released FOUR years before "Snow Goose" ! The song gets real wild at half time. Precursory to "Hocus Pocus" in a way. Fabulous.

It is a pity that some extremely poor tracks are featured here. This album is extremely avant-guarde for the era. Creative, different.

Three stars. So, the answer to the initial question might well be : yes.

Review by Flucktrot
3 stars Knowing what Focus have accomplished (Hocus Pocus, Hamburger Concerto), it's really amazing to hear this album, because I don't hear many hints at their future ability to write concise rock or to create delicate, intricate prog, though there are notable exceptions. Uneven, at times uninspired, and in a few cases goofy, In and Out of Focus contains a fair amount of genuinely good music, but don't expect to hear a monumental statement regarding the potential of Focus.

House of the King. This is the only real prog song on the album, and while short (under three minutes), it's a great example of the uniquely Focus sound. We've got a bouncy, medieval-ish melody, foot-tappingly played by flute, guitar, and accentuated by handclaps. I can picture dancing in the village square to this!

Anonymous, Focus (instrumental). Here Focus loosen up a bit and decide to throw down some great jam-rock. They really seem to be comfortable here, and the music reflects it--fun, at times virtuosic, and not too extended. The bass seems more lively here than in future Focus, which is most welcome. Both songs begin with melodies introduced in other songs and build to very satisfying crescendos, laying down some memorable grooves along the way.

The rest... There really isn't much else of import on this album. Some of the songs remind me of a mellowed-out Syd Barrett--similar vocals and playful style. The most bizarre is Sugar Island: "this Castro makes the poor man rich, he makes the powers fail", followed by some "daba-daba" scatting. Needless to say, none of it really works, though Why Dream does have a great guitar solo to look forward to.

Worthwhile for Focus fans, but probably passable for those just getting into the band. I strongly recommend Moving Waves or Hamburger Concerto before In and Out of Focus.

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars One "Anonymous" track but four anonymous tracks

Focus are in my opinion tragic under achievers. They have shown through numerous inspired tracks, and ultimately through the superb "Hamburger Concerto" album that they are capable of making absolutely first class music. Too often though, they have come up short by including sub-standard fillers and rambling quasi-jazz noodlings in their albums. If this seems a bit harsh, it's because Focus frustrate me. If they had just stuck to the knitting, they could have been one of Europe's biggest bands.

Anyway, this album (my review is based on the Sire records release) takes us right back to the band's roots in 1970. Formed the previous year by guitarist Jan Akkerman with a rhythm section of Martin Dresden and Hans Cleuver, the quartet would be completed later that year with the arrival of the multi-talented Thjis Van Leer. The rhythm section here would last for just this album, which was far from successful commercially. Focus version 2 would of course go on to find great success, but let us focus on this debut, which most people would have come across retrospectively.

At just 36 minutes and six tracks, the band could hardly be accused of flooding the album with a wealth of material, especially when we consider that there are two versions of the eponymous "Focus", one instrumental and one vocal. The instrumental version opens the album. This is a Thjis Van Leer composition, the man writing or co-writing every track. (Akkerman on the other hand only received one co-credit, for "Anonymous".) From the opening bars, you might be forgiven for thinking this is an ambient album of soothing guitar and keyboards. What we have though is an eclectic mix of laid back sounds, striking lead guitar bursts, and fusion style improvisation. Those improvisations move between guitar, keyboard and flute, thus setting out Focus's stall as soon as possible. At a shade under 10 minutes, the piece is an astonishingly brave opening statement by a band reflecting the wonderful spirit of adventure which prog fronted during the early 1970's.

"Why dream" is a Focus curiosity in that it is the first, and as it turned out rare, time they have recorded a vocal led song. Unfortunately, the vocals are mediocre at best and simply serve to suppress the instrumental dexterity of the band. The following "Happy nightmare (Mescaline)" is even poorer, the call and response nature of the verses making for a very dated pop sound. It is a shame really, as the track features some good mellotron in the background. Curiously, the melody of the track has distinct echoes of The Carpenters "This masquerade".

The second side of the album is similar in layout to the first. The 7 minute instrumental "Anonymous" kicks things off in spirited fashion with another largely improvisational recital. The track is less structured than "Focus", and much more rooted in straight jazz. "Black beauty" reverts to the simplistic 60's sounding pop, thus ironically sounding more annonymous than the preceding track! The closing vocal rendition of "Focus" is much shorter than the instrumental version, turning the piece into a soft ballad. It is hard to remember that this is actually a variant of the first track, such is the transformation.

"In and out of focus" is an essential album for fans of the band, as it is a wonderful illustration of their beginnings. For the rest of us, the two instrumental pieces are the contain the Focus we are all familiar with. The four vocal tracks are diverting but largely disposable.

Review by Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Despite certain criticism, the debut album of FOCUS is a quite original and artistically coherent music statement. True, critics are mainly complaining about the weak vocal tracks and surely Black Beauty and Sugar Island are not the kind of songs you cannot live without. But the rest is pretty much excellent!

The opening - vocal - and the closing - instrumental - versions of the self-titled Focus are pretty solid progressive rock statements and present a blueprint for later albums, where this composition would traditionally be re-interpreted. The instrumental Focus contains some wonderful Akkerman's solo parts that suggest a nice, relaxing, almost lounge atmosphere of the kind Peter Green had composed in Albatross.

Anonymous is another gem presenting a mixture of Medieval/Rennaissance elements with a strong, hard-rocking jazz improvisation, with some wild and vivid use of flute, piano and lead guitar. There is a solo part on bass guitar where M. Dresden shows that his performance skills were not the reason for his departure after this album. The bass sounds like the similar part of the crazy Improvisation suite by their fellow countrymen EKSEPTION done few years later.

Happy Nightmare and Why Dream are vocal tracks, but both are fine melodic and slightly psychedelic songs, an obvious traces of THE BEATLES and early PINK FLOYD influences. There is a fine chamber jazz section in the former, with Mellotron and strings/violins. The vocals are indeed not very convincing, but I would say there were never meant to be in the forefront - much like its use in later CAMEL or LEB I SOL albums - their role is pure atmospheric. Whether this was an intention of the band while recording this album is a different story and I sense they were rather experimental. On the subsequent albums they were reduced to occasional scat and yodelling and that's what van Leer would become a famous for.

Finally, here comes House of the King! Acoustic guitar chords and lively percussive rhythm make just enough space for Thijs van Leer's extravaganza flute solo play. It is one of the most memorable and popular flute solos in rock music, a melody that gained a widespread popularity across generations. I remember it was often used as background music for commercials and announcements in the TV/radio broadcast in the former Yugoslavia, while a popular radio show on Radio Sarajevo in the early 1980s used to have this tune in the opening sequence!

In and Out of Focus is excellent debut of the excellent European continental band that is often overlooked in the wake of later stronger albums. But if you disregard certain weak elements of some of the vocal tracks, you will find this record extremely enjoyable, diverse and if you want - influential (CAMEL fans - this is for you!)


P.A. RATING: 4/5

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars In and Out of Focus is the debut album dutch prog rockers Focus. Unlike a large portion of their later output, most of the songs here on the debut evolves around vocals. Focus is probably the most known Dutch prog rock band and they have made a couple of good albums in their career. This one is a typical debut album which means that Focus is still undecided when it comes to musical style.

The music is symphonic prog rock and in the vocal department I hear a lot of Beatles and to some extent Canterbury scene. This is my enterpretation so you should check this out yourself to make your own opinion. Thijs van Leer has a very pleasant voice and his subtle vocal style also reminds me of Camel. The three first songs are vocal tracks that are somewhat enjoyable while itīs with the fourth song Anonymous that we begin to see the real face of Focus. This is a good instrumental song with a nice flute solo, a soft jazzy piano solo, a bass solo and a guitar solo. House of the king is a short flute driven song which reminds me a bit about Jethro Tull.

Happy nightmare (mescaline) starts side 2 of the original LP and itīs one of my favorites here. Great vocal melody and a bit of eerie atmosphere. Why Dream is a pretty dark song which I also like a lot. The album ends with Focus ( Instrumental) which is an almost 10 minutes long instrumental track with lots of soloing. I like Anonymous better but itīs allright.

The musicianship is pretty good and itīs already showing on In and Out of Focus that Jan Akkerman on guitar and Thijs van Leer on vocals, Flute and keyboards are excellent musicians.

The production is a bit thin but itīs still enjoyable.

Allthough I have never been the biggets fan of Focus this debut is a pretty good album and I īll rate it 3 stars. I like that there are more songs with vocals to keep the album diverse than usually on a Focus album. Some of the vocal tracks are still very much rooted in the sixties but they are still very good.

Review by friso
4 stars Focus' debut album has them introducing both their classical and jazz influences to the rock genre, but not quite as developed as on their more progressive later albums. In stead, it has good (only slightly symphonic) psychedelic jazz-rock songs with vocals by Thijs van Leer, some nice improvisations and an overall relaxing atmosphere. Song like 'Why Dream' and 'Happy Nightmare' are memorable, though you can hear that the song-format is not the band's most comfortable way of performing. Jan Akkerman on guitar is always a blessing, but on this record his contributions are not as frontal and feral as on later efforts. The rhythmical section of Dresden en Cleuver is quite strong, but because of disputes with Akkerman they would be replaced by Pierre van de Linden (with whom Akkerman played in Branbox) and Cyril Havermans. The recording quality of the vinyl is very good for its year of release and should please fans of the hammon organ. My vinyl copy 'In and Out of Focus' on Polydor has quite a different tracklist order and also includes a version of 'House of the King'.
Review by Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A recent thread in Prog Archives forum that shows how some younger people fail to recognize the transcendence of the most important band from the Netherlands and their enormous contribution to the Symphonic Prog movement, has encouraged me to review all of their albums, a pleasant task that I will start from the beginning, with their debut "In and Out of Focus". Before the review itself, we must remember that this album was released in 1970, Symphonic Prog was already well known in UK and Italy was following their steps with some special characteristics, but FOCUS really crossed the limits and changed radically the approach.

While British and Italian bands were too busy with the lush keyboards and strong melodies, FOCUS was able to combine a distinct and unique guitar jamming, some Jazz elements and a strong Classical influence. In this first album they still don't get rid of the Psychedelic influences of the late 60's but they are already creating a new form of lets call it Flemish Symphonic, where Jan Akkerman plays a role that few Symphonic guitarist had.

The album is opened with the smooth and relaxing "Focus" one of the few vocal tracks in their career, being that Thijs Van Leer later started to use his voice as an extra instrument instead of singing lyrics.

The soft voice makes the perfect introduction for a long Hammond organ jamming very well covered by Jan's guitar..Dreamy, oneiric, relaxing, this song places the listener in mood for something new.

"Black Beauty" is a different track that keeps alive the 60's spirit, somehow late Psyche meets early Prog, the vocals in the style of the British invasion combine perfectly with a strong and well elaborate melody. It's important to notice how Jan with his guitar and Thijs with a subtle piano manage to take the lead one after the other, two strong personalities and different styles blending their efforts in favor of the music.

"Sugar Island" is another typical late 60's track with reminiscences of Carnaby Street scenario but already with a more developed style, when I listen the vocal work, I can't understand why they resigned to sing for ever. A special mention for the fantastic guitar instrumental break of Jan Akkerman and Thijs flute, simply impressive. Some people will say that they try to clone JETHRO TULL'S Folk sound, but as a fact JETHRO was still doing mainly blues until 1971, so it's hard to talk about a copy.

"Anonymous" is the first song that sounds like the FOCUS we all know and love, the flute is clearly aggressive, the strength of the song relies exclusively in the instruments, long jamming passages, radical changes, while Jan concentrates in his guitar, Thijs jumps from the piano to the flute as a human octopus, while Hans Cleuver and Martijn Dresden complement perfectly, specially Martijn who does a breathtaking bass solo. A great song

"The House of the King" was he band's first world hit, Thijs does a frantic flute work with Martijn supporting him impeccably with the bass, the track is simply delightful in its simplicity. Strangely, 9 out of each 10 persons I showed the track, used to believe it was played by JETHRO TULL. "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" is a different track, somehow influenced by Latin Jazz and vocal bands works like a stress relief. Even though the previous tracks seem relaxing, the saturation of instrumental sections with few vocals create some stress that needs to be dissolved, and the band does this job with "Happy Nightmare".

Why Dream" is what I define as weird, starts with a Baroque intro enhanced by a sober organ but the vocals bring us back to the 20th Century. The strong melody and melancholic tune combined with Jan's aggressive guitar are spectacular. The Hammond organ is a constant along the track, don't expect radical changes, just let it flow and you will enjoy it as I do.

The album finishes almost as it stated, with the song "Focus", this time instrumental, as announcing that this is what we will listen from now on, but don't be mistaken, only the name and the central melody are repeated, this time the band exploits their instruments to the maximum, Thijs makes constant Hammond solos, each stronger than the previous, while Jan makes the guitar cry in anguish creating a dramatic atmosphere that contrasts with the pleasant one created in the opening track. Pure Progressive Rock at its best, like only FOCUS can play.

I'm sure this is not the best FOCUS album, but it's the chance to discover a band that will later be revolutionary and transcendental in the development of Progressive Rock.

Four stars for a very solid debut.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars If it wasn't for the Dutch accents on the vocals on this album, I would have thought that this was a group out of the Canterbury scene. The songs somewhat airy compositions, with slightly thin vocals singing what sounds a bit like rock madrigals, this could be early Caravan or similar Canterbury artists.

The progness of this album is limited, but then, this was released in 1970, when only a few trailblazers were releasing albums of full blown prog. But still, there are some worthwhile moments on this album. Anonymous, or Anonymus as it's spelled on my CD, is a pretty cool jam, superior to it's sequel on the III album.

Not a bad start, but showing little of what would later come from this band.

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I quite like this album (and this is coming from someone who generally doesn't like much Focus), and that is strange because this debut is closer to simpler Pink Floyd and not really progressive rock at all. If anything, this is mild yet enjoyable proto-prog.

"Focus (vocal)" Using a steady, easygoing rhythm with a light beat and distant organ, this opening song has sweet vocals and an even sweeter sounding guitar.

"Black Beauty" After an exciting building introduction of drum fills, guitar screams and bass runs, a pleasant acoustic guitar-based straightforward rock song ensues.

"Sugar Island" This song is based around a bouncy chord progression somewhat similar to the introduction of "Yours is No Disgrace" by Yes- it even includes some jazzy Steve Howe-like slippery guitar runs and octave work. The flute solo and vocal harmonies are pluses as well. The lyrics are politically simple enough, but the melody is a happy one.

"Anonymous" Snare drum, bass, and brass open with a stately introduction before a heavier, flute-led passage ensues. The flute is masterful, but the electric guitar, lively bass, and animated percussion have a simultaneously spotlight. The piano soloing brings the piece farther into jazz-rock/fusion territory. And that bass solo is something else. As the piece builds even more and the guitar solo takes off, this sounds like something right out of The Allman Brothers Band.

"House of the King" Evoking a light mediaeval feel with flutes and handclaps, the introduction quickly gives way to more flute and clapping, only over a jaunty acoustic guitar, bass, and straightforward drummer, changing things up with a darker electric guitar solo.

"Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" Very reserved vocals and acoustic guitar introduce a light jazzy song, making wonderful use of the Mellotron and clean lead guitar. While the vocals are not strong, the call and response offers pleasant harmonies.

"Why Dream" Accented chords with acoustic guitar and organ create a song that sounds like something from Chris Squire's Fish Out of Water, especially since the vocalist sounds similar to Yes's bassist. The electric guitar solo is a perfect concluding touch.

"Focus (instrumental)" As one might expect, this is a revisiting of the peaceful opener. Other than a few additional, harder-rocking passages (not the least of which is an extended guitar solo followed by mellow flute), little changes, which ultimately makes the length of this piece questionable.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The debut album from the classic Dutch band Focus is not exactly what fans of their later albums would expect it to be and it did take me by a surprise the first time I heard it. Today, I must admit that it's one of my favorite Focus albums!

The biggest difference with this release is that the majority of the album is dominated by Thijs van Leer's very lean vocal performance that sounds nothing like his later more sporadic occasional performances. The combination of his vocals and the mellow music arrangements almost remind me of the classic Spaghetti Western soundtracks by Ennio Morricone. Just listen to the opening track Focus (vocal) or Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) and you'll see what I mean! Jan Akkerman, on the other hand, seems at first like nowhere to be found and it takes three songs into the album for us to recognize his otherwise very distinguishable lead guitar sound.

It's not until the album's fourth track, Anonymus, that we finally can clearly hear the collective that brought us such classics as Hocus Pocus, Harem Scarem and the Focus song trilogy, one of which is coming right at the end of this record. Most of the shorter vocal arranged tracks are very enjoyable and might actually work as a great introduction to the band. I say this because it took me quite some time to get into Focus when I originally picked up Moving Waves and Focus 3 as my introduction.

Even though my initial uncertainty towards this release, I'm happy to say that it didn't take me long to begin enjoying the record. Yes, the music does get a bit commercial at times and the jam sections just aren't as grand as they would get later on but Focus was never really a perfect band. I consider the album Focus 3 to be their most progressive effort but I wouldn't exactly argue with people who consider it a bit too excessive. In that regard, In And Out Of Focus is actually one of the few occasions where the band did strike a nice balance of a sort, even though it's clearly not to everyone's liking.

***** star songs: Anonymous (6:33) House Of The King (2:51) Why Dream (3:58)

**** star songs: Focus (vocal) (2:44) Black Beauty (3:08) Sugar Island (3:05) Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) (3:59) Focus (Instrumental) (9:44)

Review by kenethlevine
2 stars FOCUS' debut spreads their typically diffuse field of sight into two streams, one familiar from their follow up work and the other never to be rekindled. The first is the symphonic fusion with space for lead guitar, organ and flute soloing. I have already expressed my tepid reaction to this style as practiced by the group. The second is a vocal oriented psych axis that actually comprises 4 out of the album's 6 tracks.

While Van Leer's voice is smooth and spaced out enough for the time frame, and some folky and jazzy touches make these tunes inoffensive enough, they are nothing special and barely progressive to boot. I do prefer them to the "Anonymus" "Focus" of the lengthier pieces. In particular "Why Dream" and "Happy Nightmare" sport an acoustic side that was only briefly taken up in more progressive garb on the next disk. But here it's honestly not far removed from early DONOVAN via PINK FLOYD if you get the gist.

Considering one of the tracks is subtitled "Mescaline", it's no surprise that the focus wavers throughout, which makes this a more typical band album than at first blush, other than being a product of its time period in general. Fans of the group might be glad to know I'm done for the foreseeable future with my reviews of this promising yet consistently disappointing cooperative. For others, as I've said before, start with the sophomore release "Moving Waves".

Review by Guillermo
4 stars This first FOCUS's album is a bit different from their other albums. It seems to me that the main "focus" of this first line-up of the band was to compose and to record more proper songs with lyrics than to "focus" on instrumental music and improvisations like in other albums. So, in this album there are more songs with lyrics than in other albums, sounding like the band was more oriented to sing songs with proper lyrics than to only sing wordless vocals like in other albums. They also used more lead and backing vocals than in other albums. (Their "Focus con Proby" album was also a "songs with lyrics " oriented album, but that album was more a collaboration with lead singer P.J. Proby than a proper FOCUS's album, I think). Thijs van Leer also plays a bit of trumpet in this album, a thing that never happened again with the band.

The album also has some sixties's Pop Rock influences, also sounding to me like being influenced a bit by the early PINK FLOYD's sound ("Focus", "Black Beauty", "Happy Nightmares (Mescaline)", "Why Dream"), with some Psychedelic influences, and also some influences from the early JETHRO TULL's musical style, particularly with Thijs van Leer's flute playing in some instrumental songs ("Anonymous", "House of the King"). There are also some Jazz music influences. But some traces from their very characteristic musical style are present in some songs ("Anonymous", "House of the King"). All the musicians played very well, and in fact this first line-up of the band was very good. Unfortunately, Jan Akkerman apparently was not very happy with this line-up and he left the band after this first album, forming a new band, and also forcing van Leer to split the first line-up of FOCUS to join Akkerman's band and to also name it FOCUS. That second line-up of the band recorded their very good "Moving Waves" album in 1971, which is one of their best albums, in my opinion.

This album, as a whole, sounds a bit dated, maybe because the production of the sound of the album still sounds "very Sixties". But their next album, "Moving Waves", has a much better sound and production. Anyway, this album is very good. It was a very good start for a very good band like FOCUS.

Review by The Crow
3 stars Debut album from one of the most important Dutch prog-rock bands!

Which sadly shows a band in search of true personality, mixing a great variety of elements, which move between Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.

There is a pair of sweet tracks included like Black Beauty and Sugar Island, very pop oriented. The prog and symphonic elements come with songs like the medieval sounding House of the King, the very jazzy and Jethro Tull influenced Anonymus, the instrumental Focus and the psychedelic Happy Nightmare - Mescaline.

However, at the end of the day this album can be considered just good and way under the best records of the band.

Best Tracks: Anonymus (great bass solo!), Focus (Instrumental)

Conclusion: despite not being essential, this album will surely please the 70's prog-rock junkies!

My rating: ***

Review by VianaProghead
4 stars Review Nš 429

"In And Out Of Focus" is the debut studio album of the Dutch progressive rock band Focus and was released in 1970. Focus was formed in 1969 by keyboardist, vocalist, and flautist Thijs Van Leer. He recruited the bass guitarist Martijn Dresden and the drummer Hans Cleuver. Later, they were joined by the guitarist Jan Akkerman. The result of this had its climax with the release of their debut studio album "Focus Plays Focus", better known as "In And Out Of Focus".

"In And Out Of Focus" was the first and only album of the band to feature the original line up. So, the line up on the album is Thijs Van Leer (vocals, organ, electric piano, Mellotron, harpsichord, vibraphone and flute), Jan Akkerman (guitars), Martijn Dresden (bass guitar) and Hans Cleuver (drums and percussion).

Unfortunately, "In And Out Of Focus" was little noticed outside the Netherlands. Because of that, dissatisfied with the lack of success of this first album, Jan Akkerman left the group to form another band. Hans Cleuver and Martin Dresden also left Focus shortly after that. However, Jan Akkerman and Thijs Van Leer joined again and with two new members the bassist Cyril Havermans and the drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, they continued with the Focus musical project.

"In And Out Of Focus" has eight tracks. The first track "Focus (Vocal)" written by Thijs Van Leer and Hans Cleuver is a very calm track with soft vocals. It's a sweet opener with a nice and simple musical atmosphere where we can hear a gentle guitar playing with a nice sound, a repetitive bass line and a good drum beat. The second track "Black Beauty" also written by Thijs Van Leer and Hans Cleuver is a different song from the previous one. It's a song that sounds more like a song of the 60's. It's a good song with a strong and well elaborated melody but with no great instrumental parts and that sounds a bit dated. This is a nice song but with nothing special on it. The third track "Sugar Island" written by Thijs Van Leer and Jan Staal is a song with many common parts with the previous song. It's also a song that sounds to the 60's and so, it's also a bit dated, too. However, this is, in my opinion, a better song. It has some fine flute playing by Thijs Van Leer and it has also a good guitar performance of Jan Akkerman. The fourth track "Anonymous" written by Thijs Van Leer, Jan Akkerman, Martin Dresden and Hans Cleuver is, without any doubt, the first great musical moment on the album and that finally sounds like the Focus we all know and love. This is a typical Focus track that became as one of the classic songs of the band. The performance of all band's members is absolutely extraordinary and shows clearly the great musical talent of all of them. The fifth track "House Of The King" written by Jan Akkerman represents another great musical moment on the album and it's another legendary track from the band. This song shows perfectly well the compositional abilities of Jan Akkerman and the perfect harmony between the flute of Thijs Van Leer and the acoustic guitar of Jan Akkerman. Despite be one of the shorter songs on the album, it represents really, one of the most exciting and refreshing musical moments on it. The sixth track "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" written by Thijs Van Leer, Martijn Dresden and Mike Hayes is another different track and it's also a less typical song of the band. It's a very good song influenced by jazz and with pleasant harmonies and with a beautiful use of the mellotron and the electric guitar, too. The seventh track "Why Dream" written by Thijs Van Leer and Hans Cleuver is a song with a kind of a weird starting but that develops gradually and that finally ends in a magnificent way. It's a song with a melancholic tune but that has, at the same time, a nice and strong melody. The aggressive guitar performance of Jan Akkerman is absolutely spectacular and it's very well accompanied by the Hammond organ of Thijs Van Leer. The eighth track "Focus (Instrumental)" written by Thijs Van Leer is a revisiting of the peaceful opener track. This track is, without any doubt, the best and the most progressive song on the album and it's another classic gem of the band. It's an astonishing track with about 10 minutes with incredible improvisations that moves constantly between guitar, keyboards and flute. This is Focus at their best and represents perfectly the progressivity and the quality of their music and how great they can be.

Conclusion: I must confess that I'm sincerely convinced that "In And Out Of Focus" is an underrated album on this site. I know it has some weaker musical moments such as "Sugar Island" and especially "Black Beauty". However, it has also some great musical moments such as "Anonymous", "House Of The King" and especially the title track "Focus". As we all know, all these songs became classic tracks of the band. By the other hand, despite some tracks are a bit dated, "In And Out Of Focus" is, in my humble opinion, a marvellous debut album that already has the seeds of the musical magic formula that would put Focus and Netherlands on the progressive rock map. Of course it isn't, for sure, their best album, but it's certainly an enjoyable and diverse work. Somehow, we can say that Focus is the father of the Dutch progressive music. Focus it's also one of the best and most representative progressive rock bands of the 70's.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Latest members reviews

3 stars This is a solid debut album by the young (as of 1970) Dutch lads. Half of it is filled with progressive attempts (2 tracks) and the rest could be classified as psychedelic pop/rock. While playing is fine, when not too restrained on the vocal tracks, it is the compositional skillset that strikes ... (read more)

Report this review (#2967406) | Posted by sgtpepper | Tuesday, November 7, 2023 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I love Focus. Jan Akkerman is extra-ordinary and I also like Thijs van Leer a lot. The two of them surround themselves with great musicians. This is also true for the debut. But this debut is flawed. It has beautiful pieces like Anonymus and Focus. But it also has less-memorable ones. But what ... (read more)

Report this review (#2714244) | Posted by WJA-K | Wednesday, March 30, 2022 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Review #132 If we talk about European Progressive Rock from the seventies, probably the most prolific countries were England, Italy, France, and Germany but there were several very interesting bands in other European countries and from the Netherlands, FOCUS is probably the most popular one. ... (read more)

Report this review (#2632472) | Posted by Uruk_hai | Tuesday, November 9, 2021 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Not a fan of focus although this my favourite album by them. The opening instrumental contains pastoral rhythm section with relaxing guitar lead, a bit to long but still nice (7mins would be better). Why Dream is a nice and memorable short song. Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) is the same kind ... (read more)

Report this review (#2573957) | Posted by Beautiful Scarlet | Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Review Permanlink

2 stars What could be expected of an early 1970 album?... Psychedelic rock? Focus (vocal) (1.50 Out of 5.00) The album opens with this repetitive track (Later it will be reprised) Black Beauty (2.75 Out of 5.00) Now it gets better, this is a good psychedelic rock song, but there are nothing really ex ... (read more)

Report this review (#808710) | Posted by raul_siberian | Wednesday, August 22, 2012 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Focus and Supersister were the first Dutch progressive bands, following one year later (1970) than the British movement. Focus's members consisted Jan Akkerman, who was already famous in Holland since he showed his guitarskills in one of Holland's most popular band of the late sixties - Brainb ... (read more)

Report this review (#603047) | Posted by the philosopher | Wednesday, January 4, 2012 | Review Permanlink

3 stars 'Anonymous' is an excellent instrumental song, and if more of the album were like this then the rating would go up accordingly. There are other parts of the album where the music is excellent. But, the songs with vocals are pretty awful. And, Unfortunately, they take up more than half of the al ... (read more)

Report this review (#175715) | Posted by digdug | Sunday, June 29, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars The first release from legendary Dutch symphonic prog band Focus, this album is often overlooked and underrated by less attentive Focus fans. The album has a much more quiet acoustical feel to it than their later albums, making it comparable to the early albums of Genesis and Yes in some respects. ... (read more)

Report this review (#146905) | Posted by cynthiasmallet | Thursday, October 25, 2007 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The debut of the famous Dutch group. 1. Focus (vocal) (2:44) A nice, soft vocals is followed by simple atmospheric guitar lines and repetitive bassplaying, but nothing that awesome. 3 stars 2. Black beauty (3:05) Sirupy vocals and the melody sounds dated, like coming from 1967. No great i ... (read more)

Report this review (#132256) | Posted by Peto | Wednesday, August 8, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars And they starts... With this really nice release. You can find here several songs that became essential hits of the band, like The House of the King, Anonymous and Focus (Instrumental). The sung tracks aren't bad; in fact, the vocal work is, in general, very fine. But the problem with proghead ... (read more)

Report this review (#114616) | Posted by sircosick | Thursday, March 8, 2007 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Historical Information On 31 March of 1948, a child named Thijs Van Leer is born in Amsterdam. Heavily influenced by his father, who was a classical flautist, he got a flute at the age of 11. He then studied history of art, flute and composition in Amsterdam's University and Conservatorium. ... (read more)

Report this review (#99121) | Posted by sularetal | Thursday, November 16, 2006 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Focus - In and Out of Focus, This indeed is very good debut album from Focus. The tracks with sung lyrics are good, but I think it was a better choice to do almost entirely instrumental music after this album. I consider Focus as a pioneer of some sort in progressive rock. They were never s ... (read more)

Report this review (#85245) | Posted by The Squirrel | Monday, July 31, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A marvelous debut but somewhat short in running lenth at just over 35 minutes. Nevertheless it contains the formula which would put Focus and the Netherlands on the world music map for the next 5 years. Guitarist Jan Akkerman had just given up his previous post in the pop band Brainbox in orde ... (read more)

Report this review (#22871) | Posted by Vibrationbaby | Sunday, November 14, 2004 | Review Permanlink

4 stars If this album had been the unique one of this prestigious Dutch band, we would be truely in presence of one disc of "cult". Nevertheless the trajectory and the good production of at least five good discs, make us forget and mistake at the time of evaluating this jewel. A music and original so ... (read more)

Report this review (#22870) | Posted by | Thursday, September 2, 2004 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Excellent debut. Although I did not hear In and Out of Focus until after my big brother bought Moving Waves, on the back of Hocus Pocus which caught all our imaginations when we heard it on the radio, and Focus 3, which everybody who I ever knew, in the mid to late seventies, had in their reco ... (read more)

Report this review (#22869) | Posted by | Monday, May 24, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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