Racing the Clouds Home: Trollheart's Progressive Rock Journal


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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Racing the Clouds Home: Trollheart's Progressive Rock Journal


    Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a Prog Head. Progressive Rock was my first love, from the time I first heard Genesis and got their double live Seconds Out album. A quick glance at my History of Progressive Rock journal will show you that. In addition to my main Album Review thread I will shortly be starting a general journal, in which, though there may not be too many actual reviews, there will be a variety of music and genres, to hopefully keep it as interesting as possible. But while the History of Prog Rock is a great place to see reviews of prog rock albums, it is chronological, and that presents a problem, as many, indeed most of the prog I listen to these days is quite current, or at least usually no further back than the eighties, to say nothing of the fact that few of those albums would be deemed important or relevant enough to the history of the genre to be included in that journal.

    Which leads me to the creation of this journal. This one will concentrate solely on progressive rock of all shapes, with reviews, articles, features, but exclusively prog. Don't come here expecting anything else, because you won't find it. Or to paraphrase the late Prince: if you didn't come to prog, don't bother knocking on my door.

    I'm not setting out here to convert anyone to prog. Chances are, those who already hate it will not be swayed by anything I write, and those who like it will find a kindred soul here. It would of course be great if someone did change their mind on the subject, but it's not my aim and so if you're thinking “Okay, TH: what are you going to do to change my mind about prog rock, which I hate?” the answer is simple: nothing. I'm not here to convince anyone that prog is for you, in the same way that nobody will likely ever demonstrate to me that hip-hop or jazz is the sort of music I should be listening to. As far as I'm concerned, to each his own. If you don't like prog, don't read this journal. Lord knows, I’m planning plenty of other ones, and you may find what you're looking for there.

    If you are a prog fan, then hopefully this will be a good place for you. As ever, I'm open to comments and suggestions and lively discussion, but please, if you're posting, try to make sure you know what you're posting about. Nobody’s going to laugh at you if you don’t know your Yes from your Rush or your Genesis from your Camel, so don’t worry about that. I’m not a prog snob - there's plenty about prog that I don't know, so I'm no expert, but I am learning - and I won’t suffer those who are. All are welcome, regardless of experience or level of interest in the genre.


    Question: what about progressive metal? Will I be featuring it here? Answer: most of the time, probably not, as I feel prog metal belongs more on the metal than prog side of things, and so will more than likely end up in my soon-to-be-opened heavy metal journal. There may be occasions when, at my sole discretion, I decide to feature an album or even artist here, rather than in the Metal journal. I may even do both! It's a tricky line to tread: is a prog metal band a prog band that has metal elements or a metal band that has prog elements? I guess I'll treat each one on a case-by-case basis and we'll just play it by ear.

    So in answer to your question, I don't know. We'll see.

    For now, I'll leave it up to everyone's favourite Sith Lord to put into words my feelings..

    Hmm. Let's see what we can do about that...

    A note on ratings: usually I don't rate albums, but in this journal, and possibly others, I will be, as the subject is so close to my heart. I'll be rating them track-by track, using a colour-coded system I pioneered (in truth, probably robbed from someone else but I'm claiming it as mine now, and if you want to challenge me you had better have a good lawyer!) when at Music Banter. It runs thus:
    Tracks I absolutely love.
    Tracks I love but could believe could maybe stand a little improvement.
    Tracks I like a lot.
    Tracks that are ok.
    Tracks I don't like at all.
    Tracks I hate.

    The album will then be rated based on how many tracks I loved, hated etc.



    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    Album Review: The Dream Harbour by Willowglass
    Album Review: Evership by Evership
    DisCovery: What's On the Disc? - "Don't Be Afraid" by The Windmill
    Keep It Simple: "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd
    The Secret Life of the Album Cover: Fugazi by Marillion
    Album Review: Grace for Drowning by Steven Wilson
    Album Review: One Among the Living by Mystery
    The Jigaw: vidna Obmana
    Last edited by Trollheart; October 8th, 2019 at 05:28 PM.
    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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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    TABLE OF CONTENTS (PART 2)
    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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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    TABLE OF CONTENTS (PART 3)
    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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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    TABLE OF CONTENTS (PART 4)
    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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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    The Dream Harbour
    - Willowglass - 2013 (Self-Released)


    The first word that will come instantly to your brain when you hear the opening track from this album is Genesis: there's just no getting away from the comparisons with that wibbly, uptempo, bouncy keyboard, which takes you right back to 1973 and the very best of Tony Banks. But Willowglass has only been around since 2005, though its driving force, composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marshall, has been playing in bands since the early eighties. And when I say multi I mean multi: here he plays guitars (electric, acoustic, Classical and twelve-string), keyboards and bass! He's ably assisted by Hans Schmitz on drums and Steve Unruh helps out by adding flute, violin and more guitar.

    It's all instrumental, so might be a little hard for anyone to get into who isn't a prog rock fan (but we love this sort of thing, don't we?) and the likes of mellotron, flute and woodwinds are prevalent all through the album. The opener is almost twenty-one minutes long too, so that will certainly do away with anyone who's not into prog. But if you take the time to sit back and listen you will hear a wealth of musical talent and gorgeous soundscapes here. Unruh's beautiful violin passages in “A House of Cards Part 1” alone are worth the price of the album, and there's so much more than that on offer. Marshall's skill on the various guitars is virtually unparalleled in the sphere of current prog rock.

    There's some nice Supertramp-style piano work going on in “A Short Intermission” then Arabic influences on “A House of Cards Pt 2” with some really great guitar and violin and a very classical influenced approach, the tone getting a little darker. The album's over before you realise it, and it's been a hell of a journey.

    Track Listing and Ratings

    1. A House of Cards Pt 1
    2. A Short Intermission
    3. A House of Cards pt 2
    4. Interlude No. 2
    5. The Dream Harbour
    6. Helleborine
    7. The Face of Eurydice

    Last edited by Trollheart; October 5th, 2019 at 09:46 PM.
    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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    I know my prog, but there’s still a hell of a lot I don’t know, and occasionally I’ll just grab an album at random, either from my collection on the hard drive or from a list I see online. This one, I think, came from a prog website I trust, called Prog Archives.



    Evership – Evership – 2016

    I'm always just a little wary of bands using the word “ever” in their name. There are so many – Evertale, Everfriend, Evergrey, Everon, Everwood, Everflame .. the list goes on. It seems to be one of the most popular prefixes for prog and power metal bands, conjuring up images of sword-and-sorcery, mythology and fantastic creatures. Reading up on this one however, there seems to be a pretty lavish history behind it, with composer and multi-instrumentalist (yes, another one! Prog is replete with these guys!) Shane Atkinson having made music mostly his life during the eighties and nineties, then dropped it to concentrate on software production, at which he found himself extremely talented. The music in his head however, he says, haunted him during his success and he knew he had to get it out to the world. So making some major lifestyle changes and building his own recording studio, and indeed creating a company to finance his debut album, the Evership project was born. Ten years and more in the making, it's a little odd that the article on ProgArchives speaks of his hope that the album might be released in 2017, and yet here it is out a year early, so I can only assume it made it ahead of time. Oh, I see they're talking about the vinyl album; the digital release has already hit.

    In typical prog fashion, this debut album only has six tracks, with three of them broken up into suites. Even so, that's still just short of one hour of music altogether. We open on “Silver Light”, with a rising guitar and orchestral sound, almost, but not quite, like an orchestra tuning up, and this stretches on for almost a minute before what I think may be theremin comes into the mix (though with the amount of instruments played here, including something that's called “experimental guitar” I could very well be wrong!) and then the vocal comes in. This really grabs your attention: a high, powerful mix of Benoit David and Justin Hayward as Beau West takes control of the song, which begins to rock under the powerful guitar riffs and insistent percussion. Apart from Atkinson and his brother, the latter of whom plays most of the guitars, there are two other guitarists here, and a full choir, so it's quite the wall of sound with yet a kind of progressive metal feel.

    The opener itself is over nine minutes long, but never seems to drag, and is full of clever musical ideas, as you would probably expect from someone who has composed for film and TV for most of his life, some very seventies-sounding melodies which recall the best of Genesis and Yes, with lovely violin from Nicelle Preibe adding to the overall sonic mosaic being woven here. The next track is one of those multi-part suites, but as there are no timings shown it may be hard to know where one part ends and the next begins. The overall thing is called “A Slow Descent into Reality”, and opens on quite Jonathan Cainesque piano, certainly more what I would call AOR than prog, but then Atkinson doesn't claim to play prog necessarily, just music he likes. After what I take to be the sound of a car crashing (Spock's Beard on Octane?) we get a more ripply piano more or less solo with the vocal, then some a good thick synth line as the vocal continues in a slightly softer vein before the keys run off on their own. Somebody stop them!



    I definitely get flavours of Sean Filkins's solo album here, especially in the female backing vocals and the narrative of the song. About halfway through now and a big meaty synth line takes over before acoustic guitar joins in and the vocal returns; very Yes this, I feel. Powerful stuff. The choir adds its voice now as we head into the eighth minute and then a kind of Rushesque (circa 2112 or Hemispheres) guitar instrumental section followed by a real workout on the organ. Everything stops completely at just over the tenth minute mark as West screams ”There must be something beyond!” introducing another extended instrumental, which really allows Shane Atkinson to show what he can do on the drumkit. And so we move into the denouement of the piece, and it all fades away, after all that, very quietly and simply.

    “Evermore” reminds me of nothing more than the very best of Tony Banks, especially on his solo album A Curious Feeling, and is another long track, just over ten minutes but this time only broken into two. It begins with an extended instrumental which breaks down into a single piano line as West comes in with the vocal, Josh Groban-like, very gentle but strong at the same time. Nice backing vocals too, possibly the choir although I don't think so somehow. Around the fourth minute it kicks up a gear, hard electric guitar coming in and rocking the whole thing, joined by keyboards. Sounds like my favourite, mandolin, in the seventh minute, though in general I would have to say I'm not as impressed with this as I was with the first two tracks. It's good, but somehow it just isn't quite grabbing me in the same way the other two did. “Ultima Thule” is also ten minutes plus, and it opens with a nice acoustic guitar with some ambient sounds, the vocal gentle and relaxed behind a peaceful piano line. Quite pastoral, and definitely the closest this album has so far come to a ballad, though with a length of ten minutes I guess it could easily change. And it looks like it's about to, as hammering percussion pulls in electric guitar and the pace is picked up.

    Here's where the choir really shines, laying down a sumptuous vocal backdrop against which Atkinson plays some serious keyboard flurries before it all settles down again and Nicelle's violin takes us to the conclusion, and into the last, and longest, track we go. It's another multi-part suite, which goes under the umbrella title of “Flying Machine”, and runs for just shy of fourteen minutes. A nice rippling guitar and keyboard line get us started, with angelic vocal harmonies coming in to supplement Beau West's singing, slight touches of folk about the melody. More serene violin and what sounds like oileann pipes (though none are credited; could it be the theremin?) then things begin to get more intense as we move into the fourth minute, the choir blasting out before we head into I guess the second of the three parts of the suite, opening with birdsong and muted voices and effects, distant violin and then louder, darker voices. A rising guitar pulls us in and then it's a building instrumental section up to the seventh minute, when it briefly explodes as West asks ”Are you sure it won't fall down?”, immediately followed by a soft guitar line and then expanding on the sung line and developing the theme on electric guitar with a rocky feel to it. We're now in the eighth minute.

    Things slow down now on a kind of melancholy line, a certain sense of The Alan Parsons Project detectable in the melody, at least to me, and then it takes off again like the machine in the title, soaring and swooping through various instrumental passages as it heads towards its eventual conclusion. That leaves us with by far the shortest track on the album to close with, less than two minutes of the oddly-named “Approach”. Surely such a track would have been better at the beginning of the album rather than the end? As it happens, it's nothing more than a sound effect really, synth or guitar feedback setting up the impression of something, well, approaching. A little disappointing to say the least.

    TRACK LISTING AND RATINGS

    1. Silver light
    2. A slow descent into reality
    (i) Everyman
    (ii) A slow descent
    (iii) Wisdom of the ages
    (iv) Honest with me
    (v) The battle within
    (vi) Anyman

    3. Evermore
    (i) Eros
    (ii) Agape

    4. Ultima Thule
    5. Flying machine
    (i) Dreamcarriers
    (ii) Dream sequence

    (iii) Lift
    6. Approach
    6. Approach

    I suppose I had expected, given all I've read about this guy, to be more impressed than I have been. It's a decent album and there are some really good ideas in it, and for a debut it is pretty good. I just didn't find myself blown away by it. Perhaps it's the old first-time-listen syndrome, and it will grow on me with repeated listens. If I decided to repeat the experience.

    Still, a very competent album and on the strength of what's here, and given what Atkinson has sacrificed to be where he is today, I'd say it’s definitely worth a listen. More than that? I really can't say at this time.
    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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    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    I'm one of those people who buys certain magazines (no, not those type!) which come with a free disc, and I almost never bother listening to it. This could very well be a mistake, as these discs can have some really good music on it that I will miss by not at least spinning the damn thing. So this section is going to look at such discs, the ones I've collected and any new ones I get, and see what's on them. I'll be picking one track off a disc, probably at random, and talking about it and the artist associated with it, finding out all I can about him her or them, and letting you know why I rate or don't rate it. Sure we'll see how it goes. If nothing else, at least I'll manage to listen to the damn things!

    So this is the first track I'm going to pick, from a CD that came free with "Classic Rock presents Prog" (don't anyone say the acronym should be CRAP!) and it's from a band who call themselves The Windmill.

    This, then, is the CD. They call their prog selections "Prognosis" (clever, eh?) and this is Prognosis 10, which came free with the April 2010 issue of CRpP (yeah, that far back!)

    "Don't Be Afraid"
    The Windmill
    From the album To Be Continued... (2010) on Helping Hand Records

    Well, so much for the source, but what of the music? Well seems the Windmill are from Holland - nah, just kidding! They're from that other country well-known for such structures, er, Norway. They've been together since 2001, but have taken nine years to release their first album. Well, strictly speaking only five: they began recording it in 2005, having spent the intervening four years gigging and writing material, as well as going through lineup changes. As of 2010, their personnel consisted of:
    Jean Robert Vilta (Founder) --- Vocals and keyboards
    Morten Clason (Founding Member) --- Vocals, keyboards, sax, flute, guitars
    Arnfinn Isakssen (Founding Member) --- Bass
    Stig Andre Clason --- Guitar
    Erik Borgen --- Guitars
    Sam Arne Noland --- Drums

    Under this lineup the band released To Be Continued..., from which this track is taken. With me so far? Good. The album only has six tracks, but in true prog rock style one (this one) is ten minutes long while another clocks in at a hefty twenty-four minutes, or a few seconds shy of that. Because of the ups and downs with personnel while the album was being recorded there are two drummers credited here, one of whom has left, plus a guitarist who has also departed.

    The Windmill's music is best described as neo-progressive rock, pulling from the influences of the greats like Genesis, Yes and Floyd, yet with a curiously up to date sound. Their second album was only recently released, so this is not a band who are given to churning out substandard albums it would seem, although to be fair I've only heard this one track. Try as I might I can't track down a decently-priced copy of either album, but Spotify has them both so I'm shortly to indulge. As it happens, the second album, which is called, rather appropriately given the title of the debut, The Continuation, has even less tracks on it than To Be Continued... with only five, although this time there's a twelve minuter and a twenty-five minute track!


    But to the track in hand. As I say, it's from their debut album and runs for just a few seconds over ten minutes, so it's a good introduction to the band. It opens with soft rolling synth quickly punctuated by sharp percussion and then gentle flutework from Morten Clason, before the song settles down into a nice little piano-driven tune with measured drumming, and the vocals of Jean Vilta are clear and warm with I believe a touch of the singer from Also Eden, not that you'd know him, or them. We’ll have to see what we can do to change that. Guitars are quite restrained but definitely audible. I would say personally the contribution from Clason's flutes is something I could do without: it's almost like they're just there for the sake of being there, and certainly don't add anything to the song, in fact to my mind they take from the general feel of it except as the piece moves into its second movement with hard guitars breaking through and stirring organ work.

    A nice instrumental break which showcases the varied talents of this band, the flutes this time firing off in concert with the guitar riffs while the organ booms behind them. There's almost a flute solo then around the fifth minute before guitar takes over, then hands back over to flute again. This time the guitar follows the flute, and it's a nice progression. Clason's flutework is definitely more palatable when it's soft and pastoral than when he tries to make it a little more aggressive a la Jethro Tull perhaps. Nice guitar solo at the seventh minute, then Clason does just what I have been talking about and don't like, making the flute too punchy and upfront. As we hit the eighth minute Vilta comes back in accompanied by gentle piano, soon joined by rising guitar as the song heads towards its final part, with a nice guitar and vocal ending, though Clason's flute trails away as the final instrument you hear.

    It's perhaps a little overlong. Ten minutes for a song that could easily have been compressed into five without losing too much of its shape or meaning, and I do have to wonder what I'm in for when I sample the longer tracks on both albums. It's a nice song though and I certainly remember it as being the highlight of this disc, along with Also Eden, Touchstone and Syzygy. I never quite realised before though how annoying the flute is. It's not that the song doesn't need flute - well, it doesn't really - but it's just used in the wrong way, as far as I can see. Soft, luxuriant flute yes, hard, abrasive, look-at-me flute no. That aside though it's a great track that has led me to check out the album and once I have had a chance to do that it will probably end up being reviewed here.

    Does it show the craft of five years' writing? I'd say it shows that it definitely wasn't thrown together over a wet weekend in Margate. The problem, if there is one, may lie in the fact that maybe it was worked on for too long, and has been a little overproduced. But a very good effort for a first example from a relatively new band.

    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. #8
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    I'm a real fan of prog rock, so intricate compositions, out-there solos, deep lyrics, changes in tempo, signature and style all fit into what I like in a song. But I'm also aware that sometimes the opposite can be just as effective. Sometimes you don't need all the hi-tech wizardry and mile-a-minute lyrics, the sagas and epics, the fiddly guitars and extended keyboard solos, ten changes of pace within one song. Sometimes, like the title says, it's better, even advisable to

    Keep It Simple.

    Even though they're a band who have had some of the longest, most convoluted and intricate songs, Pink Floyd are, or were, a band who could still bring everything right back down to basics, and still pen a classic tune. From the complex interweaving of themes on songs like “Astronomy Domine”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, and of course “Echoes”, not to mention “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, to the simplicity of a song like “Mother” and “Pigs On the Wing”, Floyd knew that although sometimes big, deep, bombastic or meandering songs were what was needed, occasionally the very simplest, most basic ideas were best.

    "Wish You Were Here" --- Pink Floyd --- 1975
    Music by Roger Waters and David Gilmour, Lyrics by Roger Waters


    This philosophy came to a wonderful head on the iconic title track from the album Wish You Were Here. The simplest of the simple, a lone twelve-string guitar opens the song, sounding as if it's recorded in mono, the sound of something like a door creaking open then slamming shut, then it's joined by a fully “stereo” acoustic guitar, with David Gilmour singing the first verse, drums crashing in on the second verse, with Steinway piano and pedal steel filling out the sound before the sound drops back to acoustic for the leadup to the chorus, which is only sung once before the song fades out more or less as it began.

    The song consists of only a few basic chords, and is a sad and reflective look back at one of the band's founder members, Syd Barrett. Though the lyric is somewhat obscure, it does refer to the regret that Barrett could not remain with the band, had personal problems and that they drifted apart. Apparently, when he once wandered in on a recording session, nobody recognised Barrett, he had changed so much. Very sad.

    As if you needed to hear it, the song is below, but sure even if you know it backwards (and what rock fan doesn't?) it's a good excuse to give it another listen.
    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

  9. #9
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    The Secret Life of the Album Cover
    No. 1: Fugaziby Marillion

    In an effort to both make this journal less of a collection of album reviews, and to tie in with my recent article in my History of Progressive Rock journal on the importance of albums to the genre, I'll be taking a look at some of the more interesting album covers in my collection. Time was when an album sleeve meant something, said something to you, and quite often there were many little interesting details about it that perhaps on first look didn't immediately jump out at you, but that afterwards you noticed, and appreciated. Of course, for those of us in the know (and old enough!) the master of this was Hipgnosis, who of course designed some of the best sleeves for bands like Genesis, ELO, Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project, to name but a few in their illustrious catalogue. The artwork on their covers became iconic and timeless: who can forget the simple yet stunningly effective cover for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon?

    But Hipgnosis had not cornered the market, and there were a lot of really fascinating and deep album covers out there, back when people bought vinyl records and there was something to look at, as opposed to just a 60 x 60 Jpeg of so-called “album art”! Back then, album covers were almost as important as the album itself: you would put on the record (taking it VERY carefully out of the inner sleeve and placing it on the turntable - what? Oh, look it up on Wiki!) and then like as not sit back with the sleeve and read not only the lyrics, but the liner notes too as the album played, and admire the intricate artwork on the cover. Ah, those were the days!

    (Cough!) Excuse me, the old rheumatism plays up now and then. What was that sonny? Speak up! Oh yes indeed: the point of this piece. Well, I was gettin' to that, young feller! Shee! You young 'uns have no patience these days. Why, in my time.... zzzzzzzz. What?! Oh, sorry! I tend to nod off sometimes. Age, you know. Anyway, back to the intro. Where was I? Oh yes, I remember!

    Mark Wilkinson was the incredibly talented artist who designed the first four of Marillion's album sleeves, and their single sleeves too. After Fish left the band Wilkinson went with him, to design the covers of the ex-frontman's solo albums. Marillion album covers suffered from that, their next few being quite ordinary. I always felt Mark Wilkinson's work added an air of wonder and mystery to Marillion albums, and that was definitely lost when he went to work with Fish. Perhaps fittingly, though, as after Fish left the band began moving in a much different and less progressive rock direction. The below cover is for their second album, the slightly more commercial Fugazi, released in 1984, and the cover says a lot more than perhaps you would at first realise. In order to address this, you’ll have to excuse the pretty massive image of the album cover below, but there’s a lot of detail on this album cover, and you really need to be able to see it all. I’ll discuss each in as much depth as I feel I can. But first, a general overview.





    Up until their fourth album, Clutching at Straws, the last with Fish as vocalist and frontman, Marillion had always issued their albums in what were known as “gatefold” sleeves. Simply put, this means that the artwork for the album was spread over both the front and the back of the cover, and so you had to open it out to see it in all its glory. I guess it’s a lost art now, with the demise of vinyl. Sad. Fugazi is a typical example of what could be done, though, even into the 1980s. Looking at the front only you can see some of the story, but open it to its full width and you see so much more.

    The basic idea is of a figure lying prone on a bed, in what we assume to be a small bedsit. The figure does not look comfortable, in fact looks washed out and wasted, and is listening to music while drinking wine. Around him, other things are happening (or he is hallucinating them) that he either does not see or does not care about. Whether meant as such or not, I always find the figure on the bed strikingly reminiscent of the crucified Christ, after he has been taken down off the cross. The headphones on the Walkman also for me symbolise the crown of thorns Jesus was forced to wear while being crucified. So you could say this is the artist, perhaps, stretched on the rack of his own genius, crucified on the cross of his own endeavour? Perhaps nothing like this: that's just what it says to me.

    It could also refer to the fact that, having expended their heart and soul creating one of the most impressive debut albums in 1983's Script for a Jester's Tear, Marillion (represented by the figure on the bed, who became known generically as “the Jester”, but to me will always be identified with Fish, again the fact that Wilkinson's last sleeve for Marillion was the last with Fish bears this out somewhat) had felt like they had nothing left to give. Or maybe crafting this album had drained them. Perhaps the “Jester” is thinking of what will have to be done to follow this up, and is daunted and depressed at the magnitude of the task before him.

    That's the basic idea I get from the sleeve anyway, but now let's take some elements from the cover and analyse them in more detail. To the right, we see that though the figure on the bed is barely clothed, his reflection in the mirror wears the full costume of the jester. Is this two sides of the one person? Is it an alternate identity of the man on the bed? Which is the real one? Is the mirror reflecting the dreams and aspirations of the man on the bed, or is it in fact the Jester in the mirror who is real, and his reflection (through the mirror on the other side) is nothing more than a man, struggling to come to terms with his world and put this into song? The figure on the bed can be seen to be wearing a partial jester's outfit, but whether he has taken it off or was in the process of putting it on is uncertain. Without question though, there is a link between the two images.

    As already touched on, the man on the bed is listening to a Walkman (hey, again:look it up!), but seems oblivious to the music, if indeed music is playing. The scene recalls one of the lines in the title track: ”Sheathed within the Walkman/ Wear the halo of distortion/ Aural contraceptive/ Aborting pregnant conversation”, obviously Fish's lament that with the proliferation of hand-held cassette players like the Sony Walkman, people stopped talking to each other so easily, wrapped up in their music. As true then as it is today. I also mentioned the symbolism for the crown of thorns earlier. You can see too in his eyes that they are painted like that of a clown: which face is real, or are they all just masks?

    A magpie sits on a chair, holding a ring in its beak. This would later come back in the double live 1988 compilation called The Thieving Magpie (la gazza ladra), but the ring at least in the magpie's beak could also refer to a line in “Emerald Lies”: ”And the coffee stains gather/ Till the pale kimono/ Sets the wedding rings dancing/ On the cold linoleum.”

    The magpie is stalked by a lizard, presumably the “she-chamelon” from the track of the same name on the album. Perhaps the fact that it (presumably she) is trying to catch the bird and rob the wedding ring, can be seen as a metaphor for a groupie (which the she-chameleons in the song are identified as) threatening a marriage? Of course, the magpie has stolen the ring in the first place, so maybe not...

    A copy of Billboard magazine lies on the bed, at the figure's feet. As influential a magazine as this is, perhaps he has read a bad review of the album? It's not clear, as you can't actually read the headline. Perhaps it was included for exactly the reverse reason, that Billboard loved the previous album? I don't think Marillion “broke” the US that early, though.

    Is that picture La Pagliacci, the clown from the Italian opera? I think it may be.

    Spilled red wine could have different meanings. Perhaps it's just that the figure is drunk, and falling asleep or through carelessness has let the wine spill. Then again, the meaning could be deeper, as red wine is often used as a metaphor for blood, and perhaps this represents the labour the artist has put into his creation?

    Whereas a red rose held in the hand surely symbolises love, possibly lost love?

    That's all from the front cover. Now let's explore the back, and the first thing we see is that, amid a small collection of records strewn on the floor of the figure's room is the 12-inch single for “Punch and Judy”, released from this very album.

    A woman's high-heel shoe. Don't need a degree in psychology to work out what THAT represents!

    And a jack-in-the-box, a pop-up jester on top of the TV. As mentioned, up until their fourth album the jester was the unofficial symbol or sigil of Marillion. On the back of the next album, Misplaced Childhood, the jester is seen escaping out a window, and on Clutching at Straws he is not seen, except for the jester's cap dangling out of the main figure's pocket on the cover.

    The puzzle on the floor is a good one. Not only is it a stylised representation of the front of their debut album, Script for a Jester's Tear, but it's also a jigsaw, with a piece missing, and one of the songs on Fugazi is indeed called “Jigsaw”.

    The stuff of drug or alcohol-induced nightmares, a demonic hand claws its way out of the TV screen. Perhaps also a comment on how television was, and is, taking over people's lives to the extent that they are virtually slaves to it.

    Not of any symbolic significance, but for those who are too young to remember, THAT my children was what we used to call a “video recorder”, or VCR, short for Video Cassette Recorder, and back before there were DVDs and SKY boxes, that was how you recorded a programme from the TV onto magnetic tape. See? This column is educational, too!

    A toy train, perhaps a memento from the figure's childhood, perhaps hinting at the title of the follow-up album, Misplaced Childhood.

    So there you are. And you thought an album cover was just a pretty drawing! Well, some are, or were, and it would be mad to claim that every album cover told a story, or was discussible to this extent. Many were not. Many were just photos, pictures, symbols or even just letters. But there were many which, on closer examination, turned out to be far more than the sum of their parts.

    I hope you've enjoyed this journey through one of the great album covers of the early eighties, and I'll be looking at another one in the not too distant future.
    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

  10. #10
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    Storms Over Still Water --- Mostly Autumn --- 2005 (Mostly Autumn Records)

    I would say one of the best albums released by Mostly Autumn, but then there has yet to be a bad record by this band, at least to these ears. Like previous albums by the band, it's a heady mix of rock, prog-rock and folk, which blends together cleverly and effectively to become a sound which is trademark Mostly Autumn.

    I'm reliably informed that Mostly Autumn have a tradition of opening their albums with the ending of the last track on the previous one, and here they duly fade in the end of “Pass the Clock, Part 3”, which ended 2003's Passengers, before the opener to this album powers its way in, great keyboards, squealing guitars and the double-vocal of Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay carrying “Out of the Green Sky” to the ears, and marking the return of the band after a two-year absence. It's a powerful opener, and sets the scene for a great album. Next up is “Broken Glass”, punching up the tempo with an almost Wham!-type beat (sorry, but that's what it reminds me of!), the vocal primarily taken by Josh on this one. Great keyboard work from Iain Jennings, who would depart after this album.

    Like the previous track, this ends abruptly and we're into “Ghost in Dreamland”, with an urgent piano intro and great vocals from Heather, Mostly Autumn keeping up the pressure with another fast-paced song, the melody of which could be used for any number of car-chase scenes in a hundred movies. The first really special track though doesn't come until “Heart Life”, slower but no less heavy than the three that have gone before, with Heather again on vocal duty. It's Angela Gordon's flute and recorders that really mark this track out though, and allow the first of the gentle folk influences that have characterised many earlier MA songs to come through.

    It's a powerful ballad, sung from the heart, with some nice acoustic guitar from Bryan Josh, and effective backing vocals, and also some serious electric guitar. “The End of the World” is a weird little song, introduced on a harpsichord-sounding keyboard, very reminiscent of early Genesis circa Nursery Cryme, as Heather sings the story of an old married couple, going about their normal day, until Bryan ups the ante with the dark announcement of impending disaster as the world comes to an end, while the old couple continue about their business, unaware they have but minutes to live. The juxtaposition of the two vocals, one relating a simple tale of old lovers, the other harbinger of approaching doom, works extremely well, as Bryan sings, not without some black humour ”Molten drops fell everywhere/ Flashed Birmingham to flames/ Screaming into Yorkshire/ Kind of helped us on our way/ All at once she levelled all the stores/ Nothing to pay!” I'm not clear on what the actual disaster is - I think it may be the moon going out of orbit possibly, but it's a little hard to make out. Nonetheless, MA paint a disturbing picture of Armageddon at Teatime!

    “Black Rain” is another fast song, this one warning of the dangers of ignoring climate change, Heather again taking vocals, with Bryan providing backup: ”Did no-one tell you there'd be thunder?/ Oh we're heading for black rain/ If we don't change!” It's a real rocker, great guitar and powerful drums with a really nice hook too. Three of the last four songs on the album are long ones, and they're preceded by “Coming to...”, a nice little instrumental, sounding a little mechanical or industrial before it bursts into a seriously powerful guitar riff which takes it to its short conclusion.

    “Candle to the Sky” is one of those MA songs that although it's over eight minutes long, has a relatively short singing section, picked guitar backing Bryan as he sings the lyric. The song picks up speed and power, guitar battling with flute as it progresses, then with about three minutes yet to go, it slows right down and settles into a Pink Floyd-esque guitar groove, on which the track fades out.

    Of the three tracks remaining, “Carpe Diem” is without doubt the standout. A haunting, unsettling remembrance of the Asian Tsunami of 2002, it's introduced by oileann pipes, melancholy and lonely, then carried on a very simple but effective repetitive piano melody that begins right under the pipes at the opening and keeps going to the end, with Heather's anguished voice rising above it like a lost soul, or a banshee, or indeed, the personification of the loss and sadness of those who lost loved ones in the disaster. Again, for a track lasting over eight minutes there is certainly an economy of lyric, but it works very well, leaving the lasting impression that of the powerful musical closing section. This in fact carries on for a full five minutes, the piano joined by bass, then guitar and drums to form a truly majestic and haunting ending to the song. Quite likely some of Bryan Josh's best work to date on guitar. I would not be afraid to say that this song is in my top ten favourite Mostly Autumn tracks, and certainly in my top 100 of all-time songs.



    That leaves the title track, another long one, but it's going to be hard to top “Carpe Diem”, which should perhaps have closed the album. “Storms Over Still Water” is however a worthy successor to that standout track, even if it never stands a hope of eclipsing it. Beginning with some nice acoustic guitar backed with electric, and some flute, it's again a folky tune, sung by Heather. It starts slow and balladic, but picks up pace as it goes, the electric guitar coming into its own, as again Bryan Josh shows why he is noted as one of the most underrated rock guitarists in the business. Halfway through, he takes over on vocals, Heather switching to backing, and the tempo of the song increases as the drums get going properly. After the brilliance, but melancholy, of “Carpe Diem”, this reignites the optimism and you just can't stop your feet from tapping, and all seems again right with the world, for now.

    Again, this could have been the closer, and perhaps it would have been, but they chose to write one more little track, simply entitled “Tomorrow”, to fulfil that role. It's an instrumental, with a drum and guitar melody that puts me in mind of Peter Gabriel's “Biko”. Perhaps they wrote it just so that they would have something to fade in from for the next album? Can't deny it's a great little coda to the album, though.

    Once I had heard Mostly Autumn for the first time, I found that despite myself, I could listen to nothing else for months. I had albums backed up that I wanted to listen to, but every time I tried I just kept sticking on my MA playlist. It was a happy time, which eventually I had to force myself to break out of , but for a while there was for me no other band than Mostly Autumn. I don't know if you will feel the same way, if this is the first time you've heard the band and they have the same effect on you, but if so, take heart: there is help available for your soon-to-be addiction.

    Yeah, but …. you don't want help, do you...?

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Out of the Green Sky
    2. Broken Glass
    3. Ghost in Dreamland
    4. Heart Life
    5. The End of the World
    6. Black Rain
    7. Coming to...
    8. Candle to the Sky
    9. Carpe Diem
    10. Storms Over Still Water
    11. Tomorrow
    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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