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  1. #101
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    Quatro --- Suzi Quatro --- 1974 (RAK)

    My very first rock and roll female crush, and that of thousands or more of hormones-raging teenage boys, was this lady. The first major female rock star, certainly the first female bass player to achieve fame on her own merits, Suzi Quatro was ahead of her time. Taking the British charts by storm during the early seventies and eighties she had a string of successful hit singles like "Can the Can", "48 Crash", "Devil Gate Drive" and "If You Can't Give Me Love". For us young rockers of the male persuasion, she epitomised both the allure of hard rock and the pure sex of the female performer. She characteristically wore tight leather outfits that often left little to the imagination (down, Trollheart! Control yourself!) and flouted the image of the archetypal tomboy, a woman - a very sexy woman - breaking into what was mostly considered exclusively male territory. Of course there had been female singers, but even the likes of Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush were more seen as "softer performers", whereas Suzi played as loud and as proud and as raunchy as any of the boys. It's probably fair to say there are more than a few young men who may have been turned on to rock initially through her (ahem) gyrating hips and husky voice.

    With at present fourteen studio and numerous live albums to her credit, this is her second and contained one of her big smash hit singles, and it opens with a big statement of intent as she yells "All my life I wanted to be someone/ And now here I am!" kicking off "The Wild One", a big fast rocky uptempo number, not Iggy Pop's song in case you were wondering, or indeed Thin Lizzy's later effort. Like most of her music this is written by the famous songwriting duo of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who were responsible for all her hit singles. Great bouncy piano and raucous guitar, as well as Suzi's trademark basswork, but it's her distinctive voice that you instantly recognise, though on this song it's a little higher and less raw then it would later become. Her version of "Keep a-knockin'" is prefaced by some advice to young girls about not just "giving it away" to be cool: girl power? Spice Girls? This lady started it! A real role-model for young girls, she would sadly not have as much influence then as she would have done now, as back then not too many women were into the whole rock thing, certainly not as many as now.

    Great guitar solo and it's a real fun song with a slick bass line from Suzi; you really get the idea she's totally enjoying herself and just having a good time, while still trying to deliver a serious message to the youth of the time. The song sounds as if it's live, though I don't think it is. Big heavy crunchy blues drums and a boogie-woogie piano on "Too Big" with Suzi at her sultry, unrepentant best; she'd never apologise for being a woman in what was mostly a man's world, and she could hold her own with the best of them. Perhaps a sly dig at herself, a little self-deprecating humour as she grins "I'm too big for my boots" - oh, those boots! Is it getting hot in here? She has a great blues voice and can sing with the fervour and soul of any of the great masters, this song swaying along carried on the rising wave of her infectious enthusiasm. "Klondyke Kate", the first of three songs she writes herself (well, co-writes) is another boogie number, with a real swinging tempo and some sort of fifties style male backing vocals. You can hear the growl, the little pussycat becoming a lioness now, as Suzi gets into her stride.

    A big powerful swirling organ intro to "Savage Silk", on which she cuts back on her vocal for about ten seconds before unleashing the weapon we loved in the seventies, yelling at the top of her voice with real power and passion. More great piano, as well as some stirring organ from Alastair MacKenzie, soft but powerful backing vocals from her drummer and guitarist. This song is slower and more restrained than the others, but still nowhere near a ballad. The organ runs on the song really make it, then Suzi's vocal drops down to a seductive mutter before the song fades out and we're into a bg guitar intro courtesy of Len Tuckey for a storming version of Cliff Richard's "Move it" - sorry, did you just say...? Yeah, Cliff Richard - and somehow she manages to give the song new teeth, kicking it up the arse and rocking out like there's no tomorrow.



    Another cover next in Percy Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack", where she really turns on the tomboy image; this ain't no shrinking violet you're listening to! While Suzi would never be identified with the harder singers of the punk era, she in some ways advanced the cause for women in rock by simply refusing to just fade into the background as a bass player. Up till she arrived no female bassist had ever achieved solo fame - in fact, I don't even know if there were any female bass players - but she changed all that, paving the way for the likes of Sheryl Crow, Joan Jett and a whole host of others. Her version of this song is slower than the more recognised ones, more based around a stuttering guitar from Tuckey and her own clean bass lines. One more cover version then in "Trouble", a watchword for Suzi Q if ever there was one! Surely the woman your mother warned you about, and that your father secretly lusted after! A real blues shuffle this one, with Suzi channelling the ghost of Muddy Waters (yes I know he was alive at the time, but you know what I mean!) with one of her most compelling and powerful performances on the album yet. Janis who?

    It sort of descends into a fast frenetic jam there at the end, as Suzi goes completely crazy on the vocals, MacKenzie matching her on the piano, then another of her own songs, and the first ballad on the album, in "Cat Size", with a lovely lilting piano line from Alastair with what sounds like violin joining in and setting a completely different mood. Very passionate, and shows Suzi could sing gently as well as belt out the rockers. Super little guitar solo from Tuckey, kind of his first real chance to take the spotlight, and he doesn't waste it. Back to the rockin' then with a storming "Shot of Rhythm and Blues", big growly guitar and pulsing bass, electric piano giving the song a certain progressive rock feel, though I could live without the bad Elvis impersonation by one of the band, don't know who. The last song on the album on which she has a writing input is "Friday", and though it's okay I have to admit it's not up to too much. Still, the album ends powerfully on that big hit single, again a Chinn/Chapman composition which you may know if you're as old as me. "Devil Gate Drive" was one of her huge hits (I said HITS!) and it just punches your face in and takes your breath away with its raw energy and power, Suzi jumping all over the place and screaming at the top of her voice, she and the band obviously having a great time. The song actually reached number one, being one of her two singles to do so, and it's a storming way to close the album.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. The Wild One
    2. Keep a-knockin'
    3. Too Big
    4. Klondyke Kate
    5. Savage Silk
    6. Move It
    7. Hit the Road Jack
    8. Trouble
    9. Cat Size
    10. Shot of Rhythm and Blues
    11. Friday
    12. Devil Gate Drive

    Think of all the female rockers you love; those who front bands, those who have come out from bands to make a solo career, even all-girl bands like The Bangles and No Doubt. I'm not saying these people would not have achieved fame without Suzi blazing the trail for them, but there's no question that she was a trendsetter and a woman who took on the male-dominated music world to push the bass guitar front and centre for women, and prove that girls could be more than just pretty backing singers, and could rock just as hard, loud and long as the boys! God bless 'er!
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  2. #102
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    One Eye On the Sunrise --- Nine Stones Close --- 2012 (Prog Rock)


    Conceived originally as a solo project for guitarist Adrian Jones, Nine Stones Close (no, I don't know what it means either, and I don't know if it's "close" as in "close the door" or "close" as in "close to you"...) have had essentially three albums now, though the first one didn't really feature a band as such. This is their second as a full unit, and although I have yet to hear the previous efforts, this album only just barely missed out getting into my top twenty albums of 2012, purely because I decided to listen to it too late and had the list all ready at that stage. But it's definitely one of my "unofficial" favourite albums, another one I found hard to stop playing and move on from once I began listening to it.

    It opens on some weird little electronic noises then a pure, beautiful piano not a million miles removed from Mark Kelly's* best slides in. The soft ambience is suddenly blown apart though by some powerful guitar and punching drumming, as choral voices on the synth join the melody, and "Faceless Angel" becomes one of three instrumentals on the album, with some quite Gilmouresque guitar from Jones to take the song to its tinkling close and into the very Marillion "Secret", so much so that the opening guitar riff is almost identical to "Torch Song" from their 1984 Clutching At Straws, the last album with Fish*. Beautiful crying guitar and swirling synth though and a yearning vocal from Marc Atkinson soon pulls the song away from being any sort of a clone or copy, though the somewhat annoyingly familiar riff does run through the track, making me unconsciously sing "Read some Kerouac/ And it put me on the track/ To burn a little brighter now."* Try it: it works disturbingly well.

    It is though a lovely ballad and a real showcase for the band's tight-knit musicianship, with some powerful backing vocals and another storming solo from Adrian Jones. One of the standouts comes in the form of the dramatic "Janus", with a big instrumental opening, heavy percussion, almost siren-like guitar and thumping bass which runs for nearly half the track's length before some beautiful classical-style piano and soft sizzling synth takes the melody. You might think a six-minute instrumental would drag but it doesn't at all, and the guitar work in this track is truly stunning, displaying Jones's expertise on his instrument of choice. It might seem a bit much to follow this with another instrumental, but "... And Dream of Sleep" is a purely guitar-driven piece, with some violin on synth adding to it, a little percussion but mostly a showcase again for Jones on the guitar. It's soft and folky with a nice little pastoral sound, less than two minutes long, and leads into the title track.



    This is in fact almost the longest track on the album, though there is one that beats it out, this one clocking in at over twelve minutes, and starting on something similar to what we have just heard, acoustic folky guitar in a kind of early seventies Genesis vein, with a soft vocal from Atkinson which suddenly gets more powerful and rocky as the whole track takes an upsurge, Brendan Eyre's keyboards laying down some warbly organ and Pieter van Hoorn's drums pounding like breakers on the shore as the song moves into a fast, seventies progressive instrumental phase. Some almost Zeppelin guitar from Jones then as it goes along, until halfway in when it all slows down and returns to the soft guitar of the opening, with some little flute and violin sounds on the keys, something close to vocalise from Marc Atkinson just riding along the edges of the melody. Guitar and bass then begin building as the keys march behind them and the vocals come back in, getting stronger as the song approaches its denouement. A big heavy rock ending brings this epic to a close, and we've still another to come!

    After that you'd no doubt be expecting a shorter, gentler song, and indeed this is what we get with "Eos", a nice little guitar line complementing Adrian Jones's understated vocal in again, it has to be said, a very Marillion sounding tune with a healthy dose of Floyd in there too. Lovely soft guitar solo and some fine keyboard work, echoing the theme of the opener, "Faceless Angel", and taking us into another long track, the almost ten-minute "The Weight". With a big guitar feedback opening this pulls no punches from the start, a solo kicking it off that you would normally expect to hear around the middle, or even end of most songs. This then drops back to a very introspective (come on! I haven't used that word for a while now!) guitar line and gentle vocal, deep percussion and thick bass then supplementing the tune and fleshing it out more. "The Weight" is followed by "The Distance", with very Steve Rotheryesque* guitar that ventures into sitar territory at times, the vocal this time right out of the Steve Hogarth* playbook. This song, great as it is, could very easily be on a current Marillion album.

    In complete contrast however, "Frozen Moment" is like something out of a Van der Graaf Generator or Zep setlist, with heavy squealing guitar and powerful keys, tripping drums and a strong vocal. Starting off rather frenetically it soon settles down into something of a mid-paced groove, and it has indeed time to settle, as it runs for over thirteen minutes. It's got a real dramatic feel to it, very epic with a lot of changes and one of the best vocal performances from Marc Atkinson on the album. Also some great guitar histrionics from Jones, and some expert interplay between he and Eyre on the keys. The album then closes on one more instrumental, a lovely piano and violin piece which goes under the appropriate title of "Sunset", and rather bizarrely puts me in mind of Billy Preston's big hit "With You I'm Born Again". Hidden message?

    TRACK LISTING


    1. Faceless Angel
    2. A Secret
    3. Janus
    4. ... And Dream of Sleep
    5. One Eye On the Sunrise
    6. Eos
    7. The Weight
    8. The Distance
    9. Frozen Moment
    10. Sunset

    I really do love this album and it's been quite a revelation, however I think the band's name may be a little user-unfriendly, perhaps. I would like them and rate them a lot more if there weren't so many strong similarities to Marillion in their music, but then I suppose you have to expect that any band who plays progressive rock is going to have listened to, soaked in and eventually be influenced one way or the other by the greats. Nine Stones Close do at least retain enough individuality to hold their own identity, and like Big Big Train were accused of sounding very Genesis-like, there's probably nobody who doesn't know Marillion's work who would not agree they do sound a lot like them at many times. Mind you, I said this about Knight Area too (and it's true) but that didn't stop me from enjoying the music this band has to offer, nor having no hesitation in naming it one of my favourite albums of 2012.

    Don't let it stop you, either.

    *If all these Marillion references mean nothing to you, and you’d like to be enlightened, look for my dedicated Marillion thread, starting soon.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  3. #103
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Union --- Yes --- 1991 (Arista)



    I'm one of that perhaps rare breed who really has only heard and enjoyed "new" Yes, that is to say, albums from 90125 on. I'm not one of those who salivates over Tales from Topographic Oceans, Close to the Edge or Going for the One - in fact, I've heard very little seventies Yes and what I did hear sounded at the time overblown, overlong, self-indulgent and boring. I could of course be completely wrong in that view; perhaps I should take the time to listen to more classic Yes. However as it stands the albums I like are the eighties and nineties ones, and this is one of the latter. The last, in fact, Yes album I listened to before getting Fly from Here, which I have yet to spin.

    Some pages back you may remember that I featured the debut - and indeed, only - album from Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, which was seen more or less as a sub-supergroup grown organically out of the parent band. Their only album was a triumph, to me, and I was disappointed there was no more. But Union kind of fills the gap, as it features all the ABWH crew as well as the previous members of Yes who were off doing their own thing. In effect, this album was originally meant to be the second release from ABWH, but a thawing of relations between them and Yes resulted in a reconciliation, and they all joined up to play on the album and tour, hence the title. In reality, it was mostly a Yes album, just the one track contributed from the demo sessions for what was to have been the second ABWH album, with the result that this album sounds very little like that one, but it still ranks as one of my favourite Yes records (of those I've heard), yet miles behind both 90125 and Big Generator.

    I had always believed The Ladder followed this, as it was the next Yes album I saw on sale, but apparently there were two more, plus a double live effort in between. I found I was quite disappointed with The Ladder, so really my experience of Yes, album-wise, centres on these four albums, plus the ABWH one. You would think though that with so many people involved - eight in all - and surely massive egos on either side not to mention simmering resentments still smouldering like dull coals in a fire that had not quite been extinguished, chaos would have reigned and a very mismatched, hit-and-miss album would have resulted, but no. I have to say this has a really professional sound and is quite cohesive, so much so that you would barely believe that, say, Rick Wakeman was glowering across his multiple banks of keyboards at Trevor Rabin, or that Chris Squire was making unseen obscene gestures at Bill Bruford. It sounds like an album created by one big happy family, even if that was far from the case.

    In contrast to what you could generally regard as the last Yes album, the ABWH one, certainly Jon Anderson's last outing prior to this, Union opens much more strongly. Whereas ABWH started with Wakeman's piano and keys and it was a few minutes before any vocals came in, Anderson leaves us in no doubt that he is back, and back with a bang. The first thing you hear is his powerful crooning of the song title, joined by pounding guitar, skittering keys and crunching drums as I Would Have Waited Forever opens the album and gets us going. There's something of a harder edge to this than the ABWH effort, perhaps due to Chris Squire's staccato bass, or indeed the different, more modern guitar work of Trevor Rabin. The famous Yes vocal harmonies are there in abundance, and in many ways this album reminds me more of Big Generator than ABWH. Some great guitar work from Rabin indeed, and this leads us into another fast-paced but more crunchy track.

    "Shock to the System" comes in on punchy almost Led Zep guitar and a bouncy, echoey drumbeat, a song very much driven on guitar with a great riff running through it and a catchy little hook in the chorus. It slows down near the end for an almost acoustic accompaniment to Anderson's soulful vocal, then takes off again to its powerful conclusion on the back of some fine Wakeman keyboard work. Things slow down then for a Steve Howe showcase on "Masquerade", a little acoustic instrumental that he added to the album at the request of the label, quite a harpsichord sound on it, pretty medieval sounding. Then we're off and running again with "Lift Me Up", one of the highlights on an album that has many. Living up to its title it's a very uplifting, boppy and uptempo song, starting off on sort of popping percussion and wibbly guitar which then powers forward, taking the song into a big progressive rock arpeggio by Rick Wakeman, and it's not until well into the second minute that we hear Anderson's vocal, more impassioned and harder than previously.



    A sort of sitar sound is created by one of the guitarists, though I couldn't tell you which one, and this runs through the song as it goes along with a big rolling drumbeat carrying it into the extremely hooky chorus with some superb vocal harmonies. Not as fast as "Shock to the System" or the opener, it also has some lovely violin-like synth near the end, and finishes on a big flourishing arpeggio from Wakeman before fading out on clanging guitar from Rabin.A gentle opening then to "Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day", Wakeman's soft piano backing Anderson as he sings gently but with purpose. A sort of gong-like percussion slides along the tune as it slips almost away before coming back with hard guitar and punching drums, almost marching along as the song takes on a whole new shape. More great vocal harmonies as are something of the trademark of Yes, and if this song recalls anything to me it's "Hearts" from 90125. After it fades out we're treated to yet another standout in the amazing "Saving My Heart", which almost moves along at the pace of a modern waltz at times, with snatches of a reggae or calypso beat thrown in as well. Not quite "Teakbois" from the ABWH album, but there are similarities.

    There's another stupendous hook in the chorus of this song, and with music of this quality I have to wonder, as an outsider, why they wrote such long, rambling compositions in the seventies. Still, before any classic Yes fans lynch me, I'll just leave that comment and move on. This is so commercial that it really could have made a great single, and would maybe have been quite successful: I could definitely hear it playing on the radio. Great guitar solo which has to be Trevor Rabin, and we're into the longest track on the album, though diehard Yes fans will sniff and say that seven minutes is not even an introduction to one of their better-known earlier songs I'm sure! "Miracle of Life" opens with a big, powerful progressive rock run on the keys and blasting guitars, and truth be told, those classic Yes fans who are even now making effigies of me to burn will likely recognise this as the sort of song they've been used to hearing from this band. Everything suddenly stops for a close-harmony vocal that would make Queen envious then it takes off again, and we're about two minutes in before it settles into a new groove and Jon Anderson's vocal comes in.

    A real mid-paced rocker, it has everything: big guitar solos, great bridge, harmonies and keyboards, and another truly wonderful hook in the chorus. Some great growling bass work from Chris Squire here too, and a powerful ending that sets the seal on yet another standout. A mixture of solid organ and blistering guitar open "Silent Talking", with Squire's thick bass getting in on the act too. About halfway through it slows down on the back on Anderson's angelic vocal, with backing vocals a little out of phase behind him and ends on a really nice fade, taking us into a heavier keyboard opening as "The More We Live - Let Go" gets, um, going, a dramatic, almost ominous sound to it, carried mostly on Wakeman's keys. It's a slow, crunchy pace as the song moves along at a stately walk, and reminds me in places of "The Order of the Universe" from the ABWH album; just a bit, here and there.

    In case you don't know, Angkor Wat is a temple in Cambodia, in fact the largest religious building in the world, and also the title of the next track, very much a vehicle for Anderson's vocal delivery, with almost Doors-ish rippling keyboard from Wakeman, sound effects and a murmured spoken passage in some foreign language I don't know (Cambodian?) that recalls Vangelis's "Intergalactic Radio Station" from the album Direct. No, you probably won't know it. Very little if any guitar evident, this track is atmospheric and ambient and driven almost entirely by Wakeman and Anderson, an exercise in minimalism and abstraction. Nothing really in the way of percussion either, very ambient. In total contrast everything rocks out then for "(Dangerous) Look in the Light of What You're Searching For", with big dirty guitars and punching drums and almost Art of Noise-style synth from Rick, while for "Holding On" he's right back in control, backing the multi-vocal intro and then Howe's jangling guitars meshing with Rabin's terser one, all coming together to form a fine piece of music. A slower, almost mid-paced track, it's more restrained than most of what has gone before, though the guitarists go a little crazy at the end, which is no bad thing.

    And that's almost it. "Evensong" is less than a minute of soft bouncing percussion and keyboard work that sounds like someone dropping a metal ball into a well or something, echoes all over the place, with some grindy, wailing guitar, very short and hardly really deserves the status of a track at all, taking us to the closer, which is "Take the Water to the Mountain", and finishes the album on a high - not that it's ever achieved a low point. You may have noticed that I haven't referred to any bad tracks on this album, and the reason is simple: there are none. Even discounting the tiny little instrumental just past, everything here is top drawer. The closer opens on humming, atmospheric keys and a low Anderson vocal that recalls Peter Gabriel at his most, shall we say, rainforest? It's a slowburner, starting gently but with a definite sense of something building, and in the last minute of the only three it runs for the drums burst in, taking with them an African-style chant and chorus as the song soars to the heavens, squealing guitar holding court and booming electronic synth effects finishing the song off with an echoed vocal that recalls the end of "Birthright" from, yes, you guessed it, the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe album.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. I Would Have Waited Forever
    2. Shock to the System
    3. Masquerade
    4. Lift Me Up
    5. Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day
    6. Saving My Heart
    7. Miracle of Life
    8. Silent Talking
    9. The More We Live - let Go
    10. Angkor Wat
    11. Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You're Searching For)
    12. Holding On
    13. Evensong
    14. Take the Water to the Mountain

    As I said I'm no huge Yes fan, but their later albums really grab me mostly. This I see as the natural progression from the breakup and then reformation of Yes, and there are songs on this album - most of it really - which should and maybe have gone down as classics. It's rare to come across an album that has not one bad track, the more so when it's from a band you're not totally familiar with, and who has a large back catalogue you haven't explored.

    So then, in musical terms a perfect union. But was it a permanent one? Sadly no: after the tour to support this album three-quarters of what had been ABWH left the lineup, leaving only the man who has led Yes since the beginning to carry on their legacy, until his medical problems forced him out of the band in 2008, to be replaced by Mystery's Benoit David.

    But, no matter what happened after it, there’s one thing that shines through undeniably when you listen to this album, especially when you know the backstory. Whether it’s the case or not, whether, as I said, the boys were just gritting their teeth, heads down and getting on with it, or whether they really enjoyed being back together, the split forgotten and forgiven, the overall feeling I get from this music is one of joy. Pure, unadulterated, uncomplicated happiness, perhaps at being back together, perhaps simply because they enjoyed the songs, but every song seems to breathe its own message of optimism and good humour, the lesson it teaches one of peace and reconciliation.Perhaps, like the title itself, if this album, last to feature the classic Yes lineup, makes a statement it could be that the overall and most important thing to take from this is that life is too short. Bands become like families, and families always forgive.

    In the end, no matter what you’ve done, you can always go home.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  4. #104
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    Scoundrel Days --- a-ha --- 1986 (Warner Bros)

    Never quite heard of a band breaking up, presumably forever, then reforming for a specific period. Yes, of course bands “reunite” all the time - usually as an exercise in cold financial exigencies - but to my knowledge, none has ever reformed with the stated intention of breaking up again in a given time frame. So when a-ha broke up in 2010 we all sighed and thought that was the end of them. In the event though, they reformed in 2015 for two years, releasing a new album in the process. The plan had been to break up for good then in 2017, though I guess either the bug of playing together again was too hard to resist or (probably more likely) as usual, money talked, and to date they’re still going.

    But whatever the eventual fate of these ambassadors of Norwegian music, they leave behind them some incredible albums, and though they will forever be dogged as "that band that did “Take On Me" there was so much more to them than that one pop song, popular as it was. What a lot of people who don't know them won't realise is that a-ha had some very deep and serious material, and were not really in any way the typical pop or chart band, despite having two number one singles and a slew of other hits. Despite releasing nine studio albums though, their heyday centred around the first three, with their big hits coming from the first two albums, and by 1990, when their fourth was released, they were consigned to the bargain bin of music history, a sad state of affairs and something they did not as a band deserve.

    This however comes from their "golden period", when a-ha could really do no wrong. Riding high on the success of Hunting High and Low, their debut album, and that phenomenally successful hit single, the boys from Oslo came back with an album that far from being a pop followup desperate to cash-in on and capitalise upon the triple platinum status of the debut, comes across as a mature, well-constructed record that just happens to rain hit singles like a typical day in Ireland. It's one of my favourite a-ha albums, only beaten out for top spot by 2005's Analogue, which I already reviewed. While it's not perfect, it's about as close to it as any a-ha album comes, with only two weak tracks (which could almost be cut to one) and the rest of the songs are so good that they more than compensate for the odd filler.

    The album opens with the title track, with a running piano line and synth, then Morten Harkett's voice comes in low but with a sense of urgency as he asks "Was that somebody screaming? / It wasn't me for sure" and there's an ominous sound about the music as it builds, guitar coming in and then hard percussion, then for the chorus it kicks up in tempo and Morton's voice gets stronger and more powerful. I hear a sense of Alex Lifeson in Pal Waaktar's rocky guitar, great heavy drumwork and a lovely piece of orchestral strings with cellos and violins softening but not lessening the tone as the song goes on. It's a powerful opener and ends with a real punch on Harkett's pained vocal and strong synth from Mags Furuholmen, and takes us into "The Swing of Things" on bright piano and bouncy bass with a sort of dancy vibe to it. Percussion from Michael Sturgis frames the middle eighth as the keys of Mags take the melody, with Pal's guitar chiming out in an uptempo, poppy manner while Morten's voice rises above it all; one of the most powerful voices in pop music at the time.

    Halfway through the whole thing slows down on the back of soft, lush synth from Mags and Morten's voice drops back in tandem, then the rhythm and tempo slowly come back up, the percussion resurging, Pal's guitar stabbing through the melody and injecting a feel of rock back into it, and the big finish then is a joy to hear as Morten's voice gets rawer, more angry as he snaps "What have I done?/ What lies I have told! / I've played games with the ones/ That rescued my soul!" and on a big synth and drum roll the song ends. Drums then kick in one of the hit singles taken from this album, the rocker "I've Been Losing You" which bops along really well, with a great vocal performance from Morten and some great backing vocals. Quite guitar driven compared to previous tracks, it is one of the rockiest on the album. There's a great build up and then a false ending before the drums hammer back in and the song fades out, perhaps a little unsatisfyingly, it has to be said.

    After all that power, we slow right down for the first ballad, and "October" is about as slow and laidback as you can get. Opening on soft wind sounds and distant chiming bells, with a gentle percussion that sounds almost like a distant steam train, it's built on an orchestral-sounding keyboard line from Mags and an almost muttered vocal from Morten, with trumpet and organ sounds meshing in the synth, thumping but almost castanet-style drums. This song demonstrates ably that Harkett can rise to the highest registers, belting out a powerful line, but is equally adept at making his mark with the barest of whispers; truly a unique voice. Some whistling complements the singing and the synthy trumpets as well as Pal's little almost unnoticed guitar touches, and the track ends on an expelled breath and the sound of rushing traffic as we move into another hit single, "Manhattan Skyline".

    With an almost harpsichordal piano intro and synth backup, it features another understated vocal performance by Harkett until Waaktaar's guitar snarls in, changing the whole thing, powerful percussion thumping in and Mags' synth squeaking almost in alarm as the tension in the song increases. Harkett's voice rises to meet this change, becoming powerful, soulful and lovelorn at once, crying to the wind almost, a man lost but not without hope. The song features a great guitar solo from Pal Waaktaar, and a slow and powerful ending, leading into yet another hit, the bouncy, poppy "Cry Wolf", which would become a favourite in discos and clubs across Europe. An almost proggy synth opening soon metamorphoses into a dancy pop song with a great hook, though the chorus could possibly have been thought about a lot more: "Cry wolf/ Oooh!/ Time to worry!" Not for a-ha though,(worry, that is!) as it became a big hit single for them and raised their profile, although perhaps reinforcing the stereotypical view of this versatile band, in the process maybe doing more harm that good in the long run. Not, of course, to their bank balances, though. There's a deal of progressive rock in Furuholmen's synthwork, if you take the time to look for it, and some stellar drumming.



    This is however where the songs begin to disappoint a little, and "We're Looking for the Whales" is a bit silly, though the melody is nice. A big heavy bass gets us underway and some nice effects, but then the chorus gets just totally poppy and quite throwaway, with a lyric that makes it difficult to know what the song is supposed to be about: "We're looking for / A little bewildered girl/ We're looking for the whales" - er, yeah. There's not too much to recommend this song really, other than the fact that it's nowhere near as bad as "Maybe Maybe". But before that we have a much better song, in the frankly excellent "The Weight of the Wind", which just screams class. With a fast, almost funky keyboard and bass line, quite new-wave in its sound, reminding me of Depeche Mode or some band like that, it features another low-key vocal from Harkett, with rolling percussion and sprightly keys, a dramatic atmosphere and some great guitar work from Waaktaar.

    But we can't unfortunately avoid it forever, and "Maybe Maybe" is up next. Sigh. Building on the pop sound of "Cry Wolf", and something of the melody from "We're Looking for the Whales", it's probably the worst track - hell with that, it is the worst track! - on the album, and almost embarrassingly bad. It's a real pity, because without it, and if you could see the occasional flashes of brilliance in "We're Looking for the Whales" and accept it as a "not bad" track, then this could be an album of nothing but high spots, but the reggae-flavoured pop tune just takes the quality down to almost zero. Thankfully it's not long, just over two and a half minutes, with a sub-Genesis eighties keyboard riff and annoying clashing drumming, bit of nice jangly guitar, but it's so different - and not in a good way - to the other songs on the album that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a cover, or written by someone outside the band, but not so.

    Luckily the album recovers from this minor bump and finishes in glorious fashion with the dramatic yet gentle ballad "Soft Rains of April", with a rolling drumbeat that starts in the distance and then comes up in the mix, dragging with it Mags' sonorous synthesiser melody and joined by Morten's gentle, almost breathy voice, the song moving at a stately pace with a real sense of grandeur. When Morten sings "Is it raining back home? / I'm so alone!" you really feel for him. Great piano solo from Mags, backed with lush synth and then the drums pound back in and Morten's voice takes off much more strongly, wounded and alone, crying out his frustration, and the song ends on his acapella whisper: "Over." Stupendous.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Scoundrel Days
    2. The Swing of Things
    3. I've Been Losing You
    4. October
    5. Manhattan Skyline
    6. Cry Wolf
    7. We're Looking for the Whales
    9. The Weight of the Wind
    10. Maybe Maybe
    11. Soft Rains of April

    The heart and devotion put into this album is nothing short of stunning. It is of course often the case that a band's second album can be a real balancing act, as the artist struggles to avoid copying the formula of the debut while yet not departing from it enough to suddenly alienate their new fans. The “second album syndrome” is well known to most artists. Occasionally, however, the sophomore release will eclipse their debut, and this certainly happened here. Though Hunting High and Low had the big hit single on it (and yielded others) I found it a little hit-and-miss; while I wasn't disappointed with it exactly I find I play it a lot less all the way through, whereas Scoundrel Days I can run regularly, even despite the one or two weaker tracks. It's part as I said of a trilogy of albums that bracketed the purple patch a-ha went through, and though some of the other albums were as good, few if any equalled or better this, their second outing. Although they continued to have hits across Europe throughout the nineties and beyond, after 1988's Stay On These Roads their massive popularity was more or less over. People who wanted more songs like "Take On Me", "The Sun Always Shines On TV", "Cry Wolf" and the later "Touchy" as well as the title track to the third album shied away from later releases like East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Memorial Beach, and a-ha were left to play music for their fans (of which there were plenty) but never again troubled the top echelons of the charts.

    In the US they were even less known, having only the two hits over there, both from the debut. Singles like "Cry Wolf" and "Manhattan Skyline", despite the title of the latter and its reference to New York, went totally unnoticed in the US of A, and over there a-ha would have been considered as a one-hit (or maybe two) wonder. Here, too, their greatest claim to fame and the monkey that remained on their back for ten years was and is "Take On Me".

    Reflecting the often fickle attitude, not of fans, but of your basic record-buying public, those whom in football terms are called the “neutrals”, that song is, for so many people, all a-ha ever achieved, and what they will always be known for, something that continued to haunt them throughout their quarter-century-long career. But this album shows that good as that song was, they were capable of so much more.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Face the Music
    --- Electric Light Orchestra --- 1975 (Jet)


    I was always a huge ELO fan, even long before I got my first record player (turntable to you, sonny!) and naturally once I did purchase that coveted item - even if it was powered by valves and got so hot it had to be switched off after every record, allowed cool down before being used again! - the albums of ELO were the first I bought. Discovery, A New World Record and of course Out of the Blue were the first ones I got, then for my birthday I was presented with a three-album box set which was comprised of El Dorado, On the Third Day and this one, three albums in chronological order. While I loved El Dorado (and still do) and was pretty meh about On the Third Day, this album initially scared me, believe it or not, from the opening track. What an idiot! But to hear more and understand why it had that effect on me, read on.

    This was the first album to gain substantial sales for the band, giving them their first platinum album, though it failed to chart. It did however yield a future classic in the single "Evil Woman", and was the first of their albums to feature new boys Kelly Groucutt on bass and Melvyn Gale on cello; they would remain with ELO up to 1983 in Groucutt's case and 1979 in Gale's. This album was also one of the only ones to feature a different lead vocal to that of Jeff Lynne, on "Poker", where Groucutt took the mike. Face the Music would pave the way for future chart successes A New World Record, Discovery and Out of the Blue, which throughout the later part of the seventies would give them their biggest hit singles and their first number one album.

    So why was I so scared of it? Well, not scared really but uneasy. I've always been averse to horror movies, the more psychological the horror the worse it affects me, and the opener on this album, "Fire On High", is created with that idea in mind; essentially I believe it's meant to conjure up images of Hell. It starts with wailing voices, spooky piano and then ghostly violin, with a backward-masked track saying what I thought at the time was "Damn you! Damn you!" What it actually says is "Music is reversible. Time is not. Turn back. Turn back." But with the moaning and the weird sound of a backwards voice it comes across as pretty frightening. Well, it did to me. The whole thing then sounds like the soundtrack to a horror movie, with wails, screams, the sound of echoing footsteps, whips, an angelic choir ... sensory overload for me. Add to this the devilish violins and cellos and it just all sounds like something out of Dante. Until that is the guitar comes in alongside soft strings and Ben Bevan's pounding drums, and a melody of sorts finally gets going, the "scary sounds" fading out in the background.

    A Spanish guitar then gets going as the thing takes off in a sort of flamenco style, the melody clearly established now, and the second half of the piece, all instrumental, is much more recognisable as music. I often wonder, now that I’m older and less of a wimp (a little, anyway) if the idea behind the track isn’t after all an image of Hell, but of Lucifer’s attempted coup and Fall, with the music at the end rising in joy at God’s triumph over his rebellious son? Anyway, celestial strings merge with soaring electric guitar and thumping percussion and it slows down on the back of gentle falling guitar with choral voices raised, then it all ends in a big finish on that Spanish guitar and violins. After such an ambitious piece - and quite brave to start the album off with that - "Waterfall" is much more accessible. A slow, soft ballad with lovely guitar and strong strings section whereafter we first hear the voice of Jeff Lynne backed by Richard Tandy's solo piano, until the heavy percussion cuts in and the song takes off, one of ELO's many lovely ballads. It showcases the undeniable vocal talents of Lynne, who would of course go on to be identified as the voice of ELO on such hits as "Mister Blue Sky", "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Last Train to London". It also highlights his spectacular songwriting ability - every song here is written and composed by him, and to write two tracks as poles apart as "Fire on High" and "Waterfall" is no mean feat.

    Eight tracks may seem like very poor value for money, but as I explained before, this was the age of vinyl, and most artists would only be able to fit four tracks per side onto their albums; if more were required you'd be looking at a double, as in the case of the later "Out of the Blue". The big hit is up next, and "Evil Woman" is a real mid-paced rocker with some great piano, and in fact was ELO's first hit on both sides of the Atlantic, hitting the top ten in both the US and the UK. As a song, it tends to rely more on guitar and piano than later songs which would utilise the whole string section of the orchestra, as it were, though the violins and cellos are in there. It's also the first song on the album to feature female backing vocals, perhaps odd given the title? "Nightrider" starts off with a solo violin piece and Lynne singing the vocal, a little bass then Bev Bevan's drums thunder in and the rest of the band comes in on the back of that for the chorus. It's a powerful, driving song, with some lovely orchestral passages and great drumming from Bevan.

    As I mentioned, the only song on the album to feature vocals other than those of Jeff Lynne is "Poker", a song about, well, poker, with a great snarling guitar intro and it's the closest to hard rock on the album, almost recalling the later Meat Loaf's "Dead Ringer for Love" in places. With a fast-flowing keyboard from Tandy and indeed a rapid-fire vocal delivery from Kelly Groucutt it's a little different to the ELO I had come to know and love, and took a little getting used to but now it's a favourite of mine. A slow piece in the middle only accentuates and throws into sharp relief the returning almost-metal guitar that takes the song to its conclusion. Hey! ELO could rock, ya know? A big orchestral intro then, in contrast, to "Strange Magic", but it fades out and is replaced by a high-pitched guitar, the song another ballad, with Lynne back on vocals, and this time Richard Tandy on guitar.



    For me, the low point of the album, if it has one, comes with "Down Home Town", which is basically a country jamboree with a weird vocal opening and then violins and heavy drumming with folky guitar taking the melody almost like a banjo. They even throw in a Dixieland line! It's interesting I guess but it was always a track I skipped when playing the album, and moved on to the closer, the beautiful, lazy "One Summer Dream", with its soft cello opening and wistful vocal from Lynne, then joined by chingling guitar and measured drumming with a kind of echoing effect running through it. It's another fine example of just how excellent a ballad Lynne could write, and it just sort of slides along like a river winding its way down a mountain, or a gentle breeze sailing over the land (both of which descriptions are I think in the lyric, so don't bother telling me). A soft backing vocal merges with some gentle violin and the last three minutes or so of the song are pretty much instrumental, with the exception of the singing of the title mostly, in a kind of fading echo as it winds towards its conclusion. Superb ending to an album which, while not at the top of my ELO list, is certainly one of their better ones.

    TRACKLISTING

    1. Fire on High
    2. Waterfall
    3. Evil Woman
    4. Nightrider
    5. Poker
    6. Strange Magic
    7. Down Home Town
    8. One Summer Dream

    If you put a gun to my head you could have my PIN and take the seventeen euro ninety that’s in my account, but if you threatened me to come up with my top three ELO albums, that would be a very strange thing indeed to do, because if you just asked nicely I would tell you that they would almost certainly be Out of the Blue, El Dorado and one other, though I don't know which. Discovery?Time? Secret Messages? A New World Record? Okay, okay! I'm thinking! It's not easy to concentrate with that thing in my face! Point is, I easily know my two favourite album from this band but the rest are generally all pretty much as good as one another, with the exception perhaps of On the Third Day and Balance of Power. But Face the Music, though it wouldn't come as I say high in that list, would be in the top ten certainly. An album with maybe one weak track is not to be sniffed at , and we are talking mid seventies here. At any rate, it was the one that more or less broke ELO, or led to them breaking commercially. The next one, A New World Record, would start a sequence of albums that would all hit the top ten on both sides of the water, and establish the Electric Light Orchestra as a household name and a constant presence in the charts.

    I'm just glad I can finally listen to "Fire on High" without getting the heebie-jeebies any more!
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  6. #106
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Has Been --- William Shatner --- 2004 (Shout! Factory)

    Yeah, that one! See, once upon a time someone here at Music Banter put forward this album as a recommendation, with the (perhaps vain) hope that someone would see beyond Shatner's laughable musical career and 1968's The Transformed Man, and give it a chance. I don't know who that was, but I would like to thank them. While this album is certainly not the best I've ever heard - not even the best this year or indeed of today - it's far from the worst. It's not that it's so great, or so bad (the latter of which you would probably expect to be associated with "the Shat") but that it's so .... interesting. Interesting good or interesting bad, you ask? I really don't know. The tracks vary from very very good to meh, but they're always - oh, what is that word again? Oh yeah - interesting.

    Anyone who knows Shatner will more or less know what to expect in terms of singing, ie none. Captain Kirk does not do the "s" word. He talks, narrates, eulogises poetically across some really fine music, and in this endeavour he is helped by Ben Folds, who co-wrote and arranged the album with him, and also by several other "guest stars" such as Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann and Henry Rollins. The genre of the songs vary, from lounge pop to out-and-out pop to (almost) punk and even country, so there is really something in there for everyone.

    But it's in the opener that Shatner drops his major bombshell, with the only cover version on the album - yeah, I know: you'd expect him to have played safe and covered Sinatra, Cole, Martin, that sort of thing, wouldn't you? But no, all of these songs bar the opener are his own creations, and the cover: well! It's Pulp's classic "Common People" and by god he does a fine job on it. People have slagged him off and no doubt will continue to do so, but I feel he puts his heart and soul into this song, sneering the lyric with all the worldly wisdom and hard cynicism of a man who has been (sorry!) there and done it all, and knows himself what life is all about. When Joe Jackson comes in to take the chorus it's great, but almost an anti-climax as he has been carrying the song so well himself up to that point. The music behind him is hard rock and punchy and the choir is an inspired idea. It's a great performance on a great song, and I think Jarvis Cocker would be proud.

    It all calms down then on gentle piano as we move into "It Hasn't Happened Yet", and Shatner shows how he can carry a tune completely on his own, narrating the way the singer's life is going. It's quite a talent really, the way his voice phases with the music, but without singing. They call this spoken word I think, but even then it's more than that. Takes a little getting used to, but it really works very well. This song though bitter in one way and perhaps naive in another, is nevertheless relaxing, but the next one is like a stand-up routine as Shatner tells everyone that they're going to die. "You'll Have Time" is I think an idea that went wrong, or was carried out the wrong way. For one thing it's incredibly repetitive. It opens on church organ and introduces the Shat as a sort of drunken preacher, and that's good as far as it goes but it gets real old real fast. It's five minutes long and that's about three minutes too long. It's like an idea that sounded good on paper or in his head but once transferred to the studio it falls very flat indeed, and comes across like an unwelcome visitor who doesn't know when it's time to go. Ironic really, as the song is about people dying, but this song doesn't want to see that it's time for it to shuffle off this mortal coil.



    But then things turn around with a heartbreakingly beautiful and touching rendition of a father wanting to reconnect with his estranged child, with lyrics partially written by Nick Hornby, so perhaps it's from one of his books? I don't know. But "That's Me Trying" becomes one of the highlights of the album and it just brings a tear. Again it's piano that backs Shatner, softly, almost reminds me of something by the Eagles or Dan Fogelberg. Just beautiful, and will strike a chord with many fathers who no longer see their children. The chorus, sung by Aimee Mann and Ben Folds, is gorgeous and recalls the best of David Gates to me, with elements of Alan Parsons and a definite feel of country too. The next one is weird, and terribly personal. It's almost completely unaccompanied, the tale of the discovery by Shatner of his third wife after she had succumbed to her alcoholism and drowned in their pool, he arriving home too late to save her. It’s heartrending, really, and "What Have You Done" is a scary, stark, bleak tale of powerlessness and impotence, written by Shatner solo. You really have to give him credit for choosing to share such an intensely personal slice of grief with the world. Bravo. Take a breath, compose yourself and we’re into "Together", backed by organ, guitar and maybe mandolin? Some interesting loop samples used on this too. A sort of uptempo country-ish, folky tune, the longest on the album at just over five and a half minutes, and another of my favourites.

    "Familiar love" has a forties high-pitched piano and a lounge pop feel, very easy-listening. It's okay, with a very Carpentersesque backing vocal chorus, and has its own quirky humour regarding the everpresent spectre of growing older, but "Ideal Woman" takes this idea and kind of turns it on its head. It's tongue-in-cheek, irreverent, a little too clever and smart, with a kind of tango rhythm. Meh, it's okay but it kind of annoys me. The title track is a western-styled country effort with Mexican overtones, reminds me of Stan Ridgeway's "Camouflage" and indeed that trucker's favourite, "Convoy" as Shatner takes on his critics, those who call him, well, a has-been but have done nothing in their own lives. There is a jokey, half-wish half-warning when he says "Has been could be again!" One of the best moments though of the album is when Shatner goes punk! Well, not really, but it is Henry Rollins from Black Flag helping him out, with the fastest percussion and an almost "Hawaii Five-o" intro. Shatner rails on about everything in the world that he doesn't understand or like. "I Can't Get Behind That" is a great track that is totally atypical of Shatner, and a real triumph for a man seen as washed up. It's quite hilarious when he growls "Everybody's lifetime is longer than mine!" What's even funnier is that he argues "I can't get behind singers / Who can't carry a tune/ But get paid for talking!/ How easy is that?" in a wonderful piece of self-deprecating humour. This song, as it were, could come across as nothing more than the Victor Meldrew-like rantings and cursings of an old man, snarling at everything in the world he doesn’t understand, but the humour in it, pointed mostly back at himself, makes that impossible and you just smile and nod.

    Speaking of humour, he finally lays to rest his alter-ego in "Real", the only song other than the cover on which he has no input. It's written by Brad Paisley, who also sings the chorus. It's a sobering message to those who think that Shatner=Kirk as he croons "Sorry to disappoint you/ But I'm real" and Shatner admits "I'd love to help the world/ End all its problems/ But I'm an entertainer/ And that's all!" A great and simple song that seeks to separate fiction from reality, the star from the character, the man from the legend. It's a great closer, sung in a very country style and with real feeling both by Paisley and Shatner.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Common People
    2. It Hasn't Happened Yet
    3. You'll Have Time
    4. That's Me Trying
    5. What Have You Done
    6. Together
    7. Familiar Love
    8. Ideal Woman
    9. Has Been
    10. I Can't Get Behind That
    11. Real

    When I started this album I had no idea what to expect. Silly me: when Joe Jackson picked up the chorus in "Common People" I thought "Wow! Shatner can really sing!" He can't of course, and the point to remember is that he realises this, but still manages to put across his feelings, his ideas and his sincerity through his odd style of spoken words against music. It really is something to hear, and if you've been put off by The Transformed Man, I can't tell you this is better as I have never heard that album. But if it's anything like this I'd certainly be willing to give it a go.

    It's nice to see Shatner poking fun at himself; the very title of the album speaks of a man who no longer believes he has to prove anything, or has to take himself so seriously. There was a time when he enraged Star Trek fans with the famous "Get a life!" speech. Seems that he's taken his own advice, put Star Trek behind him, and concentrated on the things he enjoys. He's never going to be a rock star, or a musician, and he knows it, but hell, you know, he's not a bad songwriter and this album is not at all bad for a guy who can't sing.

    As I said, interesting.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  7. #107
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    In the Last Waking Moments --- Edison's Children --- 2012 (Random Disturbance)

    When is a Marillion album not a Marillion album? When it's one from Edison's Children! Now, that is an extremely inaccurate and unkind, and untrue comment, but it serves to make my point if in a rather ham-fisted way, which is that this album is the creation of one of Marillion's founders, bass player Pete Trewavas, and roadie/musician/film composer/producer Eric Blackwood, though most if not all of Marillion do play on the album. It's primarily though a collaboration between Trewavas and Blackwood, and is much darker and bleaker than anything Marillion have ever put out, except perhaps Brave and the track "Gaza" off the current album.

    The story behind how Edison's Children formed is a long and interesting one. And here it is. On the 2006 Marillion tour, at which Eric was a roadie, Pete proposed that they should at some point work together. Eric agreed, but nothing came of it, both being extremely busy. The next year, after Marillion released what I consider to be their only ever below-par album, Somewhere Else, the subject was brought up again, and both seemed enthusiastic about the prospect, but again nothing came of the intentions. Finally, when Pete missed his flight out of New York in 2009 after a tour there with Marillion, Eric and his wife put him up and this time they decided to do something about the collaboration they had been talking about, on and off, for over three years at that point.

    And so, Edison's Children was born.

    As I said, Marillion help out, contributing to a track here, a track there, but this is in no way a Marillion album by any other name. It's the solo project (okay, okay: collaborative project!) of Eric Blackwood and Pete Trewavas, and they each do a phenomenal amount of work here, both writing the music and also playing it. In addition to his usual bass duties Pete sings some of the leads, plays keyboards and also guitar, while Eric sings most of the songs, plays guitar, bass, keyboards and programmes some of the drum patterns.

    "Dusk" gets us going, with bongo-style hollow drums and little effects, this being the single drum pattern Blackwood programmes in, then his smooth guitar slips in as the song begins to take some sort of form, both the men taking the lead vocal in harmony for a moment before Eric takes the lead, and he's certainly used to singing, from his time with Crimson Steel among others. The drums hit in and we hear, sort of in the background, what I'm going to refer through this review to as "the Waking Moments theme": three keyboard notes that repeat through most of the rest of the album, popping up all over the place and certainly fastening the concept style of the album together. As I mentioned, Blackwood is the main vocalist, and it will be five more tracks into the album before we hear Trewavas take the lead again.

    It's a nice slow opener, moody and somewhat desolate, as is most of this album, with some very Marillion-style guitar from Blackwood, and some great keyswork from the Marillion bassist. There appears to be some sort of undefined basic concept running through the album; I think it has to do with alien abduction, though I couldn't swear and it's really only an educated guess. If that's correct, then, the protagonist is abducted by aliens but doesn't know why, or why he's been chosen. He's just an ordinary guy, no-one special, and he can help no-one, least of all himself. The story would seem to revolve around his attempts to understand this event and come to terms with what it means.

    The opening track, then, slips almost unnoticed into the next one, "Fracture: Fallout of the First Kind", with that "theme" repeating on the keys in the background as Blackwood's guitar winds up and ramps the tension up. It's a harder, more powerful song, grinding a bit, Trewavas's bass rumbling like thunder, the percussion much heavier and insistent. The first of what will also become a recurring event through this album, recorded snippets of conversations, announcements etc, can also be heard in this song.

    A very short interlude on the classical guitar with a very strained vocal from Blackwood leads into one of the standouts, "A Million Miles Away (I Wish I Had a Time Machine)" which is one of the most commercial of the songs on the album, and if there were to be a single - indeed, a hit single - from it, this would be my expectation for one such. With a lovely jangly happy guitar line counterpointed by Pete's thick, pulsing bass line, and rippling keyboards it has a lot of I think Supertramp in its construction, and it's very catchy indeed.

    More taped conversation as we head into "Fallout of the Second Kind", with a marching drumbeat and bass pattern, then some bubbly keyboards before Blackwood's vocal comes in and it's a heavy, almost claustrophobic song, a real sense of being trapped, the drum pattern turning almost militaristic near the end, then Pete takes the vocal for "Outerspaced", and I have to say his voice is pretty shattering, a little too high-pitched for my tastes (or maybe it's just for this song?) as Eric goes crazy on the guitar, almost Led Zeppelin-like, before a seriously buzzy bass leads in the much slower "Spiralling".



    The theme returns as Blackwood takes back the mike, and Steve Rothery guests on the guitar parts, bringing his own special touch to the song while Pete sets up a lush backscape with the keyboards, then Trewavas's bass takes the lead for "The "Other" Other Dimension", with spacy keyboards courtesy of Mark Kelly, and Pete back on lead vocals for the last time. Again, I have to say I'm glad it is the last time, as despite his many other undeniable and documented talents, Trewavas is no singer. The song is pretty weird, splitting off at times back into "Spiralling" and bringing in the theme at odd points, throwing in some spoken vocal parts too. Strange. I can't say I like it to be honest. Too confused, not at all well-defined.

    Things re-establish themselves with "Across the Plains", a short keyboard-led instrumental quite reminiscent of early Genesis and then we're into the title track, which ticks along nicely somewhat like a softly beating heart, with an appropriately soft vocal from Eric Blackwood and some towering keys from Pete, then everything kicks back off for "Lifeline" with a heavy, thumping beat and some wild guitar before "Fallout (of the Third Kind)" comes in on quiet acoustic guitar and gentle vocal. But it's a brief respite, as the hard guitar and thunderous drums from the previous track punch back in and Eric's voice gets more urgent and powerful, and takes us into what is essentially the closing track, although there is one more after it.

    "The Awakening" is also the longest track on the album by a country mile. A true progressive rock epic, it comes in at a massive fifteen minutes and liberally sprinkles the "Waking Moments theme" throughout its length, with great acoustic guitar from Pete in the opening section, a passionate vocal from Eric, and backing vocals by the great Steve Hogarth himself. Completing the Marillion connection, drums on this track are handled by none other than Ian Mosley. There's an instrumental section, mostly on acoustic guitar and the thing slows down in about the fifth minute, with some soft keyboards taking the melody, quite Marillionesque, with vocals not really coming back in until nearly the eleventh minute. Powerful vocal harmonies lead the piece out before they fade away and another instrumental takes the song to its conclusion, with the theme ringing out right as the last three notes.

    Then there's a weird little acoustic guitar piece called "Fallout (of the Fourth Kind)" to end, but it's very unsatisfying really, as it almost cuts off right at the end. It's very jarring and I would not think a great way to end an album, but I guess it's a small quibble that slightly mars an otherwise worthy first effort from a band we hopefully will be hearing more from, depending on the busy schedules of Marillion (and Transatlantic, of course), to say nothing of the demand in which Eric Blackwood appears to be. Well, I guess we can wait, if it's going to be anything as good as this.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Dusk
    2. Fracture (Fallout of the First Kind)
    3. In the first waking moments
    4. A Million Miles Away (I Wish I Had a Time Machine)
    5. Fallout (of the Second Kind)
    6. Outerspaced
    7. Spiralling
    8. The "Other" Other Dimension
    9. Across the Plains
    10. In the Last Waking Moments...
    11. Lifeline
    12. Fallout (of the Third Kind)
    13. Awakening
    14. Fallout (of the Fourth Kind)
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  8. #108
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Time for a little rest...

    Okay, that's your lot for now. Over the last two weeks I've posted reviews for 100 albums, which shows you exactly what a sad bastard I am, and how little of a life I have. I think that's enough to be going on with. If you haven't read them all, there's plenty here now to keep you occupied. If you have, well god bless your stamina, and don't worry: more are coming. This is barely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    But for now I want to concentrate on some other threads I've made, and more I intend to make in the next few days. Any album reviews posted in those threads will of course show up here in the master index, but for the time being, I won't be posting any more directly here.

    Thanks for reading, and don't worry: it won't be long before I'm back feverishly updating here again.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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