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Renaissance - Novella CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.75 | 394 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars The London based RENAISSANCE had an interesting journey early on but finally on the band's fourth album "Ashes Are Burning" hit upon a progressively infused symphonic folk rock type of sound fortified with Baroque pop. The album found the perfect mix of cleverly crafted tracks that teased addictive pop hooks into the progressively worked out epics. The album allowed them to move on to the bigger BTM (British Talent Management) label and with a larger budget, the following album "Turn of the Cards" allowed the band to go for broke and create a lusher orchestral sound that ultimately led to its pinnacle of perfection with "Scheherazade and Other Stories" in 1975 which found its way into the top 50 albums on the US Billboard chart, no small feat for a symphonic prog band in the prog's waning years.

After three albums with a similar approach the band decided that there is no need to fix something that ain't broken. It took two years to record and release the following NOVELLA with the lauded "Live At Carnegie Hall" released in between but the musical landscape had changed dramatically in that short time. Progressive rock was no longer fashionable and punk rock was having its day in the sun however RENAISSANCE was not the ordinary prog band and managed to stay relevant even as Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols were calling for anarchy in the homeland. NOVELLA was released in January 1977 and succeeded in hitting the top 50 album charts in the US mostly because of the loyal following that the band had attracted outside of the influence of radio, TV and other popular forms of media.

In many ways, NOVELLA sounds like a "Scheherazade Part 2" as the same lush orchestrated pop hooks find themselves twisted into lengthy progressively infused creations with different movements although there is nothing even close to the epic scope of the previous album's title track. NOVELLA is sort of easy listening prog with easily digestible melodic hooks, soft acoustic guitars, careful displays of piano arpeggios and lush orchestration and as usual Annie Haslam's vocals bring an angelic heavenly presence to the whole thing. The music sounds like it could be the soundtrack at the pearly gates to heaven! Whereas the previous album had only four tracks, NOVELLA had five with the opening "Can You Hear Me" approaching 14 minutes and the closer "Touching Once (Is So Hard to Keep)" at nine and a half.

It's easy to understand why so many are turned off by this album. It is recycling the whole narrative theme with the female story reader recounting tales only this time to children rather than kings however there is no doubt that this album was playing it safe and milking the formula for as long as could be tolerated. Apparently for some it was one too many of this style but for others it was a welcome return to the familiar and after all, the sounds that emerge from these tracks are quite pleasant even though the album may lack the dynamic flair of its predecessor. It has been stated that Annie Haslam could sing the phone book and it would sound like a gift from angels and there is probably some truth to that but personally i find this album to be a nice breezy listening experience despite everything said about it pretty much being quite true.

While RENAISSANCE would hang on for a couple more years with their unique brand of classically infused progressive pop and far outlive many of the majority of the prog universe, the band would ultimately succumb to the inevitable gravitational pull of the burgeoning new wave scene, however on NOVELLA all of the sugary sweet melodies and unthreatening orchestrated melodic hooks are still on display as if the world was the same exact place as when they hit upon this formula in 1973. While i'll admit this is a major step down from the sheer perfection of "Scheherazade and Other Stories," i can't help but loving this album despite it all. The instrumental interplay is just as tight and Haslam's vocals are soothing and as brilliantly displayed as what came before. While the tracks are less compelling than the three albums that preceded, they are still catchy as hell with all the RENAISSANCE mojo still firing strong. Yeah, not the band's best but certainly not as bad as many claim it to be.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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