Animation (Expanded & Remastered Digipak Edition) – Jon Anderson
John Anderson’s third solo album Animation is the latest to be re-released and reissued by Esoteric Recordings and I have to admit I quite like how they have been repackaging his albums in quality Digipaks. However, as to why any of these newly remastered albums in this series come advertised as “Expanded” sure as hell beats the life out of me. But perhaps one of the most disappointing things about all these reissues is that they do not come with a 5.1 surround mix and Jon Anderson or his record company Atlantic Records must have been very careless when he made these albums for non of the multi-track tapes to survive.
Like I mentioned in my other reviews I only ever had his debut album from many moons ago and this album is really new to me as I have never heard anything of it until now. To be perfectly honest having purchased his second solo album Song Of Seven I was not even gonna bother buying any more of his albums as I found it quite disappointing and only a couple of tracks really stood out. The thing that twisted my arm in the first place to buy this album and his second album was really down to the review I saw of Animation on Barry’s Classic Album Review to which he was unboxing it a month before it was due to be released. I was quite taken in by some of the strong positive comments left on his unboxing video and even his own views reflected a positive vibe for the album.
If you have not tuned into Barry’s Youtube channel I highly recommend it and he really is a guy who can speak about music and I always enjoy his reviews. I even used his affiliated link to pre-order my copy which gave him a few micro pennies for the good work he is doing.
Having read quite a bit of the praise this album got within those positive comments do they really measure up to it being a good album? Well of course we all have different perceptions of how we ourselves perceive music and my opinion and that of many others are bound to vary. One of the comments even pointed out that it was as good as any Yes album but is it really? Well before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
Packaging & Artwork…
The CD comes in a quality cardboard Gatefold Digipak that replicates the original vinyl album cover very well. The good thing about Digipaks is that they come with the same plastic insert and hub to hold the disc in place as you will find in a standard jewel case so they do provide the same ample protection for the disc. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon UK on the 28th of March and it arrived on the day of its release. It came at a very respectable price and I even saved 97p by pre-ordering it and got it for £10.02.
The album cover artwork was inspired by a photo that someone had taken and Anderson quite liked the effect they had done so he used it for the album cover. The
The Album In Review…
Jon Anderson’s 3rd solo album Animation was released sometime in April 1982. The album contained 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 32 seconds. This new reissue by Esoteric Recordings was released on the 30th of April 2021 and has once again been defined as an “Expanded” edition. It contains 11 tracks over an overall playing time of 57 minutes. 22 seconds, though I beg to differ that a couple of bonus tracks would hardly make any album “Expanded” in the right sense of the word and there is nothing unusual when it comes to adding a few bonus tracks with CD releases. They have done so for years simply because Vinyl has its restrictions with what you can actually fit on it which is why bonus tracks are often associated with CD’s down to the fact that they have twice the capacity.
To “Expand” any album you would really need to be looking for material that was recorded during the sessions of making the original album. It could be material that was left off the album or longer versions of the original tracks that were edited down for the final album. One example would be the differences between the Vinyl and CD releases of Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits where the CD version is a lot longer and that version could very well be seen as “Expanded”. Other examples are where they place material that was recorded at the same time in between the tracks of the original album and not at the end which is the norm for the placement of bonus tracks.
Only one of the bonus tracks you get here came from the original recording sessions of the album and was used for the B-Side of the single release of one of the tracks from the original album. The other bonus track comes from another time period and was not done during the recording sessions of the album.
Animation is an album that has not been reissued that many times and it was not until 2006 that the album first surfaced on a CD. It was released here in the UK on an independent label known as Opio Media and due to the fact that many other of Anderson’s solo albums (and only his) have appeared later on this label over the years, suggests that it is Anderson himself who is running this label.
Judging by the design of the record labels logo above, also puts me in mind that it is Anderson who is behind it. This particular CD release was mastered by Daniel Earnshaw at Vortex Sound Studios in Boston, Massachusetts. Those who purchased it had nothing but complaints about its inferior quality claiming that the recording was not taken from the original master tapes but from a worn-out vinyl record.
It was also released in the same year in Japan only on the Arcàngelo label. This edition came in a paper sleeve and my guess is that they copied the UK CD release and popped in a paper sleeve and this is so typical of Japanese releases to which many claim are far more superior recordings. I am not stating that Japan does this all the time with recordings and some of them can be excellent and a proper job has been done with them. Though with my experience over the years with Japanese imports I would say the biggest majority of the time you will get ripped off and pay extra for the privilege as well 😊😊😊.
There is also another factor that suggests that Anderson was behind this 2006 CD release and that is down to the previously unreleased bonus track “The Spell” which is also included in this new expanded edition along with “Spider” which was officially released as the B-Side of “Surrender“. It’s unfortunate that “The Spell” only exists as a demo on a Cassette to which only Anderson has in his possession. Esoteric Recordings have replicated this 2006 release and rehashed it as an “Expanded Edition” when in reality it’s nothing of the sort. The quality, however, might be a bit better than that 2006 release apart from the rough demo to which nothing really could be done with it.
Most of the material that found its way onto Animation was written by Anderson in 1981 and recorded once again at his home studio between 1981/82. It was also a very busy year for him as he was also working with both Mike Oldfield and Vangelis at the same time. Neil Kernon who was noted for working with acts such as Brand X, Daryl Hall and John Oates was at the helm of most of the production and it also contains a song that was produced with Tony Visconti who is perhaps more renowned as a record producer and had worked with more mainstream British acts such as David Bowie and T. Rex to name a couple.
The albums title and self-titled track were inspired by the birth of his daughter Jade in 1980 and it was the beautiful way she moved in an animated way that made him choose the title in honour of her. I am guessing that the picture that was used for the album cover may have been taken around the time of her birth which is another reason he wanted to use it.
Animation did not sell well upon its release and did not quite break into the UK Top 40 Album charts like his previous album did and peaked just outside at number 43. In the US it did even worse and only reached 176 in the Billboard charts. Two singles were released from the album though neither of them managed to make a dent in the charts. He even put on more shows than his previous album and performed 23 shows in the US between the 7th of June to the 25th of August after the release of the album. All of the main core of the band that played on the album was assembled for the live tour apart from Simon Phillips who was not available and was replaced by Guy Shiffman.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Jon Anderson & Neil Kernon except “All Gods Children” Produced by Tony Visconti & Jon Anderson. All songs were written by Jon Anderson (except “All Gods Children”) by Jon & Jennifer Anderson. Recorded sometime between 1981/82 at Seer Green Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Recording Engineers Mark Wallace & Raphael Preston (except for “Olympia”) Mike Dunne. Engineered and Mixed by Neil Kernon & Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson: Vocals – Acoustic Guitar.
Clem Clempson: Guitars.
Stefano Cerri: Bass.
David Sancious: Keyboards.
Simon Phillips: Drums & Percussion.
Chris Rainbow: Vocals.
Dave Lawson / Ronnie Leahy / Blue Weaver: Keyboards.
Jack Bruce / John Giblin: Bass.
Billy Kristian: Guitar.
Ian Wallace: Drums.
Morris Pert / Brother James / Brazil Idiots: Percussion.
Brass Section: Dick Morrissey / Henry Lowther / Chris Pyne / Tony Stanton.
Delmé String Quartet: Arranged by David Ogden.
The Gosplets Choir: Arranged by Eugene Sister Moule.
The Album Tracks In Review…
Glancing at the musicians who appear on the album many of them played on his previous album only here they have been shuffled around a bit and both Clem Clempson and Simon Phillips are now in the main core of the band and not in the additional musician’s list. Chris Rainbow is the only one to have kept his place in the main core line-up and both David Sancious and Stefano Cerri who were not on the previous album make up the main core of the band. It’s also noticeable that Morris Pert who played the drums on the previous album has been relegated to the additional musician’s list and that may have been down to Anderson working with Phillips on the new Mike Oldfield album Crises at the time.
Although even additional musicians can have a sufficient role as a session player and according to the former Greenslade keyboardist Dave Lawson he had a vivid recollection of the 6 tracks he contributed overdubs to which he did them all on the 30th of July 1981 and was paid £517.50 for his time. The fact there are a total of four keyboard players on this album suggests that Anderson was looking for a more keyboard orientated album or even to give it more of an electronic approach. Technology was moving on with keyboards in the 80’s especially with the birth of midi and Anderson was very much aware of it.
I have to confess that keyboard orientated music is not really my cup of tea and it was down to that in the 80’s that made me turn my back on many bands even to the point of having no further interest in the radio especially as far as pop music goes. But once again he has onboard some highly skilled musicians but is that enough to turn things around for my personal taste? Well, let’s find out as I go through the album tracks and the couple of bonus tracks.
Track 1. Olympia.
Most people would associate the title of this song with Greece and sports. However, the Olympia that Anderson is refering to in these lyrics is an exhibition centre in London and the inspiration came from a time he came across a lot of new technology at the place to which opened up a new world to him. The technology that did interest him was the electronic side of things and you can hear that in this song although the opening guitar riff by Clem Clempson is nothing new around this time and it’s a bit remiscent to the sythesized sound Steve Hillage had on his guitar much earlier than this.
The song it’s self is very uptempo and perhaps typical of 80’s rock in that it all sounds rather lightweight. This song does not want remastering it needs a new mix to put some HUMPH! into the thing. It very much reminds me of how badly mixed Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” was mixed where the frequencies are way to high. You cannot rock anything out with a tin box recording and that’s why neither of these two songs have the power to rock even if they have the energy. The only people who are gonna get off with this song are those who listen to music on transistor radios and tin boxes 😊😊😊.
Track 2. Animation.
The albums self-titled track is the longest track on the album (excluding bonus tracks) weighing in at just over 9 minutes. This has a lot more progression and transitional changes in it and it’s quite THEMATIC! and verging on CINEMATIC! in parts. The quirky rather bizarre opening is interesting with the use of keyboard and vocal effects and puts me in mind of Frank Zappa and the effects they used on “Ritual” from Topographic Oceans. Some of the thematic keyboard parts put me in mind of Asia and the heavy percussion works very well too.
Like I mentioned earlier this particular song was done in honour of the birth of his daughter Jade and the lyrics very much pertain to that and although they are meaningful lyrics I am not really sure that they fit the musical presentation we have here. Though Anderson does express them well with his voice and the musical structure and recording is much better than the opening track on the album.
There are quite a few transitional changes along the path of this song and the section from 3:50 onwards utilises the Delmé String Quartet: Arranged by David Ogden very well. The song also trickles its way out nicely in almost Vangelis style with Anderson’s voice and the electric piano. It is by far the best track on the album and might be the only good track on the album but let’s see.
Track 3. Surrender.
Anderson is in the tropical summer holiday mood like we saw with some of the songs on his previous album it was the main single release from the album. The way of surrendering is perhaps unusual in that it’s a peaceful way to do so and the words are pertaining to the government surrendering all the weapons of mass destruction so they can blow them up in space so everybody can celebrate in a joyous way. The intentions are good if anything else though it’s easy to see why the single release never did a thing.
Track 4. All in a Matter of Time.
Another single release from the album that pertains to the wonders of the world that we wake up to each day and I suppose it takes time to take them all in sort of thing. The song has the presence of happiness about it and Anderson’s voice is in fine shape for the song. The bass and guitars do a fine job here too, although a song like this is hardly going to set the world on fire no matter how much time it takes 😊😊😊.
Track 5. Unlearning (The Dividing Line).
Another song that has quite a dominant bassline and one that ticks over at a sort of uplifting pace. It’s quite a simplistic song and whoever out the two bass players is playing the bass is perhaps the most interesting thing here. The keyboard work is as straightforward as you can get and is just playing simple chords. Like the previous song it does nothing for me I am afraid and even the lyrical content is weird even if they do pertain to the title of the song.
Track 6. Boundaries.
This next song not only appeared later on Anderson’s 11th studio album The Promise Ring under the title of “O’er” but also on the Yes album Open Your Eyes under the title of “Somehow, Someday” in the same year. This version has more of a Celtic ballad feel about it that’s quite different to how Yes did it though both versions are not fitting to Yes Music which is why that particular Yes album never said a Dickie Bird to me when I wasted my money on it back in 1997. He also changed the lyrics for the Yes version whereas the other version on The Promising Ring was just a different arrangement to which he sang the original words and accompanied himself on a keyboard.
Track 7. Pressure Point.
This is very much a keyboard orientated song and my guess is that Anderson was trying to keep up with the electro vibe that many were doing back in the 80’s. The only thing that sounds remotely interesting about this song is the pounding drums and percussion and the keyboard solo which is verging on the synth sound that Patrick Moraz used. This is not my cup of tea at all and the less said about it the better me thinks 😊😊😊.
Track 8. Much Better Reason.
An uptempo love song to which the band are all in the groove and they GEL! quite well together here. The bass and drums in particular are well in the groove of things and the middle section has a sort of Calypso and Samba jive about it. Anderson also sings a bit of Italian along the way and lyrically it’s pertaining to feeling good with yourself. It’s a song one could dance to and one of the better songs on the album which is really down to how tight and close nit the band are and nothing else.
Track 9. All Gods Children.
The final track on the original album is perhaps like a Gospel Anthem sort of like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” only funked up in a modern way and if you are into song’s like that then this might float your boat so to speak. Anderson co-wrote this song with his wife and it was produced by Tony Visconti. It also features Eugene Sister Moule and The Gosplets Choir and to be honest I am not sure if it’s just the voice of Moule making up the choir himself or if he has a choir and is conducting and arranging them. However, all are doing a fine job here even if it’s not my cup of tea.
The first of the two bonus tracks is entitled “Spider” and was left off the original album and used for the B-Side of “Surrender“. According to Anderson, the song is based on an old Irish story about the 13th sign of the zodiac, the spider sign. It’s only a short song just under 3 minutes and he has his daughter Deborah explaining the story. It’s not a bad song and personally, I prefer it to the A-Side it also features a nice little guitar solo from Clemson.
The second bonus track entitled “The Spell” was a piece that Anderson recorded quite a while before “Animation” and it was originally called “Twins” and was a story he was writing in the way of a concept album but at the time the record company did not get it so it got shelved. What you get here is an outtake in the form of an 11 minute, 42-second rough demo and the recording came from a cassette. As rough as it is I personally think this is better than anything on this album and it puts me in mind of how he worked with Vangelis on the self-titled track “The Friends of Mr Cairo” with the dramatisation of the story.
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up and conclude my review of Animation by Jon Anderson. I found the more times I played the album the less I liked it and it had very little to offer over the original nine tracks on the album, even less than his second album Song Of Seven which was only a half-decent album. I think one of the key factors of how this album is let down is really down to the mix and the actual source of the recordings that were used. Out of his first three albums that have so far been remastered and reissued by Esoteric Recordings Song Of Seven is the only album that sounds alright whereas this album and his debut album are pretty much inferior recordings and I doubt very much they used any master tapes at all and if they did all I can say is that they were not in good shape.
It’s not so much the songs on Animation that let it down in some cases but these dreadful recordings. Although I will admit some of the material on the album is not my cup of tea at all, whereas tracks like “Olympia” and “All in a Matter of Time” may have appealed a lot more to me if it was not for the mix. This is an album that really needs to be remixed rather than remastered. The albums self-titled track “Animation” is my only real highlight from the original tracks on the album and I would also throw in the couple of bonus tracks to which I personally think is better-written material than the biggest majority of the tracks along the original album.
I did mention in my review of Olias of Sunhillow (in this three-part series of his albums) that I would give Anderson’s solo career another chance after 40 years because it was down to him changing his direction into a more popified persona that put me off in the first place. Having purchased this album I would say I wasted my money and this is where I now draw the line and have decided to knock it on the head and not bother with any future releases that Esoteric Recordings might have planned to release from his discography. You could say I Surrender 😊😊😊.
Sometimes it pays to go by your own gut instinct rather than go by reviews. As for any of the material on Animation being likened or as good as Yes as some of the comments pointed out. It’s nothing remotely like Yes Music and it’s really an album that personifies much of the keyboard orientated music that was going on back in the 80’s. If you are into that sort of music from that decade this album might float your boat a lot more than myself. I would also say if you have the original vinyl album I would stick with that rather than throw money at this release.
I Really Do Surrender…
The CD Tracklisting is as follows:
01. Olympia. 4:58.
02. Animation. 9:05.
03. Surrender. 3:55.
04. All In A Matter Of Time. 3:07.
05. Unlearning (The Divided Line). 4:55.
06. Boundaries. 3:19.
07. Pressure Point. 4:32.
08. Much Better Reason. 4:24.
09. All God’s Children. 4:30.
10. Spider (Bonus Track). 2:55.
11. Spell [Outtake] (Bonus Track). 11:42.