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Old 11-05-2014, 04:55 PM   #2511 (permalink)
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Dark Dance (1992)
First in the Blood Opera sequence

The book I mentioned I was just up until today reading for my sister. Dark, bleak and gothic with some very morose reflections on human life, it's nevertheless a gripping tale that drags us into the quiet, still, ancient and macabre world of the Scarabae, a family so old that they can remember the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, perhaps even the Great Fire of London, which may have been linked to them. Rachaela is drawn almost unwillingly but by persistent fate into the world of these people, whom she does not know and yet somehow feels she does; knows and fears, for it is here, in the dark dank claustrophobic house with so many stained-glass windows that occlude the light, that she will finally meet her destiny.

The Book of the Mad (1993)
Fourth in the Secret Books of Paradys series
“In her darkly dazzling finish to The Secret Books of Paradys, Tanith Lee tempts the reader with a tale of horror, lust and madness that leaves no perversity untouched, no taboo unbroken.
This time, the seductive nightmare unfolds in three parallel versions of the City-Paradis, Paradys and Paradise. Connected by a labyrinth of ice whose dangers are amplified by the will and emotion of its lunatic travelers, these cities and their mad and near-mad denizens provide the stage for a drama of mythical proportions that none of the players can fully comprehend. Among the mad and the doomed are the murderous, remorseless siblings Felion and Smara; the violated woman-child Hilde; and Leocadia, the artist and visionary. Combining horror and hedonism, art and eroticism, Lee offers an aesthete's amoral view of beauty, pleasure and pain in her inimitable high style.
This fourth book in the Paradys series is linked brilliantly to the previous three -*The Book of the Damned,*The Book of the Beast, and*The Book of the Dead*- not by plot but by its shared venue: the fantastic, Gothic, atmospheric and changeable city of Paradys.”

Personal darkness (1993)
Second in the Blood Opera sequence

Continuing the dread story of the ageless, timeless Scarabae, as they reach out to reclaim what was theirs and set in motion a series of events that will have far-reaching consequences.

“The House is destroyed, the Scarabae dead or scattered. And the youngest and most dangerous of them, voracious for destruction, is free. As Ruth, a mind as old as evil in the body of a teenage girl, unleashes blood and fire across southern England, the other survivors regroup their formidable resources. Scarabae wealth and power can replicate The House and even withstand the sun, while help is summoned from others of their kind.
But when Malach and Althene arrive, ageless and exotic, nothing transpires as Rachaela had supposed. For she and Ruth, the demon bred on her by Adamus - father and lover, now dead - are also Scarabae, and Scarabae cleave to their own. Rachaela, irresistibly drawn to Althene's mysterious web, must accept that her daughter belongs to dark, tormented Malach, and find new reasons for hope ...
Yet it is Camillo - malign, geriatric biker with the strength and soul of a child - and the women unwittingly entangled in his mischief, who will finally dispose Ruth's fate, and play the wild card in the Scarabae's endless game.
Subtly blending the human menaces of London's contemporary underworld with a dark vampiric seduction, “Personal Darkness” enmeshes the reader further in the insidious enchantment of the Scarabae."


Darkness, I (1994)
The third and final in the Blood Opera sequence

As the story reaches its shattering conclusion, Rachaela's second daughter is born, but there is something very odd about her rate of maturity. Stolen by Cain, an outcast from the Scarabae, Rachaela finds she must ally with her hated enemies in order to try to save her child.

“'And how old, Doctor, Would you say she was?' 'She appears to be about sixteen ... perhaps a well-developed fifteen.' 'My daughter, Doctor, is three years of age.'
Lapped in the luxury of Scarabae wealth, lulled by her relationship with Althene, Rachaela has carried and given birth to her second child. A girl. Beautiful, white-haired, green-eyed. But children do not grow and mature as fast as this one.
Her name is Anna, to honour the dead. On her breast is a small blue mark ... Who is she? What is She?
Before Rachaela can decide, or Malach, self-exiled to his Dutch castle, can make up his mind, in sudden violence, Anna is abducted.
And all around the world, someone is stealing the children. From Tesco's ... from the banks of the Nile ... Taking them to a place at the end of the earth, the white pyramid hidden in the ice.
A shadow - darker than all the darkness of this dark family. Monster, master, blood-lusting genius: Cain, the outcast of the Scarabae.
He has Anna now. Means to keep her. Will Malach be able to claim her back?”

These are, believe it or not, just a tiny sample of the volume of work put out by Tanith Lee over a career spanning more than forty years. To date, she has over eighty novels, various collections and books written under other names. Her most recent was published in 2012, and true to her incredibly prolific style she published another book that same year, with two the previous year, and the one before that, and again in 2009. She lives with her husband --- also a writer --- in the south of England and has, to my knowledge, no children.

If fantasy, mythology, science-fiction or a peculiar slant on historical fiction is your thing, then you should really pick up one of her books. Just don't be too scandalised: she doesn't pull any punches when it comes to sex! JK Rowling she is not! But if you want to escape the humdrum for a few hours, then Tanith Lee could very well be the enchantress to weave a spell that will carry you far from the mundane cares of the workaday world and into her dark, often dangerous, but always entertaining world.
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Old 11-12-2014, 12:29 PM   #2512 (permalink)
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After all the fun and excitement (and earache) of Metal Month II it's time to return to my first love, and a project I was running before my sabbatical. It certainly won't be finished this year at this point, but I'd like to try to get to the end of it, even if it takes longer than I had anticipated.

Yes, it's time to return to that music Batlord hates, and continue our interrupted countdown of the 100 best prog rock albums of 2013, as compiled by Prog Archives.com.

Before my self-exile and before Metal Month II began, I reviewed “Limnal” by Exivious, and while unimpressed with this instrumental album I mentioned that there was another one coming up that was similar, another fully instrumental album that was supposed to be great but basically bored me to tears. This is it, at number



LMR --- Levin, Minneman, Rudess --- 2013 (Lazy Bones Recordings)


The problem with so-called supergroups is the superegos that go with them. Think ELP. Think GTR. Think Asia. When you go to LMR’s official website there’s no tracklisting for this album. They’re more concerned with reviews, press, purchase links and videos showing them either making the album, talking about making the album, or playing the songs. That’s all very fine guys but where is the bloody tracklisting? Also, who is Marco Minnemann? I mean, everyone knows bass supremo Tony Levin, and of course Dream Theater owe a whole lot to the keyboard talents of Jordan Rudess, but who is the guy in the middle, the “M” in LMR? Okay well Wiki tells me he’s a “drummer, composer and multi-instrumentalist” who apparently lost out on the chance to replace Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater. So there’s the DT link again. And he’s German. Okay.

That’s all well and good, and he has an impressive discography but he’s hardly an icon of progressive rock is he? This is a claim made on the LMR website, and while I would certainly consider Levin and Rudess icons, I don’t see Minneman as one. So that’s the first thing wrong with this album, and group, from my perspective: this supergroup is made up of two icons and one guy I know nothing about. And he’s a drummer. And plays guitar too here apparently. The other problem is that my dislike for Dream Theater has been well documented here, so to have essentially two guys from that sphere --- even if Minneman didn’t make it as replacement for the departed Portnoy he was on the shortlist so will be linked with them --- is not good news for me.

But I like to give everyone a fair shot and I stuck the album on the playlist, but found every time one of the tracks came around I just hated it. This is my first time to listen to it all the way through so perhaps my view of it will change, perhaps not. If not, then it’s likely to be a short review as I have no intention of cataloguing every keypress and drum roll in the way I often do on albums; if this is as boring as I remember it then I’ll just be doing a cursory writeup on it. It’s all instrumental, as I may have mentioned, and for my money, and as far as memory serves, it’s all pretty much the same throughout its fourteen-track and sixty-two minute run. This is not one I’m looking forward to.

There’s a big heavy guitar break to start us off, something like a faster version of “Smoke on the water” then Rudess blasts in with uptempo keys which then slow down on what sounds like mandolin but I guess isn’t as “Marcopolis” (wonder who wrote that?) is the opener and it’s full of power and energy, plus the drum solo that comes as obligatory when one of the “supergroup” is a drummer. I must say, I hear a certain Yes sound in the melody. Next up is “Twitch”, with a dramatic, proggy feel to it, rumbling keys and high-octave synth and some stabbing choral vocals. A heavier guitar-oriented tune on the weirdly-named “Frumious banderfunk”, though it gets quite Caribbean at times. Odd little flute sounds too; sort of all over the place really though the guitar when it breaks back in is powerful and angry, so props to Minnemann for that I guess.

“The blizzard” is much nicer, Rudess showing his undoubted talent at the piano, with Levin supplying some truly superb bass lines. Much easier on my ear than that squawking synth, and even when he switches to the synth it’s relaxing and peaceful rather than harsh and abrasive. Definite standout so far. “Mew” then is almost eight minutes long, and jazzy in a breezy sort of way with nice piano, keys and guitar but it loses its way early on and never really recovers, and I just fail to notice as it plays out and onto the next track, which is called “Afa vulu” (where are they getting these track titles??) and is at least a much shorter track, short of three minutes. It’s a bit like listening to the theme to “Hawaii 5-0” for the most part, but it is very upbeat and fast. Levin then has his chance to shine with a bass-led track in “Descent”, which is to be fair not too bad but it’s a bit dull. It’s short too and leads into “Scrod” (which is almost “dorks” spelled backwards!) and this runs for six minutes. Is it six minutes too long? Well, I wouldn’t quite go that far but…

… the problem with this album that I see is that old bugbear of ego over talent. I’m not saying these guys can’t play, cos they sure can. But rather than, for the most part, compose some decent songs they seem to have decided just to each display their own talent in another Dream Theateresque show of “Look at me!” This makes many of the songs nothing more than extended workouts on their instrument of choice, and this makes for, dare I say it, boring music. There are exceptions. “Orbiter” has a really nice and cohesive melody, quite a spacey (unsurprisingly) feel to it, and its followup, “Enter the core” is good too, sort of cinema music. This is when LMR don't annoy me, when they make good music together and give you something you can hum, or at least remember. I don't want an album of jams thanks. I'm no fan of any of these three, though I do recognise the massive contribution Tony Levin has made, to this genre and others. But even with my favourite bands, an album of improvisational music does not interest me, and for the most part this is how this comes across to me.

“Ignorant elephant”, on the other hand, is another of those let's-see-what-we-can-come-up-with-if-we-all-just-play sort of deals, and it bugs the hell out of me. It's fast and vibrant but generally speaking it's totally directionless and very frustrating. “Lakeshore lights”, on the other hand, is a jaunty, upbeat tune with a real radio airplay appeal, if the radio played instrumental music. Some great guitar work from Minnemann as he more or less takes the tune, but “Dancing feet” is a little too loose and experimental for my tastes. Sort of a new-wave/krautrock thing going there. The closer is an eight-minute effort which goes by the title of “Service engine” Driven on heavy bass and guitar it's okay and has the most proggy feel of any of the tracks here but for some insane reason, after playing sixty minutes of instrumental music, they suddenly decide to start singing in the last two! Why? What's the point? I also don't know who's handling the minimal vocals, but I have to admit, I don't care.

TRACKLISTING

1. Marcopolis
2. Twitch
3. Frumious banderfunk
4. The blizzard
5. Mew
6. Afa vulu
7. Descent
8. Scrod
9. Orbiter
10. Enter the core
11. Ignorant elephant
12. Lakeshore lights
13. Dancing feet
14. Service engine

If there's one thing this album proves to me it's that it can be dangerous, even counterproductive to get too many massive egos in the one recording studio. Little of this sounds like a collaborative effort to me at all --- most of the time it's like each is trying to outdo the other a la ELP --- and the end result is a pretty boring, fragmented and ultimately pointless album.

I expected to give this a low rating, and indeed I find that all I can find it in my heart to award this useless exercise in ego-stroking is a very low 2/10.

And I honestly don't think it even deserves that.

Ooh! It's good to be back!
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Old 11-12-2014, 07:15 PM   #2513 (permalink)
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Just got my hands on this, and want to give it some decent listens before I review it. Stand by for a full report very shortly. Is it worth it? Well I'm getting it off Spotify so, you know, yeah: it's worth paying nothing! But there are like three versions of it. If you're going to buy, is it worth shelling out for the extras? Is it even worth paying for the standard album? And is it really a total ripoff or are we being too harsh on the remaining Floyds?

All these questions, and many more you didn't ask, will be answered soon, in my full and frank review of the final ever Pink Floyd album.
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Old 11-12-2014, 07:46 PM   #2514 (permalink)
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Good lord, you're at the bottom end of this? Sounds like about where Urban is with his Doctor Who thread.
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Old 11-13-2014, 02:55 AM   #2515 (permalink)
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Good lord, you're at the bottom end of this? Sounds like about where Urban is with his Doctor Who thread.
You mean the top 100? Yeah I know. I could have been further along if I'd only concentrated on those albums and not done Metal Month II, but I didn't want to alienate anyone from my journal who wasn't into prog, so I had to do other stuff too. Just think of me as this guy

though older, of course!
I may take my time getting there, but I always get there and the journey is usually worth it.

Speaking of slow progress, ahem, Voyager? Tappity-tappity-tap....
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Old 11-13-2014, 02:30 PM   #2516 (permalink)
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Actually I meant that you must be in the sewage of prog rock.
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Old 11-17-2014, 05:10 PM   #2517 (permalink)
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It’s certainly been a while since I shook ma groove thang or got down with myself in a funkadelic situation (stop it, Trollheart: you’re embarrassing yourself and others!) but now it’s time to try to get two more soul albums in before the yuelide festivities crash down upon us like, well, a big crashing thing. The last time --- which was the first time --- I looked into this genre, a minefield for me and very much a strange and alien world, I played it safe and picked two icons, Benson and Vandross. This time out, though I know no more now than I did then about soul, I'd like to try stretching a little and feature two artistes who, while well known to soul fans may not be all that famous outside of their own genre. Both had hits, certainly, but in the case of one it was a long time ago and in the case of the other, well, let's just say a certain bald drummer kind of stole the limelight on his hit single...

I always wondered what Tavares meant. Now I know. It's actually the surname of all the bandmembers, brothers all, in a move that was quite popular back in the seventies, as bands like The Jackson Five, The Osmonds and the Pointer Sisters all used their family name. Although they had a string of hit singles Tavares peaked and then sort of fell away, and while most of them still play today, I'd venture to suggest they're more popular as a nostalgia act than anything else. A place on the soundtrack and an actual performance in the movie “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977 raised their profile considerably, but in 1982, after their ninth and tenth albums failed to chart, their record company, Capitol, dumped them and their last two albums were recorded on the RCA label.

Like many soul bands of their time, Tavares straddled the worlds of pop music, disco and even r&B but to me, from what little I heard of them, ended up sounding like anyone from The Real Thing to The Drifters; to me, most if not all soul bands sounded very much the same, and while that's I'm sure a terrible and unfair generalisation, in the seventies and eighties I shrank from the disco/funk/soul explosion in the charts and bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, Shakatak and later the likes of M People just left me pretty much cold. Probably still do and will, but I said I'd give soul a chance here, so here's its chance.

To be as fair as I can to Tavares, I'm not taking any of their albums that have the well-known singles, which all came out in the early to mid seventies, and am instead looking at one which comes at the kind of tail-end of their success, which carried them through four albums up to almost the end of the 1970s. This was said to have been their least successful album, their first without some sort of hit single. In fact, contrary to every album prior, it made no impact on any chart at all. So at least I can't be accused of grabbing their most successful or well known album!

Love uprising --- Tavares --- 1980 (Capitol)
One thing that interests --- well, disappoints me is that I see there are no writing credits here for any of the five Tavares brothers. However, looking back (and indeed forward) this appears to have always been the case. Tavares don't seem to have been a band who wrote their own material, which I'm afraid is always a big black mark against any artiste in my book. Sure, you can be a good singer or guitar player or keyboardist, but if you're singing or playing someone else's music I never feel the real heart is there, the passion and the sincerity. Of course, what do I know? I couldn't write a song to save my life. But it always seems to me that those who write and sing their own music have more of a feel for it, give you the impression they believe what they're singing, and not just parrotting someone else's words.

Oh wait, I'm wrong. I see two of the songs were co-written by Feliciano and one also had Perry helping out. Nevertheless, out of a total of eleven tracks that's not much, and as I say their previous albums don't seem to have had any input from any of the Tavareses at all. And speaking of nothing at all, would you believe neither Spotify nor Groovyshark have this album? I can't find it on YouTube either, so in desperation (what? No I didn't buy it! You think I'm made of airports?) I've looked for each track singly on YouTube and I think I've found most if not all of them.

So then, were these guys all about the singles or was there more depth to their music? How did an album without any hit singles, and failing to chart, measure up against the more successful fare from their heyday? Only one way to find out...

Flute seems to feature a lot in seventies/eighties soul, horns too and “Only one I need to love” is I guess a mid-paced funk tune, with female backing vocals that work well, and a jazzy, sort of congo beat. I think, though I may of course not be right, that EWF popularised those peppy horns in soul tunes, at least that's where I first heard them. Guitars for me always seem to be underused in soul, though again as I say I haven't listened to enough of the genre to make that claim, but it does seem that they tend to operate more as a backup or rhythm instrument than lead, allowing keys and horns to take precedence.

Percussion, too, is more involved it would seem in soul than many other genres, and by involved I mean intricate. Often a drummer just keeps, drives or creates the rhythm, against which the rest of the band play, and that's fine. But in soul it seems the patterns are more complicated, more diverse, more ... musical than in other genres. Anyway while I've been waffling on about things I know nothing about we've moved on to “Break down for love”, which is a slightly higher tempo song, with nice vocal harmonies, but I have to say nothing terribly special. It's one of the two songs Feliciano works on, but there's nothing there to demonstrate to me that he's a good songwriter.

I can see the truth in the perception of Tavares having been more a disco band than a true soul one; most of this would be very comfortable on the dancefloor, in the clubs, but I can't see or hear anything particularly memorable about it. I remember songs by The Stylistics, Supremes and Temptations, songs that made an impression. To me, these songs sort of just pass the time, musical wallpaper, nothing that sticks in the mind. Even the title track has a very Earth, Wind and Fire feel to it, boppy again yes but little in it is standing out to me. Could be any of the few soul bands I've heard in my life, including the aforementioned EWF. Well, let's see if I can say anything complimentary rather than just bitching and sniping all the time. The guitar is good, very funky and the horns are used well, and as ever the female backing vocals are effective. The song's very repetitive though. Very. To the point where it gets boring really.

It's also way too long: five and a half minutes for a song that changes little if at all over the course of its length? Just makes it worse. Definitely not impressed so far. Nice little organ run there, but I have to wonder now are those female vocals or are the guys just a bit falsetto? If there are backing vox then they're almost taking over this song. On we go anyway, to the first ballad, “Loneliness”, which does for the first time up the game considerably. Nice sweeping orchestral style synth, tinkling piano and a very powerful vocal from, well, I guess one of the Tavareses, not sure which one in a quartet who all sing. Kind of reminds me of the Chi-lites in places. Very smooth.

“Knock the wall down” is next. Does it? Well in a way yeah it does: very Crusaders vibe about it, both the guitar and the horns, sounds like something Phil Collins would rob and record as his own. It certainly qualifies as groovy, man. “Hot love” has that sort of Carribean style about it but keeps the tempo high, hopping along nicely, sounds like there may be violins in there, but maybe they're on the synth. Probably the most energetic of the songs on the album so far, and certainly my favourite, even given that there has been a ballad. I really like this. There's some very squibbly keyboards in “Don't wanna say goodnight”, which I had assumed would be another ballad but isn't. A funky dancy number, with squealing horns and congo-ish drums. Not bad, but after “Hot love” it's something of a let-down. Ditto for “Do you believe in love”, which again has ballad written all over it but is a mid-paced funkster. It's okay but I think we reached the tipping point of the album with “Hot love” and though it hasn't quite all been downhill since there, it's hard to see anything as good coming along.

Yeah. “She can wait forever” just continues the slide into basic mediocrity. Lovely bassline and some fine sprinkly piano, but it's definitely missing something. Just boring as hell. I had a really hard time tracking down the penultimate track, but it seems to have been worth it. “In this lovely world” has a sweet motown blues feel to it; not sure if it would qualify as a ballad, but it's close. Has the horns I remember from “What the world needs now” and a really nice melody to it. I couldn't find this on YouTube, or even Daily Motion, looked for the track on Grooveshark, no luck. Eventually found it squashed in on one of their many hits anthologies via Spotify. Definite competition for “Hot love” as standout, but it's a little late and it's a small comfort among the very ordinary and often tedious bland material I've had to listen to here.

The closer may also prove elusive. No, it doesn't. It proves untraceable. “A lifetime of love” can't be found anywhere, not even as a greatest hits track, so I can't tell you anything about it, but I hope it closed the album decently and helped “Love uprising” to rally right at the end. It's certainly an album that needed a good shot in the arm. Okay, I managed to catch the first sixty seconds of it as a sample and can confidently say it plunges the album back into the depths of so-so-ness. Very bad closer unless it drastically changes over the remaining two minutes. Should have finished up with the previous track.

TRACKLISTING
1. Only one I need to love
2. Break down for love
3. Love uprising
4. Loneliness
5. Knock the wall down
6. Hot love
7. Don't wanna say goodnight
8. Do you believe in love
9. She can wait forever
10. In this lonely world
11. Lifetime of love

Tavares have not impressed me. This album is very very ordinary and very generic, almost a how-to for someone attempting a soul/disco record. There's little that stands out about it and the few decent tracks are very few indeed. I'm not surprised there were no hits from this, and I'm not surprised that after giving them one more chance to improve, Capitol dumped them when sales of their next album mirrored the disappointing performance of this one.

They may have been big once, but what this album shows is a band who were very quickly losing it, and seemed really not all that bothered. Perhaps they knew the end was nigh, and it was: their last album was released in 1983, and though it did much better than this one, they called it a day and that was it for the Tavares brothers. An unfortunate example of the reasons why soul does not generally appeal to me, though of course I know there is much more to it. Speaking of which...

Our next artiste then comes from one of arguably the greatest and most successful soul bands ever, Earth, Wind and Fire. Not only that, but since going solo he has collaborated with George Duke, Kenny Loggins, Pat Metheny and of course Phil Collins. Say hi to


As I said, a longstanding member of EWF, Philip Bailey was with them almost from the beginning, joining in 1972, two years after they had formed, and apart from a three-year absence from 1984-1987, has been with them ever since, and still is, having scaled the heights to the position of leader of the band. He is an accomplished singer as well as drummer, the congas being his weapon of choice, and is of course best known outside of the genre for his teamup with Genesis's Phil Collins, where the single “Easy lover” gave the duo a number one smash, and adding a Grammy nomination to the seven awards he already has.

His best known solo album is “Chinese wall”, but again that would be too easy, so instead I'm going beyond that, to take a look at this one. I wanted to do “Family affair”, released in 1989, but I see that it's described as a gospel album, and while I have nothing against gospel, this is called “Soul II Soul”, so instead we're leaping ten years ahead of that album, and fifteen years after “Chinese wall”, to a point where Bailey had at this point been singing and playing professionally for twenty-two years.

Dreams --- Philip Bailey --- 1999 (Heads Up International Records)
This is then Bailey's ninth solo album, not counting a gospel “best of”, and it opens on “Waiting for the rain”, with a suitably soft and sprinkly piano, some nice flute and a gentle, relaxing beat. Some nice classical guitar also supports Bailey's honeyed tones with some fine backing vocals too. There are a total of twenty musicians, including Bailey, performing on this album, few of which I know, other than the great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. It's a nice start though, and leads into one of four covers, this one being Van Morrison's “Moondance”. He does a really good job with it, giving it a feel of the islands, a laidback but yet uptempo beat that just conjures up crystal blue oceans and stars in the sky as the palm trees sway gently in the moonlit breeze. Nice saxophone action on this, gives it a lazy and smoky feel. I've never been a fan of Morrison, but this version puts a nice new slant on one of the few songs of his that I do know.

One of three songs written solo by keyboard player and co-producer Eric Huber, --- he also wrote the opener ---“Dream like I do” is a nice ballad, with a sort of popping percussion that reminds me of Collins's “Through these walls” and some nice but very sugary digital piano allied to some low-down mournful sax. I can't say I love it, as it sounds like it was written to be a single, but it's all right. Kind of reminds me of the sort of thing boyband after boyband would write in the following century. Surely not good for you, all that saccharin! It's followed by another Huber composition, imaginatively titled “Something”, which immediately gets on my bad side by having a reggae rhythm. Sigh. It's not much to write home about, with a mid-paced funk feel to it and Bailey's distinctive falsetto, some interesting sort of talkbox guitar, but a bit lacking in ideas I feel.

Two cover versions follow, the first being Bread's smash hit “Make it with you”, given the full soul treatment, with opening on alto sax, then a nice jazzy piano (Fender Rhodes?) with a pulsing bassline. Of course, I don't think anyone can ever compare to the original, but it's a decent effort. Kind of lacks the heart and passion of David Gates, but then, what version doesn't? The falsetto gets a little wearing at times, if I'm honest. I'm not familiar with Earth Wind and Fire's catalogue outside the singles and the one album I listened to for my “Classic albums” journal, but this is their song and “Sailaway” is pretty damn righteous. Great rippling piano, perfect vocals and backing vocals, plus a sax solo to die for. Superb. Best yet on the album. And no Eric fucking Huber involved. Just as well too; I didn't like any of the songs he wrote for our man Philip.

Oh, my mistake: there are five cover versions on this album, as everyone knows “The masquerade is over”, showtune by Herb Magidson, and it's up next. Have to say, it stands head, shoulders and another full body above everything here, even the previous EWF cover. Sounds like something Waits would cover: just listen to that walking bass, the wailing sax, the bouncy piano. If “Sailaway” was superb then this is double superb. Love this, but I have a sneaking feeling it's going to be the last decent track on the album. Hope I'm wrong. Maybe I am. Good to see Philip break out of the falsetto for this song too, a welcome change. Rather appropriately, the next track is called “Are we doing better now” and reminds me of Al Jarreau, lot of funky organ and a sort of shuffle beat. It's not bad, but to answer the question in the song's title, no, not really. It's probably the jazziest of the songs on the album, but you know me, and I don't consider that a good thing. I should however mention that it's one of only two original tracks on which Bailey has songwriting input.

That leaves us with two tracks, the first a cover version, the final one on the album, and it's of Pat Metheny's “Something to remind you”, with the great man himself guesting on guitar. Again, it shines among the, not quite dross, but largely unappealing and quite bland fare on this album. I guess really it's more like just including a Metheny song on the album, but Bailey does a very good job on the vocals. It's a slow, smouldering number with a real laidback lounge feeling, and we close on “Strength to love you”, the other song he helped write, along with Sir Bailey (his brother?) and Robert Brookins --- the same team in fact that wrote “Are we doing better now”. It's a vast, vast improvement on that song, with a wailing sax intro that then falls into a sweet soft soul groove and ends up closing the album really well, giving it the strong finish I had hoped for, but not really expected, though to be totally fair that is also down to Mister Metheny.

TRACKLISTING
1. Waiting for the rain
2. Moondance
3. Dream like I do
4. Something
5. Make it with you
6. Sailaway
7. The masquerade is over
8. Are we doing better now
9. Something to remind you
10. Strength to love you

Although this is his ninth album so you can forgive I guess some indulgence, I'm disappointed that there were so many covers --- half the album in fact consists of non-original songs. Of those that are original, some are good, some are very good and some are ... not so good. I'm aware that I'm probably after hitting Bailey at a bad time, chose the wrong album, but that's the chance you take when you just jump right in. Also with all the gospel records he had my options were a little limited. But for what it is this is not a bad album, and I'd certainly rate it far above the effort from Tavares.
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Old 11-17-2014, 05:13 PM   #2518 (permalink)
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So how do I feel after my second foray into the world of soul? Well I always had a sneaking admiration for Earth, Wind and Fire, even as I denounced them as a “poxy disco band” in my youth. Tracks like “September”, “Fantasy” and “After the love has gone” certainly stuck in my head, and although their debut album failed to impress me, I knew enough about them to be able to make an educated guess at how I would receive Philip Bailey's solo material. Tavares the same: I knew them from their hit singles, but as I said in the review of their album, up to now I was unaware they were even related, never mind brothers. Of the two, I would definitely prefer Bailey and if his album had started on track five I would have liked it a lot better, but what does that say when, of those six closing tracks, four of them are cover versions, one of which is of his own band? How does that speak to his competence or success as a solo artist, if he has to rely on other people's music?

Of course, this is just one album, and it could be that Bailey writes all his own material for his other recordings, I don't know. This is just a quick glance at his music and I have no right to be labelling him as someone who survives on the talent of others, which I'm sure is not the case. But “Dreams” did not, sadly, afford me the opportunity I had hoped for, to judge Philip Bailey in his own right, and while perhaps a bad choice, it's done now and all I can say is that I can see definite flashes of brilliance, but they're too sporadic for me to say that yes, this is a soul artiste I could really get into. As for Tavares? Well having heard that album --- which again, I concede, is held to be one of their weaker efforts --- I have no real desire to listen to them again.

For now, the search goes on.
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Old 11-17-2014, 07:49 PM   #2519 (permalink)
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Earth, Wind & Fire are pretty righteous. Not to mention that they wrote some absolutely killer songs (including 'After The Love Is Gone') in collaboration with Westcoast-AOR gods David Foster and Jay Graydon, all of whom will be getting a spotlight in my upcoming Yacht Rock-oriented journal.

As far as Phillip Bailey goes, I think a lot of people mostly know him from the song 'Easy Lover' that he cooked up with Phil Collins and the ever-prolific bassist Nathan East. Good tune.

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Old 11-18-2014, 01:07 PM   #2520 (permalink)
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It's tough when a band breaks up. Tough on their fans, and tough on them. Whether it's an enforced end, such as with Ronnie James Dio dying, an unforeseen end as in Genesis, or indeed a planned lowering of the curtain like REM decided to do, it's the end of a era and quite possibly signals the end, to many people, of an association they have had for most of their lives. In some ways, it's probably like a death (sometimes, of course, it is exactly that), or the worst break-up you've ever had, and there's no going back, usually. It's not you, it's them.

Then there are the albums that get released after the band or artiste has finished recording forever. Unreleased material. Newly discovered tracks, unfinished songs. Enough to squeeze out a whole new album after the artiste has died, or retired. Posthumous albums --- whether released after an actual death or just the end of the artiste's career --- are always a little hard to take. They can have a certain creepy quality, as you realise you're listening to the words and/or music of a man, woman or band who in many cases is no longer alive.

Although still with us, the corpse of Pink Floyd has been floating down the (endless) river for some time now, just waiting for someone to fish it out and give it the decent burial it deserves. There are those (and they are many and vociferous) who will tell you that Floyd died when founder and creative light Roger Waters left them in the acrimonious split to end all acrimonious splits in 1985, and indeed even before that, “The Wall” was 99% his vision and his project and the last album to feature him, “The final cut”, featured so little input from the other two members (and none at all from Richard Wright) that it may as well have been his solo album in all but name. Shortly after that he left the band to pursue that solo career, and Pink Floyd were considered all but dead.

But I'm one of the few (hah) that enjoyed the two non-Waters Floyd albums that followed his departure, and while 1987's “A momentary lapse of reason” and 1994's “The division bell” can't in fairness hold a candle to albums like “Wish you were here”, “Animals” or “Dark side of the moon”, I thought they were pretty cool. I've always been one of those who refuse to cry “Band X is no use without singer Y!” I went through the trauma of Fish parting ways with Marillion, got used to Genesis without Gabriel and enjoyed an Ozzy-less Sabbath. To me, a band is more than just a singer or a frontman, and those who whine that the band will never be the same without the main vocalist and/or creator/founder are I think doing that band a great disservice. And so it was that I was prepared to accept Floyd after Waters, and though it was odd to hear the songs without his distinctive, tortured voice, I thought Gilmour did a decent job. But when the final notes faded away on “High hopes” as “The division bell” came to an end, I, like probably everybody else, believed we were hearing the very last music ever to be released by this band which was now a shadow of its former self. With the death of Richard Wright in 2008, I mourned and thought well that is definitely it: they can't come back now. It's over.

But it isn't over.

Or is it? When news broke of a “new” Pink Floyd album there was of course a flurry of expectations and my own emotions went from disbelief to joy to finally settle on suspicion as the details began to filter through. Not so much a new album then as a collection of studio outtakes and cutting-room floor debris from the sessions for the last “proper” Floyd album. But the obvious question came up: if this material was not deemed good enough to find its way onto “The division bell”, why was it now thought suitable for release? What had changed? All right, the story goes that much of the music that appears on “The endless river” was composed by Wright, and Gilmour and Mason wanted to create a sort of tribute to him, and that's all right as far as it goes. But to announce it as a new album? Was that not pushing it ever so slightly?

I'm reminded uncomfortably (numb) of a comment Gilmour made in the book “Comfortably numb: the inside story of Pink Floyd” when speaking of the making of “The final cut”. He asked, “If these songs (the ones being considered for “The final cut” which had been part of the sessions for “The Wall” but had not made it) were not good enough for “The Wall”, why are they good enough now?” Indeed, David. Indeed. A question we must all have been asking ourselves about this new project.

So are they? Good I mean. It's a perfectly valid question: if, when making what should have been their final album, Gilmour, Wright and Mason discarded these pieces of music (can't really call them songs) then why should they be considered acceptable not only to be released now, twenty years later, but to form the basis of a so-called “new” Pink Floyd album? Have the guys suddenly realised they were after all better than they believed they were in 1994, or is it really just that they want to honour their fallen bandmate by presenting to the world music he wrote but which never saw the light of day, until now?

Or, indeed, as many have hinted and I have to also ask, is this new album, the last ever from Pink Floyd --- and we have that officially: no Eagles “Hell freezes over” ambiguity here! --- nothing more than an exercise in cynicism and money-grabbing, a last chance to make some cash off the hard-pressed fans in this troubled economy? And if so, shouldn't the remaining members of Pink Floyd hang their heads in shame, having already broken records by releasing arguably the biggest attempt to rip fans off with their “Immersion” boxsets, each of which contained approximately SIX discs PER ALBUM and cost in the region of 100 EURO EACH! Sure, nobody put a gun to anyone's head and forced them to buy the sets, but if, as a diehard Floyd fan, you had to have these, then even for the main albums you're looking at shelling out over a THOUSAND Euro! That's bigtime rip-off in my book, I don't care what anyone says.

So if, as one of these diehard fans, you outlaid the money on these sets in 2011, what would you expect from a new Pink Floyd album? I'd venture to say it would not be rehashed, re-recorded half songs that were not deemed good enough for the recording of “The division bell”. But that's what you get, and as this is your final ever chance to hear new (!) Pink Floyd music, do you buy the album and take a chance, or refuse to be the instrument by which Dave Gilmour buys a new house or Nick Mason adds to his classic car collection? This is Pink Floyd's final ever album, their swan song, as I note above, but is it one worth hearing? Or to put it another way, in the words of the ever-witty and acerbic humoured Urban, is this “The endless river” or “The endless pension”? After all this waffle --- over a thousand words before we even get to the review, but that's me for you --- and two decades, it's time to find out.

The Endless River --- Pink Floyd --- 2014 (Parlophone)

The first thing I'm struck by, despite the album's filching of the last few words of “High hopes”, is the echoes (hah, again!) of 1987's “A momentary lapse of reason”. That album began with the sound of a man rowing, and here on the cover of this album we see ... a man rowing. Well, punting, but it's very close. So the themes of rivers has been something flowing (sorry, sorry) through the post-Waters Floyd, has it? Well, no not really. Other than those two songs, which reference waters (ah, I know: sorry, I couldn't resist!) there's no real connection, but when you look incidentally at the tracklisting for both albums there are song titles there, many of which could refer to this album and its release: “What do you want from me?” might be an idea of Gilmour's frustration at some of the reviews of the album, though if he's surprised at its reception then he should not be. “Poles apart”? Sure. “High hopes”, certainly, though probably in vain. Not to mention “Coming back to life” and, er, “Lost for words”. As for “A momentary lapse”? Well “A new machine” is a possible link, as is “Yet another movie”, but in reality I think the closing track from that album sums up a lot of feelings about the direction this has gone. Yeah, “Sorrow” more or less covers it.

But in all this analysis and all these clever, self-congratulatory comments, has the music itself become lost, relegated to the sidelines, a bit player destined to be overlooked as critics argue back and forth about the merits of releasing an album of basically extra tracks from a twenty-year-old recording session? Well not here anyway. Grab a set of oars, make sure your lifejacket is inflated, and take your seasick pills if you need them, cos we're climbing on board and we're going in.

Well, ambient they say it would be and ambient is definitely the feeling as “Things left unsaid” opens with a spacey keyboard and spoken words, sort of putting me in mind of the start of “Dark side of the moon”, then one big bouncy echoey drumbeat before the keys go into a melody that this time reminds me of “Signs of life” from “A Momentary lapse of reason”. Gilmour's guitar comes in then, moaning and crying like a violin as the spacey atmospheric soundscape continues to pulse behind him, but it's now clear that, as ever, Gilmour is in charge and standing in the spotlight. In much the same way as, in the beginning, “Shine on you crazy diamond” rode on Wright's keyboard, but once Gilmour broke in he took the tune over, so too here he stands astride the piece like an undeniable colossus. Some really nice organ from the ghostly fingers of Wright before we're pulled into “It's what we do”. Gilmour has said that this album is not for “the itunes, download-a-song generation” and needs to be listened to in one sitting, and you can see the intention there as the music all drifts together, one piece flowing seamlessly into the next, so that it's almost like one long symphony. However, it's hard to forgive the second track being basically the closing section of “Shine on” polished (sorry) up and extended. I do love the classic song --- who doesn't? --- but this is something of a cop-out. If these are unused tunes from the “Division Bell” sessions, why is such old material here? There are echoes of “Welcome to the machine” too, particularly in Gilmour's chords. It drifts right back to the “Shine on” theme though, and as the piece comes to an end you're really waiting for Gilmour to sing “Remember when you were young”...

It's great music, there's no doubt about that. It's just that it is, generally, music we've heard before, and many years ago in most cases. “Ebb and flow” sounds very close to the last few moments of “Shine on, you crazy diamond, Part IX” stretched out to an unnecessary and in some cases unsustainable two minutes almost, and while there are lovely organ and synth touches from Wright, as well as of course superb piano, it's a bit of a non-event. More looking back to “Signs of life” then for “Sums”, throwing in some effects used in “Welcome to the machine” with some shimmery keyboard before finally we get a proper attack from Gilmour as his guitar screams in fury at having been held back so long, but again it's “Welcome to the machine” all over again. It's a great guitar piece, sure, and it reminds us what a god Gilmour is, but have the idol's feet turned to clay? There's nothing very new or innovative here. In fact, I'm surprised to say that we're now four tracks in and I don't hear anything resembling any track from “The division bell”, nothing that could have been considered for that album, as this is supposed to be.

Oddly, though this is all on one disc, Floyd (one assume Gilmour) seem to have published it almost as a double LP, with track sets broken up into "sides", like they used to be. Nostalgia rearing its head perhaps, or another attempt to make people feel they're purchasing an original Pink Floyd record? Hmm. At any rate, quickly then we pass into “Skins”, where Mason gets to unleash his expertise on the sticks, almost a drum solo with Gilmour adding little flourishes here and there. Only just over two and a half minutes but my lest favourite on the album so far. As Vim Fuego said in “Bad News”, can't stand drum solos. Then with more “Shine on” descending keys we're into “Unsung”, a mere minute of almost trancey keyboard with guitar screeching over it, reminiscent of “The Wall” I feel, as “Anisina” closes out "side two", sounding to me unaccountably like The Alan Parsons Project's “Time”. Weird. Very piano driven, nice tune, and at least it doesn't sound like any previous Floyd recording. The first one I've actually enjoyed on the album. Sounds like it has sax on it too: yeah, definitely sax, courtesy of Israeli jazz hornman Gilad Atzmon. Very stirring and dramatic.

Of the seven tracks that follow ("side three"), six are less than two minutes and three, weirdly, are exactly 1:43. Not only that, but they're the first three. “The lost art of conversation” has a deep, luscious synth and Gilmour's high-pitched guitar, but then settles down to allow Wright's sumptuous piano to drive it. It is however only getting going when it's over, and “On Noodle Street” carries the tune into a sort of Knopfleresque slow boogie, with Gilmour coming much more to the fore and Guy Pratt filling in really well for Waters, as he has done for some time now. Electric piano from Wright comes in before “Night light” returns the spotlight to the man on the frets, and again we're back shining on, you crazy diamond, with a slight, almost Genesisesque twist in the melody.

“Allons-y (1) gives us “Run like Hell” revisited, with Gilmour cranking up the guitar and the tempo, Mason's drumming much more animated and the organ from Wright pretty much pushed into the background. It's derivative, incredibly and annoyingly so, but at least it kicks the album up the arse and gives you something to tap your fingers to, if not shake your head. In other words, it lifts the album out of the quiet, soporific torpor it has been sliding into and delivers something of a punch from an album that seemed to be falling asleep. An almost Bach-like organ takes “Autumn '68”, slowing things back down with a feeling of Pink Floyd meets Vangelis before we move into “Allons-y (2)”, which builds a lush soundscape on the synth, then kicks up into another memorable Floyd piece, kind of more “Run like Hell” really. Then we have the pretty godawful (and terribly titled) “Talkin' Hawkin'”, which is essentially the spoken parts from “Keep talking” extended, backed with a slow organ melody, the first appearance of those iconic Pink Floyd female backing vocals so associated with Waters and never, to my recollection, used after he departed. Nice guitar work certainly, but I could do without the Professor droning on. I didn't like it on “Keep talking” and I certainly don't like the extended version. It's also very badly mixed, (the only one that is, and it's so odd it stands out) as Glimour's guitar and indeed Mason's drumming often overpower the spoken parts, making it hard to make out what is being said, which is pretty ironic for a song so titled.

And so we move into the final part of the album, or “side four”, with a strange little ambient beginning to “Calling”, then some moaning guitar and thick bass before the keys rise into the mix and an almost arabic passage takes the tune. More nice understated piano, then guitar surfaces like some beast out of the depths. As the piece nears its end it drops back to soft piano, choral vocals and slow, echoey drumming and takes us into “Eyes to pearls”, a definite vehicle for the strumming guitar work of Gilmour, but very –-and I mean very --- close in melody to Marillion's “Berlin”. Spooky. Rushing, crashing percussion washes over the tune and carries us away, and we find ourselves “Surfacing”, with acoustic guitar and more “Shine on” closing parts, with echoes of “Your possible pasts” there if you listen for them closely enough, or are as anal as I am.

There is some lovely interplay between Gilmour and Wright here though, and I'd probably class this as my second favourite, one of the longer tracks at just shy of three minutes. Personally, I think both in title, mood and music this would have been the perfect track to end the album on, but this is seen as a new Pink Floyd album after all, the last one ever, and the record companies will have their pound of flesh (“We're just knocked out/ We heard about the sellout”) meaning that the instrumental nature of the album has to be destroyed by a vocal song. Now while I really like “Louder than words”, it comes as something of a jarring experience after nearly forty minutes of pure music. Gilmour still has it as a vocalist though, and it's a good song, it's just it's a pity it's so transparently written as an attempt to hit the singles charts. One final sellout before you go, lads?

TRACKLISTING

1. Things left unsaid
2. It's what we do
3. Ebb and flow
4. Sums
5. Skins
6. Unsung
7. Anisina
8. The lost art of conversation
9. On Noodle Street
10. Night light
11. Allons-y (1)
12. Autumn '68
13. Allons-y (2)
14. Talkin' Hawkin'
15. Calling
16. Eyes to pearls
17. Surfacing
18. Louder than words
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