27 March 2013

A Space Oddity?

I picked up Cosmograf's latest album The Man Left in Space, on a bit of a whim. A few people I know said it was pretty darn tootin' and that I should check it out (they also said that about Lifesigns, the less said about that the better). Anyhow, a prog concept album about a stranded astronaut, what could there be not to like?

Well, it is not really a concept album about a stranded astronaut (boo!). It has more high brow concepts about "exploring the themes of aspiration, achievement, and the failures that our quest sometimes brings" through the analogy of a man left behind in space on a mission to save mankind (or something like that). Personally I would have been happy with a stranded astronaut and evocative song titles like The Vacuum That I Fly Through and When The Air Runs Out lend themselves to this but the more esoteric concepts don't hurt the album.

Musically the album is very solid. Reminiscent of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd in places, there are some wonderful moments here with excellent guitar and keyboard.  At times it rocks out, at others it gets a bit funky, sometimes it is just atmospheric keyboard sweeps. Lovely. Lyrically though it sometimes clunks...

By and large the lyrics are fine but odd bits like Beautiful Treadmill (?) and rhyming "last man in space" with "human race" sounds as subtle as a brick through a windscreen, which is a big shame as by and large the writing is well thought out, thought provoking and flows nicely. Like a good book needs an editor, good albums need a producer and I believe it should not be the songwriter as they are too close to the creative process and cannot take that step back to see if their baby has flaws.

That said I would not let that put you off, the plusses of The Man Left in Space  by far outweigh the odd minuses and I am certainly enjoying listening to the album, especially Aspire, Achieve and This Naked Endeavour, which are my stand out tracks.

14 March 2013

Sit And Chew On Daffodils...

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Marillion's Script For A Jester's Tear. Writing that makes me feel somewhat old! Script is an important album in my record collection as it introduced me to prog, not that I really appreciated that at the time. My musical taste in the late seventies and early eighties had been centred around the classic heavy rock of albums like Rainbow Rising, the emergence of NWOBHM classics like Number of the Beast and Wheels of Steel. Bands like Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson etc didn't feature.* Script changed that...

Listening back to the album it clearly has flaws but its still has a power and emotion about it that enchants. Fans of seventies Genesis claim the music is highly derivative, it may be but I don't hear it. The reason for that is the lyrics. Full of passion, pathos and anger, Fish is a superb wordsmith and every song here has moments that make the hairs stand up on my neck.

The title track weeps sadness of love lost, Garden Party spits sacrasm at the silver spoon brigade, Chelsea Monday resonates with pathos of a life wasted and Forgotten Sons, the piece de resistance in my opinion, fires off salvoes of bottled up anger at the wasted lives in the Northern Ireland Troubles. Show me a Genesis album with any of that...

So tonight I'm sitting chewing daffodils behind the hull of my Saracen armoured car, playing Script For A Jester's Tear and toasting it for introducing me to a genre, and bands and songs I love, that may have passed me by.

* Pink Floyd were the exception but everyone bought The Wall and The Final Cut (also thirty years old) spoke to me as one of Maggie's millions. I didn't realise that was "prog" but in the early eighties rock fans liked everything from Marillion to Metallica and were not obsessed with sub-genre labels.

8 March 2013

To Boldly Go...

Although Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is Spock's Beard's eleventh studio album it does mark a new stage in their evolution featuring Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan on vocals and drums respectively replacing Nick D'Virgilio, drummer with the band since 1992 and lead singer since 2002.

The band have used crowd funding site Indiegogo to fund the album and whilst we now wait for the physical CD to be pressed and shipped the band have released the album as a download for funders.

As is de rigueur these days there is a standard seven track version of the album and a special edition with a five track bonus disc. However, unlike many bonus discs featuring demo songs and outtakes I venture that this is one well worth getting as all bar one of the songs are unique and all are very good.

The basic album is very good. If you are a Spock's fan it hits all the right spots, Leonard sings well and was trusted enough to pen the opening song Hiding Out. Long in the tooth fans will be pleased to note that Neal Morse contributes his song writing skills to two songs and some guitar on one. The songs are all are quality with Something Very Strange the stand out track for me. Great melodies that grow on you and the sound is unmistakably Spock's Beard.

The bonus disc sees the band push the envelope a bit and allowing for the fact that two new band members led them to possibly play it a little safe on the main album, there is some interesting material on the second disc. Wish I Were Here with its wonderful guitar riff put me in mind of Kula Shaker and Down A Burning Road has some lovely Gary Moore style guitar soloing both stand out for me.

7 March 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes?

Over the past couple of years Steven Wilson has become a god. Not literally of course, but prog journalists hang on his every proclamation and laud his latest releases with a plethora of increasingly glowing superlatives. This has led to prog fans follow raving about his latest "classic" release and it seems to suggest otherwise is heresy. I thought the hype around Storm Corrosion would be hard to match but progworld has outdone itself with his new album The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), such is the level of praise for it you'd think we'd had the Second Coming and it turned out Jesus was a Martian.

Ok, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) is not a bad album. Given the pot purri quality of both Insurgentes and Grace For Drowning, Raven is a distinct improvement. However it does not warrant the tons of praise being heaped on it.

In part it is derivative of much seventies prog. This may be intended as a homage but is bordering pastiche. Other parts echo earlier Wilson releases with sections sounding like they have been lifted direct from early Porcupine Tree albums or even been out-takes from later ones (Drive Home could be slotted straight into The Incident).

On a personal note I an not enamoured with the over use of sax on certain songs, it has never been my favourite instrument, I don't like jazz and I find it grates here. You may think differently but I like progressive rock, not progressive jazz.

Overall, not bad, a bit of a mixed bag. The title track is very atmospheric but the whole album leaves me slightly underwhelmed given all the hype. In some respects this is like Anathema and everyone raving about We're Here Because We're Here not having heard A Fine Day To Exit or A Natural Disaster. All I can say if that of you think this is good, check out the Porcupine Tree back catalogue and be blown away...