Like many of you, I “suffer” from the common “problem” that afflicts those of us who are prog fans in this, the Second Golden Age of Prog – mainly, that there is just so much good prog out there that nobody could possibly listen to it all. In short, it’s like trying to drink from a firehouse.
Happily, this “problem” has been exacerbated for me since joining this site, as I have had the good fortune to be able to borrow a number of albums I had yet to hear. As such, I’m going to write a few quick reviews (which are more like first impressions). Please pardon the lack of detail, but do remember these reviews are worth every penny you paid me to write them ;).
The Flower Kings, Banks of Eden: This is my second foray into Flower Kings territory, the first being ‘Space Revolver’ some time ago. I thought the latter album was quite good, and ‘Banks of Eden’ only reinforced my good impression of these guys. Even if there were no other good songs on the album, the hippy-dippy-trippy epic ‘Numbers’ that opens the show makes the price of admission worth it. Luckily, there are other good songs, and thus I would definitely give this album a thumbs up.
The Tangent, The Music That Died Alone: Like the previous album, this was my second encounter with The Tangent, the first being ‘Not As Good As The Book’. While I liked some of what I heard of the latter, it still seemed as something was missing. Not so with ‘The Music That Died Alone’ – this album is nothing short of fantastic. It’s basically divided into three different suites of three very different styles – but all very much prog. And they are all very successful. Personally, the opening suite, ‘In Darkest Dreams’ was my favorite of the three, your mileage may vary. I imagine that at least part of the difference in impression of the two Tangent albums mentioned here is the presence of Roine Stolt on one and his absence on the other. There is another album in my future purchase queue by this artist (COMM), so maybe I’ll find out then. Regardless, ‘The Music That Died Alone’ gets a very strong thumbs up from me.
Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited II: This one was a mixed bag for me. First of all, it should be mentioned that the album includes, in addition to the remakes of a number of Genesis classics, a few remakes of Steve Hackett solo works. In general, I don’t have anything against remakes, and many of those here have a lot of great qualities that their original counterparts lack. One aspect of the songs here that I like, relative to the originals, is the cleaner production. It seemed as if this allowed some of the nuances in the music to come forward in a way that is less apparent on the original. Where a few of the pieces suffered for me though were in the vocals. On some songs, such as Eleventh Earl of Mar (a personal favorite), I thought the vocals were just fine. However, on a few of the songs, the unavoidable comparisons with the original left them wanting. This is never more noticeable than in the closing section of ‘The Musical Box’ and the final part of ‘Suppers Ready’. On their original counterparts, Peter Gabriel’s vocals are stunningly good, incredible, and convey enough emotion to raise lethal goose bumps on listeners hearing them for the first time. On the album that is the subject of this review, the vocals are … well, not bad, but not bad is not good enough. Overall, this is a decent album of remakes, but I would probably reserve my recommendation for those that are hardcore completeists.
I and Thou, Speak: Wow. Just freakin’ WOW! Of the four albums I’m quickly reviewing here, this one is the one that impressed me the most. Listening to it, one can hear influences from past prog greats – 70’s era Genesis, ELP, and so on … and yet the music here still sounds very much original and stands very well on its own. Every single song here is its own slice of proggy goodness, and there isn’t a track here that is anything less than excellent. The members of I and Thou includes prog luminaries Steve Hogarth of Marillion and John Galgano of IZZ, among others. And to top it off, the cover painting was done by none other than prog-goddess Annie Haslam of Renaissance fame. What else could you ask for? Overall, this album gets a very strong recommendation from this author, and let’s hope it’s just the first of many great works by this fantastic new band.