Reviews in this issue:
- Jadis - More Than Meets The Eye
- Steve Thorne - Emotional Creatures Part One
- Subspace Radio – Subspace Radio
- Cloux - Full Fool
- Luthor - Skyweaver
Jadis - More Than Meets The Eye
Tracklist CD1: Sleepwalk (7:48), Hiding In The Corner (4:17), G.13 (5:44), Wonderful World (8:41), More Than Meets The Eye (4:53), Beginning And The End (6:11), Holding Your Breath (9:45)
Tracklist CD2: *This Changing Face (4:09), Follow Me To Salzburg (4:23), Scratching The Surface (3:14), Taking Your Time (4:39), G.13 (5:40), Out Of Reach (4:03), Don't Keep Me Waiting (3:15), In The Dark (3:58), Lost For Words (3:55), This Changing Face [early version '86] (4:15), Baboon Enquiries - one (0:42), The Beginning End The End (4:56), Baboon enquiries - two (1:08)
*[tracks 1 - 8 are taken from the Rothery demos back in '87]
Despite being one of the few bands to have emerged from the 80’s UK prog ‘revival’ scene that have continuously kept going to this day, Jadis have never really moved off the lower rung of the prog ladder. Their prospects no doubt looked far brighter in the late 80’s, when the band supported both IQ and Marillion, and played sold-out gigs of their own at such venues as London’s legendary Marquee club. Yet for whatever reason (possibly something to do with the ever-changing band line-up), their debut More Than Meets The Eye wasn’t released until 1992. Despite plaudits from the likes of the UK’s Classic Rock Society and even airplay on rock shows on the UK’s national Radio 1, there’s a feeling that the band had missed the boat somewhat and were now rather out of time, with the 80’s prog revival pretty much washed out and the later 90’s one still to come.
This is a shame, as anyone who actually took the time to listen to More Than Meets The Eye will tell you, it’s a wonderful album. Jadis always seem to be compared to IQ; presumably because they emerged around the same time and are from the same area, and by the 90’s had two members of IQ (Martin Orford and John Jowitt) in their ranks, but to me this comparison has always been unfair. Yes, there are certainly elements of the patented ‘neo-prog’ sound, but its distinctly different to IQ’s – for one, Orford’s keyboards rarely take the lead, more providing a backing for frontman Gary Chandler’s wonderful guitar playing. Chandler’s fluid style owes something to both Andy Latimer and Steve Hackett, but he’s managed to come up with his own trademark sound, with his solo’s in particular having a very warm, melodic tone to them. Chandler is also the vocalist for Jadis; his voice won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I think it suits the material well, and is refreshingly different from many prog vocalists, being more reminiscent of the style you hear on melodic rock records. Indeed, the Jadis sound owes almost as much to melodic rock as it does to prog; like current label-mates Enchant, this might be why they have never garnered a large following, due to falling somewhat between the two stools of AOR and prog, and therefore liable to be overlooked to more blinkered fans of either genre.
Songwise, More Than Meets The Eye features some of Jadis’ best material, and indeed many of the songs still form the backbone of their live set. Things start off strongly with Sleepwalk, which – from its introduction (the calm spoken words of a hypnotherapist leading to a deceptively simple but effective ‘call and response’ section between Orford’s keyboards and Chandler’s guitar) to the emotional closing guitar solo’s – remains one of their best tracks. From hereon in it’s a high quality trip all the way. The only song I don’t rate that highly is the balladic title track, and even this is well placed, acting as a breather between the more complex and ambitious longer tracks which make up the rest of the album. Elsewhere, Wonderful World and Beginning And The End are both epics which combine well-worked slower sections with some excellent melodic hooks; Hiding In The Corner is an oddly constructed yet effective more up-tempo piece, whilst the closing instrumental Holding Your Breath has a noticeable (and welcome) harder edge to it.
This version has, as seems almost obligatory with reissues these days, been remixed and remastered. Personally I didn’t think the original was too shoddy – sure, it doesn’t sound contemporary, but then the album was out of time when it was released anyway – but it must be said that there are some noticeable improvements, with a clearer separation between the instruments and a noticeable beefing up of the rhythm section. The booklet has also been redesigned, with new cover artwork and pictures for each track, and this is a big improvement on the original, which always looked rather cheap and demo-ish in my opinion. There are also notes on each track by Gary Chandler, written in his trademark easy-going style, which are quite illuminating at times.
All this would be reason enough for many fans to update their collections, but the icing on the cake is the bonus disc. Inside Out re-releases always have some kind of bonus tracks, but here they’ve really pushed the boat out, with a disc containing the two demo’s Jadis recorded under Steve Rothery’s guidance in the late 80’s, in addition to a couple of tracks recorded to help- with a student’s coursework (!) and a (very rough) early version of Beginning Of The End from their earliest days. Some of the tracks on the demo’s were re-recorded for a couple of EP’s released in the nineties (Once Upon A Time and Once Or Twice) and are now available in remastered form on the ‘odds and sods’ compilation Medium Rare, but its great to have the versions as recorded by the original line-ups (Gary Chandler being the only mainstay of the original band).
Some of the songs (such as This Changing Face and Follow Me To Saltzburg) still appear in Jadis’s live set from time to time, but there are other tracks that many fans won’t have heard before. Unsurprisingly the sound quality is only adequate, and the songs aren’t as fully developed as the later material, following a noticeably more direct path, but they still stand up in their own right as good tracks. Few fans (even long-term ones) will have much of this material, and credit to the band and the label for including this as an additional disc, rather than trying to flog it separately.
Since the release of More Than Meets The Eye Jadis have released several decent albums, but I’ve a feeling they’ve been somewhat stuck in a rut recently, and have certainly been preaching to the converted. Hopefully this reissue will, as well as being purchased by long-term fans, see them reaching a new audience, and act as a catalyst for the band to up their game for their next studio release. Highly recommended for all fans of melodic progressive rock.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Steve Thorne - Emotional Creatures Part One
Tracklist: Here They Come ! (1:45), God Bless America (3:10), Well Outta That (4:50), Ten Years (5:51), Last Line (4:23), Julia (5:33), Therapy (7:06), Every Second Counts (5:15), Tumbleweeds (3:37), Gone (6:01), Goodbye (5:24)
Now here's something interesting. A name which is virtually unknown to most of you delivering his first real debut album full of session musicians we all know and love: Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Liquid Tension Experiment), Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard, Genesis, Tears For Fears), Geoff Downes (Asia, Buggles, Yes), Martin Orford (Jadis, IQ), Paul Cook (IQ and fishing in Scotland) and John Jowitt (IQ, Dirtbox, Jadis, ex-Arena). Who is this Thorne guy anyway ?
Two years ago, at the legendary Whitchurch Festival in the UK I had the pleasure to join IQ's Martin Orford for a gig by Steve Thorne. Martin himself was accompanying Thorne on keyboards. I was pleasantly surprised by Steve's excellent singer-songwriter material and asked him for a copy of the CD he was selling, Emotional Creatures live. I passed on the CD to someone in the DPRP team, but he was not really impressed. I have to admit that the rather dodgy sound quality and the questionable cheering audience between the songs were indeed not all that impressive. So the quick & dirty CD remained unreviewed, which was a shame since here was definitely an artist with huge potential.
And now, three years later, IQ's label Giant Electric Pea, releases a new, decently recorded version of Emotional Creatures with Rob Aubrey, IQ's studio and tour sound engineer, helping out in the production area. The album features 7 out of the 10 songs on Emotional Creatures live, with my only regret being that the catchy Dear John is not present here.
The album kicks off with a short introductary track called Here They Come!, which combines a music box theme with sounds of war and military drums. Bit of a weird start of an album, but the combination works quite nicely with God Bless America, which follows. I therefore have a strong feeling who 'they' might be.
God Bless America was one of the songs I saw Steve perform live but wasn't on his aforementioned live album. And it's good that it was included here because it was one of the highlights of the live set. Lyrically it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the songs is meant in a very cynical way ('thanks to America, we're out of our caves at last'). And cynical protest songs are among my favourites ! Combine that with a fine, slightly folky melody and keyboards and flute by Martin Orford and you've got a great album opener. Those of you who like Marillion's Easter (and who doesn't) will probably like this track as well.
Well Outta That is a song about things driving someone insane (a broken relationship, winning the lottery, drugs). A great atmospheric song with a certain level of venomousness. The rhythm section of this song consists of Paul Cook and Tony Levin. I have to admit though that I find the place of the rhythm section in the mix quite disappointing. The drums sound a bit too flat and dry and I would have liked Tony to be higher in the mix. But even though it fails to make optimal use of talents of the two guest musicians, this is still one of the best songs on the album.
Steve has more friends coming along for the next song, Ten Years. We find Nick D'Virgilio playing drums and Gary Chandler performing a (very short) guitar solo. The vocal performance by Steve on this song is not one of my favourites on the album, but the atmosphere and short outbreaks of the drums, adding a lot of tension, make up for a lot.
Last Line, a song about drug addiction, also has D'Virgilio on drums and Geoff Downes playing keyboards and a splendid Hammond solo. The performance and style is quite dramatic, which fits the subject matter. Another good one !
Julia is more of a ballad, again with D'Virgilio on drums and I do have to say that his work with breaks, rolls and fills really adds extra depth to Steve's songs. The song itself is not the most remarkable tune of the album but very enjoyable nevertheless. It does, by the way, feature a heavier end section where D'Virgilio completely goes berserk.
The next track, Therapy, features drummer number three, Jadis' Steve Christey. The sound of this songs is very full and the chorus one of the most 'hooky' ones present. A highlight on the album.
Ironically enough the best track on the album is an instrumental one, called Every Second Counts. Stylistically it could almost have been on a nineties Porcupine Tree album. It's got great energy and unlike Well Outta That, this song does put the guest performances by Levin and Cook to excellent use. As a matter of fact it is Tony Levin who steals the show with his Stick playing, which actually forms the melody for this track. Further atmosphere is added by various samples of lecturing people.
The fragile acoustic ballad Tumbleweeds works fine to calm down after the previous instrumental. It's one of the songs I remember well from seeing Steve live. It has a certain beautiful sadness to it and the mandolin and backing vocals in this version add a lot of atmosphere.
Gone features the full Jadis band minus Martin Orford as session musicians. And what fine rocker it is, filled with drama and anger (the song deals with suicide and a teenage high school shooting incident). One of the highlights of the album with Gary Chandler performing some great guitar solo's, one of which even features an interesting effect with a guitar solo playing backwards.
The acoustic album closer Goodbye is the only track on which Steve performs all of the instruments himself. A fine fragile song, not the most noteworthy one on the CD but a nice calm way to close off after the overwhelming Gone.
To be very honest, Steve Thorne isn't the best vocalist I've heard, but his performance is very decent and I personally like the fragile edge in his voice, which reminds me a bit of Michael Stipe of REM. I have to add though that Steve's main strength lies in his splendid songwriting and multi-instrumental talents. On the album he plays all kinds of guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion. Quite impressive, but still on his website he writes 'my biggest regret is that I wasn't born with six arms and four feet, so I can play all the instruments myself and be a true one-man band'. Okay, that might be a personal wish, but then again, this album would probably have received a lot less attention in the press if it hadn't features all the big names mentioned above. Then again, having six arms and four feet would have gained him even more media attention. Tabloid page one !
All in all, Emotional Creatures Part One is a great debut by a fine singer-songwriter with friends in proggy places. There's not a bad song on the album and the minor complaints I might have about performances or the mix do not take away much from the albums quality in general. Be warned that with the exception of Every Second Counts this is not a prog rock album in the 'traditional sense'. It's much more a typical singer-songwriter release with a mixture of pop, rock, alternative rock, folk and prog. So if you like your prog diverse, melodic and not unnecessary long, make sure you go and check out this album.
Before I forget, a word about the cover. I will not deny that it is a beautifully done painting and artist Danny Flynn is a gifted man. Also, the portrait of a Squonk (yes indeed, Genesis aficionados !) links well with the title of Steve's album. But that's where all comparison ends. Not only is this fully out of place next to Tony Lythgoe's photographic artwork (which we've come to love from IQ's recent albums). It also gives the wrong impression of the album. The album deals with very dramatic, but mundane things mentioned above, so the fantasy cover is totally out of place. What's more, it might actually have a negative effect on sales of the album. A colleague of mine picked up the CD when he saw it on my desk and said, 'ew ! I'd never buy an album with a cover like that. Probably full of lyrics about dragons and fairies and such'. When I actually played him the album he really liked it and it wasn't what he'd expected at all.
As we 'speak' Steve, who seemingly has a shitload of shelved compositions, is already working on Emotional Creatures Part Two. Can't wait to hear it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Subspace Radio – Subspace Radio
Tracklist: Open Skies (5:36), Timeline (5:40), Generation (5:59), The Enemy (5:05), The Clans (5:51), Confrontation (5:56), Crystal Valley Spirits (6:07), Home (8:42)
Subspace Radio is a Finnish band which, according to its press release, aims to “...Produce progressive rock that would appeal to other than prog listeners as well” and combine “tight instrumental passages and smooth, high flying melodies.” With their self-titled debut CD, it is apparent that they have, at least partially, succeeded in their aims.
Two years in the making, Subspace Radio is a concept album, with futuristic, Sci-Fi elements, whose recurring themes deal with communication (or the lack of it) and conflict. This aspect of the work is evidence of the progressive intent and adds depth to the project, making it worthy of repeated listens to fully absorb the lyrical, thematic content. Disappointingly, the cover art is a bit drab and nondescript.
Obviously more important is the musical content and, judged purely on its own merits, this is enjoyable material. Whilst not really succeeding in making prog rock with a wider appeal, what they have come up with is a seamless blend of melodic rock (complete with hummable melodies and smooth harmonies) and Neo prog (with lush keyboards, multi-layered sound and reasonably complex guitar, bass and percussion parts). In practice, this means they may win admirers in both the AOR and Neo camps. It also means they sound very similar to Rush in the period when they too were aiming for a wider market with Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. Juha Mattila (Guitars) and Jarkko Saren (Bass) make a good Alex and Geddy duo; both are very proficient on their respective instruments; Jarrko, in particular, drives the sound with some excellent bass riffs (if one or two are a bit too like Geddy Lee’s for comfort).
Max Malin perhaps (unsurprisingly) lacks the power and invention of Neil Peart, but his contributions behind the drum kit are solid enough, and he displays plenty of rhythmic flair, especially on the martial beats of Generation.
Teppo Nurminen completes the picture on keyboards, and here the sound departs from the Rush template a little, as the keyboard presence is heavier than on most Rush CDs, with some spacey synth touches and more of a symphonic feel in places. Although the Rush influence is the most prominent, Saren’s vocals are nothing like Geddy Lee’s, being deeper and much more in an AOR/Hard Rock vein, so this never sounds like a clone band. Indeed, there are little touches of influence from such disparate bands as Yes (circa Big Generator) for the multi part harmonies, U2, IQ and probably a whole slew of melodic rock bands as well.
Aside from the 8 minute closer, everything sticks within the 5-6 minute range and therefore the ideas are concisely presented, and though there is no room for extended instrumental passages, there are plenty of interesting little musical motifs and lots of memorable tunes. I particularly like the heavily Rush influenced Timeline, the slow building Home, and the complex Generation, but The Clans has a powerful punch and in fact, the disc is consistently good throughout. The production is well defined and has a bright modern sound.
As a debut disc, this shows lots of promise for fans of melodic rock with a prog edge. It won’t appeal to those who only like really complex music, but the catchy tunes and controlled power of the music make it a winner for fans of Rush and their ilk. If they could add a little more originality to a follow-up they could well be a band to watch.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cloux - Full Fool
Tracklist: Human Being (3:17), Full Fool (3:49), Burp (3:50), Memento (3:51), Treacle (3:19), Lead On (3:00)
Full Fool is an independently released mini-album from France, which may not be the first port of call when searching for guitar wizards, however Ducloux Sylvain or Cloux as he is referred to here, may well change this in the future. Now as it has been a little while since one of these offerings has landed on my DPRP reviewing table I found it a pleasant change. Yes we are once more in the realms of the "guitar" album.
On Full Fool Cloux offers up tight, intricate and angular mix of jazz / rock / metal instrumentals (barring some narratives) that grab the attention from the opening bars. With an abundance of odd metering, rhythmically insane stop-start riffs makes this an enjoyable, if not extremely intense listening experience. The rhythm section is tight and punchy and the bass work of both Kengo and Xavier Zolli is right on the nail. No drummer, however the programming from Cloux is spot on, although it may prove to be a problem for whoever has to play the parts later on. Now no one is a particularly fond of "programmed drums", but sometimes needs dictate their use and when it is done well (as it is here) its fine. It is the fusion of metal riffs, percussive bass and driving rhythms where Cloux excels and the tightness of the guitar and bass with the drums is what makes all the parts work and gel together.
I am always wary of using the word the "shred" word as it instils the wrong impression with many (me included), however it would certainly point you in the right direction here. However that would only be part of the picture as Cloux, Kengo and Zolli all posses great chops and the punctuated driving tracks they produce say more about them than furious note runs up and down the fretboard. In fact I found Cloux's solos more refined (often employing a Satriani legato touch), offering much needed melody and texture to the more complex structures of the tracks.
So far so good and it's probably that my sense of humour has changed over the years (or more likely left me for a more receptive vessel), but I really could have lived without the dialogue and "vocals" on this album. I found them neither necessary or additive in any shape or form. It may have been hilarious at the time - however the downside is that everytime I've listened to this great little EP it has wrankled me. Some may find it amusing or even funny but for me it just detracted from the music. Now don't let me mislead you into thinking the album is littered with these quirkier moments, as other than the odd smatterings in Human Being and the somewhat marred Burp the rest of the album is humour free. Enough said.
Full Fool is unlikely to win many friends in the general prog circle - there is little in the way of memorable melodies, no vocals to speak of and not a lot of variation (highs and lows). The music is crisp (all the instruments can be heard), choppy and precise and will likely appeal to fans of guys like Shaun Baxter, Ron Jarzombek (Spastic Ink), Jeff Kolleman (Cosmosquad), or some of Chris & Brett Rodler's albums.
As mentioned earlier the music is very intense, offering very little respite and therefore it would be really difficult to single out any particular track as a highlight, although Memento was a track I played a few more times than the rest.
Clocking in at just over the twenty minute mark may seem a little stingy, but for me the album ran its course and prolonging it merely to fill out the time would probably have meant a repetition of ideas. So for me this was a pleasant appetiser - for the main course however, I hope Cloux will be able to persuade a drummer to join the fold, then expand further on the ideas set out in Full Fool and hopefully leave the humour as an outtake (dessert). All in all a good release and if you are into the more complex side of the electric guitar - well worth checking out. I'll look forward to hearing the full length "Fool".
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Luthor - Skyweaver
Tracklist: Skyweaver (4:18), Evil Eye (5:53), Mother Sea (4:43), Rain (3:55), Lady Vampire (3:24), I Am (5:41), Take (4:52), Always (5:32), Tears (4:12)
Sometimes it takes me ages to finally do a review. Of course some time is needed to get to know an album but Skyweaver has been on my list for quite sometime. A number of albums were added to my list later but got removed way before. So I have skipped past this one a couple of times and there is a plain and simple reason for that: I have been dreading to write the review. Not because it is particularly bad or particularly good. Those are easy but Luthor is neither and to me those are the hardest to write something interesting about.
This album is not original in anyway, it is plain metal but with a touch of progressive (and that qualifies it for a review at DPRP), the largest component of the music is old school hard rock (80s style). But all that without any input of the band itself, so Luthor appears to be a no surprises, technically able but not too original band.
The vocals are probably the worst thing on the album. Not that they are out of key or anything like that but this high pitched screaming is just too much over the top. The other supposedly dramatic effects that are added on top of the screaming like biting off words and lower pitch with rough edges also are not helping. Now one might say that they have done vocals (and music) the old fashioned metal style and that's all true but who's waiting for that nowadays?
Yet there is a small surprise on this album, this being the track: Rain. It is a very good (and yes, original). For this song the high pitched screaming voices have been put aside and that really helps. A mellow song drenched in different guitar loops and maybe this song alone is a good reason to buy the album. Unfortunately the magic of Rain fades on the first tones of the next track Lady Vampire. With only small traces of the magic returning on I Am, but very small traces indeed.
On the web site for Luthor it says:" All proceeds from the sales of the album on this site go directly into the recording of the second album which is currently underway". I am doubting if that is a good or a bad thing. An album full of songs like Rain and maybe even I Am could be a master piece in progress. If Luthor stays on the same road, however, it will not take them very far. Fans of old metal could buy this album, because it has a kind of "back to those wonderful days of the past" feel, but people interested in prog metal shouldn't bother.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10