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Kayak - Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.88 | 129 ratings

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Symphonic Team
2 stars Merlin - the musical

Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen is the third album by the reunited Kayak after a long absence from the music industry. After having been very impressed by the excellent come back album Close To The Fire from 2000 and liked the much less interesting but still good Night Vision from 2001, this remake of Merlin was a big disappointment. I have now rewritten this review after having heard the original version of Kayak's Merlin from 1981. My rating, however, remains the same.

Comparing the two versions of Merlin side by side I must say that the original version is by far the one that I like best. I agree that this remake is an improvement in some respects, but in other respects it is the opposite of an improvement. I feel that they have turned the very good Merlin songs from that 1981 album into some kind of "Rock musical" or Rock Opera, that I don't much like at all. Those original songs released in 1981 were Merlin, Tintagel, The Sword In The Stone, The King's Enchanter and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake). The rest of the songs here are brand new. There is no doubt that these original five songs are all great songs and have a strong classic feel. Merlin and Niniane, in particular, are very beautiful songs. But while the sonic quality of this recording is indeed higher than on the original, the original recording have something special that I feel is not entirely recreated here.

The original version of the album was by no means perfect and doing a remake was indeed a very good idea. However, I don't much appreciate the treatment these songs are given here. The result is too bombastic, too theatrical and too orchestral. It comes across as a bit overblown and too "big" for my taste. Some of the new songs are duets with both male and female vocals sharing the spotlight and portraying different characters in the story. This gives the whole thing a feeling of a musical which makes it very hard for me to get into despite some nice instrumental passages. If you like that kind of stuff, you should check this out. But if you share my scepticism about this formula, you should proceed with considerable caution.

Needless to say, this "Rock musical" is about the King Arthur legend. This is, of course, hardly original because several Prog and Prog related bands and artists had already done this. Rick Wakeman's The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table from 1975 is just one example. There is no doubt about the band still being highly competent musicians and writers and that they have invested a lot of effort into this project. This is by no means a poor product. But to my ears this is more of a Rock musical than a Prog Rock album. The arrangements are not very elaborated and the focus lies mostly on the vocals and not much space is devoted for instrumental expression. The occasional guitar solos and the few, short keyboard solos are good, but not enough to lift the album.

Doing a remake of the original Merlin had so much potential, but this "musical" version is not my cup of tea. Merlin, Niniane and Tintagel are great songs that should be heard, but I would prefer the original versions. If you want to explore Kayak's come-back in the new millennium, I strongly recommend you to start with the excellent Close To The Fire.

SouthSideoftheSky | 2/5 |


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