Lee Speaks About Music… #170

Fish Out Of Water (Blu Ray Edition) – Chris Squire

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Introduction…

This is going to be a short review simply because I’ve already reviewed the album in question back in May 2018 when I brought the Deluxe Edition to which you can find here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/lee-speaks-about-music-77/

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I also voiced my opinion of the way Esoteric Recordings put out the release of the Deluxe Edition Box Set in that review. They done it in a way like many other record companies put out expensive packages without offering an alternative smaller package to entice you to shell out the extra cost to get your hands on what you want. Especially in the case of SURROUND FREAKS! like myself who are only really interested in the 5.1 mix.

As nice as a box set like this looks, I personally do not see the point of why anybody would want the same album on Vinyl, CD & DVD. The vinyl album that comes in this box set has only been remastered so it’s not really giving you anything new. The only thing new is the new stereo and multichannel remixes that are on the CD & DVD and those in reality should be the only real incentive of why you would want to buy the album all over again.

Had Esoteric Recordings released the new mixes in a smaller and more affordable package in the first place by breaking them up they would of sold a hell of a lot more than what they ever did of the box set. The Deluxe Box Set was released as a Limited Edition well over 2 years ago now and it’s still easy to obtain and widely available. It’s currently priced at £85.95 on Amazon UK which is slightly more than the £77 I paid for it when I pre-ordered it on the 22nd of February 2018.

Now after some two and half years Esoteric Recordings have finally done the right thing and re-released it on Blu Ray. You may very well be wondering as to why after shelling out £77 on the box set in the first place I went out and brought it again. Well there are some advantages has to why I did so, but before I go into them let’s take a look at the new package.

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The Blu Ray has you can see comes in a standard blue plastic Amaray case. Personally, I would have preferred a cardboard Digipak the same size and that would of gave it a better presentation. Though at its price point I am certainly not complaining.

I was well surprised to see it came with a 20-page booklet. Regarding all the information that was in the much larger 45-page booklet that came with the Deluxe Box Set you are not missing out on much of the content at all and it’s almost like the only thing you are missing is the couple of blank pages that are in the front and back and not a lot more.

The Blu Ray Edition In Review…

The Blu Ray Edition of Fish Out Of Water by Chris Squire was released on the 30th of October 2020. I pre-ordered my copy from Cherry Red Records (who are associated with Esoteric Recordings) on the 7th of September and it arrived a day after its release. Unlike the Deluxe Edition box set which I personally think is well overpriced the Blu Ray was only £11.99 plus £1.35 postage & packing which is excellent value for the buck and quite a bargain.

There are advantages this Blu Ray release has over the deluxe box set though I will say they are more in the way of convenience more than anything else. There are also a couple of disadvantages in that not everything that was on the 2 DVD’s in the box set are included on the Blu Ray. Though in reality they could of easily have been included but I guess Esoteric Recordings chose not to include them to either keep the price down, or leave that bit of extra content out because the box set is still widely available.

However, you look at it certainly one of the biggest advantages the blu ray does have over the Deluxe Edition box set is its price point and that is where I do give some praise back to Esoteric Recordings. So, let’s now take a look at the content and some of the differences between the DVD’s that came in the box set and the Blu Ray.

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The blu ray’s menus and navigation interface have been given a completely new overhaul that gives it a fresh look and is much better for it in relation to the DVD. Not only do the images look more clearer and sharper but they are also animated and it runs through a slide-show of the pictures from the album cover that zoom in and out like a kaleidoscope tunnel effect.

The other major difference is its navigation system is a lot better in that you can simply click on an option and the other options simply pop up (as seen on the second picture above) without having to wait for another screen to load making it much faster to get around.

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As you can see on the DVD’s navigational interface (above) getting about things is much slower and, in all honesty, they could have done away with the main menu and made the second menu (as seen in the second picture above) the main menu. It’s quite evident that a lot more thought has been put into the Blu Rays interface.

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Blu Ray (Track Display)

The other notable difference is that when you play a track it displays a different picture taken from the album cover to which also zooms in and out like a kaleidoscope tunnel effect. Whereas the DVD displayed the same picture for all the tracks (as seen below) and the only thing that changed was the title of the track.

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DVD (Track Display)

Overall, I personally feel that the Blu Ray is clearly the winner out of the two and its navigational interface not only looks a lot better but functions a lot better. They have really gone to town on it and done a top job of it. So let’s now take a look at one of its other advantages and what content is actually missing.

Advantages & Disadvantages.

As far as I can make out the only major difference between the Blu Ray and DVD is in the audio department. I am fairly confident that the stereo mixes on both the Blu Ray & DVD are uncompressed in other words Lossless and not Lossy. So, there is no difference there.

However, both the DTS & Dolby Digital multichannel 5.1 mixes on the DVD are lossy and compressed whereas on the Blu Ray the DTS HD Master 5.1 mix is lossless and uncompressed. Although I would not say this was a major difference to my ears when making a comparison between them both. Though I can sit better with the lossless mix on the blu ray and do think it sounds slightly better. 

In general, I can hear a lot more of a difference between a compressed and uncompressed mix though it’s really down to how good the mix was in the first place. This is the same 5.1 mix that Jakko Jakszyk done for the DVD and although I feel he’s done quite a good job of it, it’s not up there with some of the better surround mixing engineers such as Elliot Scheiner and Steve Wilson for example. I originally gave this 5.1 mix a rating of 7 out of 10 and it scores no more points here.

Apart from how much better the blu ray’s navigational interface looks and functions, plus it’s price point. I would say one of the biggest advantages is more in the way of convenience like I mentioned earlier. Simply because it’s a damn site easier to store the blu ray and get the disc out to play it 😁😁😁. 

The bonus content is where there are a couple of things missing in relation to the DVD and although they have included both the promotional footage of “Hold Out Your Hand” and “You by My Side” plus the Vinyl Drop documentary with Chris Squire. They have not included the single of “Run with the Fox” and its B-Side “Return of the Fox” and the 42-minute interview with Chris Squire to which was conducted by Jon Kirkman back in 2006.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up and conclude my short review of this new Blu Ray Edition of Fish Out Of Water by Chris Squire. This has to be GREAT! news for SURROUND FREAKS! and I certainly do not think you are missing out on enough to make you want to pay the extra price for the Deluxe Edition Box Set. Had Esoteric Recordings released this edition in the first place I would never had brought the box set. This is a classic example of how record companies try and squeeze more money out of your pocket. 

As for it being worth shelling out for it again if you already have the Deluxe Box Set. I personally think it was worth it for the convenience more than anything and at £13.34 including postage & packaging its hardly going to break the bank. For those who never brought the box set I think you are onto a winner with the Blu Ray especially if like myself you are a surround FREAK! The surround mix is far from disappointing and quite good.

The Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.
The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.
The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 7/10.
The Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #169

Dwellers Of The Deep – Wobbler

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Introduction…

The Norwegian band Wobbler are back with a new album and one I was eagerly awaiting to arrive. Dwellers In The Deep is their 5th studio album to date since Hinterland was released back in 2005 and they are a band who like to take their time and choose the right moment to write new material. I will say that the wait is well worth it as well with how their albums turn out and I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed.

This is a band that fascinated me from the moment I bumped into them a few years back and the fascinating thing about them is the members of it use vintage instruments to try and achieve the sound of the 70’s which is very much the decade and golden era of progressive rock. It’s very much the decade I can still easily live in when it comes to prog-rock and the music I still mostly play today on my turntable so to speak.

Sound very much plays a vital role in the development of their music and even though most of those old sounds from back then can be digitally replicated these days with softsynths, pedals, digital processing and emulated amplification. These guys will stop at nothing to get their hands on the real gear that produced the sound all those years ago and they are the tools that makes their creative juices flow.

No doubt influences also play a part in the process of how their music is developed and it’s not unusual to hear familiarities with the likes of Yes, ELP, Genesis and many other classic PROG! acts that graced our ears back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

However, they are perhaps more heavily influenced by the instruments that produced that sound, even down to the Krummhorns that was utilised and put to good use very well by the bands founding member Martin Nordrum Kneppen on their second album Afterglow. To which no doubt was influenced by the medieval prog-rock band Gryphon.

Whatever and however the band go about their writing process certainly appears to be working because despite the many influences that can be heard in their music, their own originality shines and cuts through. I would also say in most cases that it is only really the sounds you are hearing and not so much the melodic and rhythmic lines where the familiarities and similarities lie.

Their music very much sounds like it came out of that golden era of progressive rock from all those years ago and can easily sit in with the many records I still play more than anything that came out of it. This is what makes this band quite unique and so different to the many other bands and artists who are still keeping the world of PROG! alive today. But before I delve or DWELL! any deeper into the bands latest offering. Let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a 2-panel cardboard gatefold Digipak with a clear plastic tray to hold the disc in place. It also comes with a 12-page booklet that is stored in the side of the sleeve like a vinyl record. The booklet contains all the usual linear production notes, a couple of pictures and lyrics. It does not come with any additional informative information.

Artwork.

The albums cover illustration comes from Athanasius Kircher who was German Jesuit scholar and polymath back in the 17th century who published around 40 major works, most notably in the fields of comparative religion, geology, and medicine. He was sometimes called the last Renaissance man, important for his prodigious activity in disseminating knowledge.

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The illustration is based on Kircher’s model of the Earth’s internal fires, from Mundus Subterraneus (as seen in the illustration above). The map reproduction was done courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Centre at the Boston Public Library.

Overall, I quite like how the reproduction coloured it up though they did not include the heads that are on the four corners of the original which is a shame. It sort of ties in with the covers that were on their previous two albums and they tend to have a fetish for circular objects. I still think the artwork that was chosen for their debut album Hinterland is the best they have come up with.

Release Editions…

The album was released in 3 media formats the cheapest option being the Digital Download priced at €10. The other two physical formats of both CD and Vinyl came with more of a variety of choice to choose from many of which were Limited Editions.

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For example, the CD Editions came with the choice of either a Digipak or a Jewel Case both costing the same price of €14.99. Neither are Limited Editions unlike their previous release were the Digipak was limited to so many copies. So, you should not have any difficulty obtaining them.

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The Vinyl Editions were all pressed onto 180-gram vinyl and came in a variety of colours to choose from. All the coloured vinyl were Limited Editions and the green vinyl with purple & black marble was the most expensive at €25.99 and was limited to 750 copies. Both the colour in colour and transparent were priced at €24.99 the first of which was limited to 300 copies and the latter 750 copies. All of the coloured vinyl has sold out. The standard black vinyl is not unlimited and is priced at €22.99.

The Album In Review…

Dwellers Of The Deep by Wobbler was released on the 23rd of October 2020. The album contains 4 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 45 minutes, 45 seconds which is a very comfortable time slot making the album much easier to digest and take in. Although it might be pushing the boundaries of vinyl limitations squeezing it onto one LP though many did that years ago too to cut down on cost.

As with their previous album the band video documented the working process and progress of the new album and the bands keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frøislie posted a 9-Part series of short video footage on his Tube channel during the months they spent working on it starting from day one.

The band spent sometime in the summer and winter of 2019 working away on it and finished off the recording in the spring of 2020 working between 3 different studios. The video above shows you them recording and getting the drums down at LFF Studios. I quite like how the band give you a bit of incite in how the development of the album is coming along by filming these videos of its progress and it’s always fascinating watching them.

There is no doubt that since Andreas Prestmo joined the band, his input of injecting both lyrical and musical content into the band is starting to come to the forefront and play more of a role into how the bands music is now further developing. It’s even more evident on this new album I feel too especially in relation to the bands first couple of albums which were more instrumental with what little words and vocals were put into them.

He is without doubt one of the key elements to how the bands music is now shaping up. Although there is still quite a cohesion from all its members with the writing and arrangements, as a unit they are a driving unified force that certainly seem to be steering things in the right direction.

It’s not unusual for the band to call upon a couple of session players to play some of the other instruments, though some of its members are multi-instrumentalists in their own rights. For this album they acquired the services of Åsa Ree who contributes violin and backing vocals on the first track of the album. So, let’s now take a look at the musicians and credits.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs arranged by Wobbler. Tracks 1 & 4 Written by Wobbler. Track 2 Written by Andreas Prestmo & Lars Frøislie. Track 3 Written by Andreas Prestmo. Recorded at LFF Studios, Vilthagen Studios and Studio Paradiso between 2019/20. Tracks 1, 2 & 4 Engineered, Mixed & Produced by Lars Frøislie. Co-Mixed & Co-Produced by Wobbler. Track 3 Engineered & Produced by Andreas Prestmo.

Paradiso Studio Engineer Jorgen Smaland Larson. Mastered at Tinfoil Audio by Jens Petter Nilson. Front cover illustration courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Centre at the Boston Public Library. Photographs by Dvir Barkay & Anne-Marie Forker.

Musicians:
Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo: Lead Vocals/Guitars/Glockenspiel/Recorder/Percussion.
Marius Halleland: Guitars/Backing Vocals.
Kristian Hultgren: Bass Guitar.
Lars Fredrik Frøislie: Keyboards/Backing Vocals.
Martin Nordrum Kneppen: Drums.

Additional Musicians:
Åsa Ree:
Violin/Backing Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Dwellers Of The Deep is an album that offers an exciting blend of carefully planned and jammed material that encompasses everything the band has done up to now according to the description on Bandcamp. I would certainly go along with that and everything else it states about their latest album on the Bandcamp page.

It’s very much an album that contains three epic lengthy tracks and a short ballad of a song and follows a similar suit to their previous album From Silence To Somewhere.

However, musically this is quite different in the way the album flows and feels although its lyrical content follows a familiar pattern with its Greek Mythology, and is also intertwined with Christianity and Religion to tie in with Kircher’s model of the Earth’s internal fires, from Mundus Subterraneus that’s on the album cover.

There is also quite a strong Yes influence like we seen on the bands third album Rites At Dawn. However, once again this is different and perhaps takes and draws on ideas from all four of their previous albums to arrive at what we have here.

What we do have here is something I personally feel resembles much of the qualities I seen on the bands first two albums Hinterland and Afterglow. Only this time around the right amount of space has been given to the vocal side of things to balance things up. So, let’s now take a closer look at the individual tracks and see if the band have come up with another master-stroke piece of an album.

Track 1. By The Banks.

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The album gets off to a flying start and propels immediately into the action. I have to admit upon the first couple of spins it felt like something was missing in the way of an introduction the way it kicked itself in with its speedy pace, but after further spins it soon becomes apparent that there isn’t nothing missing here at all.

I also noticed in some reviews that a few people have mentioned that this opening track is a bit hampered by the production. Though I personally do not hear that at all and everything sounds tight, clear and kosher to my ears. You can also hear every instrument and how they are all interacting with each other.

Musically this is like a cross between Yes and ELP certainly from the keyboard aspect side of things and its a bit like having Keith Emerson on hammond and Rick Wakeman on piano. The interplay between all the musicians is excellent and even Prestmo’s voice is verging towards Jon Anderson’s with its height though far from a sound alike.

It’s the second longest track on the album and was penned by Frøislie & Prestmo. It also comes in two parts in that it also has the subheadings “Part I – Visions From Within” and “Part II – Argentum Ormr” associated with its title. Although they may pertain to lyrical content more than the music side of things because it does feel like one long song that has reoccurring themes throughout its journey.

I am not even going to try and decipher the lyrics and they do run deep down some mythical fantasy. Like most prog-rock lyrical content they tend to be associated with Greek Mythology, Medieval Wizardry and things associated with Religion and the Occult. I have no idea what Prestmo (who wrote all the lyrics for the album) was reading but it’s obliviously come from some source of a book or poetry.

My own observation and interpretation of them is that they are pertaining to a yearning of wanting to cross over to another life, and the first part is about the yearning. The second part is perhaps the thing he has now crossed over to, which happens to be a snake 😁😁😁.

I am perhaps too much of a realist to live in the world of fantasy and when it comes to most prog-rock songs I am more for how the words are phrased and expressed and how they fit in with the music more than anything. I do however think the words have been put into context very well and the story is quite fascinating and adventurous. Though I hardly think that these are the type of lyrics that are going to seep into your brain and stick like many memorable songs will.

Both the vocal lines and music work and flow very well throughout this opening epic song and there is even some fine melancholy along these banks where the recorder has been put to good use. It also contains a lovely reoccurring piano section that first comes into play around the 4:50 mark and reoccurs around the 9:28 mark. Everyone is doing a TOP JOB! including the honoured guest musician Åsa Ree who contributes violin and some supporting backing vocals to it.

Overall, “By The Banks” is a very well-crafted song that has some excellent progression and transitional changes along its path, its also a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Five Rooms.

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There is no doubt the band are well oiled up and are firing on all cylinders and this is another SUPERB! piece of work and song. This track musically has Yes written all over it and it’s a bit like combining something from their much earlier period with Peter Banks and “I Am A Camera” from their later Drama album. I am sure there are a lot of other goodies that have been thrown into the melting pot as well.

I suppose lyrically you could also say its bit like “The Chamber of 32 Doors” by Genesis with the five rooms of sorrow, wondering which way to follow and its land of confusion. What you do get here is PROGROCK HEAVEN! that’s for sure and it’s no wonder the band showcased it first as a single from the album and put out a promotional video for it.

This is literally eight and a half minutes of PURE BLISS! and one of the most exciting examples of prog-rock I have heard in ages. Kristian Hultgren’s bass work is totally cooking on gas and is to die for yet alone all the other goodies that have been thrown into the equation from the other musicians.

It really is an outstanding piece of work that was penned by the band and should by rights win the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It was very difficult for me not to give it the award and all 4 tracks on this album are easily very strong contenders. Though I simply cannot leave it out and it jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. Naiad Dreams.

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Next up we have the baby track of the album and this is quite a beautiful ballad of a song that glistens with its vibes and utilises the space for both the vocals and instrumentation. It’s quite a dreamy folk song and its beauty reminds me a bit like “Riding My Nightmare” by Budgie perhaps for its sweetness.

The song was written by Prestmo and his acoustic guitar crafted this one out very finely with its melodic lines. According to Greek mythology, the Naiads are a type of female spirit, or nymph, presiding over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of fresh water and that is what the lyrical content is pertaining to.

The band also put out a live version of the song and unlike the promo video they made of “Five Rooms” this is a live recording. They done a fine job of it as well, though I prefer the sound quality of the studio version myself and this is another really GREAT! song.

Track 4. Merry Macabre.

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The final song on the album weighs in at 19 minutes and like the opening track its split into parts. This one has three parts “Part I – The Quarry & the Feast”, “Part II – Beneath the Velvet Shroud” and “Part III – The Bird of Hermes”. Only this time the parts play a bit more of a relevant role in how the music runs along with its transitional changes.

Once again, the lyrical content is way too deep for my comprehension and although some creepy Christmas story about the Merry Macabre was also derived from ancient European folklore back in the 16th century that featured some satanic beast of a Santa Clause. This story has all the Greek mythological Gods under the sun, including some stupid bird that ate its own wings so he was not faster than his master 😁😁😁.

This is another song that is a band composition and it contains a ton of progression and transitional changes throughout. Once again, its members are on fire and the Yes and many other influences are popping out of the woodwork. Perhaps the most notable influence comes from the second piano solo that comes in around the 15:50 mark which sounds like a cross between “South Side of the Sky” and the piano intro on “Awakening“.

However, if you listen it closely it is only really the sound of the piano more than anything that resembles both of those Yes songs because Frøislie is not playing exactly the same melody lines. Though he has very cleverly re-constructed his piano piece from both of the songs and this is a masterful piece of work that puts an end to a truly GREAT! album. It also jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! along with “Five Rooms“.

Summary…

To sum up Wobbler’s 5th studio album Dwellers Of The Deep. The band really have come up TRUMPS! which is a lot more I can say for the president of the united states 😁😁😁. They have without doubt crafted yet another masterful piece of work that I personally feel is more in line with how well the bands first two albums Hinterland and Afterglow turned out.

Those first two albums in particular have always been my personal favourite output from the band up until this point, and in many respects Dwellers Of The Deep does give you some indication of how much better they could of turned out if they had the hindsight of Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo back then.

Like I mentioned earlier Prestmo’s contribution of where the vocal lines fit in with musical side of things has played an integral part in the development of Wobbler’s music since he joined the band and they are now getting stronger all the time.

Even guitarist Marius Halleland has found his feet since he joined and both Lars Fredrik Frøislie and Kristian Hultgren have always been at the core of the bands strength. Effectively it’s like having Rick Wakeman and Chris Squire onboard whilst their founder member Martin Nordrum Kneppen is improving all the time and is becoming a solid keeper.

My personal highlights from the album are perhaps the couple of standout tracks on the album “Five Rooms” and “Merry Macabre“. Though I could easily include the other two tracks.

Conclusion…

In conclusion of my review of this latest offering by Wobbler. Dwellers Of The Deep is how an album should be made and it’s one that will leave you wanting more at the end of it. It’s very much a strong body of work with its written material and a very comfortable album to sit with and enjoy. I could easily liken this album to The Yes Album with how comfortable it is to sit with and how well it flows and get just as much satisfaction from it.

This is a band that have mastered the art of producing prog-rock like it sounded back in its heyday of the late 60’s and early 70’s and that is why this band will float my boat more so than many of the other contemporaries who are still keeping PROG! alive today. These guys are literally that good that I did go out and buy the T-Shirt and at my age that is something I have not done for a long, long time now.

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From what I have heard so far this year in the world of PROG! Dwellers Of The Deep is an album that should easily walk away with the award for the best prog-rock album of the year. It’s already received many favourable reviews that point in that direction and certainly gets my vote. Their music will always sit proudly in my record collection that’s for sure. This is an album I feel should appeal to all PROGSTERS! and 2020 just got better.

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You can purchase or even listen to the album for free @ Bandcamp here: https://wobbler.bandcamp.com/album/dwellers-of-the-deep It’s also widely available to purchase from many other outlets.

PROG! Like It Used To Be All Those Years Ago…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. By The Banks. 13:50.
02. Five Rooms. 8:29.
03. Naiad Dreams. 4:26.
04. Merry Macabre. 19:00.

The Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #168

Us + Them (Blu Ray) – Roger Waters

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Introduction…

Another live concert from Roger Waters and I have to say when it comes to doing something in style no expense is spared at putting on a SPECTACULAR! show like this and many of his shows. Waters likes to do things BIG! and many critics might even say that the stunning visuals seen at his shows are there to hide away the overrated or underhanded performance that is put into his shows as many have already done so with this new live release.

There are of course others who will pull him down a peg or two simply because they do not like his political views which in my opinion should not even enter the equation when it comes to judging any live performance.

Whenever I review a live concert, I also tend to look at more reviews from people who actually went to the concert itself, rather than the end product that’s stuck on a DVD or Blu Ray. Simply because the way most concerts have been edited, they can in some cases make them look even more SPECTACULAR! so to speak.

Though from my own experience it’s impossible to capture everything on film that your own eyes will see at the concert itself and there was nothing short of SPECTACULAR! when I saw Pink Floyd at Earls Court back in 1994. The Blu Ray & DVD entitled Pulse could not ever compare to it and boy do I wish I would have had the money to have been able see this concert live.

Technology has moved on since those days and not only can they make pigs fly, but they can make the entire building of the Battersea Power Station magically appear above your head. Though of course the ticket price to get to see a show like this as skyrocketed to near enough 10 times the ticket price it cost back then.

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Thankfully much of the magic has been captured on film and you can still get to see it for less than the £22.50 it cost for a ticket to see Pink Floyd back in 1994. But at the end of the day is this concert all its cranked up to be, or are the critics, right? Before I answer that question let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork per usual.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The Blu Ray Edition comes in a cardboard gatefold sleeve to which I do feel gives it more of a better presentation in relation to a standard blue plastic case. Both the disc and the booklet are contained in die cut pockets on the both sides on the inside of the gatefold sleeve. The 8-page booklet contains a few pictures and a detailed essay of the concert written by Kory Grow. It also contains all the linear credit notes.

Overall, it’s a neat and tidy package and I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon and got it for £19.99. However, I do find it very hard to retrieve the disc without getting your finger marks over the surface of the disc because the pocket its held in is very tight.

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The other thing I noticed (as you can see in the picture above) is that there is an indentation mark around the disc which looks like it gives you the option to remove that section of the cardboard to make it easier to get at the disc. However, if you do remove this there will be nothing left to hold the disc in its place. It’s not as if it has a hub on the inside to hold the disc either and doing so would damage the case.

Artwork.

The artwork design was done by Award winning creative director Dan Ichimoto with the use of pictures taken from the live shows by Kate Izor. He also designed the album cover for Roger’s last album Is This The Life We Really Want? and many other artists including Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Santana and so on.

He does a lot more than albums covers and I would say that his work in the music media is mostly for live albums rather than some of the GREAT! album cover designs you will find on a lot of studio albums. He’s no Storm Thorgerson for example, but you do not need that method of thinking for a live album and what he has done here is well apt and all good.

Release Editions…

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The live concert was released on five media formats counting the Digital Download which you would expect to be the cheapest. However, on Amazon UK it’s currently priced at £12.99 whilst the Double CD is a pound cheaper at £11.99 which is excellent value. The DVD is also £12.99 whilst the Blu Ray is currently at £18.48. The Vinyl release is currently priced at £40.56 and is pressed on to 3 x 180-gram LP’s.

Us + Them In Review…

This latest live concert entitled Us + Them by Roger Waters was released on the 2nd of October 2020. Although a truncated version of the actual concert was shown in the Cinema Houses a year ago back in October 2019 and is also available to watch on places such as Amazon Prime just like he did with his previous concert of The Wall back in 2015.

To be honest I have not seen that newer concert of The Wall that was released back in 2015 and I have had it in my watch list on Amazon Prime for at least 6 months now. But it’s very rare I will pay more than £1.99 to watch any film on Prime. I don’t see the point in paying the £3.49 to watch it only to find out that if I liked it, I would most likely end up buying it adding even more expense.

I may very well end up buying it at some point though I am not a huge fan of that album and get sick of him doing the material from that album live all the time. I remember seeing the much earlier concert of The Wall he did in Berlin on TV back in the late 80’s or early 90’s where he had many different famous singers performing the songs from it. It totally bored my pants off 😁😁😁.

To be perfectly honest I can get sick of Waters doing more Pink Floyd songs at his concerts and wish he would devote more of the time to his own solo career. One of the main reasons why I did pre-order this concert was because it did contain material from his last rock album Is This The Life We Really Want? and only a couple of songs from The Wall.

Like I mentioned earlier no expense was spared to put on a show with its 3-D visual FX and lighting and around 4 million dollars was pumped into the production of it. By the end of the tour it had grossed over 260 million dollars back in revenue despite losing out on some of the sponsors in the US such as American Express due to his anti-Trump images.

Not everything was running smooth and Waters also was met with some backlash, boycotts by some lawmakers in various cities attempting to cancel some of his shows due to his anti-Israel boycott which some felt was anti-semitic. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington even produced a video criticizing Waters’ support of BDS prior to his performances in Washington, D.C.

As with his last 2010 – 2013 tour of The Wall, Waters once again collaborated with film director Sean Evans to come up with the visual ideas for the show. It’s always good to have two heads on your shoulder rather than one especially when injecting fresher ideas and newer meanings into some of the older songs to fit them into today’s current affairs.

He’s pretty much used the same production team from his previous tour and assembled a nine-piece band together for this tour including some of the musicians who played on his last studio album Is This The Life We Really Want? The most notable musician who is still with him is Jon Carin who has not only played at Waters live shows in the past but also for Dave Gilmour and Pink Floyd. He’s also been a long-time collaborator of Pete Townsend and The Who and he’s a very talented multi-instrumentist.

The only other band member to make this new line-up that featured on the last tour is the guitarist Dave Kilminster. To be honest I had never even heard of him until now though I could say the same for the musicians who appeared on his last album Is This The Life We Really Want? at the time. Before I go into the full musician line-up and the concert itself. Let’s take a look at the Blu Ray.

The Blu Ray.

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The Blu Rays main menu looks quite pristine and sharp and plays some music from the concert in the background upon loading. It’s simple enough to navigate your way around giving you 5 options to choose from “Play”. “Audio Setup”. “Subtitles”. “Scene Selection” and “Special Features”. The good thing about the menus navigation is that a box pops up without you having to load to another screen to set things up.

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The “Audio Setup” gives you the choice of 3 audio formats to choose from all of which are 24-bit 48K. They are also uncompressed or lossless to give you the best in High Fidelity. It comes with an LPCM stereo soundtrack and two surround soundtracks of Dolby Atmos and Dolby True HD 5.1. It’s also worth mentioning that if your AV Receiver does not have Dolby Atmos you are not missing out on a thing because the Atmos soundtrack will give you a Dolby True HD 7.1 soundtrack instead.

This in my own opinion is more superior in that it gives you a couple of extra genuine channels of separation and not some synthetic metadata that is used to pinpoint a certain sound in a particular area which is generally above you. Even with a 5.1 setup you do not need extra speakers to hear things above you at all. Having extra speakers for the purpose of Atmos is what I consider to be defeating the object of what your AV Receiver is capable of doing in the first place.

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The “Subtitles” option gives you the choice of 7 different languages to choose from English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese. By default it’s set to “Off”.

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The “Scene Selection” option is where you can pick any song to play at random and this also includes the couple of bonus tracks. All the scenes or tracks have been split into 5 groups along the bottom of the screen (as you can see in the picture above) in total you have 25 scenes to choose from.

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The final option is the “Special Features” section and this includes the bonus material. The first of them is a short 15-minute documentary entitled “A Fleeting Glimpse” this was also included in the film that was shown at the Cinema Houses. The other two songs both “Smell The Roses” and “Comfortably Numb” are taken from the live tour and were not included in the film shown at the Cinema Houses and are inclusive to both the DVD & Blu Ray only.

Overall, the bonus material is very good especially, the extra two songs. The documentary shows some backstage footage of Waters and the band rehearsing some of the songs for the show. Personally, I would have liked to have seen him talk more about the setup of the show giving something more in the way of useful informative information.

The Picture & Film Editing Quality.

The picture quality is pristine and was shot on RED digital cameras. It’s very much a 4K multichannel feast that takes live music to a new level and the concert footage was very well captured on several cameras by a very good well professional camera crew. The editing was done by Katie Mcquerrey and I dare say with all the film footage capturing all the different angles she had her work cut out. However, she has done a GREAT! job of it.

The Surround & Stereo Mixes.

Both the multi-channel and stereo mixes were done by Nigel Godrich & Sam Petts-Davis and I can honestly say that SURROUND FREAKS! will not be one bit disappointed by this mix and it’s a bit of a real TREAT! It does very much have more of a Cinematic approach to the mix due to all the effects such as flying aeroplanes, bullets and explosions that are shown throughout the show. Though they have also paid good attention to the musical side of things as well.

Regardless of whether you play the surround mix in 5.1, 7.1 or with Dolby Atmos this is very much a well good immersive experience and you will feel its effects and even the point 1 sub-channel is very well utilised. The stereo mix is also excellent and this is well worthy of 10 out of 10 across the board.

Musicians & Credits…

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Directed by Sean Evans & Roger Waters. Produced by Clare Spencer & Roger Waters. Filmed & Recorded at The Ziggodome, Amsterdam, Netherlands between 18th – 23rd June 2018.  Jon Lemon Live Recording Engineer. Stereo & Mulsti-Channel Mixing Engineers Nigel Godrich & Sam Petts-Davis. Mixed in Dolby Atmos at The Michael Powell Theatre, Pinewood Studios, England. Stereo Mastering by Bob Ludwig. Cover Design by Dan Ichimoto. Photography by Kate Izor.

Musicians.

Roger Waters: Vocals – Guitar – Bass.
Dave Kilminster: Guitars – Vocals.
Jonathan Wilson: Guitars – Vocals.
Jon Carin: Keyboards – Guitars.
Gus Seyffert: Guitars – Bass.
Bo Koster: Keyboards.
Joey Waronker: Drums.
Ian Ritchie: Saxophone.
Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig: – Vocals.

The Concert In Review…

The concert film footage that makes up this particular live concert was captured over the 4 nights he played at the Ziggo Dome arena on the European leg of the tour that run between 2017/18. All together Waters played a total of 156 shows over those couple of years and toured throughout North America, Europe, Latin America and beyond and performed to around 2.3 million people.

I am not sure how much footage was taken from each night and whether all 4 nights were used from the 18th, 19th, 22nd and 23rd of June 2018 that he played at the venue. But it’s been very well stitched together to make it look like it came from one show sort of thing.

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The Ziggo Dome’s location is right next to the Ajax Football Stadium in the Netherlands most populous capital city Amsterdam. The building is designed for amplified music, but is multi-usable and is also used for sports such as tennis and korfball and with minimal adjustments can even be turned into an Olympic-size swimming pool or an ice rink.

However, since 2017 the Ziggo Dome has been heavily used for concerts and its main hall has a capacity of holding up to 17,000 people. Many bands and artists have played at the venue since it opened back in 2012 including the likes of Pearl Jam, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Muse, Pink, Iron Maiden, Rod Stewart and on and on.

On With The Show…

This is a two-hour show that features Pink Floyd’s most iconic album The Dark Side of the Moon played in its entirety but with other songs played in between in a way of stretching out the album and the show. The interesting thing is that although it features the bands most iconic album, it’s really the couple of epic tracks from Animals that are the highlights and steal the show so to speak.

Well that’s perhaps the best way I can describe it. Apart from it also comes with STUNNING! visuals and sound to make your eyes pop out of your head and keep you glued to your seat. It very much has a WOW! factor about it and I don’t think even the critics could argue with the way I have just described it, and if they can all I can say is that they have BRAIN DAMAGE! 😁😁😁.

Though of course there is a lot more one could easily be critical about once you’ve stripped away all the visual FX and focus on the actual live performance itself, and even I can see things to be critical about myself. Although they are only really niggly gripes and I personally would not say the performance by the musicians on the stage was in anyway lacklustre like the majority of critics have stated.

So, let’s now run through the set-list and try and point out some of the things the critics are having a go at and try and iron things out in perspective of how and why certain things may of been done this way in the first place.

The concert starts off with an intro that consists of a mixture of voices from both the intros from Dark Side of the Moon and Is This The Life We Really Want? with some film footage on the screen. I should point out that this is a concert that does display not only the band on stage but the images and film footage that’s displayed on the screens at the concert and flashes between the both throughout its entirety.

The band then proceed to play “Breathe” from the iconic album and this I have to say is a very good smooth relaxing performance of the song that features Jonathan Wilson on vocals and I personally think he sings it quite well. Although Roger Waters does play bass on this song, he does mostly play guitar and switches between the both from time to time.

They then take a short break from the iconic album and immediately go into “One Of The Days” which is a classic from the Meddle album and always goes down a treat and this features Jon Carin on slide guitar. They really do a GREAT! job of it too.

Right from the very start surround FREAKS! are gonna love this concert and it thunders its way into “Time” and this gives the drummer Joey Waronker a chance to display some of his skills to which he does an excellent job and is also accompanied by both the backing singers Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig banging away on the percussion.

The band then proceed to continue to roll out the first side of the iconic album with both Waters and Wilson sharing the vocal duties with Dave Kilminster taking on most of the lead guitar duties. “The Great Gig in the Sky” features both Wolfe & Laessig playing more of a major role as to be expected. This is also the stage were some of the critics are coming out of the woodwork.

There is no doubt that Clare Torry done a truly AMAZING! and outstanding vocal performance on the original song and much of her qualities have been very well replicated by other female singers who have appeared on both Pink Floyd and David Gilmore’s live shows in the past. What both of these women have might very well not measure up to the higher standards and qualities of those particular performances.

However, what we have here is a fresher approach that is not replicating Torry’s voice in anyway which gives the song something different which I feel Waters may have wanted to do with it. You simply cannot do the same thing all the time and have to do something a bit different to keep songs like this fresh and that is precisely what these fine pair have done and I honestly cannot fault this performance one bit.

Yet some of the critics are not only having a problem with their voices but are having a pop at them for how they look, and I have to say this is absolutely both ludicrous and ridiculous in my book.

Next up is “Welcome to the Machine” which sees Waters return to both bass and vocal duties and so far, I have yet to see a damn thing that makes any of these live performances lacklustre and I am even enjoying this output of classic Floyd songs for a change. The other good thing I like about this particular concert is that he does take on most of the vocal duties himself, unlike his earlier concerts where he brought in other singers to sing the biggest majority of them.

It’s now time for some more Cinematics and it’s this part of the show that Waters rolls out three of the opening songs from his last rock album Is This The Life We Really Want? He jumps on the acoustic guitar for “Deja Vu” and uses his voice only on both “The Last Refugee” and “Picture That” though he does also jump on the electric guitar and plays a bit of lead with Wilson on the latter of those songs.

This is perhaps another highlight for myself and something I would like to see more of at his live shows. He even takes on the vocals for “Wish You Were Here” and it features Waters, Wilson and Kilminster on the acoustics the latter playing the lead and they do a fine job of it. It’s back on the bass for “Another Brick in the Wall (Parts 2 & 3)” and he’s got the kids on the stage for this one. Kilminster also does a GREAT! job on the solo.

Next up we have the real highlights of the show with not just one but two epic classic songs from Animals. The good thing about Waters shows in comparison to both Gilmour’s and Pink Floyd’s shows since he left the band is that you can still get to hear songs from this album. First up we have “Dogs” and even though it features Carin on acoustic guitar I was surprised not to see him sing this one with Waters.

Jon Carin’s voice is about the nearest you will ever get to Gilmour’s voice and you could quite evidentially hear that when he sang this song on the In The Flesh Live DVD back in 2000. No doubt some of the critics have voiced their concern about Jonathan Wilson being put in charge of the vocal duties to sing it this time over Carin.

Personally, I have no issues with his voice on this song and he does a good enough job of it has you will hear right at the end of this short snippet of the opening of song that Waters posted on his Tube channel from the show. You will also see that pigs are quite capable of flying over the Battersea power station 😁😁😁 and this really is quite SPECTACULAR!

Just like on the original album Waters takes on the vocals for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and even as old as he is now, he can still belt this song out has you will see in this other short clip taken from the show that he posted on his Tube channel.

There are some GREAT! theatrics and Cinematics during both of these lengthy songs and Waters even gets his machine gun out and surround FREAKS! will be totally surrounded by bullets flying 😁😁😁. It also features some GREAT! guitar work from both Kilminster and Wilson.

It’s back to the iconic album next for the second side of it and I quite like how they have blended in President Trump’s voice with the cash registers on the intro to “Money“. This is a song that also features a GREAT! Cinematic break in the middle of it and if I had any criticism about this show this is very much the song where I do have a couple of niggly gripes myself.

I can to a degree see where the critics are coming from regarding Jonathan Wilson’s voice on this song and he does lack the right expression and anger to deliver the song. I definitely feel that Jon Carin or somebody else should have been chosen to sing this one.

My other niggly little gripe would be with the sax player Ian Ritchie. Although he appears to be playing all the right notes for me, he also lacks the expression in the delivery of the instrument and he’s no match for Don Perry I am afraid. But now I am perhaps being a bit too critical and you cannot expect any musician to sound like the guy who played it originally.

However, I have heard this song played by other sax players who I felt gave it the right expression it really needs to pull it off and this song in particular is the only song throughout this entire concert that I feel lets the show down a bit. However, my faith is soon restored with the both musicians on this next song and throughout the rest of the show.

Us & Them” is the only full song from the show that Waters posted on his official Tube channel and this gives you a good incite has to how well the musicians are performing and how well the concert has been edited. Especially with how it flows in getting across the live performance of the band and the Cinematics that are being protected across the screen.

This song quite suits Wilson’s voice and if there is anything lacklustre about this performance then I’ll be blown. All the musicians are very much on the ball and the money in my book and they also do a GREAT! job on the final couple of songs “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse“.

Waters then addresses his audience and delivers a short speech about the matters of the world and empathy and you get a reprise of both “The Last Refugee” and “Déjà Vu” as the credits roll.

Summary…

To sum up my review of Us + Them by Roger Waters. There is no doubt that watching this concert visually is STUNNINGLY SPECTACULAR! I personally do not think I have ever seen a concert quite like it. The most SPECTACULAR! visual live concert I ever got to see live was Pink Floyd at Earls Court and I was disappointed with the Blu Ray release of that show simply because it could not capture what I seen and heard not even with the 5.1 recording that was associated with it.

What you have here literally makes Pink Floyd’s Pulse look and sound mediocre. But like I said technology has moved on so in a way its perhaps understandable and as for my two-part question in my introduction regarding of if the concert is all its cranked up to be, or are the critics, right? My answer would be YES! and NO!

What I fail to recognise is what some of the critics are saying about the lack lustre performance of the musicians. Some have even gone to the point of having a go at Waters for having another bass player on the stage in case he makes a mistake and they are playing to a click track. I find this absolutely ludicrous, come on the guys he’s 77 years old for Christ’s sake and this is far from the case. If anything, Waters has perhaps put more into this show than what he has done in the past.

Speaking of the past certainly my favourite concert of Waters is on the In The Flesh Live DVD and the musicians on that are quite remarkable. I still very much love that concert and can still play it quite often. But no matter how remarkable those musicians are I certainly could not take anything away from the musicians on this live concert and I now have two excellent concerts of his I can thoroughly enjoy.

My personal highlights from the show are as follows: “Dogs“. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)“. “Déjà Vu“. “The Last Refugee” and “Picture That“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion Us + Them could very well be one of the most visually SPECTACULAR! concerts that’s ever been put on and I personally do not think the STUNNING! visuals take anything away from the live performance. I also find this a very comfortable concert to sit with and it’s got the potential to grip you in a way that you do not want to leave your seat. The 2-hour concert will even fly by and it will seem like it’s all over in 5 minutes and that’s what I call satisfaction guaranteed.

The Blu Ray is most definitely the format to go with to get the full potential out of it. This is a concert that you do need to see with your own eyes and the Blu Ray offers you the best picture and sound quality over all formats. The extra couple of songs you get with the bonus material are also superbly done and its price point of around £20 is well worth the buck for a 4K Blu Ray with Dolby Atmos.

During the course of writing this review I did get to see his last concert of The Wall for free. I also think that’s quite a good show. Though I personally think this latest release is even more SPECTACULAR! What I would love to see Waters do next is forget the Pink Floyd material and do a concert featuring the material from his own solo career.

A Stunning 4K Multichannel Feast…

The Blu Ray track listing is as follows:

Intro 1:42
Speak To Me 0:29
Breathe 2:48
One Of These Days 5:27
Time 5:53
Breathe (Reprise) 1:09
The Great Gig In The Sky 4:57
Welcome To The Machine 8:02
Déjà Vu 4:44
The Last Refugee 4:22
Picture That 6:47
Wish You Were Here 5:01
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives 1:36
Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 3:36
Another Brick In The Wall Part 3 1:36
Dogs 15:59
Pigs (Three Different Ones) 11:37
Money 7:23
Us & Them 7:53
Brain Damage 4:32
Eclipse 4:30
The Last Refugee (Reprise) 1:28
Déjà Vu (Reprise) 2:30

The Price Point Rating. 10/10.

The Picture Quality Rating. 10/10.

The Surround Mix Rating. 10/10.

The Stereo Mix Rating. 10/10.

The Bonus Material Rating. 7/10.

The Overall Concert Rating. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #167

Transitus (Earbook Edition) – Ayreon

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Introduction…

It’s been a good three years since we have seen a new album release from Arjen Lucassen’s project of Ayreon. Though that’s not to say he has not been keeping his music and the project busy over the couple of years with the live releases and even the remake of his third iconic album Into The Electric Castle. Now he’s back with brand new Ayreon album that is perhaps something a bit different, even the plot behind its story line does not appear to have any connection or link with any other Ayreon album like we have seen in the past.

To be honest whether it does or don’t bears no significance to myself simply because it’s very rare that the storyline on most Ayreon albums will gather up my interest simply because I am not a Sci-fi NUT! like the man behind the project happens to be. I would not have a clue how the stories are linked either because the biggest majority of them I don’t find in the slightest that bit interesting at all.

For example, even though still to this day Into The Electric Castle is still my favourite Ayreon album its storyline comes across to me like some boring game show they used to show at Children’s TV time many moons ago here in the UK called the Crystal Maze. The plot is more or less the same were each person has a specific task to perform to stay alive in the game otherwise they will fall into the abyss and meet their fate 😁😁😁.

Yet for some reason when I listen to that album it’s a bit like listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of The Worlds. I even remember when Into The Electric Castle was released that I once described it like that album. Though it was really down to the way the story was put across by the singers playing their character roles in the story more than anything else, and it was nowhere near the well written story that HG Wells wrote for that epic novel of his.

I am not saying I dislike Sci-fi but when it comes to stories, I prefer them to be more on the ground and down to earth so to speak. Something more along the lines of The Philadelphia Experiment and The Terminator appeals more to me than things in space like Star Wars and so on. Or even The Time Machine come to think of it. With some of the stories Arjen comes up with you would think he was living on another planet 😁😁😁.

To be honest when it comes down to most prog-rock albums it is the music and the way the words are expressed that catches my attention more so than the lyrics. The only two albums in the Ayreon catalogue that ever grabbed me enough to pay attention to the story side of things are The Human Equation and The Theory Of Everything and both of those albums were down to earth. I also quite like the storylines that were written for both of those albums as well.

According to Arjen his latest album Transitus is different because he was not sure if the material, he wrote for it would be fitting with his Ayreon project at first. Hence the reason why his long-time drummer ED Warby (who he always says himself that there can only one) does not appear on it.

His intention was to write something that would be more fitting for a film like a musical not so much a rock opera like he’s done in the past with his live shows. He was in the process of seeking out a director and the right people to enable it to come into fruition before all this Covid got in the way. According to his recent interviews he still has every intention of trying take it to the Cinema houses sort of thing if he can get the backing to support it. Does he really think his storylines are that good 😁😁😁.

Well to be honest I’ve seen some right crap in the past brought to the silver screen by other rock and pop artists such as the likes of The Beatles, The Who and all sorts so it cannot really get any worse. In all honesty the storyline behind The Human Equation would have made a good film unlike the stupidity that the likes of those brought to the screen in films such as Help and Tommy for example.

The one good thing I like about the storyline behind Transitus is that it is down to earth, well sort of 😁😁😁. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the artwork and packaging.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The Earbook is made of quality thick cardboard like a hardback book only the size of a vinyl album. The 5 discs are seated firmly in die cut pockets in front and back of the book. The 48-page book contains the usual linear credit notes, lyrics, well detailed pictures of the singers and musicians and a colourful comic book. It also contains some of Arjen’s original black & white sketched drawings detailing the story with both words and drawings.

Overall, it’s a really good well-made high-quality package. However, what I would of liked to have seen was more additional information like there was in the Earbook of Into The Electric Castle for example. That particular Earbook was way more interesting than what we have here. Plus, all the information you do get here is very much repeated with the comic book and Arjen’s sketches.

I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK back on the 25th of June and it arrived the day after its release. It also came with the free digital download which came in handy so I could at least listen to the album on the day of its release whilst waiting for it to arrive. The other good thing is that I got it at the price I personally believe it should have been sold at in the first place and I ended up paying £40.17 for it saving me over £20.

Artwork.

The albums artwork cover was done by David Letelier who is a motion graphics artist and is quite new to doing this type of work since he only got involved into working with bands back in 2016. He also done the artwork for the live Ayreon release of Electric Castle Live And Other Tales.

Overall, its perhaps nothing special in relation to Jef Bertels who done the artwork for the biggest majority of Ayreon albums. The comic book illustrations were done by Felix Vega. Additional Artwork Layout by Roy Koch. Transitus Logo by Stefan Heilemann. Ayreon Logo by Thomas Ewerhard.

Release Editions…

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The album was released in the form of 4 formats counting the Digital Download which is the cheapest option and can be had for around £10.99 on Amazon UK. Things have been done a bit differently regarding 1 of the 3 physical formats with this release. For example, unlike previous releases where Arjen had the sense to release a 2 CD + DVD or single Blu Ray package for surround FREAKS! like myself to get their hands on the 5.1 mix. Your only option here was to buy the most expensive package.

One of the other notable things about this release is that it also came accompanied with a 28-page Comic Book that came free with all the physical formats providing that you ordered it from the Ayreon Webstore as the poster above suggests. You can also purchase the Comic Book individually from the store for €7.50.

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However, I do find most artists webstores can be more expensive in relation to other stores and I would hardly say you was getting the Comic Book entirely for free. For example, the 2 CD package is priced at €17.99 plus an additional €3 in postage and packing here to where I live in the UK. This works out to around £20 UK which is £5 more than it will cost on Amazon UK where it retails at around £14.99.

Vinyl lovers will get even more of a better deal on Amazon especially has the webstore is charging €29.99 plus €13 p+p for the 2 LP Transparent Red Edition. That works out to near enough £40 here in the UK were as on Amazon UK it also comes with the Comic Book for £22.99 which is quite a massive saving.

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It was also released on Gold and Yellow Marble coloured vinyl though they were Limited Editions and only 500 of each were pressed and most likely all would have been snapped up in no time at all despite the expense. To be honest I could not tell you if they cost any more than the Red vinyl but what was is strange is that the album was not pressed onto Black vinyl which I dare say would of been even cheaper.

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The most expensive package is the Earbook Edition which was priced at €49 on the webstore and is no longer available. Because there was no cheaper DVD package released with the 5.1 mix this time, this is what I eventually opted to go for myself. Although if it was not for other stores like Amazon I would of ended up buying the 2 CD package instead because with additional cost of the p+p this would of cost over £60 on the webstore which would of been well overpriced in my own opinion.

The Album In Review…

Transitus is the 10th studio album to be released in Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon project and was released on the 25th September 2020. It’s a double album worth of material that contains 27 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 80 minutes, 43 seconds. This is how double albums should be made just like they were many moons ago.

It’s what I would also consider to be a sensible timeslot especially in relation to fitting it more comfortably onto vinyl. These days many have lost the plot of what a double album is and think we are made of money to be paying the extra expense it costs to put it on more than 2 LP’s.

Though I have to confess that not everything was sensible with how Arjen rushed to get out this new release and he soon had a plethora of complaints plastered over his Facebook page ranging from how he forgot to include the lyrics with both the CD & Vinyl releases, forgot to mention who the vocalists were on the 4th CD that comes in the Earbook Edition.

Though the biggest cock-up was made by his record company who sent out a good few of the pre-ordered Earbook Editions to the wrong address which meant that whilst people where eagerly waiting for them to arrive, they had been sent to other customers who had only ordered the CD. No doubt for the some of the customers Christmas came early 😁😁😁.

Despite all the hiccups and managing to sort most of them out the sales of the album done very well and it even made the Number 1 spot in the Dutch album charts and also sold very well in other European countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Belgium.

As with most of the material Arjen writes he gets to work on it well in advance and he had been working on the music and the story behind Transitus over the past three years. Like I mentioned its storyline is more down to earth although it also takes in another time or realm that crosses between the boundaries of life and death and is perhaps more of a GHOSTLY! tale of a love story that’s gone wrong so to speak.

As ever Arjen has brought in new vocalists to portray the roles of the characters in the story as well as keeping some of those who appeared on previous Ayreon albums. The same goes for the musicians. Paul Manzi of Arena is perhaps the most notable of singers to me and it was announced back in July of this year that he had left the band. One of the more notable musicians here is the guitarist Joe Satriani who plays a guest spot on one of the tracks.

The other notable person Arjen brought in was the Actor Tom Baker most memorable for his role as the central character role of Doctor Who to narrate the story. I shall go into more detail about the story behind Transitus later on in the “Album Track” section of my review. But first of all, let’s take a look at the packaging contents.

The Package Contents…

No doubt with any package like this they come very well presented, LOOK! the part and are nice to have in your collection. Though quite often not all the extra content serves any real purpose and at times is only put in to make it look like you are getting something of value for your money. It really depends on you as an individual as to what the extra content will give you and I myself can find some of it pointless at times.

For example, regarding the book that comes with these types of packages I myself would rather see more informative information than a load of glossy pictures. Although the book here does lack informative information it is nevertheless still very well done and acceptable in my opinion. Unlike the Picture Books that Steve Hackett does which is only filled with glossy pictures and contains no information at all apart from the usual linear credit notes.

My incentive for buying most of this type of package is for the 5.1 content more than anything though it is a bonus when they come with something to read as well. The reissues of the Jethro Tull back catalogue that comes in a book edition are a perfect example of what a good box set is all about. They even cost less than this and they offer more better content than any other box set I have ever seen and that includes box sets that costs well over £100. Let’s now take a look at the content that comes on the 5 discs.

CD’s 1 & 2.

CD’s 1 & 2 contain the main featured double album. The first disc contains 14 tracks and has an overall playing time of 38 minutes, 50 seconds. The second disc has 13 tracks with a total playing time of 41 minutes, 46 seconds. Please note that the number of tracks on the first CD is only listed like this on the Earbook Edition whereas on the Vinyl and CD packages the first disc only contains 9 tracks due to them making the first track into one longer track.

CD 3 is the first of the bonus discs and contains 22 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 75 minutes, 41 seconds. This is basically the instrumental version of the double album and the reason it’s shorter is mostly likely down to the narration being omitted.

CD 4 is the second bonus disc and this comes with 17 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 57 minutes, 9 seconds. This disc contains the Guided Vocals to which most of them was sung by Micheal Mills & Marcela Bovio. It also features Marjan Welman & Jan Willem Ketelaers who sang Cammie Gilbert & Johanne James parts respectively.

Overall, the extra bonus content does depend on what the individual really gets out of it and to myself it’s perhaps more of a filler more than anything else and I can often see a lot of it as pointless. You are not getting anything different or new here at all and both discs I could see the biggest majority of people only ever bothering to give them one spin.

The DVD.

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The DVD’s main menu is very neatly animated and the artwork from the comic book as been put to good use. This would of perhaps made a better picture for the album cover. The menu gives you four options to choose from “Play”. “Song Selection”. “Audio Selection” and “Extras” to which are navigated to by a white square box.

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The “Song Selection” is split over 3 screens which can be navigated to by clicking on “Next Menu” and “Previous Menu” respectively. The one thing they did miss out on was to include the “Main Menu” and the only way of getting back to the main menu is via the top menu on your remote control.

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Whilst the music is playing it displays a picture from the comic book for each track as seen above. It adds a nice touch and is better than looking at a blank screen like or the same picture all the time like on the DVD of Into The Electric Castle and a much better job has been done here.

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The “Audio Selection” offers you the choice of two audio soundtracks and by default it’s set to High Definition Stereo which LPCM 24-bit 48k. The 5.1 mix is in standard Dolby Digital 448kbps 48k and its unfortunate no DTS soundtrack was also made available.

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The “Extras” contains the bonus material and I am fairly sure that Arjen has uploaded most (if not) all of this content on his Youtube channel. The video clip gives you the choice of stereo and surround sound and is in the same audio formats as in the “”Audio Selection”. The video itself is 7 minutes, 22 seconds long and is a mix of the music that makes up the “Fatum Horrificum” suite and is very well animated with some GREAT! graphics.

The behind the scenes is a 50 minute, 16 second documentary featuring Arjen and many of the singers and musicians talking about the album and recording their parts for it. You also get 1 minute, 56 seconds of footage showing you Noa Gruman conducting and directing the Hellscore Choir and the official promotional trailer.

Overall, the extra bonus material is quite good to have and contains some useful informative information with the documentary. I would not say it was best bonus content I have seen in relation to what I have seen on previous Ayreon releases but it’s worthy of 6 out of 10.

The 5.1 Mix.

Transitus is very much an album that is suited for a 5.1 mix with all its effects and I quite like this mix that Arjen Lucassen has done and he has done a very good job of it I will say. He’s certainly utilised the surround field very well placing effects, backing vocals and other instrumentation in the rears and panned some of them across all the channels for good effect in the right places.

Considering the mix was only done in Dolby Digital and there is no DTS. It does sound very good and gives you a very good immersive experience and I am not even missing a DTS Soundtrack as much as I thought I would. Nice of him to include a 24-bit lossless stereo mix as well and I don’t see many audiophiles and surround FREAKS! kicking up a fuss with these mixes and I take my hat off to him and give him a very good well deserved 👍👍👍.

Musicians & Credits…

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All music & lyrics by Arjen Lucassen. Narration by Arjen LucassenLori Linstruth & Tom Baker. Script & Story by Arjen Lucassen. Recorded at The Electric Castle and various other locations. Stereo & 5.1 mix by Arjen Lucassen. Stereo & 5.1 Audio Mastered by Brett Caldas-Lima at Tower Studio. Artwork by David Letelier. Additional Artwork Layout by Roy Koch. Comic Book Illustration by Felix Vega. Transitus Logo by Stefan Heilemann. Ayreon Logo by Thomas Ewerhard.

Vocalists & Characters

Tom Baker (The Storyteller)
Tommy Karevik (Daniel)
Cammie Gilbert (Abby)
Marcela Bovio (Fury/Servant/Villager)
Paul Manzi (Henry)
Amanda Sommerville (Lavinia)
Johanne James (Abraham)
Caroline Westendorp (Fury/Servant/Villager)
Simone Simons (The Angel of Death)
Michael Mills (The Statue)
Dee Snider (The Father)
Dianne van Giersbergen (Soprano)
Dan J. Pierson, Jan Willem Ketelaers, Lisette van den Berg, Marjan Welman, Will Shaw. (Villagers)
Hellscore Choir (Directed by Noa Gruman)

Instrumentalists

Arjen Lucassen
Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Glockenspiel, Dulcimer, Toy Piano.
Joost van den Broek
Hammond, Piano, Fender Rhodes.
Juan van Emmerloot
Drums.
Ben Mathot
Violin.
Jeroen Goossens
Flutes, Woodwinds.
Jurriaan Westerveld
Cello.
Alex Thyssen
French Horn.
Thomas Cochrane
Trumpet, Trombone.
Patty Gurdy
Hurdy Gurdy.
Joe Satriani
Guitar Solo on “Get Out! Now!”.
Marty Friedman
Guitar Solo on “Message From Beyond”.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The word “Transitus” comes from the Latin, meaning passage or crossing and in Western Christianity Transitus refers to the time of passage through death to life. This is a story that crosses between earth and the spiritual realm and what we have here is basically a story about a well to do Toffee nosed family set in the late 19th century in like a gothic setting. Although it’s perhaps more like the Victorian times back here in England.

The storyline is a bit basic and nothing really that new especially when it comes to the down to earth side of it. Which is about some well to do rich kid falling in love with one of the maids and the rest of his family being dead set against it sort of thing. The only real difference is how the stories plot unfolds and interacts between the spiritual realm of heaven and earth and it is more like a fantasy rather than something that will give you the willies so to speak 😁😁😁.

There is even a comical side to it and it is perhaps better suited to a comic than being made into a film. But then again, the story is very short and too short for comic in reality, and the comic you get for your seven and half bucks you could easily fit into one issue of the Beano or Dandy. Although I will say that both the musical and lyrical content do help stretch it out more so let’s delve into it a bit deeper as I go through album tracks.

Disc One.

Tracks 1 – 6. Fatum Horrificum: (a) “Graveyard”. (b) “1884”. (c) “Daniel And Abby”. (d) “Fatum”. (e) “Why?!”.

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The opening track is the longest on the album weighing in at 10 minutes, 21 seconds although this is far from one track like “The Day That The World Breaks Down” from the previous album The Source and is a suite made up of bite size snippets. The biggest majority of this 6-part opening track is instrumental and mainly features keyboards and orchestration and it kicks off in the graveyard in gothic style and features the Hellscore Choir directed by Noa Gruman chanting words in latin.

The second part the narrator Tom Baker enters the equation and 1884 is where the story is set and I have to say he does a brilliant job of pulling you into the story. To hear the story properly behind Transitus the album is the way to go and all the comic book will give you is a mere snippet of it. You can read it in less than what this 2 minute, 17 second snippet will take to play and the comic book is more of a graphical presentation more than anything else.

The story is one of those that starts at the end and goes back a year earlier to show you who done it and how it all came about sort of thing. I am not going to go into the details of the story though there is a lot of death in it and it’s centred around two characters namely Daniel and Abby who loved each other to death 😁😁😁. The song “Everybody Dies” on his previous album The Source springs to mind as a spoiler alert 😁😁😁.

The third part or snippet very much has a Pink Floyd feel about it and it features some nice slide and guitar work from Arjen it is only very short though and it then falls back into the gothic chanting from the Hellscore Choir which is the fourth part. The fifth part is the shortest snippet to which features the first of the vocalists Tommy Karevik who plays the main character role of Daniel. He enters into the equation by screaming his way through it for a short burst and is followed by a short burst of orchestration that beefs up the dramatics.

The final part of the suite is a short song that features Cammie Gilbert another of the main characters in the story who plays the part of Abby. Also, on vocals is Johanne James who plays the part of Abby’s father Abraham. Musically this chugs its way along with its driving rhythm and most of the main instrumentalists feature in the whole of the 6-part suite.

Overall, the opening suite is the most PROGMATIC! track on the whole of the double album and it features some tasty keyboard work from Joost van den Broek and Arjen himself. It is perhaps that side of the instrumentation that makes it more PROGMATIC! than anything else in reality. I suppose in a way it would have to be a contender for the albums TOP SPOT! Though the way it’s been split into small snippets and how it’s all been put together does not completely GEL! especially the final part which is the song.

Track 7. Daniel’s Descent Into Transitus.

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Many of the songs along the album are also bite size snippets and this next track features Tommy Karevik solely on vocals and we also get some more narration by Tom Baker at the very beginning. Musically it’s quite powerful and the orchestrated keyboards, guitars and drums provide the right amount of power for Karevik to express the role of his character very well. It also features some GREAT! work by Ben Mathot on violin and Jurriaan Westerveld on cello.

Track 8. Listen to My Story.

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This next track starts off once again with some fine narration by Tom Baker and in reality, he is the only one who is holding the story up and together because musically there is no doubt, they are BIGGING! things up. However, it sounds more like something out of Batman rather than anything from a horror or ghost story. Most of the songs on the album are power chord driven and are more structured like metal to which I can find very boring at times because it does not have anywhere else to go.

Most of the time the guitars and keyboards are more or less playing the same thing and they offer nothing in the way of lead work. The only thing that remotely stands out in the way lead work on this track is Thomas Cochrane’s trumpet & trombone and they add the POW! & ZAP! and are the holy smokes Batman 😁😁😁.

It’s on this song they also inject a bit of comedy into it with the opening words “Well hello there” delivered by Simone Simons who plays The Angel of Death and this is a zillion light year away from Transitus. The song is done in the way of duet with both Simons and Karevik on main vocals with both the other Fury’s Marcela Bovio and Caroline Westendorp backing them up to which they all do a fine job.

Track 9. Two Worlds Now One.

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This is one of the better songs on the album and once again it’s got quite a FLOYD-ESC! feel to it and features some GREAT! guitar work from Arjen. It even has a little touch of Jethro Tull from Jeroen Goossens on the flute. Both Karevik & Gilbert share the lead vocals again with Bovio & Westendorp on backing vocals and they all do a GRAND! job and this is another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 10. Talk of the Town.

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Things do start to pick up a bit from from here and this next song features Paul Manzi, Tommy Karevik and Cammie Gilbert taking care of the vocal duties with the main core of the band Joost van den Broek, Juan van Emmerloot and Arjen himself who play on all tracks. Patty Gurdy on Hurdy Gurdy makes her first contribution on the album and both Jeroen Goossens on flutes and Ben Mathot’s violin are also well utilised here.

Arjen did put out four videos of the songs from the album on his Youtube channel before it was released and this one, I felt was the best of them. Paul Manzi is a GREAT! singer and I am sure Arena will miss him. I also see the band have replaced him now with Damian Wilson who appeared on many Ayreon albums and its perhaps unusual not to see him on this one.

The “Talk of the Town” is a GREAT! song that has quite a medieval and Celtic touch to it and reminds me of some of the material that was written for The Theory Of Everything back in 2011. It’s another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Tracks 11 & 12. Old Friend / Dumb Piece of Rock.

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The next couple of tracks are tied together and “Old Friend” is a short ballad of a song that once again features Tommy Karevik solely on vocals and he’s supported by a fine melody played on the piano by Joost van den Broek who does play some GREAT! piano work throughout the album. Jurriaan Westerveld’s cello also wonderfully supports this fine song.

Dumb Piece of Rock” is perhaps the stand out track on the album and features Micheal Mills on vocals who has appeared on some of the more recent Ayreon albums and he does do a terrific job not only on the main vocals but with his QUEEN-ESC! harmonies.

It’s a very powerful rock song that gives Juan van Emmerloot a chance to bang out his sticks on the drum kit and along Arjen’s heavy metal guitar and all the other musicians they drive it along very well. It’s my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 13. Get Out! Now!.

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Get Out! Now!” is another powerful rock song and even though this one is mostly sung by Dee Snider apart from a verse sung by Tommy Karevik. Oddly enough it does sound a bit like an Arena song. Both Marcela Bovio & Caroline Westendorp are on backing vocals and it also features a lead solo shredded by Joe Satriani who does quite a blistering job on it.

The video above is another of the four songs Arjen posted on his Youtube channel before the album was released and this song ROCKS! enough to be another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 14. Seven Days, Seven Nights.

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The final track on the first disc “Seven Days, Seven Nights” gets ended off with another fine short ballad sung by Simone Simons once again backed up on the piano by Joost van den Broek and some fine harmonies by Marcela Bovio & Caroline Westendorp.

Disc 2.

Track 1. Condemned Without a Trial.

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Things start to hot up and rock up again back on earth and this track is metal driven by Arjen’s guitars, Juan van Emmerloot‘s drums and Jeroen Goossens adds a fine touch of Jethro Tull to it on the flute. The vocal duties are handled by Dan J. Pierson, Jan Willem Ketelaers, Lisette van den Berg, Marjan Welman, Will Shaw who play the part of the villagers and Paul Manzi who all do a GRAND! job.

Track 2. Daniel’s Funeral.

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The pipe organ and bells are called for and Joost van den Broek provides them on its sombre opening, though there is perhaps more to the musical side of things of a funeral for a friend here. This is a song that gets built up with other elements such as the cello and violin, driven guitars, drums and expressive vocals by Amanda Sommerville & Paul Manzi.

Track 3. Hopelessly Slipping Away.

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One of the better songs on the 2nd disc and its structured around a bass synth, along with the melody lines played on the guitar. Both of these two elements of its musical structure remind me of something from Alan Parson’s 1999 album The Time Machine. Ben Mathot’s violin also lends very well to giving this more of melodic structure.

This is another fine duet sung by Cammie Gilbert & Tommy Karevik and was another of the songs Arjen posted on his Tube Channel before the album was released and it ends off nicely with a nice bit of acoustic guitar.

Track 4. This Human Equation.

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Musically this next track is a bit like a rocked-up version of the “Doctor Who Theme” with its backbeat and as ever Tom Baker is doing a GRAND! job throughout all the tracks with his narration. This is the final of the four songs that a video was made for and the vocals are provided by Simone Simons, Marcela Bovio, and Caroline Westendorp who provide the theatrical dramatics along with the music and do also do a NICE! job of it.

Tracks 5 & 6. Henry’s Plot / Message from Beyond.

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Paul Manzi & Amanda Somerville share the vocal duties on this short haunting piece played on the keys by Joost van den Broek. It’s good to see Manzi getting more of a role in the story. The bass line on “Message from Beyond” is a bit like something from Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds. Both Amanda Somerville & Cammie Gilbert are on vocal duties and it features a rather nice guitar solo towards the end played by Marty Friedman of Megadeth and all do quite a fine job here.

Tracks 7 – 9. Daniel’s Vision / She is Innocent / Lavinia’s Confession.

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Daniel’s Vision” is the shortest track on the second disc that features the voice of Tom Baker some expressive words delivered by Tommy Karevik set to some atmospheric keyboards from Joost van den Broek. Many of the shorter tracks on the album are merely used for part of the storey and “She is Innocent” is another short track that perhaps has a rush of adrenalin with how the guitars and drums beef it up. Karevik provides the main vocals and is backed up by Somerville.

The tension is hotting up in the story and the rush of adrenalin and power continues on “Lavinia’s Confession” this time with Amanda Somerville and Johanne James on vocals. I quite like the bass guitar on this track and it’s got quite a springy punctuation to it as if its picking up the rattle of the strings so to speak.

Track 10. Inferno.

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The story is reaching its dramatic climax and the Hellscore Choir are back chanting more Latin words of doom as more are going to be engulfed in the flames of hell.  Johanne James is the one caught in the thick of it all calling out in desperation, adding to the dramatics are the well-orchestrated keyboards, guitars and drums pounding their way along in marching style.

 Track 11. Your Story Is Over!.

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The Angel and her Fury’s or Batman and Robin are back for a bit more POW! and ZAP! and “Your Story Is Over!” is the same song as “Listen to My Story” and here it gets reprised with a slight change to the lyrics. The same female crew are taking on the vocal duties and it is the end of the story. Well almost 😁😁😁.

Track 12 & 13. Abby In Transitus / The Great Beyond.

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The final couple of short tracks are the stories epilogue and the first of them “Abby In Transitus” musically has another FLOYD-ESC! feel about it and that is basically because the intro part of it is a reprise of “Two Worlds Now One“. However, the second part of it also has an “Echoes” feel to it with Joost van den Broek’s keyboards and I quite like the atmospheric sound of Juan van Emmerloot’s drums too. Cammie Gilbert sings this one solely.

More themes reoccur for the closing track of the album “The Great Beyond” and it appears that there is a happy ending after all as Daniel and Abby are reunited. Both Cammie Gilbert and Tommy Karevik express the final words to the story and it all gets nicely put to bed with the Hells Choir breathing down their necks 😁😁😁.

Summary…

To sum up Transitus by Ayreon. I could honestly say that in terms of the written materials musical structure and how it was all put together could easily be the weakest album in the Ayreon catalogue. There is not really anything in the way of a real good standout track over the whole double album. To be honest I was disappointed how The Source turned out overall, but it did have some strength and “The Day That The World Breaks Down” and “Everybody Dies” were very good standout tracks.

I would also say that 90% of the time the music is not really fitting with the story and the way it’s been delivered by the singers is no different to any other Ayreon album. What we have here is more fitting with a Rock Opera like Tommy was and not really a film like The Who’s other album Quadrophenia. It’s perhaps more suited to the comic book presentation its already been given 😁😁😁.

However, I would also say that the biggest majority of Ayreon albums do not have standout tracks and they are not all like The Source and Into The Electric Castle and have been glued together to shape and fit into the storyline behind them more than anything. For example, I cannot think of a standout track on The Theory Of Everything though the way that album was put together with its songs and musical structure is way ahead of Transitus. It’s very much more along the lines of progrock and not snippets of pop and rock songs like we have here.

What really holds Transitus together is that it has a narrator and just like War Of The Worlds had a very good one with Richard Burton so does this with Tom Baker. He very much has the right voice to deliver the story and when paired up with the many singers Arjen has always had to express the words like they are acting out their parts. That is what really makes this work more so than its musical structure.

I can understand why Arjen was not sure this was going to be an Ayreon album in the first place just by the musical structure being very different. It would not have been until he added the words to the story, the narrator and all the singers that it started to sound like an Ayreon album that’s why it really fits in with the Ayreon catalogue.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the latest Ayreon album Transitus. The real core behind the album is its story and how its delivered and that should be enough to draw in most Ayreon fans alike including myself. This is not an album that contains blistering guitar and keyboards solos and its musical structure does not really allow the space for them either.

I would not say it’s the best story Arjen Lucassen has come up with either but least its more down to earth like the stories we seen on The Human Equation and The Theory Of Everything and that is what personally appeals more to my taste and why I can enjoy listening to this album and think it’s quite a good album. I think the 5.1 mix works very well for it too and Arjen gets a BIG THUMBS UP! for it 👍👍👍.

I certainly would not call it the PROG! album of the year either. However, I do feel that it deserved to reach the number one spot in the album charts in his own country and many countries. My highlights from the album are as follows: “Fatum Horrificum: (a) “Graveyard”. (b) “1884”. (c) “Daniel And Abby”. (d) “Fatum”. (e) “Why?!”. (f) “Guilty“. “Two Worlds Now One“. “Talk of the Town“. “Dumb Piece of Rock“and “Get Out! Now!“.

Overall, Transitus might not be the album that will sit with a good few PROGSTERS! out there I would expect, but nevertheless it still has that Ayreon feel about it which should appeal to the biggest majority and still should not disappoint. Please note that my price point rating score below is based on the price on the price from the Ayreon Webstore and not from other outlets.

A Bit More Than A Dumb Piece Of Rock…

The 2 CD track listing is as follows:

Disc 1.
01. Fatum Horrificum: Graveyard. 1:20.
02. Fatum Horrificum: 1884. 2:17.
03. Fatum Horrificum: Daniel And Abby. 1:32.
04. Fatum Horrificum: Fatum. 1:29.
05. Fatum Horrificum: Why?!. 1:08.
06. Fatum Horrificum: Guilty. 2:35.
07. Daniel’s Descent into Transitus. 2:40.
08. Listen to My Story. 4:02.
09. Two Worlds Now One. 4:05.
10. Talk of the Town. 5:21.
11. Old Friend. 1:40.
12. Dumb Piece of Rock. 4:13.
13. Get Out! Now!. 5:02.
14. Seven Days, Seven Nights. 1:26.

Disc 2.
01. Condemned Without A Trial. 3:49.
02. Daniel’s Funeral. 4:58.
03. Hopelessly Slipping Away. 4:28.
04. This Human Equation. 4:19.
05. Henry’s Plot. 2:19.
06. Message from Beyond. 5:21.
07. Daniel’s Vision. 1:44.
08. She is Innocent. 2:09.
09. Lavinia’s Confession. 1:52.
10. Inferno. 2:17.
11. Your Story Is Over!. 2:41.
12. Abby In Transitus. 3:01.
13. The Great Beyond. 2:48.

Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

Price Point Rating Score. 6/10.

5.1 Mix Rating Score. 8/10.

Bonus Material Rating Score. 6/10.

Album Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #166

Sculptures – Heartscore

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Introduction…

The latest release from Dirk Radloff’s project of Heartscore could be seen as either a way of reinventing oneself or perhaps he’s taken onboard what many of the older mainstream artists are doing these days by putting out newer mixes of their older albums. However, you look at it, this is not really a new album but a remake of his debut album Sculptures he originally released back in 2002.

To be perfectly honest this is not the kind of thing I personally do not like to see and you would have to do something quite spectacular to convince me that a remake of an album is better than the original. I am even dead set against artists putting overdubs on albums later on and you will soon see how disappointed I was when reviewed the Expanded Deluxe Edition of Barclay James Harvest’s classic album Everyone Is Everybody Else here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/lee-speaks-about-music-16/  

The only album I ever thought that was improved upon by doing such a thing was what Mike Oldfield did with his remake of Tubular Bells back in 2003. He himself had good reasons for re-recording some of the instrumental sections of the original 1973 album and they were down to much of those sections being muddy in the mix. As much as I myself love the original album I was never happy with the mix myself because it was muddy in parts.

The original album also never benefited from the 5.1 mix either and if anything, it made it worse than do it any real justice. Whereas the 5.1 mix of Tubular Bells 2003 is simply to die for and one of the best recordings I have in my entire collection. It’s totally GORGEOUS! and very much now a surround FREAKS! paradise and blows the 1973 mix out of the window by miles 😁😁😁. Which is a damn site more that I could ever say for the remakes of both Wishbone Ash’s Argus and Camel’s Snow Goose albums that I also picked up on in that BJH review.

Being in closer contact with Dirk and having more or less near enough his entire back catalogue of music. I do know that he does have his own personal reasons to want to do a remake of this older album of his. The original album is also one of my personal favourite albums of his, and this remake is certainly going to present me with a real challenge to review.

The question is have I just wasted my money in purchasing Sculptures 2020? Before I answer that question and delve deeper into the new release, let’s first take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The album has been released in 2 formats (if you count the physical extremely Limited Vinyl Edition) the cheapest option is the Digital Download and its just as well I no longer collect vinyl 😁😁😁. However, to a certain degree I can understand the amount of pride one will get by having their album pressed onto vinyl even just to display it on a shelf.

Thankfully he has seen sense once again to stick with the Digital Download being more of the priority release and not wasted his money on having a load of CD’s made to clutter up his garage. The Digital Download will not break your bank account either and is reasonably priced at €7 (Euro).

Limited Vinyl Edition.

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Like I mentioned the vinyl release is extremely limited and only 3 copies have been made available to purchase. Dirk is not an artist who sells albums by the bucket load which is why he no longer has a couple of hundred CD’s knocked up and is perfectly understandable.

With any physical format the more copies you have pressed the cheaper and more viable it is to sell them at a respectable and reasonable price. Having any physical product knocked out in small runs is going to cost you an arm and a leg and in the case of vinyl it will often work out to costing more money than its actually worth and in this case, he is even selling it for less than it cost himself.

Just as well he’s only got 3 of them for sale otherwise this might very well be one of most foolhardy decisions, he has ever made 😁😁😁. Hopefully he can generate enough money back from the sales of the Digital Download to compensate towards some of the loss. Though at the end of the day the money side of things has never been of any great importance to him in relation to getting his music out there. Most vinyl lovers will often pay more money for vinyl and its higher price tag might even seem a fair price for an extremely limited edition.

The extremely Limited Edition is pressed onto 180-gram Clear vinyl and is priced at €45 (Euro). It also omits 2 tracks from the album due to vinyl restrictions. Though it does also come with a free digital download of the album so you are not entirely missing out on the extra couple of tracks.

Artwork.

The cover design for the album cover was done by Dirk Radloff himself using photos and a background that he’s pieced together. He’s gone with something entirely different for the new release in comparison to his original idea as you can see in the artwork that was done for both the original and new remake of the album side by side below.

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I can understand to a certain degree as to why the need for a change in relation to how he’s brought the music more up to date by remaking it to fit in with the metal genre side of things. However, regarding the albums actual title of “Sculptures” this new cover design looks like something out of Star Wars in relation to the picture of Stonehenge which happens to be a sculpture 😁😁😁.

Personally, I would of thought something more along the lines of the Stonehenge sculpture being made out of metal instead of stone would have been more fitting. The other thing I thought to be rather strange is that both albums have exactly the same title and I personally felt that it would have been better to title the new version “Sculptures 2020”.

However, I did confront him about the title and it was something he did think about, but as he explained that most bands don’t rename a reissue, even if radical changes have been made. He gave me Ozzy Osbourne‘s remake of Blizzard of Oz as an example that had newly recorded bass and drums on the 2002 reissue of the album. Which was really down to both Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake suing him for writing credit royalties.

To be honest I was not aware of it and brought the album on vinyl upon its release back in 1980. I also later brought it on CD later on in the 90’s. The new reissue would not have any interest to me either and personally just because other bands and artists give exactly the same titles to remakes of their albums would not alter my way of thinking either. Simply because when it comes to music there are no rules.

The Album In Review…

Sculptures by Heartscore was released on the 3rd October 2020. The album just like the original debut album of the same title contains 10 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 45 minutes, 24 seconds and is almost a minute longer than the original. Although there is a logical explanation as to why the new version of the album is a tad bit longer and that is because this new version has been remade completely from scratch.

A lot of things have changed over the years in the Heartscore camp in particular with how the vocal side of things are now handled. Since the release of the self-titled album Heartscore back in 2016, Radloff’s project has very much become a 2-man outfit simply because he himself no longer feels confident enough to take on the vocal duties by himself like he did for his first 4 albums that were released between 2002 – 2009.

As a matter of fact, since the release of Black Riders (Part 2) he has relinquished himself from all vocal duties including his QUEEN-ESC! harmonies. However, the 2-man operation thing may very well have been what he wanted from the very beginning because on the original debut album Sculptures it did also feature Oliver Harstack singing lead vocals and contributing some dramatic vocals on 4 of the songs.

To be perfectly honest Dirk Radloff has never really had what one would call a rock voice and I quite often seen his voice as more along the lines of somebody like Kevin Rowland the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners who sang pop songs such as “Come on Eileen” for example.

I would also say that his choice of vocalist he chose to sing on his later albums Heartscore and Black Riders (Part 1) who he hired Courtesy of Studiopros.com namely Chris. Never had what I would call a rock voice either and was somebody that sang along the same lines of Ashley Holt who Rick Wakeman had as his vocalist for many years and had more of a deep baritone operatic voice.

The vocalist he has now and who sang on his last album Black Riders (Part 2) namely Giacomo Rossi is 100% of what I would call a rock vocalist and his vocal range can also stretch out to some of the finer operatic qualities that certainly fits in with Radloff’s music. Not only the music he has written more recently either, but could also easily fit in with his earlier material such as the material he wrote for the original Sculptures album which was more rock and pop orientated.

41760363-c52f-4665-a67b-0b4c5e8c45d9_FotorGiacomo Rossi

However, no matter what qualities any singer may possess when it comes to remaking any album, replacing the original singer will be very hard for many people to accept. There is no doubt in my mind that Rossi is by far the best singer the Heartscore project has ever seen. But even for myself remaking an album such as Sculptures with a singer of this calibre is going to present me with a real difficult challenge to be able to accept it. Especially knowing the album as well as I do over the years of having it.

If I was to look at the Heartscore catalogue the only two albums that are really out of place in my eyes are the last two Black Riders (Part 1 & 2). This is simply because it has two different singers delivering the songs from the same project and for some people this might seem rather odd. Not only that it was this project that started the change in the musical direction were Radloff decided to go down the road of metal in relation to the earlier albums that were more prog-rock, rock and pop orientated.

Black Riders (Part 1) would certainly have been my choice to redo and would have been simple enough just to replace the vocals with Rossi’s voice. Not because it was a bad album and that Chris never had a good enough voice. That was far from the case. But I do feel that Rossi’s voice is more suited to the metal genre and will fit in with it more precisely like it does on Black Riders (Part 2) which is really an album I personally felt should have attracted a lot more attention because of his voice.

I am pretty sure for any artist who only does studio work and does not go out and play their songs live on a regular basis, going back 20 years to completely remake an album from scratch would present them with quite a challenge. Especially if they were like myself who never writes anything down apart from the lyrics. It would very much be a case of having to learn to play the songs all over again.

However, in Dirk Radloff’s case he very much writes down all the music before he’s even played a note. Hence the reason for the name of his project being called Heartscore. So, he may very well still have the original musical manuscript. But the way he has gone about remaking Sculptures he may very well have had to write it all over again because this is not quite a carbon copy of the original songs on the album where everything is played exactly the same and there is a slight difference and more of a difference regarding the new production.

As to how different we shall find out later when I run through the tracks in the album tracks section of my review, but first let’s take a look at the album credits.

Musicians & Credits…

Band Pic

All music composed, arranged and produced by Dirk Radloff. Lyrics written by Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings and E.A. Robinson. Mixed & Mastered by Dirk Radloff at his home studio. Artwork and sleeve design by Dirk Radloff.

Musicians.
Dirk Radloff: Composition, Arrangement, Instruments.
Giacomo Rossi: Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

One of the things I instantly picked up on when listening to this new version of the album is that the track order has been changed. At first, I thought this may have been done down to vinyl restrictions and him rearranging the tracks to fit. However, he informed me that his reason behind this was because the songs on the first side of the original album were influenced by Yes and Led Zeppelin. Whilst the songs on the second side were more orientated on 80s Metal. By flipping the sides, he felt it would achieve a good connection to his previous album Black Riders (Part 2).

One of the things that perhaps fitted in with his previous couple of metal-based albums with the Black Riders project was the lyrical content. Radloff does not write his own lyrics and uses poems written by American poets. Stephen Crane wrote more along the lines of the darker sinister side of things which portrayed the sort of evil that can be associated with most heavy metal-based music. Whereas Sculptures uses the words from 4 different poets that are quite different and may also reflect some humour along the way.

https _www_FotorLangston Hughes

Langston Hughes was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry, and was best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the few prominent black writers to champion racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists. Most of the novels he wrote depicted the history of the Negro in America. This could also reflect in some of his poetry too. Although his poetry also portrayed the struggles, joy and laughter of life and was also put to music. He was featured on the 1958 album Weary Blues by Charles Mingus & Leonard Feather reciting his poetry and also contributed lyrics to Randy Weston’s 1960 album Uhuru Afrika.

GettyImages-171135660-00819da09c0b445abb6619d289351c55_FotorEmily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson like many was one of those unfortunate people to become more on an important figure after her death. She did however manage to get 10 of her poems published during her lifetime. However, it was not until her younger sister discovered the bulk of her work after she had passed on that she became one of the most important figures in American poetry.

It’s said that she spent most of the latter years of her life as a recluse and never married. She also responded to most people via the many letters she wrote. However, through her poetry it was quite evident that she took the time to observe life around her and treated everything including animals, plants, rocks, and homes as equals.

7948ef59e8185b1ba18af2f84816370c_FotorE.E. Cummings

Often regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. E.E. Cummings wrote approximately 2,900 poems and associated with modernist free-form poetry. Much of his work has idiosyncratic syntax and uses lower case spellings for poetic expression. He was also a playwright and wrote four plays Santa Claus: A Morality perhaps the most successful one he wrote back in 1946. His first book of poems was published in 1923 entitled Tulips and Chimneys which was rather a strange title. However, many of his poems are sonnets often with a modern twist and are also often rife with satire.

59ff95bd28368e1eea5936164c9a62d651d4048c_FotorE.A. Robinson

E.A. Robinson was one of the most prolific American poets of the early 20th Century and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on three occasions and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. Although he described his childhood as stark and unhappy and his early struggles led to many of his poems having a dark pessimism side about them. He also hated his Christian name “Edwin” to which it took his parents 6 months to give him the name due to them wanting a girl. The name was also drawn out of a hat of boy’s names.

The album Sculptures mainly features the poetry of Langston Hughes and just by having a quick glance at the history of the four poets he used here, I would say that the dark pessimism side of E.A. Robinson‘s poetry would be perhaps more fitting to Metal genre of music. Though looking at some of the words that appeared on his 3rd album Many Directions that also included poetry from Robinson, Hughes and Dickinson they might all very well fit the bill to a certain degree. “There’s Been a Death in the Opposite House” shows how observant Emily Dickinson was.

So, let’s now take a look at it all has turned out as I take you through the individual tracks from the new version of album and see if the metal structure that has now been given to it really works.

Track 1. The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise.

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There is no doubt that placing this song as the opening track on this newer version of the album works more effectively in drawing you into the album than the original opening song “Men Treats Woman” that was more of a pop song. To be honest even though musically it might feel heavier than the original, it’s really the bass, drums and the recording that give it the extra weight and not so much the electric guitars. By adding the extra weight to how the guitars have been re-recorded does take away some of the finer nuances that could be heard on the opening riff on the original recording.

For example, the opening riff is played more or less spot on even down to how the guitars were originally panned from left to right. However, the incrementation is much wider on the original panning and you will also hear some of the nuances coming from the strings bleeding into the right channel that are no longer evident on the new recording. The guitars pretty much rocked in the first place and I do feel it’s not so much them that are behind the process of giving this song more of a metal edge, because they already had that in the first place.

The biggest change is in the vocal department and the original song was sung by Oliver Hartstack with Radloff’s harmonies supporting him in the chorus and on a few of the verses. Both are quite high and sweeter, they might also appear to be a bit light hearted for the songs potential power.

All the vocals on this newer version of the album are handled by Giacomo Rossi and are a bit more unified with the one voice. His supporting vocals work more like backing vocals and not so much like a harmony as in the chorus of the original. I always call Radloff’s harmonies QUEEN-ESC! because they do have that Queen presence about them and they are influenced by his love of that band.

There is no doubt that Rossi’s voice does have more of the right expression and weight to match the songs potential power, and when paired with the more weight that’s been added by the bass and drums and how it’s been recorded this is what really brings this newer version more in line with his previous album Black Riders (Part 2). Though for myself to say this version is better is hard to say, simply because the density that’s been given to the musical side of things does strip away some of the nuances and atmosphere the original recording had.

This is the only song on the album that features one of Emily Dickinson’s poems and “The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise” she wrote back in 1764. Like I mentioned earlier it was quite evident that she took the time to observe life around her and the words she wrote here are written in a paradox and a contrasting way that describes how the seasons change. She was very observant to notice how happily the birds could be singing away happily in the spring and no longer be there in the winter. It’s quite a haunting poem that takes in the sweeter side of life and sadness of death.

To be honest having looked more into the Dickinson’s words here I would say that the darker density that has now been given to this newer version of the song is perhaps more fitting for her words and a very good overall job has been done here.

Track 2. Judgement Day.

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Written by Langston Hughes in 1927 the subject matter we have here is very much in line with the poems of Stephen Crane that Radloff chose for his Black Riders project and like many of the poems he does tend to choose they do tend to have some dark sinister side to them. I guess that’s down his love of horror films and it’s easy to see why they would fit in with the Metal side of things.

I think the most notable thing about most of the poems he uses for his songs is in general they can be very short. Though I will say that he does not seem to have any problem getting more miles to the galleon out of a shorter set of words and will quite often stretch them out by doubling them up. Using them for both verse and chorus in some cases.

Judgement Day” is one of the couple of shorter tracks on the album and travels along at quite a rushed pace. To be honest no matter what version you listen to they both purely ROCK! Radloff may not have the rock voice Rossi possesses but his voice works well on the original song and it does sound as if it’s stretched out a bit more even though it’s not.

What does help is the reverb and I think that even works better for musical side of things and the darker density does tend to hide a good few of the finer details the original production had. There is no doubt this new production brings it up to date and in line to what he is doing today. But for me to actually say this is a better production what the original album had would be very hard especially, listening to both of these songs back to back.

Just listening to the opening guitar riff on the original version sounds like we have a wall of sound here reverberating back at you it’s a very cool effect and works extremely well. The overall spread of the sound has much more space to breath in and it has a much wider dispersion about it all. The newer version sounds more closer in proximity it’s still very good but if you are a Surround FREAK! like myself you will most likely be paying closer attention to every detail.

You can hear all the notable differences between the both versions for yourself when you listen to them back to back. I always find it helps to listen to the original version first.

I do quite like the attack on the short lead guitar solo on the new version better though and it does feel like it has more of blistering pace about it. The drums also have more of a punctuation about them as well.

Track 3. Little Julie.

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Another Langston Hughes poem and this is about a teenage delinquent and if memory serves me right the word “Delinquent” was even put in brackets at the end of the title on the original album. Quite a few of the titles on the original had extensions to their titles to which do not appear on this new remake. Though I am sure they are not necessarily needed.

This is another song that Radloff gave to Oliver Hartstack to sing on the original album and I much prefer his own voice to his. Rossi’s vocals give this song a much better attack and are much better suited to the song and I prefer this newer version to the original. It also ROCKS! harder with everything that has been done here.

Track 4. What If a Much of a Which of a Wind.

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The forces of nature and the evil force of mankind are taken onboard in this poem written by E.E. Cummings. Destruction is the menace whether it comes in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes or atomic nuclear power and the music has the right driving force and energy to portray the menacing destruction we have here and it drives along at quite a blistering pace.

Even though both versions musically have been played more or less spot on even down to the twin guitars and solo. The song itself I find can have a totally different feel to it with how Radloff and Rossi deliver the words. For some reason the way the original song sounds with Radloff’s voice puts me in mind of “Stand and Deliver” by Adam & The Ants. Musically it does also sound like there is a duel going on and I get this visualisation of him riding on horse at high speed speaking the words through a megaphone in a way of heeding every one of the dangers that lies ahead.

The newer version with Rossi’s voice makes it sound like more of a full blown out rock song and his voice I do find has more of the power to deliver the words to marry up with the music. Though I quite like both versions and there is some really GREAT! guitar from Radloff on this song.

Track 5. John Evereldown.

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This next song is my favourite track on the album and it’s very much one of the two more PROGMATIC! tracks on the album. The story behind the poem that E.A. Robinson wrote pertains to lust for women and the way the character he wrote about sneaks about like a thief in the night trying to keep out of sight, might even have you thinking of something along the lines of Jack The Ripper. Whatever he was up to was mischievous and no good.

To be honest I am surprised more Folkies have not picked up on his poem because it does have that sort of folklore element about its story. It’s also quite fitting to the subject matter that bands such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span would present in the way of a English traditional folk song and it’s story does tend to have more of an English trait about it.

This is another song that features some GREAT! guitar work from Radloff and I’ve always liked it for its progression. His voice on the original version is without doubt excruciatingly high and easy to see why he no longer sings on his albums today. Rossi’s voice on this new version handles it with ease and it gives the song a bit more aggression. There is no doubt he is clearly the winner out of the two though both versions do not give me a problem listening to them.

The newer version does sound like it’s slightly running along at a faster pace and it is actually 14 seconds shorter than the original version. Though to be honest it’s quite hard to notice even playing them both back to back. There is however a slight difference with how the lead solo was played but once again it’s quite hard to notice because it does run over the same lines more or less.

Track 6. Blue Bayou.

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The title and the subject matter behind it may very well suggest something like this picture I chose above. However, the words in this poem by Langston Hughes are pertaining to a lynching and the sun really has gone down on more than one occasion here. I’ve always seen this one as more of a commercial rock song despite the brutality behind its story.

Like the previous song there is a notable difference in the timing and once again the newer version is played at a slightly faster pace and is 13 seconds shorter than the original song. There is also more of a notable difference on this song and the newer backline of the bass and drums very much give it more of a groove which enables Radloff to play both the guitar riff and the lead work slightly different almost giving it more of a funky feel to it.

There is no doubt the original recording does once again have more of that wider space in the field for everything to breath in. However, this newer version is much better because Radloff’s voice on the original did tend to make it sound like it was dragging the song out too much, were as the slightly faster pace and Rossi’s voice has much sharper attack to give the song more of the right edge.

Track 7. All I Want Is You.

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The words in the title of this one is taken from the Langston Hughes poem “Madam and Her Might-Have-Been“. They were in brackets like thus: “All I Want Is You (Madam And Her Might-Have-Been)” on the original version. Hughes wrote a series of these poems to convey the delicate conflict between a wealthy white woman and the black woman that portray and the struggle and plight many black women had back then.

Musically this song has a bluesy Led Zeppelin vibe about it and the only difference between both versions is the vocals and the darker density that has been given to this new recorded version. Even though once again Radloff’s voice is excruciatingly high I would still go with the original version myself, because I like the presence of the atmospheric space the recording has to offer.

Track 8. Men Treats Woman.

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Just like the previous song the title is taken from a sentence contained in the Langston Hughes poem “Lover’s Return” he wrote back in 1931. I can see why he chose the sentence for the title and it does have a bit of satire side to it with how some men are seen to be treating women like an old pair of shoes and kick em’ around a bit.

Oliver Hartstack sings the lead vocals on the original version and his voice does suit this particular song and Rossi also does an admiral job on the vocals on this version. Musically the song follows suit regarding its structure and the way it was originally played.

The notable differences are with how guitar sounds on the verses and the on the original version they do have more of a plucky vibe sort of like what Hank Marvin gave to some of The Shadows tunes or perhaps something along the lines of what you would find on surfing songs.

This version takes that feel away from it even though the plucky vibe is still present. I do prefer how more punctuating the bass and drums are on this new version and would give this version the slight edge over the original.

Track 9. When Sue Wears Red.

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The words in this love poem by Hughes reflect beauty and how it stands out so clearly with its fiery colour. This is another song that features some excellent guitar work from Radloff and it has some GREAT! progression along its path too. It’s the second of the shorter tracks on the album and no matter what version you listen to they both very much ROCK!

Track 10. Aunt Sue’s Stories.

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This poem of Hughes dictates black slavery and the aunt’s stories in this case are real ones rather than children’s fairy stories so to speak. Both this track and “John Evereldown” are the longest tracks on the album weighing in over 6 minutes. They have always been my personal favourite tracks on the album and this newer version is some 20 seconds longer than the original. Though were the extra 20 seconds come from it’s hard to tell even listening to the both versions back to back. My guess is somewhere along the long instrumental section.

The song itself has been structured around a dominant bass line and its heavy guitar riff and they are the main driving force behind it, though it also has an organ to fall back on also for support. The keyboard is one of the easily noticeable changes because on the newer version the organ has been replaced by an electric piano. The other major change is right at the beginning where the opening guitar riff is no longer supported by the bass.

This is another song that featured Oliver Hartstack on the lead vocals and his voice is quite expressive enough on this one to deliver the words very well. The same can be said for Giacomo Rossi on this new version.

However, if I was to say there was anything any better with this newer version, I would say it was how more punctuating the bass and drums sound and that is perhaps not enough to make me choose this over the original. Though it’s always going to be hard to beat any original unless it was completely bad in the first place.

Summary…

To sum up the new 2020 version of Sculptures by Heartscore. Like I mentioned in the introduction of my review this was always going to be a difficult album for me to review. What we have here is an album that has been given two productions and I could not honestly put my hand on my heart and say this new production is better than the original. However, there is no doubt that this newer production brings things in line with what Dirk Radloff is doing today and he has very much achieved what he was aiming to do in the first place.

The chances are that its most likely that unlike myself nobody as even heard the original and if you were to hear his last album Black Riders (Part 2) you would easily identify it with what Heartscore is about today and it would not sound out of place either.

The fact of the matter is that both versions of the album have been very well produced and I can take good and bad points from them both. I certainly think that most people would prefer Giacomo Rossi’s vocals too and in the past Radloff has been heavily criticized for using his own voice on his albums. Which is why he originally stopped making music for a while and decided to get in others to take on the vocal duties.

Personally, I never had a problem with his own voice and his harmonies in particular I have always seen as very cleverly constructed. However, listening to both of these albums back to back it is quite evident that Rossi’s voice is way more controlled and is not overstretching the boundaries. Whereas Radloff’s voice can at times sound excruciatingly high which might have been off putting for some of those earlier critics.

There are many singers in this world who are not the best and one does at times have to get more accustomed to accept and be able to appreciate them. For example, many people could not listen to Steve Howe of Yes sing. Personally, I do not have that much of a problem with his voice even though it’s not the best at times at all. But I would rather listen to him than Bob Dylan any day of the week 😁😁😁. But we are all different of course and all have different acquired tastes.

The one thing I certainly do not see anybody being able to do is criticize Giacomo Rossi’s voice. He is by far the best singer I have ever heard on any Heartscore album and to be honest I am surprised that Radloff’s music is not enticing more people to take more notice of it.

My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Judgement Day“. “John Evereldown” and “Aunt Sue’s Stories“. I would also include both “Little Julie” and “Blue Bayou” because I do feel those are the two tracks that have been improved upon over the original versions.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Sculptures 2020 by Heartscore. There is no doubt that a lot of hard work has been put in to remake the album from scratch. However, as to why Radloff decided to do this in the first place is perhaps a bit beyond my comprehension. To a degree I can see that some of the tracks on the original album had an 80’s metal structure to them, but that is far from the grinding metal that you will hear on Black Riders (Parts 1 & 2).

The material on the original album Sculptures is more rock based than anything else it has a few PROGMATIC! moments but nowhere near as much as his second two albums that followed it Straight To The Brain and Many Directions. Granted this newer version does bring it in line with what he is doing today though I would not entirely say it had the same grinding metal that we heard on his last two albums to which metal is more of the direction he heading in today.

The album Sculptures is not what I would call a solid album but nevertheless it is one of my favourite albums (though not his best) because it does have the right amount of power to rock on many of the songs upon it. There are also certain PROGMATIC! aspects that make the album float my boat more so than the biggest majority of metal albums that are out there that are not to my personal taste.

Some people may very well prefer what Judas Priest were doing in the way of metal from the 80’s onwards but that does not appeal to my taste in relation to what the band was doing in the 70’s with the album Sad Wings Of Destiny. For me what they went on to do later in the 80’s lacked a lot of the variety that album had and they became too sterile like Status Quo churning out the same thing all the time.

The album Sculptures does not lack variety and I can say that about the music Heartscore has always presented to me throughout the years I stumbled across Dirk Radloff and his project. Remaking the album I personally do not feel makes it any better than what it originally was and like I mentioned earlier if there was an album that needed to be redone. It would have to be Black Riders (Part 1). Simply because it makes no sense having two different vocalists on the same project.

However, there are some improvements on a couple of songs like I mentioned and getting back to my original question in the introduction as to if I have waisted my money in purchasing Sculptures 2020? The answer has to be No! Simply because its cheap enough to purchase for the Digital Download of the album and I can still get some pleasure out of hearing it done this way. It’s also given me much to talk about in my review here too.

You can listen to the album for free or purchase the album here @ Bandcamp: https://heartscore.bandcamp.com/ It’s also available to purchase from other outlets such as Amazon, Apple Music etc.

Newly Re-Sculptured To Fit In Today…

The track listing of the album is as follows:

01. The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise. 5:23.
02. Judgement Day. 2:51.
03. Little Julie. 3:10.
04. What If a Much of a Which of a Wind. 4:55.
05. John Evereldown. 6:34.
06. Blue Bayou. 4:15.
07. All I Want Is You. 5:02.
08. Men Treats Woman. 4:06.
09. When Sue Wears Red. 2:40.
10. Aunt Sue’s Stories. 6:28.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6.5/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #165

Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings: Live At Hammersmith – Steve Hackett

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Introduction…

Steve Hackett is back with yet another live release and I am beginning to lose count of how many live concerts I have of his I have brought over the years. To be perfectly honest I had no intention of buying this one especially down to the fact of how badly mixed Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra Live At The Royal Festival Hall turned out. The only real thing that twisted my arm was that it was mixed by one of the wizards of 5.1 recordings namely Steven Wilson.

To be perfectly honest the biggest majority of live concerts I have on DVD & Blu Ray in surround sound are disappointing and in general it is studio albums where most of the immersive enjoyable experience of surround sound can stand out a lot more.

However, I do also have some STUNNING! live concerts mixed in 5.1 that can also give you the same immersive experience. So, it just goes to prove and show that if the 5.1 mixing engineer has the right head on his shoulders the best results can be achieved and exist in both studio and live recordings. It’s just a shame that there are only a few 5.1 mixing engineers in this world who are really capable of doing such a thing with them.

There is nothing out there that could ever really capture the atmosphere and true sound of a live concert and the only way you will ever capture that is to be at the concert itself. Though I will say that if a 5.1 mix is done right it is by far the nearest thing to it you will ever get. It can to a certain degree actually give you the presence and feeling of being there which is something even Steve Hackett’s long-time recording engineer Benedict Fenner did when he did the 5.1 mix of Hackett’s live acoustic concert back in 2003 that can be heard on the Hungarian Horizons: Live in Budapest DVD.

That 5.1 mix only has the audience placed in the rear surrounds and it does give the presence of you actually sitting there at the venue itself and is probably one of the best examples of how well effectively 5.1 works in an acoustic surrounding. It’s also certainly the best 5.1 mix I have ever heard Benedict Fenner do and one I would most certainly use as a reference recording. I do have some excellent stereo recordings of live acoustic concerts that can also give you the presence of being there, though this recording excels those by quite a margin and sounds purely FANTASTIC!

There is no doubt in my mind that multi-channel recordings can bring the listener much closer to the music where you can get to hear everything in it, much more than even a pair of headphones will ever give you. Where there is a lot more instruments to be placed in the mix as in the case of even a live band, separating them all is where 5.1 has a lot more advantage over stereo.

As well as I know of how good of a 5.1 mixing engineer Steve Wilson is. I have never heard him mix a live album before. He may very well have done 5.1 mixes of his own live concerts though I honestly could not tell you because I am not into his music and it does not appeal to my taste.

The 5.1 mix he did of Steve Hackett’s 3rd studio album Spectral Mornings is by far the best 5.1 mix that has been done on any of his studio albums. There is no doubt in my mind that Wilson would of done a top job on the 5.1 mix of this latest live concert of Hackett’s.

However, can it compete with some of the other STUNNING! live concerts I have that have been mixed in surround sound? And most importantly will the 5.1 mix make this a GOTO concert that will make you want to play it more often like the effect that those other live concerts have on you?

I should also stress that there is a lot more to this review than just the surround mix in that this is a live concert that features Steve Hackett and his band playing two iconic albums back to back. That alone should be a tempting turkey more so than any mix. But before I delve any deeper into the concert itself, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The 3 discs come in a very well-made cardboard 4-panel DigiPak that has plastic trays to firmly hold the discs in place and it also has a handy pocket to store the booklet. The 12-page booklet consists mostly of pictures from the concert, it does contain a bit of informative information plus all the production linear notes and credits.

Artwork.

The cover design was done by Thomas Ewerhard and like most live concerts was made up with the use of photographs taken from the concert. The photographs were taken by Lee Millward, Mick Bannister, Howard Rankin, Chris Simmonds, David Clay, Martin Porter and Andrea Holmes.

Release Editions.

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The concert was released in 5 formats counting the Digital Download which would be the cheapest option and costs £11.99. The cheapest physical formats are the 2 CD/DVD, 2 CD/Blu Ray packages at £15.46 & £15.68 respectively. For vinyl lovers the Vinyl Edition comes in a box set that contains 4 180-gram LP’s & 2 CD’s for £39.85.

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The vinyl Edition was also released on a “Lawnmower Green” colour but was a Limited Edition of 300 copies only (all sold out) and was sold exclusively on Steve Hackett’s website. Please note that all the prices I have quoted are from Amazon UK and the prices can fluctuate. They are however considerably cheaper. For example, on his website the vinyl box set will cost £45 plus postage & packing.

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There is also a Limited Art-Book Edition that can be had for around £40. It also comes signed if you purchase it from his website and is not sold any cheaper on Amazon UK. This edition comes with 2 CD’s plus the DVD & Blu Ray. Though personally I find these types of packages may look very neat and come in a quality presentation. However, does one really need all 3 formats.

One of the biggest downfalls that prevented me from buying this package is really down to the lack of informative information that is contained in the Art-Book. I know this from my experience of buying the Art-Book of his Live At The Royal Albert Hall concert which comes with the same amount of discs and cost £10 cheaper than this. It’s mostly filled with Glossy pictures taken from the concert.

Had it have been more like what Arjen Lucassen does with his Ear-Books by putting in plenty of well good detailed informative information besides just pictures. I may have been tempted to buy it. The other downside is that unless you are a vinyl collector (to which I am not) these things can present you with a problem of being able to store them.

Live At Hammersmith In Review…

Steve Hackett’s Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings Live At Hammersmith was released on the 25th September 2020. It’s very much a concert that captures Hackett and his band at the London venue back in November last year. It’s also a venue he has played at many a time, though he does still have fond memories of playing at the same venue back in the early 70’s with his former band Genesis playing the material from one of the bands most iconic albums.

There can be no doubt that this would have attracted most people to pay the price of the concert ticket see the show and buy this new release. Adding to it he is also playing material from one of his own iconic albums that will also help in pulling in the punters adding to the sales. Which can only be a good thing and I am glad to see that he is still going strong today and wish him all the success in the world.

Steve Hackett is someone I do have a lot of respect and admiration for and he is the only former member of Genesis who really stuck by his guns and never changed his style of music from prog-rock to pop like the band did. His own solo career continues to see him work in the field of prog-rock which is also something I could not say for the other members solo careers of the band. Although there is no denying that the band and even some of its members namely Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford became far more successful and popular. But today you could also say that Steve Hackett is more in the limelight than any of those now.

Part of his success is very much down to him keeping the music of his former band still alive today. Though as much as I love the music of Genesis up until the time, he had left the band back in 1977. I have to confess the only thing that did attract my attention to this particular live concert was like I mentioned in my introduction was the 5.1 surround mix done by Steven Wilson and not so much the fact he was playing two iconic albums that I do also love to bits. As to if I got more than I expected? I will let you know at the end of my review but for now let’s take a look at the package contents.

The CD’s.

Like the CD’s that come in some of the previous live releases Hackett has put out they exclude all the talking in between the songs. However, you do get all the songs that were played at the concert spread over the 2 discs. The first CD contains 12 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 63 minutes, 10 seconds. The 2nd CD contains 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 63 minutes, 50 seconds.

The Blu Ray.

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The main menu gives you four options to choose from “Play Concert”. “Behind The Scenes”. “Song Selection” and “Audio Menu”. It’s simple enough to navigate and has a white square to indicate each of the four options which by default is set to the first of them.

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The “Song Selection” menu (as seen above) is split over two screens with the first of them displaying all the tracks that were played in the first half of the set and the second screen displays the second half of the set. The “Chapters 1 & 2” are your way of navigating between the two screens and you also have the option “Return To main Menu” to take you back.

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The “Audio Menu” gives you the choice of two audio soundtracks both in 24-bit 48K lossless formats. By default, its set to the Stereo Mix and you also have the DTS HD 5.1 Audio for surrounds FREAKS! like myself 😁😁😁. Overall, the interface of the menu is very good and looks pristine sharp and is burst shot bright. There is a slight pause in between loading the screens of the navigation panel and each screen plays different audio snippets from the concert.

The “Behind The Scenes” is the only bonus feature you do get and it is exclusive to Blu Ray only and not included on the DVD Edition. Though I personally would not say it was a deal breaker regarding your choice and for me the DTS HD 5.1 Audio is the bigger deal because the DVD does only come with a lossy stereo mix and a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

You get near enough 34 minutes of Hackett and the band talking about the show and you have things like the meet and greet where people paid the extra to get to talk to the man himself and him basically having a bit of a drink after the show with his wife, and mother. It perhaps does not have enough informative information to entice you to want to see it more than once but better than nothing 😁😁😁.

The Picture & Film Editing Quality.

The concert was filmed, edited and produced by Paul M Green of Film 24 Productions who specialise in high-definition multi-camera filming and have filmed many other well-known artists. The show was captured by 10 camera operators capturing all the right angles and the footage has been very well edited capturing both the audience and the band and enabling it to bring you closer the musicians on the stage.

The picture quality is perhaps not pristine like some shows have been captured and put onto Blu Ray. However, the Hammersmith Odeon was always a dark and dismal place and it’s only really down to the better lighting they have these days that they are able to capture concerts a lot more clearly now. Overall, an excellent job has been done by all here.

The 5.1 Surround & Stereo Mixes.

Two mixes done by two different mixing engineers is perhaps a strange thing to come across but I can see why. Although the latter of the two engineers is very much capable of doing a GRAND! job of both. The stereo mix was done by Steve Hackett’s long-time keyboard player Roger King who also does the biggest majority of the mixes for his studio albums.

To be honest most stereo mixing engineers tend to know what they are doing and King has done a very good job of the mix as always. I don’t think I could ever doubt his ability in that field. 5.1 mixes however, are a completely different ball game and there are very few engineers that excel in that field and King is certainly not one of them. Though I have seen some improvements on some of the more recent Hackett studio albums he has done the 5.1 mixes for and he is improving.

Steve Wilson on the other hand I will say is excellent at doing both stereo and 5.1 mixes and he does excel in both of these fields. You only have to listen to what he did with the Jethro Tull’s 1971 Aqualung album to vouch for that. I doubt Roger King and a million other stereo mixing engineers could have ever brought that album back to life and done what he did with it. That was a MASSIVE! achievement in that it was a very difficult album to mix in the first place and never sounded right till he got his hands on it.

When it comes to multi-channel surround mixes Steve Wilson has very much became a GOD! for many surround FREAKS! including myself and he is without doubt one of the top mixing engineers in this field. Mixing engineers of his calibre are very much a rarity in this world and only a minute few exist.

There are perhaps a couple of reasons as to why the stereo mix was left to Roger King. The first being tied in with his long-term relationship of being close friends and the other down to time constraints in getting the job done quicker. However, I can assure you that at the end of the day there is nothing remotely disappointing about the stereo mix and you will be happy enough with it.

The 5.1 mix however could very well add to the amount of sales this release sells and surround FREAKS! like myself will not be disappointed either. This is by far the best 5.1 mix that has ever been put on any of Hackett’s electric live concerts and it excels every one of them by quite a margin. The attention to detail that Wilson has given to the live mix is flawless in that he has very much carefully arranged some of the right instrumentation to be placed in the rear channels to make it work, and panned other instruments and FX to good effect.

The wind instruments played by both Rob Townsend & John Hackett work extremely well placed in the rear and so to do the backing vocals. Both the clarity and dynamics work extremely well and are well defined throughout the whole of the show.

Rob Townsend’s sax in some parts being placed in the left rear speaker reminds me of the Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature live DVD from 2003. Although the sax does not quite project as well as in that concert and give you the notable surprise effect for you to turn your head towards the sound of it and think WOW! It’s a concert I highly recommend for surround FREAKS! and Elliot Scheiner is very much another GOD! and perhaps the number one in the field when it comes to surround mixes. It would not surprise me if Steve Wilson has been learning from his mixes either.

Overall, considering this is the first live 5.1 mix I have heard Steve Wilson do, he has without doubt done quite an impressive TOP JOB! of it and it easily merits TOP MARKS! of 10 out of 10. However, what I will say is that as good as the job he has done here I do have a few live concerts that are certainly more STUNNING! than this one and more of what I would call Surround Sound Heaven in that they will blow your socks off. That Steely Dan live DVD I mentioned is also one of them.

Musicians & Credits…

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Directed & Produced by Paul M Green. Concert Sound Recording by Martin Knight. Sound Recording Engineer Benedict Fenner Front House Sound. Stereo Mix by Roger King.  5.1 Surround Mix by Steven Wilson. Camera Operators Stephen Lay, Gwyn Hemmings, James Fox + Doco, Nick Payne, Chris Flemming, Alfie Warnham, Anthony Graham, Mike Simpson, Phil Davis & Ryan Clutton.

Editing & Authoring by Paul M Green. Cover Design by Thomas Ewerhard. Photography by Lee Millward, Mick Bannister, Howard Rankin, Chris Simmonds, David Clay, Martin Porter and Andrea Holmes.

Musicians.
Steve Hackett: Guitar/Vocals.
Roger King: Keyboards.
Rob Townsend: Saxophone/Woodwind/Percussion/Vocals/Keyboards/Bass Pedals.
Jonas Reingold: Bass/Bass Pedals/Variax/Twelve String Guitar/Vocals.
Craig Blundell: Drums/Percussion/Vocals.
Nad Sylvan: Vocals/Tambourine.

Special Guests.
Amanda Lehmann: Vocals/Guitar.
John Hackett: Flute.

The Concert In Review…

The live concert we have here was filmed at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London on the 29th November 2019. It was also the final show of his Genesis Revisited tour that he embarked on and kicked off earlier on in the year at the Kursaal in  Oostend, Belgium on the 22nd of April. In total Hackett played 83 shows mostly in Europe but also in some parts of America and Canada.

You may well of noticed the change of name from the Hammersmith Apollo to the Eventim Apollo and it’s currently now named like this for sponsorship reasons just like it’s previous name. Venues such as this change their name all the time down to sponsorship deals and its been that way since the building was refurbished with the Canadian brewing company Labbatt’s contributing towards the cost of the refurbishment around 1993/94. Though many including myself will still commonly call it the Hammersmith Odeon.

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The Art Deco styled building was designed by Robert Cromie and it was originally called the Gaumont Palace when it opened up in 1932 and seated nearly 3,500 people. It was not until 1962 that the venue became more better known as The Hammersmith Odeon and its one of London’s most popular indoor venues to stage live concerts.

Just about everybody who has been in the limelight has played there since the late 50’s including Buddy Holly who played a couple of nights at the venue back in 1958. it opened up in 1932. Many more famous American acts followed suit in the early 60’s such as the likes of Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Even The Beatles played there in late 1964 and played 38 shows over 21 nights in 1965 at the venue.

Around 2005 further developments to the building extended its capacity from 3, 500 to 5,000 and in it was given an extensive refurbishment in 2013 and upon re-opening in the same year that’s when it was given the name of the Eventim Apollo.

Steve Hackett’s band line up and the couple of guest musicians he has tagging along with him, is more or less the same line-up he had on his 2018 tour with the orchestra. The only real notable change is that there is no orchestra and Craig Blundell has replaced Gary O’Tool on the drums. Blundell is no stranger to prog-rock and has previously played in the past with the neo-prog bands Frost*, Kino and others.

He’s also played drums for Steve Wilson back in 2015 where he was ushered in as a last-minute replacement for the absent Marco Minnemann on one of his live tours and played on four of the tracks on his 2017 studio album To The Bone. So, he obviously has right credentials to fit in with this band line-up, though I have to confess I do miss Gary O’Tool because he also came with a GREAT! voice beside being quite an outstanding drummer.

Like I mentioned earlier regarding how playing the music of his former band Genesis as in many respects catapulted Hackett’s success back into the limelight and pulls in a lot more attraction. I’ve also noticed over the last few years that he has injected a lot more of his former bands music into his live shows and it’s starting to take over his own solo career.

By doing what he is doing you could say that effectively he’s becoming a bit like Roger Waters who tends to brush the music from his own solo career under the carpet at his live shows. Although he’s not completely gone as far as Waters in that respect however, it does tend to come across to me like that and his live shows are starting to become too much of the same thing. Which is also one of the reasons I did not intend to buy this new live release. So, let’s now see if this live concert is going to give me anything special apart from the surround mix.

On With The Show…

What you do get on the DVD or Blu Ray is the whole of the show which has a running time of near enough 2 hours, 18 minutes. The first half of the show celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Steve Hackett’s classic 1979 album Spectral Mornings and although the biggest majority of the album gets played in the first set, he’s shuffled it around a bit in relation to the playing order of the tracks on the original album. He’s also sandwiched a few of the tracks from his latest album At The Edge Of Light in between.

Set One.

The intro to “Tigermoth” is played as the band enter the stage which also includes one of the special guests Amanda Lehmann. Although you would hardly call her a special guest as she has been making appearances on Hackett’s studio albums and been on tour with him for quite a long time now. However, I was surprised to see that Nad Sylvan had also joined them as he’s only usually there for the Genesis part of the show.

After the intro Craig Blundell’s drum rolls into action and they roll out the first track from the classic album “Everyday” and I will say the way Hackett’s voice has improved over the years and does make this sound like they have more or less got it down to tee vocal wise. Lehmann’s voice works particularity well alongside Hackett’s and all the other members of the bands harmonies also work well. She also gets to play guitar alongside Hackett on this opening number too.

Musically once again they have more or less got it down to a tee and the only real thing that is missing is the harmonic effect on the bass guitar to which I have heard both Ian Ellis and Lee Pomeroy emulate the sound pretty much precisely in the past on his live shows.

Though as with any live performance it does not have to be spot on to the studio recording and if it was, I am sure one would soon get bored and they really do an excellent job of it as always. I should also stress that I am not having a knock at Jonas Reingold either who is also an excellent bass player, he also contributes a lot of guitar on this show too.

Hackett then explains to his audience the kind of show they are in for and it’s at this point we take a break from the Spectral Mornings album already. It’s also at this point that he decides to roll out 3 tracks from hie new album At The Edge Of Light and they happen to be the first 3 tracks on the album and once again he’s shuffled the playing order around.

Under the Eye of the Sun” is the first of them up and you can see the GRAND! job they do it from the video from the concert that was posted on the record labels official Tube channel.

Nad Sylvan then exits the stage and is not seen again till the second part of the show. Lehmann also temporarily leaves stage but only for the a couple of minutes whilst the rest of band knock out the short instrumental piece “Fallen Walls and Pedestals” which runs straight into “Beasts in Our Time” and once again they have all do a GRAND! job and Rob Townsend gets to play some tasty sax parts on this little set from the At The Edge Of Light album.

It’s time to return back to the Spectral Mornings album and this next song “The Virgin and the Gypsy” is one of my personal highlights from the first half of the show. It’s also the first of two of the songs to feature his brother John Hackett on flute and I’ve always loved Hackett’s acoustic playing and his 12 strings acoustic sounds GORGEOUS! on this one and also accompanied by Reingold on electric 12 string. It’s also Amanda Lehmann’s final contribution of the show and the vocals are extremely well done on this song.

A rather short version of “Tigermoth” follows and it’s only the instrumental section they play of the song which I felt was a shame as it is my personal favourite song from the album, though I could add a few others easily enough too. However, it’s very well arranged and along with the albums self-titled instrumental track “Spectral Mornings” to which they play next I would also include both of them in my highlights from the first half of the show.

Hackett’s nylon stringed classical guitar is then brought out for “The Red Flower of Tai Chi Blooms Everywhere” and once again John Hackett returns to the stage for his final flute contribution to the show and this final part of the set are all instrumental pieces and it gets wound up with “Clocks – The Angel of Mons“. It’s perhaps a bit strange ending off this part of the show this way and surely the self-titled track would have been the better option. But nevertheless, I cannot take anything away from the performances and Hackett and the band have done a really GREAT! job.

Set Two.

The second half of the set is dedicated to Genesis and mainly features the material from their 1973 album Selling England By The Pound. It also features the main musicians only and none of the special guests feature in this part of the show. Unlike Spectral Mornings they play the whole of the album and it’s good to see they have not shuffled the track order around. The other good thing is that although most of these songs have been played live by Hackett before there are a few that have not.

The second half of the show opens up with Nad Sylvan’s unaccompanied voice on the introduction to “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” and he has quite a GABRIEL-ESC quality to his voice to deliver the song very well too. However, I would also say that it is his voice that perhaps contributes more to the tribute side of things here and as to if that’s a good thing that really depends on how you yourself see it. As for myself I can be on the opposite side of the fence most times and there are moments when I can get used to it, and others when I just can’t.

There is no doubt he is doing a GRAND! job though and they are more or less have this song down to a tee. The band have a playful time by doing an extended version of “I Know What I Like” which allows Rob Townsend to play solos on both the sax and flute and its perhaps the only song where they have done a different arrangement by adding the solos. It also allows Hackett to take a seat on the drum riser.

Firth of Fifth” is one of the couple of songs in this set that gives Roger King a chance to play more of a vital part especially with its opening piano solo. It is actually very evident by watching this live concert that on most of the songs he has less to do and that is something you would very rarely see if you were to watch Tony Banks playing the same songs.

This is really down to some of the keyboard parts and in most cases more of the dominant lead parts being given to Townsend to play on the sax. I suppose in a way they do this to make him fit in more with the band were as most wind players would only appear in a short section of a song were needed. He even gets to play some of the guitar parts in some cases too.

However, what is noticeable is that it is only ever on the live shows and not on the studio albums that Townsend gets all this extra work and at times I do feel that his role can be too much and be too overpowering. He did also say in his interview in the behind the scenes footage that he gets to play more parts and people will either love or it hate it.  I would not say that I hate it and he is a really GREAT! musician but perhaps he needs stop bogarting the joint 😁😁😁.

The next 3 numbers from the album Hackett has never played live with his band before and the first of them “More Fool Me” he never even played guitar on the original version back in 1973. The acoustic guitar was played by Mike Rutherford and it was sung by Phil Collins.

To be perfectly honest I have no idea why this song was included on the original album in the first place because it’s nothing to write home about and something that would be more fitting to stick on the B-Side of a single more than anything else. It is without doubt the weakest track on the Selling England By The Pound album and perhaps prevents it from being the solid album that it would of been without it.

Though I have noticed that some reviewers are hailing this version has the nearest thing to hearing Peter Gabriel sing it. I personally would not go that far and I think Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales has done just as much of a fine job of reviving the song by himself singing and playing it on his acoustic guitar over the more recent years.

The next couple of tracks from the album are certainly more to my taste and are really good to see they have been included. “The Battle of Epping Forest” is one of my personal favourite tracks from the album and a song that even the original band very rarely ever played live. I absolutely love this song and I have to say that Nad Sylvan certainly would have had his work cut out here and does do quite a good job of the many expressionate characteristic roles that Gabriel originally gave to the song.

The instrumental track of the album “After the Ordeal” is another pleasant surprise and another track from the album I’ve always loved unlike Tony Banks who at times can really do my head in at times when I hear him speak about much of the bands earlier material. What I do miss in this live version though is Hackett’s nylon guitar because he does play it all on his electric. The second part also has quite a Brian May ESC! sound too which is quite lovely and it also had that one the original version.

This is also a piece were Townsend’s sax does work really well by playing a slightly different counterpart melody to accompany Hackett’s lead lines on the guitar. Both of these are amongst my personal highlights from the show along with “The Cinema Show” and “Aisle of Plenty” which in reality is really one song.

Like “Firth of Fifth” this is a song that they have played several times in the past but I quite like this performance because it does give King the chance to play more of a role on the keyboards in particular with the solo. Sylvan’s voice also works very well on this song has you can see in this other official video that the record label posted on their Tube channel.

This song very much puts an end to the album although its not quite over because the next song “Déjà Vu“is a song that Steve Hackett was working on with Peter Gabriel around the time they made the album back in 1973. It was though only a rough demo and Hackett asked Gabriel if he could finish it off around the time, he was working on the first Genesis Revisited studio album Watcher of the Skies back in 1996. The song was also included on the album and sung by Paul Carrack.

It now gets its first live airing and  Sylvan’s voice on this one does give you an idea of what it would of sounded like if Peter Gabriel had sung it. To be honest I am surprised that Gabriel never thought about doing it himself because it is a good song and in my opinion much better than “More Fool Me“. Though both songs in reality do not really fit in and GEL! with the rest of the material on Selling England By The Pound.

It’s at this stage that Hackett introduces the audience to the members of the band and they then roll out a couple of songs from the 1976 Trick Of The Tail album both of which they have played live on numerous occasions. “Dance on a Volcano” is up first to which afterwards they go off the stage and come on back for a final encore and end the show off with “Los Endos“. They then bring back the 2 special guests and all take their bows to the audience in appreciation to them.

Summary…

To sum up Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings Live At Hammersmith by Steve Hackett. I am going to start by tackling two of the three questions I posed throughout my review which should shed a bit more light has to why I put Steve Wilson’s surround mix before the concert itself and it really being the tempting turkey why I brought this live concert in the first place.

Firstly, I should explain that regardless of any concert having a surround mix or not, it should not make a blind bit of difference when it comes to the enjoyment one can get from listening or watching any live concert. I am sure like myself you have many live concerts that contain outstanding live performances and at the end of the day just because a concert comes with a surround mix should not really make it the deal breaker.

I have my own personal reasons why I was going to avoid buying this concert in the first place and it has nothing to do with how badly mixed his last concert Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra Live At The Royal Festival Hall turned out either.

My real gripe for not wanting to buy this concert in the first place in all honesty is really down to him becoming a bit too much like Roger Waters in wanting to play too much material from the previous bands they were in. I am not saying that Hackett has quite gone as far as Waters in that he more or less plays most of the material from his former band and ignores the biggest majority of his own solo material like he does. But it’s becoming too much of the same thing and we are seeing far less of his own acoustic material which for myself is where I personally think he shines a lot more.

The other thing is that the way he is now playing the Genesis songs has become much more like a tribute with how they are played too close to the original songs. He’s even got it down to having one singer for them who has a GABRIEL-ESC voice (to which no doubt many may prefer) but as much as I could even enjoy seeing a tribute band such as The Watch play these songs live. There is no way I would actually spend my money buying a live recording of it and they have more of a GABRIEL-ESC singer than what Hackett has 😁😁😁.

When Hackett first started all this Genesis Revisited malarkey back in 1996 with the first of the studio albums. He very much gave the Genesis songs something that bit different with how they were arranged. He also had many different singers to sing them to which he also did the same with the follow up studio album and when he first took the songs out on the road to play live for a good few year. However, over the years both the different arrangements and the many singers got thrown out and over the more recent years I do find his shows have started to become a bit too sterile.

I can perhaps understand him not using many different singers down to how less cost effective it would be to play these songs live and, in some respect, he was lucky to have a drummer like Gary O’Tool who really had the GREAT! voice to tackle some of the songs. But I could not put my hand on my heart and say that any of these Genesis Revisited concerts are better than his much earlier concerts where he only played the odd Genesis song if you were lucky.

Even though Steve Hackett may very well be keeping the spirit of these Genesis songs alive he’s not the only one who is. I don’t mind hearing the odd Genesis song now and then but they are not what attracts me to buy the concert in the first place simply because at the end of the day it is only a tribute and will never speak the same to me as the original line-up of the band from back in those days no matter how well they play the songs.

Getting back to the surround mix and to my couple of questions. In answer to the first of them of can it compete with some of the other STUNNING! live concerts I have that have been mixed in surround sound? To a degree I would say YES! because Steve Wilson’s 5.1 mix is well worthy of its 10 out 10 rating.

However, regarding the second question of if this mix will make it a GOTO! concert that you will want to play it more often? The answer has to be NO! Simply because this concert does not have the STUNNING! factor like others I have of other bands and they go up to a Spinal Tap 11 😁😁😁.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings Live At Hammersmith by Steve Hackett. There is no doubt that the material from the two iconic albums will appeal to many to want to buy this live concert. There can no doubt that the live performances of all the songs are far from disappointing and they have more or less nailed all the songs with this performance.

The final question I have to answer is did I get more out of this concert than I expected? Personally, it’s difficult for myself to say that I did even though it comes with an excellent 5.1 mix and GREAT! performances. I think it boils down to my own personal views of wanting to see something different from him and many of these live concerts are now too much alike.

I did however enjoy the concert and in particular the songs he had never performed live with his own band before. I certainly think that others will take a lot more from it than myself down to my own personal viewpoint. The other thing I can say is that I certainly never wasted my money and at its price point it’s well worth getting.

My personal highlights from the concert are as follows: “The Virgin and the Gypsy“. “Tigermoth“. “Spectral Mornings“. “The Battle of Epping Forest“. “After the Ordeal” and “The Cinema Show“.

Take A Little Trip Back…

The 2 CD Track Listing is as follows:

Disc 1.
01. Intro. 1:24.
02. Every Day. 6:29.
03. Under the Eye of the Sun. 5:36.
04. Fallen Walls and Pedestals. 2:15.
05. Beasts in Our Time. 6:26.
06. The Virgin and the Gypsy. 4:42.
07. Tigermoth. 3:14.
08. Spectral Mornings. 6:25.
09. The Red Flower of Tai Chi Blooms. 2:16.
10. Clocks – The Angel of Mons. 6:56.
11. Dancing With the Moonlit Knight. 7:28.
12. I Know What I Like. 9:47.

Disc 2.
01. Firth of Fifth. 10:05.
02. More Fool Me. 3:27.
03. The Battle of Epping Forest. 11:43.
04. After the Ordeal. 5:00.
05. The Cinema Show. 11:01.
06. Aisle of Plenty. 1:39.
07. Déjà Vu. 6:24.
08. Dance on a Volcano. 6:08.
09. Los Endos. 8:23.

Lee’s Overall Package Rating…

The Price Point Rating. 10/10.

The Picture Quality Rating. 9/10.

The 5.1 Mix Rating. 10/10.

The Stereo Mix. 8/10.

The Bonus Material Rating. 2/10.

The Overall Concert Rating. 7.5/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #164

Steel Wheels Live The Rolling Stones (Blu Ray Edition)

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Introduction…

The Rolling Stones have been recently jumping on the same bandwagon as The Beatles when it comes to remixes and remasters of their studio albums and packaging them in expensive Box Sets. To be honest these things I do tend to avoid and the only real thing that entices me about most studio albums is the 5.1 surround mix. Although these types of bands are the big sellers and tend to get GREEDY! by not releasing the surround mix in a smaller package so the only way you can get your hands on them is to fork out for the extravagant price tag of the box set.

Surprisingly enough though most of the studio albums from their back catalogue they have put out so far in box sets were only in mono, and that is a bit like going back to the land of the DODO’S! and is never going to interest a surround FREAK! such as myself in a million years 😁😁😁. However, just recently they did release a 5.1 mix of their 1973 album Goats Head Soup in a box set.

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Though it’s £110 price tag put me right off and, in all honesty, it looks like you are getting very little here for your money. They did also release a double CD and vinyl packages at more of a respective price point and has to why these BIG GUNS! cannot release the 5.1 release in a smaller package like many other artists and bands do for around £20 – £30 is beyond me and at the end of the day it is nothing more than GREED!

Luckily for myself it’s just as well that they never because after watching this review I would of been extremely disappointed just like this reviewer was who has his own channel on Youtube entitled Life In Surround.

Mike’s Tube channel is a very reliable source especially for surround FREAKS! and what I admire about this guy is his honesty. I can genuinely see that by the many reviews of some of the surround albums I have in my own collection, he’s generally spot on with how he describes both the mix and the packaging.

However, this latest live release of the band playing live in Atlantic City on their Steel Wheels tour back in the late 80’s is not going to cost you an arm and a leg and comes at a more respectable price to suit everyone’s pocket.

I have a lot of admiration for The Rolling Stones and have always been into their music since the 60’s. I was also more of a Stones fan than Beatles and even though I can appreciate The Beatles more so today I have still never brought any of their music. I guess it never ROCKED! enough for my own personal taste, though I could also say to a certain degree that neither did the Stones in relation to the heavier side of rock and prog-rock that I prefer the most. However, their music had a hook and sat well in the groove and that is what really drew my attention to them.

I never brought every Stones album although I did buy a good few and I did buy their Steel Wheels album when it was released back in 1989. I’ve never seen the band live either and by the time I did want to see them I could never afford the price of the ticket which in some cases were around £300. I do have quite a few of their live concerts on DVD and this is really a band that impressed me as they got a lot older.

As old as the guys are today in their ripe old age. This is a band that no doubt still has got what it takes to put on a live show and that is what I admire a lot about them. This concert captures the band when most of its members were in their mid-40’s to which some people might of already have been questioning back then if the band still had the energy and what it takes to take on such an extensive live world tour. But where they really any better back then? Before I delve any deeper let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The Blu Ray comes in a standard plastic blue case and this type of case is commonly associated with this format. Although it does an ample enough job of protecting the disc they do feel a bit flimsier than most Amaray DVD cases. These type of cases don’t do a lot in the way of a good presentation like the cardboard Digipaks they now do in the same size. To be honest I was quite surprised that there was not a Steelbook Edition to coincide with the title.

The good thing is that is does come with a 16-page booklet unlike buying a film on DVD & Blu Ray and as well as the usual glossy pictures, credits and linear notes, it does also come with some very good informative information that is really good to have. 

I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK on the 8th August and it arrived a day after its release. I got it slightly cheaper than its retail price of £18.99 and ended up paying £16.75 which is perhaps a bit pricey but reasonable enough for the single Blu Ray Edition.

Artwork.

The artwork design was done by Mark Norton who has worked on much of the design work for the bands live shows and DVD & Blu Ray releases and even designed the bands logo. Here you can plainly see that he’s re-coloured John Warwicker’s original design for the Steel Wheels album which fits in nicely with the concept of the live tour.

Release Editions…

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Counting the Limited 6 Disc Box Set the live concert was released in 7 physical formats that range from various prices. The cheapest being the one-disc editions such as the DVD & Blu Ray retailing at around £14 & £18.99 respectively. You can also get both of these formats that come accompanied with 2 CD’s at around £23.19 & £26.50.

The Vinyl Editions are the most expensive and both of these packages come with 4 X 180-gram vinyl LP’s. The standard black edition retails around £45 and the orange & blue vinyl £50 though currently ridiculously a lot more on Amazon UK right now.

The 6 Disc Limited Box Set retails around £47 and this set includes 3 CD’s. 2 DVD’s and a Blu Ray. The extra DVD contains the complete full show from their ten-night residency at the Tokyo Dome in February 1990, exclusive to the box set. The extra CD is also exclusive and contains rare performances.

Steel Wheels Live In Review…

Steel Wheels Live Atlantic City New Jersey was released on the 25th of September 2020. This is a previously unreleased live concert from 1989 to which the band put on in support of their 19th studio album Steel Wheels. It was actually their 21st studio album in America at the time and both 12 X 5 and December’s Children (And Everybody’s) were only officially released in the states. Though they were more or less compilation albums and us Brits were not really missing out on anything.

This was very much the tour were the Stones had returned to full commercial power after a seven-year hiatus in touring marked by well-publicized acrimony amongst its band members. It was also notably the final tour for the bands bass player Bill Wyman who eventually retired a few years later in 1993.

The band decided to make it one of their biggest ever tours and made it much longer than they ever had at this stage of their career by taking on twice as many shows than they had ever done before.

Money was no object in putting it on either and they had a special stage built for the shows costing around 40 million US dollars to make. The British architect Mark Fisher designed the stage with the participation of both Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. It was the largest ever touring stage ever built back then and stood 82 feet-high and 236 feet wide.

The official Steel Wheels Tour was launched in North America and they kicked it off right at the end of August back in 1989 at the Veterans Stadium (now demolished) in Philadelphia. By the time the band had reached Japan in February 1990 to play ten shows at the Tokyo Dome they had already grossed 140 million US dollars back in revenue.

They renamed the tour to the Urban Jungle Tour for the European leg of the tour and travelled with a smaller stage at some of the smaller venues. They ended off the tour by playing 2 nights at London’s Wembley Stadium on the 24th & 25th August 1990. They were originally supposed to of played these two shows on the 13th & 14th of July but had to reschedule them due to Keith Richards cutting a finger.

Before I go on any further and onto the show. Let’s take a look at what you get and what you don’t get on the Blu Ray and see if it was actually worth paying any extra for it in comparison to the DVD.

The Blu Ray.

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The main menu of the blu ray looks quite pristine and sharp with the album cover design used for the background picture it. The shafts of the wheels have also been animated and you can see them turning around which is a nice touch. You have the choice of 3 options to choose from “Play”. “Song Selection” and “Audio Options” and its navigation is simple enough and your choice is highlighted in orange so that you know where you are.

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The “Song Selection” menu (above) is split into 3 screens and the good thing about the menus interface is that it was most likely done in Flash so there is no waiting for another screen to load. In total there are 27 songs to choose from split over the 3 screens with “Next” and “Previous” buttons to navigate through them. The “Close” button simply closes them and returns you to the main menu.

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The “Audio Options” give you the choice of 2 audio soundtracks both of which are lossless 48K and by default its set to LPCM Stereo. The DTS-HD Master is the 5.1 surround mix. Unfortunately the concert is all you do get and there is no bonus content. Which is a shame considering the amount of film footage they do have of this tour.

Picture, Editing & Sound Quality.

As with the biggest majority of live concerts from 30 odd years ago and beyond it’s very rare you are going to get anything spectacular or anywhere near the standards we have seen over the last decade. Technology has moved on and they never even had HD cameras back then and regardless of whether you purchased this live concert on DVD or Blu Ray there is going to be no significance whatsoever in the picture quality of the both formats.

Though the picture quality is still very good and better than most old concerts that were captured on video cameras instead of TV Cameras that used 35mm film. Both Simon Marbrook & Pete Lynch at Final Frame have done a good job on the restoration and grading of the film footage. The concert was captured by 14 camera operators coordinated by Ron Sheldon,

The biggest downside regarding the actual picture is that it’s in a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of 16.9 as to be expected for back then. Because of the 4:3 aspect ratio not capturing the width of the stage you do have to rely on the editing of the footage a lot more. However, the editing is very well done and was done by Kyle Smart.

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However, I do think they could of improved the way it looks by putting borders on the side like in the picture above. But unfortunately, this screen shot is taken from the bit of footage that plays on the blu ray’s main menu and the borders have been removed for the actual concert.

The sound quality is also very good and the only real reason I decided to buy the blu ray instead of the DVD was to be sure of getting a lossless stereo mix. Old concerts like this are certainly not going to attract surround FREAKS! like myself and I would go as far as to say that over 90% of them that come with a 5.1 mix are a JOKE! 😁😁😁.

The 5.1 Mix.

As expected with all concerts that go back this far you are going to be getting practically nothing in the 5.1 surround department though I have heard a lot worse than this 5.1 mix where the surround channels are practically or completely non-existent. To be perfectly honest this is not a proper 5.1 mix at all and all the engineer has done is mirrored the stereo sound from the 2 front channels and placed them very low in the rears to work in the way of a reflection and nothing more.

I very much doubt that audio engineer Sam Wheat who done the mix even had a multi-track recording to work with in the first place and if he did, he certainly never knew how to utilise it for a 5.1 mix.

Even if you could of just had the audience coming out the rears it would of been better. Instead all you get is practically everything from the stereo mix shoved in the rears set at a level that low that you will have to put your ears close up to the rear speakers to be able to hear anything coming out. However, by doing what he has done with the mix does tend to give you a fuller overall sound in relation to the stereo mix.

The DTS Decoder perhaps would have more of a bearing has to why the 5.1 mix does present you with a fuller sound and regardless, both mixes sound good. Although this is not a 5.1 mix by any means that is going to give you an immersive experience or make you feel you are at the concert itself and in reality, it’s perhaps an insult to even call it a 5.1 mix which is why it only gets 2 out of 10 from my rating.

Musicians & Credits…

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Original 1989 Production Produced by Gregory Sills. Directed by Louis J. Horvitz. Executive Producer Lorne Michaels. Associate Producer Jeff Ross. Lighting Design by Patrick Woodroffe. Set Design & Art Direction by Mark Fisher. Tour Director Michael Cohl

2020 Production Executive Producers for The Rolling Stones. Joyce Smyth. Jane Rose & Dave Trafford. Executive Producers for Eagle Rock Entertainment. Geoff Kempin. Lindsay Brown & Simon Hosken. Audio Mix by Sam Wheat. Audio Mastering by Mazen Murad @ Katara Studios. Camera Coordinator Ron Sheldon. Video Editor Kyle Smart. Picture Restoration by Simon Marbrook @Final Frame. Grading by Pete Lynch @ Final Frame.

Tour Photography by Mikio Ariga. Richard Bonenfant. George Chin. Mark Fisher. Kevin Mazur. Paul Natkin & Dimo Safari. Sleeve Notes by Anthony Decurtis. Design by Mark Norton.

Musicians.
Mick Jagger: Vocals/Guitar/Harmonica.
Keith Richards: Guitar/Vocals.
Bill Wyman: Bass.
Charlie Watts: Drums.
Ronnie Wood: Guitar.

Additional musicians.
Chuck Leavell: Keyboards/ Backing Vocals.
Bobby Keys: Saxophone.
Matt Clifford: Keyboards/Backing Vocals/Percussion/French Horn.
Lisa Fischer: Backing Vocals.
Bernard Fowler: Backing Vocals.
Cindy Mizelle: Backing Vocals.

The Uptown Horns.
Arno Hecht – Saxophone. Paul Litteral – Trumpet. Robert Funk – Trombone. Crispin Cioe – Saxophone.

Special Guests.
Eric Clapton: Guitar.
John Lee Hooker: Vocals/Guitar.

The Concert In Review…

This particular concert was captured on the 19th December 1989 at the Convention Centre (more profoundly known as Boardwalk Hall) in the county of New Jersey in Atlantic City, America. It was the second of three concerts they played at the Convention Centre in that month and their North American tour ended the very next day on the 20th at the same venue.

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The Convention Centre held a capacity of around 16,000 people and it was the smallest venue the band had played at on their Steel Wheels Tour. It was also the venue that staged many of Mike Tyson’s fights and many other sporting events took place at the venue besides many other bands and artists who played there. Even The Beatles played there on their very first US Tour back in the early 60’s.

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Right next to the Convention Centre stood one of the former president’s empires the Trump Plaza which was an hotel and casino owned by Trump Entertainment Resorts. Donald Trump tried to wrestle his way into many of the events that took place at the Convention Centre including the WrestleMania IV and WrestleMania V events that took place in 1988 and 1989 respectively. Although in reality Trump was only the sponsor of both events and nothing more.

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He even managed to weasel his way into being part of the promotion of the three nights that the Stones played at the venue which did not go down particularly well with Keith Richards. None of the Stones liked Trump even back then and they were not too pleased when they arrived in Atlantic city and was greeted by a sign reading “Donald Trump Presents The Rolling Stones” with Trump’s name appearing in a larger font than the band’s.

The Canadian concert promoter Michael Cohl nicknamed the so-called Howard Hughes of rock ‘n’ roll was in charge of handling the Steel Wheels tour and was the tour director. Cohl is most famous for having overseen the tours and related ancillary businesses for more than 150 artists, including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, U2 and so on.

Part of the deal to play the concert in Atlantic city was that they needed a venue where they could stage a pay per view concert to generate more money from the tour. Trump owned many properties and had a lot of holdings in the city and was their back door into staging such an event. He also appeared to be the only one interested.

However, the Stones didn’t want to be associated with Trump. So, they cut a deal with him through Cohl, stipulating he wouldn’t be involved in any promotional capacity outside of Atlantic City and wouldn’t be allowed at the show itself.

But on the day the Stones arrived at the venue and was about to give a speech in the press room. Trump was giving his own speech in the room which did not got down to well with Keith Richards resulting in him coming to blows with Cohl pulling a knife out of his pocket and slamming it on a table telling him that either Trump leaves the building or we will.

Apparently according to the story Cohl had to evict Trump out of his own building by force by signalling his head of security, who “got 40 of the crew with tire irons and hockey sticks and screwdrivers” effectively sending off Trump and three of his goons who he had noticed two them putting on gloves and the other brass knuckledusters. As to if that’s true or not I could not tell you and for all I know it could of been Michael Cohl who started all this FAKE NEWS! 😁😁😁.

The only reason the concert footage still exists is that the band were able to set up a pay-per-view deal to broadcast the concert live on Television which also helped to generate a lot of revenue from the concert. They also roped in a few special guests to attract further attention and pull in the viewers and pundits to pay for it.

It’s also widely remembered by fans for a mishap where viewers were cut off from the performance during the song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction“, as well as the performance of “Miss You” in some countries. Oddly enough they have advertised this official new release as coming with 100% satisfaction guaranteed most likely due to that mishap on the night it was screened back then. 

On With The Show…

Like many of the bands live shows they tend to roll out a few songs from their latest album along with many of their big hits from the past. In general, that is very much the norm with most bands and for the biggest majority of people it is their old classic hits that they go to see them play. However, the one thing I have noticed about the Stones is that they like to mix it up and throw in something from all their albums where they can and even play an odd album track, they have never played before and this show is no exception.

What you are getting here is full show that was played on the night in question and the band rolled out 27 songs over the 2 hours, 37 minutes and 48 seconds you do get. They also included 5 of the 12 songs from their latest Steel Wheels album and often mixed up some of the songs from their new album for some of their other shows on the tour.

The band kick off the show with a song from their 1981 Tattoo You album “Start Me Up” which really is a GREAT! song to get you in the mood and the swing of things. They keep things moving with “Bitch” which is one of three songs they play from their 1971 Sticky Fingers album, they then roll out one of their new songs from the Steel Wheels album which is actually the first track on the album “Sad Sad Sad“.

Undercover of the Night” from their 1983 album Undercover is up next and there is no doubt the Stones still have what it takes to be ROCKING! things up still in their 40’s. They continue to do so has they fire up a cover of Bob & Earl’sHarlem Shuffle” that found it’s way on their 1986 album Dirty Work and was more of a commercial success for the Stones than it was for Bob & Earl and they really ROCK! this one out.

Another of the bands smash hits “Tumbling Dice” is fired up next and strangely enough this is one of only two songs they chose to do from their 1972 album Exile On Main St. This is followed up by another sure fire hit from their 1978 album Some Girls with “Miss You” and I quite like this song though I personally think they have performed it better than they do here. It’s then back to the second of the songs from their new album Steel Wheels as they roll out “Terrifying“.

Speaking of terrifying the performance of this beautiful ballad of a song “Ruby Tuesday” of theirs is not to my liking. It’s really down to how low-key Mick Jagger sings it and it’s perhaps understandable because many singers do tend to lose a lot of the higher notes as they get on in life.

Jagger still very much has certain aspects of his voice for the harder edge songs however, quite often his voice no longer reflects the finer qualities it had when he was much younger. It does show whenever he sings ballads has you will see in this official video release from the concert the band posted on their Tube channel.

To be fair it is far from terrifying and I was being harsh by even suggesting that it was 😁😁😁. Really it is down to me comparing how his voice was much sweeter back in the 60’s to give the song more of the justice it deserved because it really is such a GREAT! song. In all honesty this is still a good performance.

I can also remember hearing Julian Lennon cover the song on the radio back in 1992 and I thought he gave it more justice with the sweeter tones of his voice than what Jagger does here. I even brought the 4-track CD single release of “Get A LifeLennon had released just for his version of the song. I thought he done quite a GRAND! job of it but I personally don’t think you will never beat the original version from the 60’s.

Next up we have “Salt Of The Earth” which is one of the two songs they decided to do from my all-time personal favourite Stones album Beggars Banquet released back in 1968. They also drag out the first of the special guests who get to accompany them on the song who happens to be Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose and the bands rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin.

Both Guns N’ Roses and Living Colour were the opening acts for the Stones earlier on the same North American Tour and played over a few days at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in October 89′. The latter of the two bands Living Colour also supported them on the tour longer and played at a good few other venues, although there was no support act for the shows they put on in Atlantic city.

What did surprise me about this performance was Axl‘s voice and it sounded entirely different to his husky growly voice that he sings with his own band and much more refined and sweeter. I would not say it was one of the highlights of the show but it’s a GREAT! song.

It’s back to the Steel Wheels album next and this time they roll out a couple of the singles they released from the album “Rock and a Hard Place” and “Mixed Emotions” the latter of the two being the more successful hit from the album reaching number 2 in the UK and 3 in the US respectively. They knock both of these songs out of the ballpark has you can see in this other video of the latter of the two songs the band put on their Tube channel.

To be honest I am surprised the Stones never put out a video of this next song from the show on their Tube channel and “Honky Tonk Women” is certainly one of the highlights from the show. During the performance a couple of hooker dolls get inflated and blown up and they must be about 50 – 60 feet high. It surprised me even more when they deflated them and only used them for this song only. No expense was spared whatsoever and they must have cost a fortune to have made.

The band continue to roll out numbers from the same time period and up next, we have a couple of three songs they chose to do from their 1969 album Let It Bleed. Which is another of my personal favourite Stones albums. You can certainly see that the band were well fired up after their 7-year hiatus from playing live with this excellent performance of “Midnight Rambler” they also posted on their Tube channel.

I love Jagger’s (Gob Iron) harmonica playing on this one and he is such a GREAT! player of the instrument he’s always been so energetic too and that’s what makes him such a good front man. Which is more than I can say for Bill Wyman who is that stiff at times and he looks like a cardboard cut-out 😁😁😁. The band really knock this song out of the ballpark though and also do the same with the classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that follows.

The other couple of special guests that take the stage for the next couple of numbers though it’s only Eric Clapton who plays on two of them and he does a GREAT! job on Willie Dixon’sLittle Red Rooster” with the band. John Lee Hooker then proceeds to join them and they roll one of his songs “Boogie Chillen” and both these songs are amongst my personal highlights from the show too and are really GREAT! to see.

The next couple of songs “Can’t Be Seen” and “Happy” gives Keith Richards a chance to take on vocal duties whilst Jagger exits the stage for a change of clothes. Unfortunately, he’s not the best of singers and his voice does sort of murder the first of them which happens to be the final song they do from their new album Steel Wheels. I would have loved to of heard them do “Hearts for Sale” or “Almost Hear You Sigh” which are amongst my favourite tracks from that album. However, Richards voice is not to bad on “Happy” which is the final of the songs Exile On Main St and his voice does suit some songs.

The band go back to the 60’s and roll out a few more classics starting with “Paint It Black” which is followed by a song from their 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request and “2000 Light Years from Home” gets its first live airing as the band have never played it live before. I have to confess it was an album I was never fond of but it’s not too bad hearing it here. 

Mick Jagger then makes good use of one the higher platforms of the stage for other classic from their Beggars Banquet album “Sympathy for the Devil”. Speaking of the stage the 4:3 aspect ratio does not entirely let you get to see all of it and widescreen is really missed for a concert like this. However, the editing is quite good but it does not capture all of Jagger’s antics of running around the stage like you will see on their much later concerts like Voodoo Lounge and Bridges To Babylon.

It’s then back to the final song from their Let It Bleed album and they really are running through some classics and do another GREAT! job of “Gimme Shelter“. They then belt the only song from their 1974 album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll and “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” always goes down a treat at most of their shows and there is no exception here.

The band finish of the show with 3 MASSIVE! classics the first of which is the final of the three songs from the Sticky Fingers album “Brown Sugar” and is followed up by “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” the only song from their 1965 album Out of Our Heads and for an encore they belt out “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and finish the show off in GREAT! style.

Summary…

To sum up Steel Wheels Live At Atlantic City New Jersey by The Rolling Stones. There is no doubt the band were well oiled and fired up by the time they played at this venue after their 7-year hiatus from playing live and they certainly put on a GREAT! show. But as I posed in my question in my introduction. Where they really any better back then?

Judging by the performance it’s very difficult to really say and for me the Stones have always been a GREAT! live band regardless of the members that have been in it and are no longer in it over the past 5 decades. They certainly know how to put on a GREAT! show too and I would say that as they got older their shows became even more SPECTACULAR! and BIGGER!

Though I will admit that I certainly get a bit more more of a kick out of their much earlier live performances when Mick Taylor was in the band in the early 70’s. The Ladies and Gentlemen live DVD that was released in 2010 captures the band very well back in 1974 on their Exile On Main St tour.

But if you want more of a pristine picture and sound quality you will only really get that from their much later concerts from 1996 onwards on the live DVD’s & Blu Rays of their Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon and The Biggest Bang live shows and so on. Those live shows really amaze me with how well the band can still perform so well and they are also better suited for the Blu Ray format as well being filmed in HD and have fairly decent 5.1 surround sound too.

My personal highlights from the show are as follows: “Honky Tonk Women“. “Midnight Rambler“. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want“. “Little Red Rooster“. “Boogie Chillen“. “Gimme Shelter” and “Brown Sugar“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of The Rolling Stones live concert captured at the Convention Centre in Atlantic City back in 1989. I am going to mainly focus my attention on whether this release offers any real value and is worth buying in relation to what has already previously been released from their 1989/90 Steel Wheels Tours. 

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Parts of the bands Steel Wheels Tour was also released on DVD and later on Blu Ray such as Live At The Max originally released on VHS & DVD back in 1992. Although this captures the band in 1990 on their Urban Jungle part of the tour in various parts of Europe. It was also shot with 8 IMAX cameras and basically this concert has been stitched together by using footage from the shows they played in London, England. Turin, Italy and in East Berlin, Germany. What you have here is not a complete live show like what was captured at the Convention Centre.

However, what you do get here is way more visually STUNNING! in that it captures not only the band a lot better in their performance but also the massive stage they had built. You can also see everything far more clearly in relation to this Atlantic city concert. It’s also in 16.9 widescreen and not in a 4:3 aspect ratio and even sounds better. In terms of quality this is by far the best footage that has ever been captured of their Steel Wheels Tour and it’s been very well stitched together to make it look like it’s from one show.

Though despite the visual 4:3 aspect ratio to which no doubt will put off a lot of people from buying this new release. This is still very much a quality release and is much better quality than Live At The Tokyo Dome they released earlier on DVD & Blu Ray. 

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The footage from this particular concert is really what the Stones even called themselves an official bootleg release. You will instantly notice the difference in the quality between the both shows if you watch the video clips I have posted in my review of this concert and the footage from the Tokyo Dome DVD on the Tube.

As to if they have cleaned it up for the box set package you can also buy of this concert, I could not tell you, and I avoided buying the box set due to the footage I had seen on the Tube a few years back. Though if it’s a full concert you are looking for both of these will give you that.

The beauty about any live concert is that no performance is ever the same and each live performance can give you something different even if they are more or less playing the same set of songs like on all three of these releases. The good thing is that their career has been very well documented and there are plenty of live concerts you can go out and buy on DVD & Blu Ray plus in audio only on Vinyl & CD.

Even though this concert of the band playing live in Atlantic city has been advertised as previously unreleased. Parts of it have been released in audio only and a couple of the songs from it found their way onto their live Flashpoint album back in 1991. I dare say other songs from it have appeared as bonus tracks on remastered albums over the years too.

Steel Wheels Live At Atlantic City is not my personal favourite show of the band and I would recommend both the Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon concert releases over this. However, it still provides GREAT! entertainment for the buck in my honest opinion. Though if this is something you are interested in buying, I would personally recommend you save yourself a few bucks and go with the DVD.

The Rolling Stones are highly entertaining no matter what decade they played in and I can get a lot of pleasure from all their concert releases on DVD & Blu Ray that have been released over the years. They maybe only rock n’ roll but I do like them and I am sure many others do as well.

It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But I Like It…

The Blu Ray track listing is as follows:

01 Intro
02 Start Me Up
03 Bitch
04 Sad Sad Sad
05 Undercover Of The Night
06 Harlem Shuffle
07 Tumbling Dice
08 Miss You
09 Terrifying
10 Ruby Tuesday
11 Salt Of The Earth (featuring Axl Rose & Izzy Stradlin)
12 Rock And A Hard Place
13 Mixed Emotions
14 Honky Tonk Women
15 Midnight Rambler
16 You Can’t Always Get What You Want
17 Little Red Rooster(featuring Eric Clapton)
18 Boogie Chillen (featuring Eric Clapton & John Lee Hooker)
19 Can’t Be Seen
20 Happy
21 Paint It Black
22 2,000 Light Years From Home
23 Sympathy For The Devil
24 Gimme Shelter
25 It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)
26 Brown Sugar
27 (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
28 Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Lee’s Overall Rating…

The Price Point Rating. 9/10.

The Picture Quality Rating. 7/10.

The 5.1 Mix Rating. 2/10.

The Stereo Mix Rating. 7/10.

The Overall Concert Rating. 6/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #163

Clam – Sproingg

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Introduction…

After a good 3 years the three-piece outfit and band that go by the name of Sproingg, have finally SPRUNG! their way back into action with their next ZANY! musical adventure and second studio album to date entitled Clam. My first encounter with this musical trio came back in July 2017 when I was contacted and approached by the bands drummer Erik Feder asking me if I would review their self-titled debut album they had released back then.

To be perfectly honest when I set up this blog site I did so solely to review the music I go out and buy myself. I had no idea people would take that much of an interest and I would get musicians from all over the world chucking their latest creations at me wanting me to review it as if it was one of those many sites or magazines that write about such things.

In many ways I do feel quite touched by it especially with my lack of school education due to hating and bunking off 4 years from it. I am hardly the brightest person on the planet and far from the best person to be around when it comes to being in a social conversation and can be quite shy at times and can be as quiet as a mouse. Unless the conversation is about music and then you won’t shut me up 😁😁😁

Though I will say that the music does have to speak and appeal to my taste in the first place for me to want to speak about it. The fact that the music that Erik had presented to me 3 years ago was right up my street or alley so to speak, is the very reason I did not have to turn him away. As a matter of fact, turning the music of Sproingg away would be a bit like turning my back on the likes of King Crimson and Frank Zappa and that is something I could never do.

Sproingg are very much an instrumental band that reside in Germany to which two thirds of the band are German the latter third Erik Feder is American and is often seen as the spokesman of the band. It’s very much a prog-fusion band that take their time developing their music over so many years, structuring and piecing it together out of improvisations and jams. Further developing it into something more of a composition that they can finally bring to the table and present on an album and also be able to go out and play it live.

This is very much a 3-piece outfit that impressed me when I first heard them 3 years ago and I still very much think their self-titled debut album was well worthy of the 10 out of 10 rating I gave it. You can find that review should you wish to read it here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/lee-speaks-about-music-20/ and it is an album worth checking out.

Now that the long-anticipated wait is over and their second album has finally arrived. The question is have the band managed to come up TRUMPS! once again?  Well. before I delve deeper into the new album and answer that question let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a 2-panel cardboard Digipak very much the same as their debut album did back in 2017. I do prefer this packaging myself and it shows the band care about presentation and it looks a lot neater than a standard plastic Jewel Case and is more like a mini replica of a Gatefold Vinyl album cover.

I pre-ordered the CD package from Bandcamp on the 7th of September and it SPROINGGED! through my letter box a week after the official release date which was quite good considering it was coming from Germany. The good thing is that you also get the Digital Download included with the price of the CD so I was able to enjoy the album whilst waiting for it to arrive and get to work on my review.

Artwork.

The artwork and design were once again done by the bands bass player Johannes Korn and he’s basically created the album cover out of a collage of very strange people, hands, fingers, thumbs and a nut. I have to confess it was driving me nuts trying to figure out how it ties in with the albums title. For example, the word “Clam” originally originated from a Clam-Shell basically because it clamps together. It can also be short for the word “Clamp”.

But over the years it’s also been used in slang terms for a dollar and also in the case of a reluctant person who refuses to speak can be said to clam up so to speak. The latter of those two is perhaps the more logical meaning behind the albums title. But whatever it is, just like the artwork for their debut album I quite like it.

Release Editions…

The bands new album Clam is available to purchase on Bandcamp in 2 formats the cheapest option being the Digital Download priced at 7 Euro. The physical CD is priced at 10 Euro plus postage & packing and whatever taxes Bandcamp add onto the price.

The tax will also apply to the Digital Download as well so bare that in mind but in general its around 1 Euro (82p UK). I am pretty sure the p&p is around 3 Euro and I ended up paying 14 Euro (13.02 UK) for the CD which is about the right price I would expect to pay for an imported physical product from Europe.

The band have also included a couple of discount packages for this release where you can save yourself a bit of money in obtaining both their debut album and Clam together. They have also included a 1-hour live concert video they have entitled The Hottest Hour for free in both of these packages.

The “All the Sproingg you can eat” discount digi-combo pack contains both albums plus the video in the form of a Digital Download and is priced at 15 Euro. Alternatively, the “All the Sproingg you can eat” discount combo pack contains the both physical CD’s and video and is priced at 22 Euro. The video is only in the form of a Digital Download only and all the instructions of how to obtain it are described the details of each package.

Hottest Hour Video Promo

The band have also uploaded a promotional video of their Hottest Hour live concert to their Youtube channel as you can see above. You can also purchase the digital download of the live video on its own for 5 Euro which is something I most likely will do later on. All the bands music you can also listen to for free or purchase @ Bandcamp from the link here: https://sproingg.bandcamp.com/

The Album In Review…

Sproingg’s latest album Clam was released on Sunday the 20th September 2020. The album itself contains 8 instrumental tracks spread over and overall playing time which is a tad under an hour at 59 minutes, 58 seconds. Although I much prefer the old album time slot from the 70’s of around 40 minutes (to which even their debut album was done over that more considerable time slot) they have utilised the extra time quite well and it does not feel overcooked.

Sunday is perhaps a strange day to release an album and the biggest majority of artists normally release their albums on a Friday. There was a time when I thought the album was not going to make its release date because it was not released until 10:53 pm here in the UK. I spent most of that day eagerly awaiting its arrival and, in the end, had to download it and put it on my phone to listen to in bed. So, it was not until the early hours of the next day that I got to finally hear it.

The reason for the delay may of been down to them playing a special gig the night before to promote the release of the CD and they may of all got a bit intoxicated celebrating it 😁😁😁. I am not sure how they managed to arrange it especially in light of the present situation with the Coronavirus but I am sure it may have been carefully arranged and above board to fit in with the social distancing procedures, and perhaps they played the gig to a small group of friends.

As I mentioned in my introduction the band Sproingg do take a lot of time developing their music to get it to where it is and to a level where they feel it’s good enough to put out. All 3 members of the band also contribute to the music and they work very well collectively as a team.

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There is no doubt that all 3 members of the band have learnt their instruments very well to be able to play them at an accomplished level and they are really GREAT! musicians. Though they do not take it too seriously and like to inject some fun into it and you can see in the picture above they all look happy enough to be doing what they do.

Playing live is also vitally important for the band especially given the time it takes them to put out an album. It’s perhaps their only way of letting people know you are still out there and active. Back in December of 2019 the band did release a one-off improvisation entitled “Antetonkel” that they recorded on the spare of the moment in the rehearsal studios.

I did listen to the improvised piece a few times although it spoke to me more like a jam over its 8 minutes and was travelling along the same path or over the same ground without really going anywhere else. Which was not to my liking and why I never bothered downloading it even for free.

However, if you were to listen to some of the earlier improvisations and jams the band did of material that eventually found its way onto their debut album has I had done. I could of said very much the same thing about most of them. But was blown away by how they had further developed them to make the final album what it is.

If you read the description on Bandcamp of “Antetonkel” you will notice that they also stated that the piece would not make it onto their 2nd album but there was a fair chance of it making it on their 3rd album. Which just goes to show how much work they put into a piece before they think it’s finally ready. I could also say the same thing about many of King Crimson’s live improvisations and many of their improv’s were nowhere near as further developed like these guys have gone on to do with them.

2020 has been a tough year for many musicians affecting their livelihood in the case of those who make their living out music alone. The very fact that they can no longer get out there and play live due to the Coronavirus may very well of forced many to write new material and get it out there just to tie them over and put food on the table.

Though Sproingg’s second album Clam is certainly no rush job and I could certainly hear that a lot had been put into it on the couple of tracks you instantly got from the album when I pre-ordered it. The material for the album they had been working on for quite a while and was scheduled to be released this year.

I am pretty sure its band members have regular jobs besides to put food on the table and they and their families would die of starvation if they relied on their music alone to support them like many unknown artists and bands.

Musicians & Credits…

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All music composed & improvised by Sproingg. Recorded & Mixed by Erik Feder & Johannes Korn @ Sproingg Central sometime between 2019/20. Cover Design by Johannes Korn.

Musicians:
Prudi Bruschgo: Electric Guitar – Electric Baritone Guitar.
Johannes Korn: Chapman Sticks – Electric Violin.
Erik Feder: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

One of the things I gave a certain amount of credit to on the bands debut album were the titles they chose for the tracks and I thought they was well thought-out, even though they were a bit on the bizarre side of things such as “Sugarwax Nailface” and “And The Mountain Rat Saw God“. I think its hard enough coming up with titles for instrumental pieces and sometimes you do have to dig a bit deeper and be a bit more imaginative.

Quite a few of the titles on their new album Clam have more of a Zany Theatrical feel about them and some are perhaps along the lines of the silly sense of humour you got with the British comedy of Monty Pythons Flying Circus. Some are quite lengthy to and the last track in particular may be an attempt at trying to beat what Roger Water’s did on the 1969 double album Ummagumma 😁😁😁.

As with all instrumental tracks they can be quite a challenge to review each track individually and it is practically impossible to describe them all with every detail. But I shall try my best and I may even throw in my own sense of humour along the way. So let’s now take a closer look to see how the album shapes up as I take you through its tracks.

Track 1. Stuffer Gapes And Drapes His Cape On A Vaping Ape (Including Destiny’s Abortion)

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The album opens up with the first of a couple of tracks that have more or less the same bizarre title given to them. According to the description on their Bandcamp page (most likely written by the bands drummer) this opening piece is the first of a couple of Siamese twins that were separated before birth by some 11 days, 16 hours, 47 minutes and 19 seconds.

Reading the description alone I can tell that the band already have this track in mind to take on the road and play live, they may have already played it a few times live already. In many respects the bands drummer Erik is a bit like Peter Gabriel when it comes to preparing for a live show in that they both concoct up and tell some strange story in between the songs whilst the other members of the band are tweaking and tuning their instruments.

Both guitarists Prudi and Johannes have an array of pedals and utilise various effects for most of the bands material so they will need quite a bit of tweaking at times. In the opening section of this piece they may even need a Looper for the repeated couple of lead notes that have either been overdubbed or a Looper might very well have been used for the bass line instead which would allow them both to play the guitar parts.

This particular piece opens up quite mysteriously and both the guitars and drums work their way around Johannes pumping bass line and it runs along in a similar pattern right up to the 3:44 mark to which it comes to halt and brings in the first of two transitional changes.

The first of the transitional changes picks up the pace quite well and we get more structure coming from the bass line whilst Prudi’s guitar is sort of going on a crash course a bit like what Steve Howe was doing in the battle section of “Gates Of Delirium” back in 1974. However, unlike that Yes song Erik’s drums are doing something totally opposite and are not so much bashing it all out and he’s working in some kind of skip beat between the hi-hat and snare to keep a nice tight groove.

This section grinds itself down around 6:18 to bring in the next change which I presume is meant to describe “Destiny’s Abortion” that enters in around the 6:40 mark and this is where it goes into more of a frenzy and you could say they are going ape shit with the vape and steaming up the place 😁😁😁.

Overall, “Stuffer Gapes And Drapes His Cape On A Vaping Ape (Including Destiny’s Abortion)” is a three part piece that sits in the groove and the same pocket of what one would have expected if you had already heard the bands debut album. However, I do not really see it as anything new or better and I personally do not think it’s quite up to par with the material on their debut album. But I do not see it as a bad track either.

Track 2. (Impure Thoughts) Pure Cushion.

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In terms of how this next piece is structured it does have way less going on here in relation to the opening track on the album. However, this is a good example of how sometimes less can be more and this is certainly more of an accessible piece and more along the lines of a composition.

It’s very much a piece that features Erik’s drums doing a GREAT! job of putting the ape back into the jungle whilst Prudi’s wayward guitar lines add the right scope for it to make it feel more like an urban jungle sort of thing. It’s a piece that very much opens and closes up with a very effective ambient soundscape created on the pedal board and it instantly has the right effect to draw you into the piece.

It builds itself up quite well to run into the jungle section that runs between 1:50 – 6:59 of the piece. This section is perhaps a bit more urban than the heavier industrial side of things like King Crimson done on their Discipline album back in 1981. According to their own description they describe as a jazz klezmer-polka-waltz romp. Well they certainly are romping it along and in style too and this is a GREAT! track that seems to be over in no time at all.

Track 3. Z’Mörgele.

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I have to confess I have no idea what the word “Z’Mörgele” means and I was coming up with Zilch trying to translate it in Googles Translator. Though through my research on Google the word was most commonly associated with Cafes and Restaurants in Switzerland and the images I found mostly associated it with some form of breakfast with fruit. So, I guess it means “breakfast” in Switzerland.

Musically it starts off in a rush as if it was a snack and they was in a hurry to get breakfast out of the way and get on with whatever they had planned for the rest of the day. Erik is the first at the table and he going for a quick roll after which both Prudi and Johannes join in and man these guys are drilling the stuff down their neck 😁😁😁.

The band then slightly change gear over a couple of very slight transitional changes that come into play around the 1:53 and 2:46 mark and then drive it right down very well around the 3:29 mark into more of a smoother change and I quite like how all 3 musicians settle their way into the groove on this section. I also like how they end it all off abruptly by turning up the heat once again but only for a few bars. “Z’Mörgele” is one of my personal favourite tracks and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 4. Lovebird Dogbane Receives Higher Education.

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The title of this one according to the description on Bandcamp is self-explanatory. However, as I mentioned in my introduction of how I had a lack of education I was quite puzzled and it had me scratching my head and was a bit like trying to decipher something in a crossword to which I am no good at those either. So, I had to do a bit of research in particular on the word “Dogbane”.

I first discovered that it was a plant known as Indian Hemp that grows throughout much of North America and the southern regions of Canada. This very much gave me the vision of some Lovebird getting stoned out of his head on the stuff 😁😁😁 and I am pretty sure that comical side of looking at it is very much what Erik intended to do with the title here.

The plant itself is poisonous and like many poisonous plants can be used for medical treatments for humans. However, to animals such as dogs and birds the plant can be quite lethal causing them to be sick and even kill them should they eat enough of the plant. Birds are also known for eating insects and the metallic rainbow coloured beetle I chose in the picture above lives on the stuff and is known as a Dogbane Leaf Beetle.

This piece starts off in quite a menacing comical way were all 3 musicians sound a bit like they are doing their own thing over the first 3 minutes, 45 seconds yet regarding the interplay between the drums, bass and guitar it all works very well. The next transition introduces some heavier power chords on the guitar to drive it along over a sluggish pace. They have also created a nice bit of a haunting organ sound on the pedal board that accompanies them along this section every now and then.

The final section comes in around the 5:41 mark and here they have completely slowed things right down and the pedal board effects have been put to fine use. It gets even more mysterious almost alien like in particular with the flutey synth sound played along to a heavy drone effect. Overall, they have done another fine job here.

Track 5. And Her Name Was “Jo-Jo, The Dog-Faced Boy” (Part 1)

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This next piece is the shortest track on the album and a little over 3 minutes. They also describe it as a happy-go lucky, ragtime, children’s song. If this is ragtime it’s certainly different to anything Scott Joplin did that’s for sure 😁😁😁. However, I can see where they are coming from and this is a very well arranged piece with some GREAT! progression and very sweet piece of work indeed and one I would also add as another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 6. Progg Is A Five-Letter Word.

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By the sounds of the title prog was not foul enough as a 4-letter word and they had to do a bit of Spinal Tap and turn it up a notch. The one thing I will say about it is that it is certainly very PROGMATIC! and this is a very well-crafted and constructed piece of work that not only sits very well and tight in the GROOVE! It also goes down quite a few roads with its progression and transitional changes.

The band describe it has a nostalgic tearjerker, to be honest its quite hard to describe apart from rather than go into any sort of a frenzy the band are very much weaving their way along at a careful steady pace through its many directions. It’s very much another of my personal favourite tracks on the album a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 7. Stuffer Vapes And Drapes His Cape On A Gaping Ape.

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This next track comes with the same bizarre title has the opening track on the album, only minus the addition of “Destiny’s Abortion“. You would have thought it would have been somewhat a bit shorter however, this is longest track on album weighing in at 12 minutes. It’s also completely different even though it shares the same title and the only track on the album that features Johannes Korn on electric violin.

It’s a shame really that the violin was not utilised more often on the album because they can be a lot more diverse in their creativity with that instrument and both “No Place For Children” and “Krummfutter” from their debut album injected other influences into their music and are really GREAT! tracks.

There is no doubt the violin gives this band another avenue and direction to go down and it adds a good dose of haunting darkness to their music as you will hear with how well its utilised on this particular piece. The combination of the haunting folk vibe from the violin GELS! very well with Prudi’s crunching metal guitar whilst Erik keeps them both in line and holds the forte on this mystical almost satanic ritual into the dark void. It really is a GREAT! journey to take on over its 12 minutes and another very firm favourite of mine enough to jointly merit the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 8.  In A Recent Survey, 4 Out Of 5 Clinically Depressed, Middle-Aged Suburbanites Strongly Preferred New And Improved Jizzo Brand Cream Cheese To A Mortally Wounded Clam.

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No doubt the band were trying to beat Roger Waters when they concocted up this lengthy title and this final track is the albums self-titled track. It was from this title where the albums title originated Erik informed me and it was from one his stories he often talks about at the bands live shows. It was also more or less of how I described it in my own description in the artwork section and he did say that he had used many of the same references in his introductory speech to the audience.

This final track goes through a few transitions and over its first minute and 25 seconds they are rocking it out in a bit of a familiar style of The Police back in the late 70’s. It then falls into this mysterious alien like effective section and it sounds like they are either on another planet or they are melting the Jizzo cream cheese 😁😁😁. They then go into another rocked out section around the 2:38 mark and it grinds itself down to a halt at the 3:48 mark and it sounds like it’s all over.

Then after a couple of seconds silence it goes into another mysterious section that perhaps describes the wounded clam mostly done by the playfulness of Prudi’s guitar. It then rolls back into the action with Erik’s drums around the 5:25 and the band more or less go on a frenzy to drive last section home. I quite like the mellotron sound from the pedal board and it does sound like a real mellotron too.

Overall, its perhaps an extraordinary piece to end off the album and its one of those where you can hear how each section was worked on and put together to make it what it is. In terms of its structure it is very much like the opening track on the album with how it was stitched together and even though they are different tracks in some respects you could say the album was bookended and effectively it works that way.

Summary…

To sum up Sproingg’s second album Clam. The material is quite a bit different in relation to their self-titled debut album and gone are many of the other influences that made that album stand out so well. However, the King Crimson influence still slightly remains and it’s also quite evident that the band are developing and injecting a lot more of their own input and ideas into their music and are creating more of their own unique style which can only be seen as a good thing.

It is the PROGMATIC! fusion side of things that really ties the bands music to the likes of King Crimson more than anything else and its perhaps in that that pocket where their music really sits. It’s very much has they describe it being experimental polyrhythmic chaos and music your mother would not allow you to listen to and if you like your music to be on the weird and adventurous side, this is an album that will be very much up the right end of your street and in the same ball park so to speak.

Clam is perhaps not an album that I would personally recommend to introduce first time listeners to the bands music, and their first album does really show more of what this band are capable of doing. You would be better off listening to that album first to get to know where they are heading now and see how the band are working together as a unit.

Though I touched on how their debut album has more influences from others injected into it, that is far from what makes this band so unique. What I love so much about the bands debut album is how the band have worked so uniquely together has a combined unit even to the stage where the drummers input into the written material plays a pivotal role.

As a matter of fact, most of the tracks on their debut album do feel like they were written around Erik Feder’s drum kit. Even the way his drum kit was tuned is totally different to how they sound on their new album. Johannes Korn’s electric violin also played more of a role and added to much of the diversity and arrangement that made that album work so well and those are perhaps some of the key issues the album Clam is missing and why this album is not so much up to the same strength with its predecessor.

However, there is no questioning the ability of all 3 musicians in the band and Clam certainly has its moments and is far from disappointing and my personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Z’Mörgele“. “Stuffer Vapes And Drapes His Cape On A Gaping Ape“. “Progg Is A Five-Letter Word” and “And Her Name Was “Jo-Jo, The Dog-Faced Boy” (Part 1)“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the bands latest album Clam. I personally would not say it was a solid album like their debut album or has the strength of the material that holds that album up so well. However, there is certainly nothing remotely bad and there is enough here to enjoy and get plenty of satisfaction from. Like the bands debut album it’s been very well recorded and produced and the track placement works very well in making the album flow well enough from start to finish.

Regarding my question of have they managed to come up TRUMPS! once again. I personally still think they have, and even though this is a different album there is no denying the bands formidable style is still very evident throughout. The zany titles are still present too though I do think they went to extremes with albums self-titled track 😁😁😁.

Sproingg are very much a PROGMATIC! band that should appeal to most PROGSTERS! and FUSION HEADS! alike and its bands like this that are keeping such GREAT! music still alive today. They have their own approach and own way of presenting their music to you and their 2nd album Clam still has enough on it to deliver the goods and make it well worth buying and I highly recommend you at least check them out.

PROGMATIC FUSION! All Clamped Into A Shell Of Goodness…

The track listing of the album is as follows:

01. Stuffer Gapes And Drapes His Cape On A Vaping Ape (including Destiny’s Abortion). 9:00.
02. (Impure thoughts) Pure cushion. 7:51.
03. Z’Mörgele. 7:09.
04. Lovebird Dogbane Receives Higher Education. 7:54.
05. And Her Name Was “Jo-Jo, The Dog-Faced Boy” (Part 1) 3:06.
06. Progg Is A Five-Letter Word. 6:02.
07. Stuffer Vapes And Drapes His Cape On A Gaping Ape. 11:59.
08. In A Recent Survey, 4 Out Of 5 Clinically Depressed, Middle-Aged Suburbanites Strongly Preferred New And Improved Jizzo Brand Cream Cheese To A Mortally Wounded Clam. 6:57.

Lee’s Overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7.5/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #162

Sola Gratia – Neal Morse

Neal MorseSola Gratia

Introduction…

I have to admit I have lost track just how many albums Neal Morse has made and put out since he left Spock’s Beard around 2002 and I am pretty sure he had a couple of solo albums out before he left the band and if you were to count his Christmas album that would make another one. Since leaving the band he has put out god knows how many Christian albums and a complete rake of studio and live albums under his own name and with his band besides all the other bands and projects he’s worked in. 

I have the biggest majority of his solo albums and the ones he has put out with his band and there was a time when I honestly praised him for his song writing especially in the field of prog-rock. Though I have to confess that since he released Momentum back in 2012 I rather think that things have started to become a bit more stale and I found the last 3 albums I brought The Grand Experiment, The Similitude Of A Dream and The Great Adventure started to speak too much of the same language in that it was all too much of the same thing so I never even bothered buying his last PROG! album Jesus Christ The Exorcist.

I know that Morse is very much devoted to his faith and Christian beliefs and I have nothing against that. I also know he’s a very good songwriter, but at the high rate he churns out music it can be a bit too much food for thought at times and the food in some cases is getting stale before it reaches the table so to speak. It will also cost you an arm and a leg to keep up with it although to be fair I have always found his albums very reasonably priced and they do offer value for the buck.

It was very much the title of this release that caught my eye and made me go out and buy it. The reasoning behind that is because his 2007 album Sola Scriptura has always been my favourite album of his, and the title of this new album Sola Gratia was ringing out to me in the way that it could be a sequel to that album. My second favourite album of his came out a couple of years earlier in 2005 and that album was simply titled ? as in a question mark.

In total I have 14 of his studio albums and those two albums have always been my GOTO! albums of his. Personally, I don’t think anything that came after them is on the same level of par and it’s been a bit too much of the same thing. The question is does Sola Gratia live up to its predecessor or are my expectations too high? Before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork per usual.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The Limited Edition comes with a bonus DVD and both the CD & DVD are stored in a 3-panel cardboard DigiPak that has plastic trays to hold the both discs. It also comes with a 20-page booklet that contains all the lyrics, credits and linear production notes which can be stored neatly in the left-hand side of the Digipak.

Overall, it’s a very neat well-made package to which I got at a very good price of £12.99 from Amazon UK. I pre-ordered it on the 5th August and it arrived a day after its release which is quite good considering it comes from America and it arrived earlier than expected. The album is also available on vinyl and has been pressed onto 2 x 180-gram black vinyl LP’s priced around £24.99 and it also comes with the CD. There is also a CD (only) edition that comes in a standard jewel case for £10.99 and I dare say a Digital Download of the album for not much less.

Artwork.

The artwork and Design layout were done by the German graphic designer Thomas Ewerhard who also done the cover for Sola Scriptura and many other Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard albums. He mainly does the artwork for metal and prog bands and his work is very impressive and I particularly like the artwork he’s done for the German supergroup metal opera project Avantasia. The artwork he has done here is well apt and fitting for the sequel to Sola Scriptura.

The Album In Review…

Neal Morse’s latest studio album Sola Gratia was released on the 11th September 2020. The album contains 14 tracks and has an overall playing time of 65 minutes, 40 seconds and it runs along like a non-stop Rock Opera. I do find that over the more recent years that Neal likes to get more involved in the act for his live concerts and tries to act out the parts. He even adds in the odd stage prop and dresses up to try and look the part of the many concept story albums he writes.

The one thing I do admire about him is that he always puts his heart and soul into his live performance. However, I do find that he’s perhaps going a bit too over the top with his costumes and props 😁😁😁. I also find that the only way you can get to hear and enjoy his concerts are on DVD and not at the concert itself. Because they are played at ridiculously high-volume levels that goes beyond the level of distortion and will bounce off walls all around the arena.

Sola Gratia is indeed a sequel to its predecessor he wrote back in 2007 and the whole idea was ignited by a misunderstanding and of him not quite catching on to what his wife was saying during a conversation they were having at the time. She was asking him if his next album was going to be a solo album and he thought she said “Sola” and thought that would be a good idea hence the reason why we now have a follow up. There are in fact five solas so we may very well see other sequels arrive later.

Sola Scriptura translated to English is “scripture alone” and is a theological doctrine held by some Protestant Christian denominations that the Christian scriptures are the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.

To be perfectly honest I myself am not into all this GOBBLEDEGOOK! and quite often in the world of prog-rock the lyrical content is meaningless and all written about mythical fantasies more than anything else. It’s the music and the way the words are expressed are all that really matters to me and when it comes to reality you will find a lot more sense in the song “He Died At Home” that he wrote for his Life & Times album a couple of years ago than what you will ever find here.

When it comes to Christianity and common sense you will also find more logic listening to Stephen Fry talk about religion and he’s a lot wiser man than the likes of Solomon and the Three Wise Men 😁😁😁.

Like all his studio albums they are mostly recorded at his own studios at his home and he started work on the album towards the end of January this year, the recording was done between February – June. Being the highly talented multi-instrumentalist he is, he laid out all the tracks for the demos by himself including playing drums on all tracks and then sent them over to both Mike Portnoy and Randy George for them to play their parts.

As a rule, Neal likes to have the musicians in the same room but due to the Coronavirus this was not possible and it’s the first time he’s ever made an album and had to work this way. All three musicians are the main core on the album though both the other couple of musicians from his band also get to play a few parts and there are also a few string players and backing vocalists that also contribute to it.

The Limited Edition comes with a DVD that shows the making of the album and this bonus feature is something of a norm with all the projects Morse works on and he films everything. It would not surprise me if he takes his video camera with him when he pops down to the grocery store 😁😁😁. So, lets now take a look at the DVD.

The DVD.

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The DVD plays immediately when you insert it into your player and the only way you can access its main menu (as seen above) is by either waiting for the DVD to end or via the Top Menu button on your remote. As a rule, Neal mostly films and documents much of the recording progress for his studio and live albums and you can at times get many hours of film footage on them.

This however, was one of the rare occasions where he hardly filmed anything at all and some of the footage he even recorded after the process to make up the 66 minutes you get here. I find these making of the album very interesting and in this footage, you even get to see how he recorded some of the ideas with his voice on his mobile phone before he had written the music, and him putting those ideas into fruition. 

You also get to see Mike Portnoy and Randy George recording some of their parts at their homes along with the string players recording their parts in Neal’s studio plus hear a song that never made it on the album. The one thing you do not get is a 5.1 mix of the album tracks. Though to be perfectly honest from the attempts I have heard in the past done on his live DVD’s and the other projects he’s been involved in you would only end up being hugely disappointed 😁😁😁.

The picture quality is basic but to be expected when filming yourself on video and I have nothing to complain about especially as the DVD you are getting for practically nothing with the price, I paid for it. I would also say it’s worth getting the Limited Edition especially if you like to see the production side of things. The video editing was done by Randy George.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs Written & Produced by Neal Morse. Recorded between February -June 2020 at Neal’s home studio. Mixed & Mastered by Rich Mouser at The Madhouse. Pasadena US. Strings recorded by Gabe Klein. Drums tracks Engineered by Thomas Cuce. Artwork by Thomas Ewerhard. DVD Edited by Randy George.

Musicians:
Neal Morse: Vocals – Keyboards – Guitars – Percussion – Drums (On “Building A Wall”)
Mike Portnoy: Drums (Voice Mow only on “Building A Wall”)
Randy George: Bass.

Additional Musicians:
Bill Hubauer: Piano & Aha Moment.
Eric Gillette: Guitar in “Overture”. “In The Name Of The Lord”. Big Solo on “The Glory Of The Lord”.
Gideon Klein: Cello – Viola – Stringed Bass.
Josee Weigand: Violin – Viola

Backing Vocals – Wil Morse, Debbie Bresee, April Zachary, Julie Harrison and Amy Pippin.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Sola Gratia or “grace alone” which it translates too is actually the third Thesis that was written and not the second of the 5 Solas so regarding the sequel side of things Neal may have got his wires slightly crossed. Basically, it’s from the book of Ephesians in the bible that was supposedly written by God and by the Apostle Paul’s hand and can be found in chapter 2 verses 8-10.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

In layman’s terms it’s basically saying that we were saved for our sins by grace alone and the grace was a gift from god in offering his son at the alter for us. Although it might not appear that way in the way that it is written in the King James version of the bible (above). But there are several versions of the book and many different interpretations of it which is why there are so many different religions.

The bible was never written in a straight forward way for you to understand and try and decipher. Many songs are also written in the same way and many people will have their own interpretations of them. In the case of songs, I personally think that’s a good thing, but surely if there was a god out there, he would not of given you a book of riddles to lead you up the wrong garden path so to speak, or perhaps he was the author of confusion has Neal mentioned on his One album back in 2004 😁😁😁.

The first notable thing I noticed regarding the sequel is that the material for this album was written over a lot more tracks than its predecessor and they are considerably a lot shorter in length. Most of the shorter tracks also make up the first half of the album and I would even say that Sola Gratia is a bit like listening to an album of two halves with how the material flows along. So, let’s take a closer look at the album.

Track 1. Preface.

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You could say that the preface part of the book lets you know that it’s a sequel to the first book or album and it does so BEAUTIFULLY! with a lovely little acoustic version of “The Door” from the 2007 Sola Scriptura album. I totally love what Neal has done here and even though it’s only 1 minute, 26 seconds long it is one of the best tracks on the album. You will also hear parts of it pop up and reoccur in the backing vocal sections throughout the album, but here it’s just Neal’s voice and his 6 & 12 string guitar and it really is GORGEOUS!

Track 2. Overture.

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After it’s GORGEOUS! opening the album then EXPLODES! into action with this instrumental piece and this is by far the most PROGMATIC! track on the whole album. Neal quite often likes to BIG! things up with his overtures and has done several times in the past on his other albums and they generally contain some really GREAT! musical interplay with the instrumentation and run along some sophisticated time signatures and transitional changes that weave in and out of each other. It’s something he does best and there is no exception here.

This is actually one of the only longer tracks to be found in the first half of the album and besides the 3 main core musicians Morse, Portnoy and George it features his other two band members Gillette and Hubauer and both string players Gideon Klein and Josee Weigand that play their role in beefing up the orchestration very well. It’s also my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. In The Name Of The Lord.

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It’s time to ROCK! things up and this one even throws in some Metal to add a bit more weight to it and could quite easily be seen as the single release from the album. Although without the rest of the story behind its concept it’s lyrical content might very well give people the wrong impression about Neal himself, and that is exactly what it did when I shared the official video with a small group of friends in private group on Facebook last Friday and this is how one person in the group described it.

“Definitely motored right along with some ‘Nasty’. By the sounds of it…he ain’t a fan of Jesus and more the other guy. I enjoyed this you ole Devil”.

The lyrical content is often the reason why so many songs from concept albums do not make good single releases even though musically this would be more fitting for a single release and you will get that impression from the official video that was put out on the record labels Tube channel.

This particular song does also have quite a bit of an Alice Cooper influence and there is a couple of songs on this album that do feel more like Cooper songs rather than Morse.

Regarding the lyrical content it could easily come across like it came across to that person in the group and many more especially, if you know very little or nothing about Neal Morse and to be honest this is a group where I post more songwriter based songs and very little in the way of prog-rock and I only posted this cause it is a rock song.

The fire and anger in Neal’s voice will also give people that impression but he does like to put himself into the right frame of mind and picture of the times he is portraying in the story, and the story is based upon the times where even an apostle like Paul would fear for his own safety talking about Jesus and back then you could even get stoned for uttering the word. 

In The Name Of The Lord” does have more of a commercial rock feel to it which is why I could see it like a single release. The fact that I do like Alice Cooper also makes this appeal to my taste and I do see this song has one of the highlights of the album and it’s a contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones).

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More influences are coming out of the woodwork here and this a song that is structured around the piano and its vamping style gives it that BEATLE-ESC! feel. It’s quite a jolly up-tempo little song even if the lyrical content is kind of celebrating in an evil way 😁😁😁 and the word “Ballyhoo” is associated with a lot of noise and activity, often with no real purpose behind it.

I suppose you could describe it sort of like making a lot of fuss out of nothing and that is what the chosen ones i.e. Saul and the Pharisees are bragging about here on their road to Damascus. But then again, the Pharisees were seen as hypocrites of god by god.

Track 5. March Of The Pharisees.

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This is a short instrumental interlude and this piece is structured more or less around a continuous bass line that pumps its way along to the beat of the drums very well allowing space for the hammond organ and guitars to build it up and add some power to it.

There is quite a bit of TASTY! guitar work on this by Morse and the way the guitar echoes out in parts and is panned between left and right to good effect puts me in mind of “Dogs” by Pink Floyd. Even the way it marches along also reminds me of “Dogs Of War” by them too though the lead lines very much speak differently and this a GREAT! little interlude.

Track 6. Building A Wall.

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The Alice Cooper influence is back for this ANTHEM ROCKER! of a song though some may even see it has even a Pink Floyd influence regarding its wall. They might even see it has a political influence brought on by the LUNATIC! I chose for the picture here 😁😁😁. However, the wall of separation here was brought on by the Scribes and Pharisees and with Jesus delivering his damming discourse to them as described in the book of Matthew chapter 23 verse 13.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in”.

Neal’s original drums were left in on this song and the only thing Mike Portnoy is doing on the track is one of his funny voice “Mows” in which you can see in the official video that was once again put out on the record label’s Tube channel.

This is yet another GREAT! commercial rock song that would be fitting for a single release and apart from the lyrics. musically both “In The Name Of The Lord” and “Building A Wall” do have the presence of some of Alice Coopers earlier hits. Though even the lyrics on this particular song could easily be interpreted into today’s political affairs and this is another of the albums highlights and strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 7. Sola Intermezzo.

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It’s time for another musical intermission or in this case an intermezzo which is an Italian pronunciation that is used in the general sense of a composition which fits between other musical or dramatic entities, such as acts of a play or movements of a larger musical work. This also could be seen as a piece to put an end to first part or half of the album and though it’s much shorter than the overture you get some fine interplay and it’s another of the PROGMATIC! tracks on the album.

Track 8. Overflow.

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Like I mentioned earlier in some ways this is like listening to an album that has two halves and most of the material from here on does get longer. This is very much a ballad of a song that perhaps gets stretched out longer over its 6.5 minutes than it really needs to be. It’s not a bad song by any means and it also has a nice musical section to break it up. However, I do feel the chorus is overcooked and can be too repetitious.

Track 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine.

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You could say this is another instrumental piece with what little words you get here and they are only a couple of short verses that come into play at the end. This is also one of the couple of shorter pieces on the second part of the album though both are approaching the 3.5 minute mark and this one works very well with all that has been put into it. 

You could say it does help lift the album back up slightly and once again there is a fine PROGMATIC! touch to it with the interplay between the musicians and instrumentation. It’s also a very well-structured piece of work where the keyboards and bass play more of a dominate role, though the guitars and drums also play vital parts to make it what it is as well and it a GREAT! piece of work.

Track 10. Never Change.

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This next song for some reason has me thinking of the “Warrior” by Wishbone Ash in particular with its one haunting ambient note on the guitar that echoes every now and then to the jangly rhythm guitar. Although it’s nothing like that song I find myself singing the words “I’m leaving to search for something new” and I can actually squeeze in the first 4 lines of that song into the intro of this song before Neal starts singing.

This is one of the better songs on the second half of the album and I like how it builds itself up with quite some power to take it into the next track. Neal also plays a very TASTY! lead guitar solo that runs between 4:10 – 5:31 that is very FLOYD-ESC! which has that feel of some of guitar work Dave Gilmour played on The Division Bell album.

Track 11. Seemingly Sincere.

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By far the most powerful song of the album and when it comes to energy, I would say that a lot of it has been sucked out of it on the second half of the album and it needed something like this to wake it up. It is quite a synth driven track and the sequenced intro is once again quite FLOYD-ESC! and a bit like “On The Run” from their prolific Dark Side Of The Moon album as you can hear in the official video release.

Though it also has some heavy metal driven into it with the guitars and one hell of a powerhouse drummer to help drive it along too. “Seemingly Sincere” is the longest track on the album weighing in at 9 minutes, 34 seconds and it contains some really GREAT! progression that adds plenty of weight to it all with how it builds up into quite a monstrous song that has all the right balls and grit. It’s very much my personal favourite song on the album and jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! along with its instrumental overture.

Track 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus.

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This is the second of the shorter tracks on the second half of the album and effectively its like having 3 tracks rolled into one which does not really work that well at all. Talk about being in the land of confusion and I think Neal certainly was when he put this together.

OK! you could say the intro which is the only part that contains some words may have been essential to get the story across and the short-orchestrated section that follows and ends in a bang works too. However, what does not work is having the instrumental part that comes in at the 2:14 mark on the same track and this little small instrumental piece that is used to bring in the next track might have worked better if he further developed it and put it on another track.

Track 13. The Glory Of The Lord.

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This song should of really of been the final track on the album and it runs along in similar vein to much of the material you will find on other Morse albums such as Testimony for example. It has some nice rich orchestration to accompany the piano from the string players and Eric Gillette‘s BIG! blistering guitar solo works a TREAT! to spice things up and helps it raise the bar a bit. It’s a GREAT! song and another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 14. Now I Can See / The Great Commission.

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A two-part song to which the first part is really just an extension of the previous song and is like a reprise of it with the backing singers singing it’s title like in the way of a canticle as Neal repeats the words of the first part of the new title to practically the same tune played on the piano.

It then builds up with the orchestration and brings in a transitional change which is sort of like a Gran Finale although it’s not quite over yet has it comes down and he introduces a different melody on the piano for the final part “The Great Commission” to which brings in the final few words and it trickles its way out subtly and nicely on the piano to put an end to it all.

With how the last couple of tracks on the album work he could of easily done away with a track and made the two part song out of the 13th track and titled it as thus “The Glory Of The Lord / The Great Commission“. Though I am sure Neal has his own reasons but I did feel that the album should have ended off with the 13th track.

Summary…

To sum up Sola Gratia by Neal Morse. I would say it’s a decent enough album and much of the excitement and energy is contained within the material that was written for first half of the album. It is an album of two halves and the second half of the album is not in any particular hurry and its as if all the life and energy has been sucked and drained out of it in relation the first half to a certain degree.

In many respects I could also see those who brought the album on vinyl wearing out the first LP in no time at all. Simply because that is where all the adrenalin has been contained and it is only really “Seemingly Sincere” that really lives up to the energetic pace on the second part of the album.

Though I must stress that the way everything works with the concept I can see why Neal wrote it like this and it does work. The second half of the album is far from disappointing either even if I do have a few little niggles with a couple of the tracks in the way he presented them like he did and my personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Overture“. “In The Name Of The Lord“. “Building A Wall“. “Seemingly Sincere” and “The Glory Of The Lord“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion Sola Gratia is a very good fine body of work that Neal Morse has written with all the material that is contained upon it and no doubt he has put his heart and soul into the album. It can be quite exciting in parts and has other pleasurable moments and is quite an enjoyable album to listen to. Though I would not say it was a solid body of work. Though I certainly think it’s a better album than some of his more previous outputs of work he has put out since 2012 and it’s a way better album than Momentum.

As for my question in the introduction of my expectations being too high to live up to its predecessor Sola Scriptura in the way of a sequel. Personally. I would be both shocked and stunned if it did and my expectations were never that high in the first place especially knowing his output of work over the last decade or more. It would take something really special for that to happen and it may never either.

However, in some ways this new album of his has restored some of my faith in him as a writer and I may end up buying Jesus Christ The Exorcist. Though not right away as both this month and next month my music expenses are already tied up with the amount of new releases that are coming out over these couple of months. I also hear that there is also a new Transatlantic album in the pipeline that will be coming out either this year or next year and shall be looking forward to that.

Overall, Sola Gratia is an album that is both PROGMATIC! and ROCKMATIC! and I don’t think it will disappoint many PROGSTERS! especially with its musical content. I can understand some people not being into the religious side of things and this is really a concept about Saul who was blinded by God and later seen the light so to speak on his road to Damascus with the Pharisees.

But as I mentioned earlier. I can take the lyrical side of most prog-rock albums with a pinch of salt as long as the words are expressed well and add to musical side of things to which no doubt Neal can deliver them with ease on that score, because he does have a GREAT! voice and completely throws himself into it like an actor in many respects.

I do think it’s worth going with the Limited Edition that includes the DVD even if the content is not quite up to some of the other behind the scenes in the studio, he’s done n the past. But for it’s price point you are practically getting the DVD for free anyway.

Most Seemingly Sincere…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Preface. 1:26.
02. Overture. 5:59.
03. In The Name Of The Lord. 4:27.
04. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones). 2:43.
05. March Of The Pharisees. 1:40.
06. Building A Wall. 5:01.
07. Sola Intermezzo. 2:10.
08. Overflow. 6:27.
09. Warmer Than The Sunshine. 3:21.
10. Never Change. 7:52.
11. Seemingly Sincere. 9:34.

12. The Light On The Road To Damascus. 3:26.
13. The Glory Of The Lord. 6:17.
14. Now I Can See / The Great Commission. 5:17

Lee’s Overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

The Bonus DVD Rating Score. 6/10

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7.5/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #161

The Red Planet – Rick Wakeman

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Introduction…

It’s been quite a while since Rick Wakeman last wrote a studio album of new material and I could be wrong but I think the last studio album he made of his own new written material would have been Past, Present and Future back in 2009 and that was a triple album of piano solos only. He’s perhaps spent most of the past couple of decades doing things for Television and playing music by other artists than he has in the way of writing new material of his own. He’s also been living in the past in the many live shows and albums he has released and practically played material from his first 3 albums (excluding Piano Vibrations) to death 😁😁😁

Rick Wakeman has a Discography that most likely will fill several planets and you could easily find well over a hundred albums that have been released somewhere down the line floating around in some form or another that have been put out over the past 5 decades. Although he perhaps has around somewhere between 30 to 40 studio albums that are tied to him as a solo artist including the ones he did with his Rock Ensemble over all those years and in all honesty his discography is in a right mess and I am not going to even try and work out just how many official studio albums he has.

What I will say though is that over the many years he has put out some right SHITE! and that’s putting it mildly 😊 Though I would say he has around at least a dozen studio albums that are pretty good and I still think the first six albums he put out in the ’70s (once again excluding Piano Vibrations) are amongst my personal favourites and what I consider to be his personal best output.

Upon reading the many promising reviews of his latest album The Red Planet since its release I see many are already calling it the PROG! album of the year. To be honest, when I look at how disappointing this year has been so far for prog-rock releases it’s hardly surprising because the competition has been pretty much dim and bleak, to say the least, and the Coronavirus has had quite an effect on many musicians this year and it also has played its part of how this album got released and why it was delayed for so long. But before we go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a plastic jewel case which is not the best presentation and is perhaps outdated and looks cheap these days. I do prefer cardboard DigiPaks and DigiSleeves these days and I could have purchased the album in one that had a pop-out picture a lot earlier on in the year. However, the price for that package was twice the price of what it should have been sold for and was very extortionate.

It comes with a 20-page booklet that mostly comes with more informative information about the exploration to Mars and is also filled with plenty of photos which look quite impressive. It also contains the usual linear and production notes. However, as you can see in the photo above the writing as been printed in very small print and you might need a magnifying glass to read it all.

Overall, it’s well worth it’s money and I did get lucky when I went to order it from Amazon UK. I was about to put it into the basket just before I was off to bed and it was priced at £10.50. But the Mrs was pestering me to hurry up so I left it till the next morning. When I woke up the next day to pop it in the basket it was only £9.00 and being a Prime member, they also delivered it on the same day. That was a nice surprise and I saved myself a few pennies and it’s always nice to get a bargain.

Artwork.

The albums Cover Design, Artwork and Layout was done by Martin Robert Cook who has been a professional graphic designer for over thirty-five years, creating print and digital design for magazines, books, adverts, vehicle livery, signage, packaging and exhibitions. He’s also worked on books and albums for the likes of Jethro Tull, America, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham and many others. I quite like the album cover and Cook has done a GREAT! job of it and made good use of the many NASA photos and a photo that was taken by Rick’s wife Rachel Wakeman

The Album In Review…

This particular edition of The Red Planet was released on the 28th August 2020 and everything about how Rick Wakeman’s latest album got released is all over the shop and very confusing. The album itself contains 8 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 55 minutes, 24 seconds. It’s quite a lengthy time slot though not a double album worth of material even if these days it will cost you a lot more money to purchase on vinyl because it comes on 2 LPs. There are some completely dodgy goings on with how this album got released so let’s go back to how the album was originally released.

Rick Wakeman’s Extortionate Emporium…

There is no doubt the Coronavirus very much effected the original release date of Rick’s latest album and The Red Planet was scheduled to be released on the 3rd April. But because he had planned a playback event the day after the album release at the National Space Centre in Leicester it was cancelled due to the pandemic and the albums release date got put back to June. The album was officially released on the 19th June but only in the form of a Digital Download with subsequent physical copies to follow later on has they got made up.

Speaking of made up everything about the website Mr. Wakeman had set up to sell his album on was made up without any real thought at first and things started not to look as rosy as one might expect. For example, my first real interest in the album was that there was going to be supposedly a 5.1 mix and at first it stated on his Emporium website that the DVD that came with the CD in the pop-out DigiPak contained the 5.1 mix of the album.

The only thing that prevented me from pre-ordering it at the time was its ridiculous price tag. With the postage and packing it cost near enough £35 which is twice the price one would expect to pay for such a package. OK! It was limited to 2,000 copies only but quite frankly that’s taking the PISS!

I was having seconds thoughts a week later and it was then when I popped back to the website that I noticed that the 5.1 had been removed and after some further investigation I soon discovered that there was no 5.1 mix of the album at all and the DVD only contained the video footage or some VR footage of Mars like he was showing on his YouTube channel.

It was at this point I had lost all interest in the album and even the Limited CD (only) Edition was priced at over £20 for the pop-out DigiPak as to why it was not priced at £12 like any other DigiPak is beyond me and everything on Rick’s so called Emporium was a complete rip off in my honest opinion and nothing but GREED!

But once GREED! sets in it creates more greed and having extorted all the money out of the suckers who brought up all the limited editions he then decided to do another deal with Madfish Records and release the album again and to get around the fact that it was all supposed to be a limited edition only and not so much piss off all the customers who brought the album. He decides to make a few changes with this new release.

The first was to release the CD in a Jewel Case (Only) at a more respectable cheaper price. The price the original CD should have been sold at in the first place. In all honesty I consider this to be a bit of an insult, and he really has been a bit of a cheapskate in the way he has gone about re-releasing the album and you will soon see how far he’s gone when you compare the original vinyl release to the new one.

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The original Limited Vinyl Edition was limited to 1,000 copies only, and they were pressed onto 2 x 180-gram Red Vinyl LP’s. To be perfectly honest I cannot remember what it was priced at but it would have cost you somewhere in the region of £50 – £60 including the postage and packing. The very fact that they were pressed onto Red Vinyl is the only real thing that should have made it different from any other release and should have been the only thing that is distinguishing between the Limited Edition and future releases.

But a lot more than that has been stripped back for the new vinyl release and not only as he removed the pop-out from the Gatefold Sleeve, but he foolishly decided to save a few pennies by having the album pressed onto 2 x 140-gram Vinyl LP’s instead. The quality has gone completely out of the window for you vinyl lovers and this is one of the major reasons I myself stopped buying vinyl back in the 90’s. It is now sold at a cheaper price of around £30 but in all honesty, you would have to be a complete MUG! to buy this vinyl release talk about adding insult to injury.

To be perfectly honest as a rule I do not subscribe to this sort of GREED! and I did not intend to buy the album at all because of it. The only reason why I ended up buying this album in the first place was because a mate of mine who pre-ordered the Limited Edition CD/DVD happened to of sent me the Digital Download of the album to listen to back in July. So, I felt obliged to buy the album myself.

Back To The Review…

Rick Wakeman has always been my personal GOD! of the keyboards and my first encounter to his skills on the keyboards would have been back in 1971 when I first heard him on the Fragile album by Yes. Since then, I have brought quite a few of his solo albums over the years and as good as some of them are he has also produced a lot of SHITE! over those years like I mentioned in my introduction. I have also seen him play live a few times with Yes and on his own with a band. So, I do have a lot of admiration for this guy’s talent, and he is an extremely talented musician and as always been my personal king of the keyboards.

Although it might not seem that way with the way I described how this release was put out. But as with any review I will give you my own honest opinion and no way will I reflect that side of the business to hinder any part of my review of the album itself. After all the musical content should always hold more value than the price of the album unless it’s a really bad album and to be honest The Red Planet I personally think is one of his better albums and even over its longer time slot of 55 minutes the material we have here does hold up well over it.

Though its certainly not as cranked up as many reviewers have described it and to even make comparisons of it to his 1971 album The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, I can honestly say they are poles apart. I think the best way I could possibly describe this new album is that it’s MOOG DELICIOUS! Which is not how I would ever describe The Six Wives Of Henry VIII simply because that album has a lot more going on in it.

Another way to describe this album especially when making comparisons to some of Wakeman’s other albums is that it’s perhaps more along the lines of his 2003 album Out There and both the Retro albums he put out in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

It’s also worth mentioning that unlike both Retro 1 & 2 in which he did only use only analogue synths. The only analogue synth you will hear on this new album is the Moog and the rest of it was played mostly on his Korg Kronos. Which is another thing that most reviewers got completely wrong. You will also hear the odd throwback to a couple of his 70’s albums Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and No Earthly Connection scattered about in parts on a couple of tracks.

Wakeman as once again assembled his English Rock Ensemble to accompany him again out of a couple of the musicians who have played for him for quite sometime now such as bassist Lee Pomeroy and guitarist Dave Colquhoun. Both of them also played on the couple of Retro albums and Pomeroy even played on Out There and no doubt you would of seen him play with Steve Hackett over the years too. The one thing that did surprise me is that his long-time drummer Tony Fernandez is not on the album and he’s been replaced by Ash Soan.

The album was recorded earlier on in the year between January to March at various studios many of which may have been at the band members own personal studios as you can see from this video that captures Lee Pomeroy talking about the recording process and playing some fine examples of it that was posted on Rick’s Youtube Channel.

There is no doubt that Wakeman has some GREAT! musicians working with him and Lee Pomeroy is an excellent bass player to which you can see in this video. Once the album had been recorded it was left to Erik Jordan to do the final mix assisted by Toby Wood. Simon Heyworth done the Mastering and further Remastering was done by Bill Sellar.

Musicians & Credits…

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All Tracks Written by Rick Wakeman. Produced by Rick Wakeman & Erik Jordan. Recorded between January – March 2020 at The Sunflower, PWL, Shabby Road and The Windmill Studios. Mixed at The Nursery, Cambridgeshire, England by Erik Jordan & Toby Wood. Mastered by Simon Heyworth. Remastering by Bill Sellar. Album Cover Artwork & Design by Martin Robert Cook.

Musicians:
Rick Wakeman: Keyboards.
Dave Colquhoun: Guitars.
Lee Pomeroy: Bass.
Ash Soan: Drums.

The Red Planet Tracks In Review…

All of the tracks upon The Red Planet are based on the names that were given to some of the places or regions that are on the planet Mars. Musically this is not the sort of music that really projects any visualization of the places or to the planet itself unlike some atmospheric soundscape perhaps would. I would even say that the backline to the music is more rock driven more than anything else and most of the tracks are quite busy and run along in the same vein as most rock music.

It is quite MOOG DELICIOUS! in parts like I mentioned earlier and if you think along the lines of the self-titled track on his White Rock album that is the sort of thing you will get with a lot of the tracks here. Where the album does fall short is that there is not enough variety and that is something you will find more of with his earlier albums like White Rock and The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and those albums have a lot more going for them in that the material on them does vary and have plenty of scope for the piano as well. Whereas there is very little piano work on this album at all and certainly not enough to write home about anyway.

So, lets now take a closer inspection at the album and see what we can dig out beneath the surface of it all as I got through the albums tracks.

Track 1. Ascraeus Mons.

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The album gets off to a flying start and quite a very nice THEMATIC! one that is driven along by the pipe organ. Although this piece is not so much like pieces such as “Judas Iscariot” found on his 1977 album Criminal Record and “The Cathedral of the Sky” from the 2003 album Out There which are solely played on the pipe organ.

I quite like how he’s blended and layered some of the other textured keyboard sounds to add colour to it, such as a touch of clavinet and the choral sounds and it works very well. You will also hear his familiar lead lines from the synths and most of the sounds were most likely from his Korg Kronos and his mini moog does not get utilised on this opening track.

Ash Soan’s drums play more of major role in lending support to the piece and they do so in a thumping manner whilst Lee Pomeroy pumps his bass along with them. Dave Colquhoun’s guitar only plays a small part right at the end of the piece to which he adds some fine lead guitar lines to lend support and it’s a nice touch.

Ascraeus Mons is a large shield volcano located in the Tharsis region of the planet Mars. It is the northernmost and tallest of three shield volcanoes collectively known as the Tharsis Montes. Judging by the photograph it looks like somebodies been playing rounders in the sand 😁😁😁

Overall, “Ascraeus Mons” is not so much a MOOG DELICIOUS! track but quite a nice piece to open up the album and you could say that it marches its way along in the way of an introduction and it sets up the album very well for what is to come. I would also consider it a contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! Rick also posted the piece on his Youtube channel so you can hear it for yourself.

Track 2. Tharsis Tholus.

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Judging by the picture of this one it looks like somebody has been constructing golf courses on Mars 😁😁😁 and Tharsis Tholus is another of the three shield volcanoes and is located on the eastern region of the planet. The volcano was discovered by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1972 and originally given the informal name Volcano 7. In 1973. Whoever gave it the name it has now must have lived on the planet Zarquon 😁

The way this piece opens up you can plainly hear that Rick has lifted some of the lines from “Spaceman” from his 1976 album No Earthly Connection and Lee Pomeroy is more or less walking along with the same bass line to that track too. It’s a piece that uses some smoother textured flutey sounds from the keyboards at first and then further develops into more of a PROGMATIC! affair with some twisting spasms with the time signature changes along its path. He also gets to fly out a very TASTY! solo on the Moog which perks it up a bit and this is my personal favourite track of the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. Arsia Mons.

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Arsia Mons is another shield volcano and is the southernmost of the three on the planet. This is a piece that is driven along by a keyboard riff and contains a few more subtle come down sections giving it more of an airy feel. It also allows Colquhoun to utilise his acoustic guitar and the second come down section allows him to incorporate a rather TASTY! lead break on the acoustic. The more uptempo sections that are driven along by Rick’s keyboard riff showcases some really GREAT! bass work from Pomeroy.

Track 4. Olympus Mons.

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Looking at the the title I might have expected something that was a bit more along the lines of the material Rick wrote for his White Rock album as it was written for the Winter Olympic Games. Although Olympic and Olympus are not quite the same, they could be seen as something BIG! and the Olympus Mons is yet another shield volcano but on a much larger scale and is around two and half times the height of Mount Everest.

This is another of the better PROGMATIC! tracks on the album that has a couple of nice transitional changes, though I will say the backline of the drums and bass are certainly more rock driven but work very well. It’s also the shortest track on the album but does feel longer and that might be down to the first section of the piece. Rick is very much flying all the way along though on this one and he also gets to do quite a lengthy TASTY! moog solo to drive it home in the second half of it.

Track 5. The North Plain.

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Vastitas Borealis or as its more simply referred to as the North Plain is the largest lowland region of Mars it was named by Eugene Antoniadi, who noted the distinct albedo feature of the Northern plains in his book La Planète Mars published in 1930. The name was officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1973.

For this piece Rick has created a mystical spacey soundscape intro to try and capture the atmosphere of the region which is quite fitting. The intro lasts for around 1.25 minutes but is further utilised later on as the piece falls back into it around the middle section.

The second and final sections are very much ROCKED! out with some of Rick’s familiar keyboard lines and here he is using some crunchy distorted Hammond and you also get a bit of moog along the way to add good measure. The rest of the band play their part well and Colquhoun also gets to unleash another fine solo on the guitar.

Track 6. Pavonis Mons.

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This next piece stampedes and marches its way along and Rick is once again very much flying along on his synths creating the melody lines as he flies along to the driving rhythm provided by the rest of the band. It’s also one the three rare occasions you get to hear a bit of piano and once again you will hear familiar patterns in his playing to many other albums he’s done over the years. There is no mistaking Rick’s formidable style.

Pavonis Mons is a large shield volcano located in the Tharsis region of the planet Mars and is the middle member of a chain of three volcanic mountains collectively known as the Tharsis Montes. The volcano was discovered by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1971, and was originally called Middle Spot and was formally given the name it has now back in 1973.

Track 7. South Pole.

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Just like on earth the south pole is the coldest region on Mars and it was given the Latin name of Planum Australe which translates to the southern plain. According to scientists based on MARSIS radar studies they discovered the first known stable body of water on the planet. Planum Australe is partially covered by a permanent polar ice cap composed of frozen water and carbon dioxide about 3 km thick.

This particular piece reminds me of some of the smoother arrangements that Rick had given to certain parts of Journey To The Centre Of Earth that can be found on many of his live performances of the piece over the years. It’s also another of the tracks on the album where he gets to play a bit more of piano and it’s quite a lovely sounding piece. 

Track 8. Valles Marineris.

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The final piece on the album is the longest track on the album weighing in at just a tad over 10 minutes. It very much kicks off in Ravel’sBolero” fashion and settles down into quite a THEMATIC! style that would suit a Television series especially within its smoother sections that have some nice flutey sounds and a nice bit of piano. You will also get to hear the odd glimpse of melody lines lifted from Journey To The Centre Of Earth and a slight touch of Criminal Record along some of the transitional changes along the way.

Valles Marineris is a system of canyons that runs along the Martian surface east of the Tharsis region of the planet. It’s also one of the largest canyons of the Solar System, surpassed in length only by the rift valleys of Earth. It has also been more recently suggested that Valles Marineris is a large tectonic “crack” in the Martian crust.

Overall, there is a certain feel and sense of BEAUTY! about the final track on the album and it almost builds up to a grand finale at the end however it’s perhaps a bit more on an abrupt ending but winds the album up very well and even over its longer distance it’s not dragged out and seems to be over sooner than it should have been. The rest of the band play their part and fit in very well and I would consider this to be another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Summary…

To sum up Rick Wakeman’s latest album The Red Planet. It is without doubt one of his better albums and the written material works and flows very well throughout. Both thought and attention has gone into the track placement which works particularly well in making it an enjoyable album to listen to from start to finish. I would even say that it could be seen as a welcoming return back to the world of PROG! Especially in relation to some of his more recent solo piano albums he has churned out over the last few years.

Rick’s formidable style is quite evident on this album throughout though I personally do not think amongst its tracks there is anything quite memorable that would stand out like many of the classics he wrote back in the 70’s. You will also hear glimpses of those albums pop up every now and then too which is something he has done consistently on many of his albums over the years.

I would also say that the titles we also have upon The Red Planet are not that easy to pronounce and will be tricky to remember and judging by the biggest majority of the titles on the album it appears that there is life on Mars after all. However, you might just find they are a load of Geysers 😁😁😁 and maybe Rick seen them as a load of Grumpy old men who like to let off some hot steam every now and then 😁

Joking aside I do feel Rick has done well here and my personal highlights from the album is as follows: “Ascraeus Mons“. “Tharsis Tholus” and “Valles Marineris“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion I would say that even as a 71 year-old ROCKER! Rick has still got it and what it takes and the The Red Planet is quite a solid enough album to testify that. However, personally I do not think it’s got enough or the right amount of variety to be on par with some of his earlier albums from the 70’s and you will find that a lot more was put into those albums.

It is however, quite MOOG DELICIOUS! and if you are one of those who likes to hear Rick fly his way along on the keyboards this will be right up your street so to speak. I certainly think it’s the best album he’s put out since the couple of Retro albums he did over a decade ago and in many ways The Red Planet could be seen as a return to form and both the written material and production standards are quite good.

Though I would not stick my neck out and say that this is the PROG! album of the year even with what little in the way of prog-rock has surfaced so far this year. Simply because although the album does have its PROGMATIC! moments a lot of the backline is more rock driven more than anything else. Besides that, both this month and next month look more promising on the prog-rock front and there looks like some exciting times ahead.

But if like myself you are into Rick WakemanThe Red Planet is an album that does not disappoint and one I do recommend buying. Though personally I would stick with cheaper CD and advice you not to waste your money on the lower quality new vinyl release.  Unless you like your albums to WARP! 😁😁😁

Rick Rocks Out On Mars…

The Album Track Listing is as follows:

01. Ascraeus Mons. 5:53.
02. Tharsis Tholus. 6:17.
03. Arsia Mons. 6:10.
04. Olympus Mons. 5:20.
05. The North Plain. 6:53.
06. Pavonis Mons. 7:14.
07. South Pole. 7:35.
08. Valles Marineris. 10:02.

Lee’s Overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 7/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Album Rating Score. 7.5/10