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Old 04-29-2022, 09:15 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Let's stroll with our hands in our pockets down the dusty windswept streets of my musical memories, passing The Regret Hotel, glancing with a shudder in the direction of the Bad Choices Bank, round the corner of Inadvisable Street and Stupid Move Avenue. If we cross over the road here and avoid the careening horse-drawn wagons with their deliveries of Doubt and Disappointment and Frustration, we can see the lights and hear the off-key music, so let's just push in the doors and grab a drink down at the
LAST CHANCE SALOON
Which is my colourful and roundabout way of saying we're about to check out another album that did not impress me in the past, and see if I can get into it, or whether it needs to be shelved forever and forgotten about.



Perchance to Dream - The Arc Light Sessions (2015)


On the surface, I should love this band. With a classically-trained piano player into everything from Genesis and Yes to PFM and Pat Metheny, what’s not to like? But I remember being mightily disappointed - bored, I think - the first and I believe only time I spun it. So here I am again, giving it another chance to convert me, see if my opinion on it changes. The Arc Light Sessions is the brainchild of John Alarcon, who plays keys including Mellotron, with Michael Dionne taking vocals and guitar. There’s a very orchestral opening to the title track, with a slow Asia feel to it too, plenty of Mellotron blasting from Alarcon, the song putting me in mind too of Pendragon. I don’t know about the vocalist; I kind of think he’s not that great, and he certainly doesn’t grab the attention. Some nice piano merging with a squealing guitar, but there’s something not quite, I don’t know, cohesive about this, like they’re borrowing bits from other bands and songs and trying to force them all together. God that singer is pretty poor.

Alarcon can certainly play the piano, there’s no doubt about that, keys and Mellotron taking us directly into “... only to Awake”, a much shorter piece, the companion to the opener, and I would say quite likely an instrumental, which is good as I don’t have to listen to Dionne attempting to sing for a while. God I hope he improves as the album goes on, otherwise it’s going to be torture listening to him all through the rest of this album. Well I was right about this being instrumental, and then “There Will Come a Day” is a slow very Alan Parsons Project ballad and unfortunately Dionne has not improved. He also does his own backing vocals it seems, so it doesn’t help that now I’m hearing him twice as it were. The melody is nice, the piano carrying it, but it’s hard to enjoy it when the vocalist is making such a hash of the singing. Nice guitar solo, very effective; if only Michael Dionne would stick to the frets.

Another piano ballad in “Through These Years”, but a lot shorter at three minutes, while “Please Let Me Know” runs for nearly six, and is also quite laid back, in fact I’ve yet to hear ALS really let loose and rock out, if they ever do. Again it’s like listening to a budget knock-off version of the APP, though nowhere near as good. I’m probably insulting Parsons and his boys by comparing them to these heads. To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with the music, just none of it is coming across as particularly original. It’s like the band sat down and listened to the APP’s discography and then decided they would emulate them rather than write any of their own music. Unfortunately the only way they don’t copy them is by having various vocalists, so we’re stuck with Dionne.

This is going to be a struggle, I can tell. We still have - fuck! Eight songs to go, and I’m feeling like I’m in an ordeal. Think this next one might be another instrumental at least. When I don’t have to listen to Dionne’s singing - I use the word in its widest possible meaning - I can, not enjoy, but at least tolerate these guys. This isn’t too bad actually, for once mostly on guitar, but we’re back to piano for “The Old Man and the Sea”, with some nice flute added in by Luc Tremblay (definitely heard of him, just can’t remember where) but it breaks down as soon as Dionne opens his mouth. Some sort of choir there in the background which does help distract a little from his voice; with another, more competent or talented singer this could actually be enjoyable. Decent tune, some nice warbly keyboards and so far no Mellotron; these guys definitely overuse that venerated prog rock instrument. Good guitar solo, ramping up the tempo a little, though it quickly resumes its more or less sedate pace.

I suppose I should be thankful there are no epics here: the longest track just inches over seven minutes, and the next two are short ones, “The Ghost of Winters Past” slightly less than four minutes while “Jigsaw” just edges past three. Neither are very remarkable or memorable, and then we’re into the six-minute “Deception Days.” Normally I wouldn’t be so anal about the length of the songs (well, not all the time), but really I’m just hoping to get through this and the longer the tracks are the harder that task is becoming, so shorter tracks are welcome, or at least, more welcome than the longer ones, which aren’t welcome at all. Think I’ll just hide my head till it’s all over. If anything occurs to necessitate a remark I’ll mention it. Otherwise I’ll see you on the other side, assuming I make it out alive.

Oh god I just have to remark that on “Misunderstood” Michael Dionne does what I would have assumed impossible, and actually gets worse singing! God, when he growls it’s just painful. Shut the fuck up. Thought the album might go easy on me by closing with a double instrumental, but no, only the penultimate track, the other had to have Dionne foist his excuse for vocals upon us one last (and it will be the last) time. Fuck off you cunt.

Track Listing

1. Perchance to Dream...
2. ...Only To Awake
3. There Will Come a Day
4 Through These Years
5. Please Let me Know
6. Eye of the Storm
7. The Old Man and the Sea
8. The Ghosts of Winters Past
9. Jigsaw
10. Deception Days
11. Misunderstood
12. Over the Horizon...
13. ...Till the End

Admittedly, this would not have been such a trial had it not been for Michael Dionne’s awful travesty of a voice, with the only real respite being the few instrumentals that saved me from his voice. The only vocal track I could stomach really was “The Old Man and the Sea” because, despite his vocals, it actually stuck with me and was a half decent song.

What do I think now?

I’m even more against this album now that I remember how terribly Dionne sings, and the poor APP rip-off the music is. Not sure how this struggled above a rating of 3 on Prog Archives but I wouldn’t have given it a 2. I won’t be giving this any more chances.

Verdict: Never gonna see the light.

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Old 05-16-2022, 09:25 AM   #22 (permalink)
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I first became aware of this album when an advertisement ran for it on television, and being a diehard Genesis fan the music alerted me. Finding it was an orchestral interpretation of some of the best Genesis songs --- and having already enjoyed The London Symphony Orchestra’s We Know What We Like: The Music of Genesis - I was excited and expected this to be a shoe-in. Surprisingly enough, after a lot of effort tracking it down online - I’m cheap: I never pay full price for an album if I can avoid it, especially one I haven’t heard before, and in this instance I’m glad I stuck to that plan - it remained on my computer for a long time, years really, and I only just listened to it a few nights ago when I was looking for something relaxing to drift off to and realised I had it, and had not yet listened to it.



The Genesis Suite - Tolga Kashif - 2010 (LMG)

I’ll admit it: I had no idea who this guy was when I saw the ad, and I didn’t much care. Seemed to me he (or she) was some possibly famous composer or conductor who had decided to set the music of Genesis to an orchestral backing, and that was good enough for me. Now I see he (it is a he) has also attempted the same thing with Queen (for which, inexplicably to me anyway, he won a Classical Brit Award nomination in 2003) and has written many successful scores for movies as well as worked with the famous Lesley Garrett. In 2002 he performed in front of Her Majesty (God bless ‘er! Yeah, not really) The Queen, so I guess he can’t be all bad.

But this is.

The problem with it lies in his interpretations of the music. They just don’t work, to the point that when listening I found it difficult to even recognise most of the original songs. They’re transformed and elaborated on to the extent that they become not quite parodies of themselves but certainly sound nothing like they should. I’ll go through it in detail shortly. The other problem is the length of the songs. “Mad Man Moon”, the longest he attempts here, is just over seven minutes on the original album A Trick of the Tail. Kashif extends it to over seventeen! “Fading Lights” is a respectable ten minutes and he stretches that to twelve, okay, then a medley of Blood on the Rooftops and “Undertow”, again totalling about nine, comes out at thirteen almost. This in itself would not be so bad, but it’s the way in which the songs are extended that causes the problem, and the confusion.

You could say these are more “fantasias” based on the songs, and maybe that would be true: Kashif certainly wanders repeatedly off the beaten path down roads which seem to have nothing to do with the original melody, and explores avenues that perhaps open up the songs. But the thing is, I want to hear the music I know: I understand it won’t sound exactly the same - I probably wouldn’t want to hear it if it did - but I want to at least be able to close my eyes and say “That’s "Ripples"” or whatever, not “What the hell is that?” which is more often than not what I found myself asking myself as this album wound seemingly interminably on.

So to the meat of the matter then: the actual music. We’re supposed to start off with a medley from Invisible Touch, comprising “Land of Confusion” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, but I just don’t hear it. There’s a sort of choral almost lament to open with a lot of percussion but no real melody. The speed is totally wrong for “Land of Confusion”, which we all know as it was a hit single, and very quickly we’re into “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, or at least a version of it. I hear some keyboard arpeggios from the tune, but the general overall melody that we started with continues as we move into the third minute of the seven and a half it runs for. I’ve lost all recognition of the song - either one - now, other than the odd riff. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a nice piece, and if it was an original I’d be praising it. But as a supposed version of the two Genesis songs it’s just not there. I don’t get it, and this is a feeling that will repeat as I listen to the rest of the album. Not in all tracks admittedly: some are almost recognisable. But they’re in the small minority.

Now we’re into a soft strings section, which is nice, and I think I hear a snippet of part of the melody of “Land of Confusion”, but it’s so incidental it’s hardly worth remarking upon. Near the sixth minute I had hopes we might be kicking into it as the music builds to something of a crescendo, but no: it’s more of the same and it ends as badly and mysteriously as it began. Honestly, play that for any Genesis fan and ask them what song, or songs, were being played and I doubt anyone would be able to guess. A loose interpretation, to say the very least. One of my very favourite Genesis tracks is up next, from the 1976 album A trick of the Tail, but again it starts slowly and with little resemblance to the song it’s supposed to be emulating, and it’s nearly two minutes in before I even recognise “Ripples”, almost by accident. It’s a nice piano intro, but I don’t hear the melody anywhere until we’re heading into the second minute when it makes itself somewhat apparent.

The chorus then is something I can recognise, nice oboe or something with the piano sprinkled over it like fine fairy-dust, but then the strings section take the tune again and it goes off on something of a tangent. I know this song very well indeed, and it does not go like this at all. It’s almost as if Kashif created a mini-symphony and threw it in there where it does not belong. I mean, it sounds nice, there’s no doubting that. But it confuses the heck out of me until we’re almost at the fourth minute, and this incidentally but importantly is the chorus again, which seems to be the only part of the song making itself known to me. Now I know that there’s an extended instrumental section in the original, played by Tony Banks on the piano, and it’s one of the best parts of the song, very effective and evocative. Here again I lose the tune, it briefly shows itself with a blast of brass then disappears, like the very ripples in the lake about which the song was written, and it’s almost the seventh minute before anything recognisable comes through and it’s - you guessed it - the chorus again.

“Ripples” is extended by almost two minutes on the original, and that’s not too bad, but the worst is to come, and from the same album “Mad Man Moon” takes overstretching to new heights, or lows in this case. As I mentioned, a song that initially ran for just over seven and a half minutes is more than doubled, clocking in at a frankly ridiculous and unnecessary sixteen minutes and forty-one seconds! And it’s not just the length that’s at issue here. Whereas the original song opens with a flutey line and then goes into a piano melody, here we have violins, oboes, cellos and more which run for more than two minutes before any semblance of the original song’s melody can be heard. Up to then (and after it) it’s like the soundtrack to some Sinbad movie or something, very eastern, very mysterious, and very much nothing like the song.

Coming up to the fourth minute it settles somewhat into the original melody courtesy of some very nice cello and violin work, then big pounding percussion takes it off onto another track entirely - well, the song is only seven minutes and change, so he has to extend it somehow, doesn’t he? But does he? Why not leave it as it was, or maybe add a minute or two as he did to the other songs here. But doubling it and then some? Where is the point? Just to crowbar in all the little touches and flourishes and embellishments he wants to put in? Wouldn’t the piece have been just as good - better, in my opinion - without them? But Kashif is on a roll now, so in desperation to extend, or justify his extension of the song, he returns to the opening lines and throws in some more improvised melodies. It all starts to get boring, as well as confusing, around minute seven, which is where the song should really be winding down to its natural conclusion. But no, we have another ten almost to go.

There’s a fast paced bit in the middle of the original that I’m still waiting to hear, as the violins and trumpets and woodwinds go into overdrive and we move into minute nine. Oh, here it comes. Not as fast as it should be, but come on: from here on in there should be one more verse and then the finale. But we’re looking at yet another six or seven minutes, almost the length of the entire song again before we finish up here. So now we have a rehash of the midsection, some extra stuff thrown in that has nothing to do with the song, a slowing down as we move into minute thirteen. Lovely violin work it has to be said, but so overdone and so unnecessary. I mean, I’m all for extending a good song and I love this one, but even for me this is overkill. Three or four seconds of total silence, just to eat up the time and then a big blast from the string section as I again completely fail to recognise this as any part of “Mad Man Moon” as I know it: it’s pretty much morphed now into Kashif’s own composition, which is nice undoubtedly, but not part of Genesis’s original song. It’s finally struggling, limping now towards its end and feels like it’s about ready to be put out of its misery, which finally, thankfully happens, and not even on the final riffs that end the original.

Their biggest and best-known hit single is up next, but if you think you’ll recognise the jaunty, poppy love song, you’ll find yourself saying as I did, “This isn’t anything like “”Follow You Follow Me!” Again, it’s stretched to breaking point. Remember, the original was a short, upbeat single which ran for just over four minutes; here it’s dragged out to almost seven. I can admittedly hear the chorus and it’s not bad, but there’s little else of the song I recognise here. It’s also too slow: I would have envisioned a fast, snappy string section with some light percussion and maybe trumpets or trombones jazzing it up as it’s supposed to be, but Kashif seems determined that every song here move at a snail’s pace, and it becomes very wearing. From the fifth minute to the end it’s just really a descending violin melody that could easily have been cut. Way too long.

And speaking of way too long, there’s a twelve-minute interpretation of “Fading Lights”, the closing track on ]We Can’t Dance on the way. Admittedly, the original is a long song anyway, coming in at about ten minutes or so, but when I listened to this first I had absolutely no idea what I was hearing. If you had told me I had to identify the Genesis song being covered here or get a bullet in the brain, you’d be visiting my grave about now. What do you mean, you wouldn’t visit? Humph! Anyway there is no way to reconcile this with the song that closes Genesis’s penultimate album, another song I love; this just bears no resemblance to it, at least up to the third minute or so, where I can hear the vestiges of the original melody begin to float in on violin wings and it’s quite nice indeed.

But as ever Kashif loses the plot here and the tune goes off on another tangent, until by the fifth minute all relationship to the Genesis song has disappeared and we’re listening to an unfamiliar tune. It’s almost become pure musical expressionism by the time we reach the seventh, with the result that I’m losing hope of hearing the big instrumental passage that characterises the original and takes it almost to its close. No, it’s not there, or if it is I don’t hear it. And so we fade, rather appropriately, out and into yet another from A Trick of the Tail, the wonderful “Entangled”, which for some reason he decides to open with a slow piano passage, when the song moves at a much more sprightly, almost waltz pace than that. And I don’t recognise the melody, though at this point I am depressingly used to that.

Now this is a long song, and he’s only added a minute on to it, so points for that, but even so we’re now two minutes into it and I’m only now beginning to hear snatches - snatches only, mind - of the melody, with the piano still performing solo. It’s nice, and it’s a break from the violins and cellos, much as I like them, but I just wish it sounded more like the actual song. This could have been a real triumph, but as we move past the third minute there’s still only the very barest bones of the melody from the song I love so well. Really, as we get into the fifth I’m beginning to accept that the only real part of the original here is going to be that piano riff, although now that I’ve said that I can hear the proper melody begin to assert itself. We are, however, now close to the end, so is it too little too late? I fear so.

And we end on another twelve-minute extension, this time a second medley, to bookend the album with the opening suite. These are drawn from two different albums, unlike the opening set which came from the same one, with “Undertow” taken from the first album released by the stripped-down band in 1978 and “Blood on the Rooftops” from 1976’s Wind and Wuthering, another of my favourites. And we’re back to those choral vocals that opened the odd interpretation that started off the album. And so far I don’t recognise this. This is a form of singing I’m not that happy with: sort of chanting, like at a mass, but at least I recognise the music now. Well, partially. Sort of. Nice work by the violins and cellos as they follow, for once, the basic melody of at least “Undertow”.

Then within four minutes we’re into “Blood on the Rooftops”, with an actual vocal this time. I’ve spoken about this before. If you’re doing an orchestral rendition of popular music I prefer not to hear any singing, even choirs. Especially choirs. Still, it has to be said that so far this has been the interpretation that most closely follows the original songs. I’m pretty certain though that we don’t need an eight-minute version of “Blood on the Rooftops” when the original was just over five. And now we go off down another tributary, another branching road that takes us strange places with many a twist and turn: this part, from about minute six has no resemblance to the original song and is obviously just put in to embellish it. Okay, in fairness it actually returns to the chorus from “Undertow”, which is quite effective and works very well. I’ll definitely give it that. Mind you, it leaves little of “Blood on the Rooftops” in the composition. And whether or not we need an over two-minute outro is to my mind debatable, but that said, the piece finishes well, though not enough to paper over the cracks in some, or most, of the tracks that have preceded it. Again, too little, far too late.

TRACK LISTING

1. Land of Confusion/Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
2. Ripples
3. Mad Man Moon
4. Follow You Follow Me
5. Fading Lights
6. Entangled
7. Undertow/Blood on the Rooftops

Let me just make one thing perfectly clear here: I am not in any way denigrating Tolga Kashif’s musical or compositional prowess. I know that making music, writing music, especially orchestral, is a rare talent and I am totally in awe of anyone who can do it, and do it well. And I readily admit that this is some of the most beautiful orchestral music I have heard in a long time. Were it Kashif’s own original music I would rate this album much higher and be recommending it to you. But that’s the problem: it’s not his music. Well, it is, but it’s not supposed to be, not really.

When any composer sets out to cover someone else’s work there is of course always an element of artistic licence that has to be allowed. Nobody wants to hear the originals played note for note. If you wanted that, why not just listen to the originals themselves? But in this case I believe Kashif takes that licence and runs far away over the hills, screaming “Catch me if you can!” He goes beyond interpreting, beyond embellishing the longtime work of one of the premier progressive rock bands of all time here, and strays into the territory of trying to rewrite it. I have no problem with someone putting their own slant on a cover version, but I want to at least be able to recognise the finished article. Here, so much of this music sounded nothing like the songs I have listened to and loved for over thirty years, and it was hard to think of this as an album of Genesis music reinterpreted by a musician so much as a new composition using the bare bones of Genesis music as its template.

Perhaps that’s what he intended, and perhaps that’s how this album is supposed to be approached, but when I see someone making an orchestral version of the music of one of my favourite - of, indeed, my very favourite of all- artists, I expect to be able to recognise the tunes, and more often than not that was not the case here. For me, this was an exercise in overindulgence and perhaps arrogance, that the man thought he could improve on the music Banks, Rutherford, Hackett and Collins wrote over three decades ago, that he could do it better than them. I believe he also tackled the music of Queen, and that the surviving members of the band were very happy with the outcome. Perhaps then I am in the minority here.

An enjoyable album without question, but if Kashif attempts to take on the music of another band in the future, I just hope he keeps his compositional hands off any of my favourite artists.
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