First thoughts on a Prog album
It is quite good fun to try and review a song on first listening.
For one thing if it is something that you anticipate being a long time part of your music collection then it will be interesting to see how your thoughts have changed years in the future.
“Lifesigns”, the eponymous debut album, is exactly the sort of thing that warrants this kind of attention. A prog masterpiece which is gaining a huge amount of attention worldwide, selling especially well on Amazon in Japan, the USA and the UK.
Now first off I admit that this is not quite an unsigned band in the strictest sense. They are signed to Cherry Red Records‘ Esoteric Recordings label, which is the same one as The Reasoning are now signed to. However, as far as I know Cherry Red are not owned by any major label and have so far not had any major chart success, so by the criteria I originally laid down for my GUBIC competiton all those years ago they would qualify.
The band consists of John Young on keyboards and vocals, Nick Beggs bass, Chapman stick, and backing vocals, and “Frosty” Beadle on drums. The album also boasts a number of star guests, Steve Hacket, Thijs Van Leer, Jakko Jakszyk & Robin Boult.
That line up could stand a little expansion in details. My previous comments remain unchanged but these three are no strangers to the big (or at least medium) time. John Young is the same chap who heads “The John Young Band”. He has worked with a host of well known names starting off with Uli John Roth in the mid eighties and has worked with Fish and Jon Anderson among a host of others.
Nick Beggs was the bass player with Kajagoogoo so he is no stranger to major success, he also plays Chapman Stick which is by the way the BEST instrument on the planet (after the modern electronic keyboard). It is a sort of cross between a bass guitar and a lead guitar all in one. It is played more or less upright (more or less like a sitar and a good player can … well … blow everyone else away, is what they can do.
Martin “Frosty” Beedle was the drummer with “Cutting Crew” (remember “Died In Your Arms”?) so once again he knows what the big time tastes like.
First track is “Lighthouse” 12:53
which opens with mysterious sounds aplenty and develops in fine prog style. My first thoughts were of “Alan Parsons Project” in terms of the vocals, and then maybe of “Yes” in respect of the keyboard sounds. Overall the track is clearly a grower. That is NOT to say that I didn’t enjoy it on first listening merely that I didn’t get everything out of it that I know I will. There is so much to explore and develop a love for here. It ends with atmospheric rolls of thunder.
Track two is “Telephone” 9:18
The opening is more direct with an obvious beat, that vaguely nods towards something by Genesis that I can’t put my finger on. There are weaving vocals and melodic guitar and keyboard interplay. It could be said to be more commercial than the first track although none of the songs on the album are short enough to describe them as radio friendly.
“Fridge Full Of Stars” track three 11:21
starts slowly with long sustained keyboard against a backdrop of heavy sonorous rhythm like the footfall of giant pall bearers. The positively twinkling melody that comes in offsets this dirge like quality. It is far too early to try and analyse any of the lyrical content but content there is aplenty for later learning and singing along with.
Like in all the best music, the drums and bass drop out for a quiet smoke while the twinkling piano carries on; then they come back to see if all is well, and to throw in some percussion, before sneaking out for another swift pull on the roll up. And now here I suspect may be the contribution of Thijs Van Leer, since there is a gorgeous flute solo, that has all his wonderful hallmarks. (I bought the MP3 version of the album rather than the hard copy so I am unfortunately lacking the full sleeve notes) However if that is not Thijs on flute then I will buy the CD and eat it.
I would say that this album is as musical and interesting as The Reasoning’s first album. Certainly I could imagine listening to this many many times without ever getting tired of it. Thijs has finished his flauting some time ago but the track continues to amaze with definite hints towards the vocal skills of Jon Anderson here.
Track four is the shortest 8:24 and titled “At The End Of The World”
lots of echoed back backing vocals give it depth there are some quirky keyboard settings here and the complexity makes me think of Rick Wakeman although at his most introspective.
I was just about to say this is not like Wakeman’s more flamboyant stuff when the whole pace changed and gave way to something really quite fast paced and sounding like a Moog! Ha ha.
The vocals come back after this and it is all at the rock end of Prog. Still intensely musical but with a solid back beat and loads of sound across the whole band. This is one you could head-bang to if the desire so took you.
Last track “Carousel at 11:48
is the second longest. The great opening, that could well be incidental music for an episode of Dr. Who, quickly steps aside for some rapid guitar playing (or is it Chapman Stick??) and a steamroller rhythm section. There are all sorts of effects going on. A few minutes in to the track it takes on a very Jethro Tull-ish air or then again maybe it is more of the Focus persuasion since I detect the distinctive sound of the Van Leer flute again. There is a big choral sound on this track in places as well. Is it an actual chorus or a couple of vocals multi-layered?
The steamroller stops about halfway in to the song to allow the singer an introspective minute or two to discuss his thoughts, from the sound of it possibly in a field of swaying multicoloured grass beside a tinkling stream under a marmalade sky.
What interests me quite a bit is that I have just reviewed, albeit rather briefly, an entire prog album of nearly an hour’s music, and YET, I have done so without once mentioning Pink Floyd. Except now of course. Yes it is true, this is a great Prog album from a great Prog band that owes nothing (in my humble opinion) to Pink Floyd. Amazing huh?