Category Archives: Album Reviews

Album reviews!

Iron Maiden – 2010 – The Final Frontier

So, the really great thing about this album is, if you were looking forward to the album sounding just like Iron Maiden has always sounded, you’re in luck, they have not changed their sound one bit, it has a lot of the influence from A Matter of Life and Death. They STILL have continued to have that “classic progressive rock” sound. Everyone in the band still shows that they’ve got excellent talent. Especially Bruce Dickinson, he still has that great metal voice that you were probably praying that he would keep. Again, you’re in luck, Bruce Dickinson still has as much talent as ever in the Final Frontier.

It’s also jam packed with a bunch of amazing yet subtle guitar solos, and some smooth metal to even the cards a little bit. Some pretty amazing bass grooves as well, everything about the instruments in this album would be completely under-stated if I were to talk about them, just listen for yourself when you receive this album, you’ll know what I mean about not being able to full write out the amazingness of the members in the band.

The track list is pretty great too, some great songs, with one full listen through, I haven’t seen one song that I was disappointed with:

The Final Frontier – iTunes LP
Satellite 15….The Final Frontier
El Dorado
Mother of Mercy
Coming Home
The Alchemist
Isle of Avalon
Starblind
The Talisman
The Man Who Would Be King
When the Wild Wind Blows
The Final Frontier (Directors Cut)
Mission De-Brief (Artist Commentary)

Eagles – 1973 – Desperado

Eagles: Desperado, it is full of the best classic rock sound that anybody can enjoy. This album has a sort of old west outlaw theme to it, you’ll notice that all of the songs on this album sound very…country-ish. But needless to say, that’s what makes the Eagles so unique, they can take a theme that is so out there, and create an album of magic and enjoyment. With deep lyrics and lots and lots of acoustic guitar followed with harmonica and such and such, this album is definitely a must have in any collection.

This album is easily one of my all time favorites. It has everything I would hope to hear from the Eagles. This is by far probably one of the top 10 albums on my iTunes, it has such soul and power in it. Although, the songs may be fairly short, they all have great meaning, and the lyrics are just spot on.

I secretly like the fact that this album is short in time, because it makes it fun to listen to. When songs are super long, they sometimes tend to drag on and on, but with this, you get the purity of the Eagles in every song. Though, some long songs aren’t always bad, they have one or two 5+ minute songs in the Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol 2 album, which I also enjoy.

I just like the fact that, regardless of the amount of time that this band has been around, they still never seize to amaze music listeners; and even if it’s not your type of music, it’s good to give it a listen, especially the vocals. It’s such a tantalizing voice, it’s almost impossible not to love it.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this album, or the Eagles in general, it’s sort of a “you have to listen to it for yourself” sort of thing.

Songs featured on this album:
Doolie Dalton
Twenty-One
Out of Control
Tequila Surprise
Desperado
Certain Kind of Fool
Doolie Dalton [Instrumental]
Outlaw Man
Saturday Night
Bitter Creek
Doolie Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)

Moonlit Sailor – 2008 – A Footprint of Feelings

A Footprint of Feelings was one of the first of three albums that Moonlit Sailor has released so far. I recently just picked up this album but haven’t gotten around to listening to the others just yet. If this album is any indication to how the rest of their music sounds on the albums that come after this one, I am going to be excited when I finally get a hold of the next two albums. This album on it’s own has not only strengthened my appreciation for the post rock genre as a whole, but it’s allowed me to discover even more bands that the genre has to offer (thanks to last.fm). This album is the epitome of “chill, and laid back”. It’s probably one of the most chill post rock albums i’ve heard in a long time, or ever for that matter. One album that would probably come close to this one however could be pg.lost’s Yes I Am album. So if you like this album, or vice versa, you should pick up the other. Two different artists, but close to the same basic sound you would get in a post rock album.

A lot of songs I really really enjoy on this album. I don’t hate any of them in particular, but some don’t stick as well as others. So the select few that I enjoy quite a bit are:

Don’t get me wrong. All of the songs sound absolutely phenomenal on this album. But it may take a few more listens to see if the songs that I don’t like a whole lot yet, will grow on me.

[rating:5]

Panzerpappa – 2006 – Koralrevens Klagesang

Koralrevens Klagesang (2006)

Panzerpappa is a band from from Oslo, Norway. In their own words, the band plays “progressive rock with a friendly face” but is more accurately described as RIO/Avant-Prog with influences stretching back to 70s bands like Henry Cow, King Crimson and Samla Mammas Manna with a dash of Canterbury like Hatfield and the North. The band has so far released four albums with the fifth, called Astromalist, currently in the final stages of production. The band’s fourth effort, Koralrevens Klagesang, mixes rock in opposition, prog and jazz together to great effect. In addition to the band (Trond Gjellum, Jarle G. Storløkken, Anders Krabberød, Steinar Børve), the album also features contributions from a range of musicians which, I imagine readers of this website will be pleased to hear, includes a guest vocal performance by Richard Sinclair.

Album review

Listening to the album again, I notice how refreshingly diverse it is. Each song clearly has its own identity and attempts its own thing. The album features a recurring title theme called Koralrevens Klagesang parts I, II and III and even though they share a same musical theme, they all sound very different. The two first parts open the album with the intro track being a mournful tune dominated by a brass section while the second descends into barely structured chaos featuring sinister sounds which, to me, are reminiscent of Univers Zero. The album’s third track is as close as you get to a prog epic on the album which features, along with great sax and guitar, great use of vibraphone in its first half. Some of the hooks here have a way of getting stuck in the ears.

Apraxia is a beautifully slow and layered piece that I thought reminiscent of Return to Forever’s Crystal silence when I first heard it. Bass at the bottom and then beautiful vibraphone, balaphone and guitar forms the basis while a mournful saxophone solos on top. A moment towards the end when the sax finishes its solo and an acoustic guitar enters to finish the piece is one of the most hair raising moments of delight found on the record. Vintervake, featuring vocals by Richard Sinclair, will likely be a favourite with anyone listening to the album for the first time. Richard’s singing gives it an instantly Canterburyan feel, but the composition (by Steinar Børve) is still very Panzerpappa. Etyde and Frenetisk Frenologi (For Nybegynnere) are both instrumental pieces that, to me, seem to tell some sort of narrative. Both songs feature changing themes exploring musical landscapes from the upbeat and beautiful at one extreme to aplocalyptic gloom at the other.

The album’s finale is a beautiful acoustic version of the Koralrevens Klagesang theme featuring clarinet and two acoustic guitars. As an added trivia, the track features no overdubs and so a few takes were done. Just after the final take (the one featured on the album), one of the strings on Jarle’s guitar breaks and so the last sound we hear on the album is the sound of the string tearing and unwinding a bit before it suddenly snaps.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect!

Final words

I’d be the first to admit that I’ve yet to get something resembling a firm grip on modern RIO/prog. I am still by far mostly listening to records from the 70s. Although I probably would’ve picked up the album eventually due to its guest performance by Richard, I got around to it quicker as Anders Krabberød (bass) is a personal friend, something which helps make this album extra special. Still, my praise is not simply a plug for a friend. According to Gnosis, Koralrevens Klagesang is currently the second best album from Norway in their database. Although it’s been a while since I first heard it, I still find  it a highly interesting album which covers a lot of musical ground and contains many enjoyable highlights. Those not familiar with avantgarde music may find it a challenging listen, but probably not to the point of being exclusive as songs like Apraxia and Koralrevens Klagesang III should be enjoyable to just about anyone, at least those visiting this website!

Koralrevens Klagesang is still my favourite Norwegian album and, I suspect, will be until the upcoming release of Astromalist which I very much look forward to.

[rating:5/5] (5/5)

Caravan – 1973 – For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night

Cover Album Art for For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night (1973)

After the release of Caravan’s Canterbury landmark album In the Land of Grey and Pink, creative differences in the group started pulling the band apart. First to leave was keyboardist David Sinclair to be replaced by Steve Miller. On the band’s fourth album from 1972, the band was basically split into two working pairs, Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller doing their more jazz inspired thing and Pye Hastings with Richard Coughlan writing more of the kind of rock tunes Caravan were known for. As a result, the band’s fourth album, Waterloo Lily, didn’t feel entirely cohesive and after it’s completion, Richard and Steve would leave Caravan and go on to other projects like Delivery and (for Richard) Hatfield and the North.

On For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, keyboardist David Sinclair was asked to participate and agreed to (re)join (after a short stint with Matching Mole) as a paid session player as he was in need of some cash. Also joining the ranks were John G. Perry on bass and shared vocal duty and multi-instrumentalist Peter Geoffrey “Geoff” Richardson on viola who has stayed with the band since. The man at the helm was, once again, singer and self-proclaimed chord basher Pye Hastings who wrote the vast majority of the music.

Album review

The result, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night from 1973, is a much more cohesive effort than their previous album, Waterloo Lily. With the jazzy experiments of Sinclair and Miller gone, the band adopted a rockier and more guitar dominated sound with various other noticeable instrumental differences such as the lovely addition of Geoff’s viola. The music they play is remarkably seductive and peppered throughout with feelgood sounds and lyrics on topics like love and sunshine. It may sound a bit wishy washy, but they managed to pull it off remarkably well and the whole album is full of hooks. A good example of the catchy feelgood music you’ll find on the album (and perhaps the song which is likely to first get stuck on a first time listener’s mind) is Caravan’s classic The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again, Pye’s tribute to sex – which I promise you is more charming than it sounds.

ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeGbAz8Ri1U

I consider the last half of the album to be the strongest and, as we get close to the end, the band plays along with an orchestra for an epic finish; a medley of beautiful instrumental pieces including Soft Machine keyboardist Mike Ratledge’s wonderful composition Backwards. If only Caravan and the New Symphonia sounded this good!

Final words

Not every song reaches the same level of excellence, but there really isn’t a bad track on here. To me, the album has great replayability as I find myself returning to this more than any other in the band’s discography. I suspect some Canterbury enthusiasts well versed in the avantgarde may initially consider this batch of Caravan’s later rock sounds to not be experimental enough for their liking. For their sake, I hope not because they’d be missing out. Like John G. Perry said in his interview with Aymeric from Calyx, I consider this album to be almost on par with the band’s classic In the Land of Grey and Pink. Depending on my mood, it may even be my favourite!

[rating:5] (5/5)

Kate Bush – 1978 – Lionheart

The album art was Kate’s idea; of playing herself as a child dressing up in the attic, expressing a longing back to a time at East Wickham Farm when she was free to immerse herself in her imaginations. Lionheart opens with the beautiful and profound Symphomy in Blue. While it might initially sound as an ode to the colour blue, it’s somewhat cryptic lyrics seem to carry an uplifting message of spiritual or emotional progress; “My terrible fear of dying no longer plays with me, for now I know that I’m needed for the symphony“. The song is uplifting and light with a melody that takes some very creative twists and turns. In Search of Peter Pan is another light affair with Kate and her piano. Again there are some interesting twists and turns and changes in mood within the song and a lush refrain where Kate sings to her own backing vocals. In the Warm Room is another song featuring Kate and her piano; slow, intimate and deliciously sensual, befitting it’s romantic, erotic lyrics.

Most of the songs are reminiscent of the sound from her debut, but Kate’s own artistic wish for more bite may have manifested itself on Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak. It starts out as the usual piano song before it bursts with life in the refrain, picking up a steady beat and brass section. Towards the end, we hear a Kate who sounds as if she’s screaming from the top of her lungs which is a first in her discography. The contrast between the slower, more lush parts of her song and the intense refrains makes for a wonderful combination.

Oh England My Lionheart is a beautiful ballad and an ode to England sung by a downed and dying warpilot (“dropped from my black spitfire to my funeral barge“) who hopes that heaven will be like the England of his youth. Later on, Kate would express embarassment with the song, but her words can’t undo the song’s undeniable beauty. In addition to the beautiful soundscape created by Bush with her piano singing on top of her backing vocals, the song features some lush flute (recorder) and even a hint of harpsichord. Hammer Horror is an ode to Hammer films, a film company that started specializing in producing horror films from the mid-to-late 50s. Bush’s character in the song is a replacement actor playing the role as the Hunchback of Notre Dame who then gets haunted by the jealous original actor. A (very nice) video was made for the video with Kate and a masked dancer dancing to a black backdrop.

The commercial star of the album is the song Wow which was the first single from the album. Wow was conceived sometime before Kate’s debut and is one of two songs on Lionheart played by her KT Bush Band, the other being Kashka from Baghdad (a song about a gay couple). The story Wow tells is less tangible than Wuthering Heights, but is roughly about theatre and theatrics. Musically, Wow is a reasonably straightforward pop song with a subtle verse and a powerful refrain. A very Kate Bushy music video was made for the song, complete with dance and a multitude of expressive faces.

Final Words

Lionheart has a lot going against it. It’s largely made up of songs that didn’t make the debut, it’s production was rushed and did not live up to neither Powell nor Kate’s vision. Instead, it is an album flavoured by compromise. However, when listening to the record, many of these problems seem to vanish into thin air as it is still an impressive pop record with a lovely collection of songs. Like on her debut, there are lots of beautiful moments and many songs from the album remain fan favourites. The album does little to develop her as an artist, but there is a hint of development on songs like Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake which has a rockier flavour than anything from her debut.

Overall, the album does not have the sense of completeness which The Kick Inside had and does not, in my personal opinion, quite reach the same heights of excellence or replayability. I would argue that despite Kate getting to coproduce, the album overall sounds less personal. While the debut contains songs that directly relate to going ons in Kate’s life (The Man With the Child in his Eyes, Strange Phenomena, Them Heavy People), she seems a little more distanced in Lionheart which tells stories through the use of characters more so than her debut. Of course, storytelling her music through the use of characters is typical for Kate Bush and would be a continuing characteristic in her career.

All in all, despite a very few shortcomings, Lionheart plays on the same strengths as Kate’s debut and anyone who liked her first offering should appreciate her second and vice versa. Although it may represent the clichèd rushed second album, coming from someone like Kate Bush, it’s still one hell of a record. Warmly recommended, particularly those who like her debut and Never For Ever!

Kate Bush – 1978 – The Kick Inside

Kate brought about 120 songs to Powell’s attention; there just seemed to be an endless supply of them which needed to be filtered through a selection process. The song chosen to start off The Kick Inside is Moving, a beautiful tribute to the expressive, releasing power of dancing. The “moving stranger” in the song is a reference to Lindsay Kemp, Bush’s early dance teacher who also taught David Bowie. The line “you crush the lily in my soul” may sound negative, but is meant to illustrate how teaching her to dance has empowered her. Kate once stated in an interview that Moving was one of her personal favourites from her debut with the other being the title track. The Saxophone Song and The Man With the Child in His Eyes are both recordings from her 1975 demo, also produced by Powell, and both remain fan favourites today. The Saxophone Song is told from the perspective of a woman in a bar who is seduced as she watches a performer being taken over by his instrument and the feelings this performance stir in her. The Man With the Child in his Eyes is generally thought to be a song written about her young sweetheart, Steve Blacknell, who in an interview said he’s still got the handwritten lyrics dedicated to him.

Moving and The Man With the Child In his Eyes are not the only songs that relate to going-ons in Kate’s life. Feel It clearly seems to be a song about sex; “feel your warm hand walking around, I won’t pull away” and may relate to a young girl’s awakening sexuality. Strange Phenomena, although lyrically somewhat cryptic, is supposedly about menstruation. Them Heavy People is an ode to the people who have expanded her horizons, her brothers likely among them; “they open doorways that I thought were shut for good, they read me Gurdjieff and Jesu“. George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was an Armenic mystic whose teachings seem to have been important to Kate and her friends in this period.

Still, some songs very clearly come from external sources of inspiration. One of the most beautiful songs on the album, the title track The Kick Inside, is about the ending of an incestuous love relationship between two siblings; a suicide note from the pregnant sister to her brother moments before she kills herself.

“This kicking here inside makes me leave you behind
No more under the quilt to keep you warm
Your sister I was born – You must lose me like an arrow
Shot into the killer storm”

“This kicking here inside” refers to the pregnancy while “no more under the quilt to keep you warm” likely refers to the sexual nature of their relationship. As previously stated, Kate herself has claimed The Kick Inside to be one of her favourite songs from her debut. Despite it’s controversial lyrics, the song was also one of Powell’s favourites. In an interview, he said “as I’m mixing it the lyric just hit home to me. It got to me, it was so powerful. I found it quite an emotional song to listen to and to work on”.

The star of the record, at least commercially speaking, is undoubtedly Wuthering Heights. Kate Bush’s most famous song was not inspired by Emily Bronte’s classic book by the same name, but a televised drama version which she caught the last ten minutes of. The song does an excellent job at showcasing Kate’s extraordinairy voice and, with the supernatural theme of love pulling someone back from the grave to come back to haunt their beloved, it all becomes a powerful mixture. The song, along with the video where Kate pretends to be Cathy’s ghost, arms outstretched and reaching for her lover Heathcliffe, became tremendously famous and Kate became the first female artist to have a #1 UK pop single. Kate later had to read the book just to make sure her research was right!

Final Words

Kate had a lot of good help on this record from many prog rock veterans brought in by Powell. Although she has affection for the album, she has also expressed some dissatisfaction with the lack of control over the record, feeling that the final product is not just an expression of her vision, but also part that of her producer (a “problem” she will later fix). However, the album is entirely remarkable. I personally think Powell did a perfect job; the album is clearly about Kate, her piano, her remarkable voice and the stories she tells with her songs. On beautiful pieces like L’Amour Looks Something Like You or The Man With the Child in his Eyes, Kate is clearly the center of attention. The other musicians in the mix mainly serve to give the songs a little extra depth and lift it just a little, but they do not overpower it, just as it should be. Kate’s songs are catchy enough to instantly connect, but varied enough for lasting appeal. Although her songs may lack a little punch, they have a lot of soothing, comfortable beauty and the details are marvellous, for example the backing vocals she does on Kite or the outro guitar solo on Wuthering Heights. To me, listening to it is a thoroughly delicious experience and medicine for the soul.

Bush has also criticized her debut for being “airy fairy”, but why shouldn’t it be? Truth is she probably was a bit airy fairy at the time these songs were written and part of the beauty of the album is that it captures some of the essence of Kate at that time in her life when she was, despite some sexual themes, a more innocent person. Related to this and somewhat refreshing is also her attitude towards men. They are clearly subjects of interest to her and she does not have the sometimes clichèd (if justified) cynical attitude towards them. Instead, they are objects of desire (The Saxophone Song, The Man With the Child in his Eyes, Feel It). The lyrics are smart, well written and often touching, and the way she expresses them through her voice is occasionally breathtaking. Compared to later albums, her voice here is a little lighter and, in my opinion, more appealing. Kate was a smoker for much of her career which may not have been a good musical influence.

Finally, it is not just the imaginations of a young girl beautifully recorded in sound, but so very Kate Bush. She is entirely unique. If you gave a 17 year old girl a record deal and a chance to record her own songs, if she could approach the quality of The Kick Inside, that itself would be remarkable. But we will never see another Kate Bush and Kate herself was only as innocent and pure on this one record. For this reason, and on the strength of the songs of which there is not a single filler, it is my favourite debut record ever recorded. In my opinion, it is also the perfect place to start for anyone who have not yet checked out her discography. Pure brilliance. Check it out!

Caravan – 1994 – Cool Water

Caravan - Cool Water (1994)

Cool water

(Pony Canyon 1994)

  1. Cool Water
  2. Just The Way You Are
  3. Tuesday Is Rock And Roll Nite
  4. The Crack Of The Willow
  5. Ansaphone
  6. Cold Fright
  7. Side By Side
  8. You Won’t Get Me Up In One Of Those
  9. To The Land Of My Fathers
  10. Poor Molly
  11. Send Reinforcements

This anachronism in the recorded history of Caravan was released in 1994, but all of the songs were recorded as a follow-up to “Better by far” in 1977 and for some reason shelved for almost 20 years. I’m gonna take the liberty to rewrite the history here and place it where it belongs chronologically, since Pye obviously decided not to tamper with the tapes at all when he finally decided they were release-worthy. A little revisionism hasn’t hurt anyone. Yet. And what’s 20 years in the cosmological perspective anyway? The Caravan fans of Alpha Centauri sure would care less when gazing towards us through the light years of distance. I hope they will catch this review though.

I hope you will too, dear earthling, because even if it’s basically a collection of more or less raw demo recordings, at least the first seven tracks that apparently have been subjected to some production enhancement, it’s at least as worthy a listen as “Blind dog”. And for one thing, guess who’s back: Richard Sinclair! Not that his presence makes him that much justice since Pye is the one and only voice present on here. These cool waters ain’t running through no land o’ grey’n pink, fo’ sho’! It’s still an interesting listen on a song-for-song basis, and it has its shares of ups an downs. One serious down, and I do mean serious, is the bloody atrocious “Tuesday is rock and roll nite”. As you might read out from the title, awful in itself, they are trying their hands on good old-fashioned rock’n roll, and as you might guess, it results in a major facepalm. Hearing our favourite sissy boy proclaim “rock’n rooouuull, yeah” in the weakest and most wimpy intonation possible is the core definition of inadequacy. Yes, they had incorporated more rocking elements in their songs before, but they always adopted it to their own style. This time however, they try to step out of that style in favour of something they were simply unfit for. You gotta hear it at least once of course, just to witness why Pye is the last go-to-guy on earth when it comes to gaining knowledge about where tonight’s rockin’ is at.

Fortunately, none of the other tracks comes close to this puddle of embarassment (which sure would be an achievement in itself) but there are still some rather bland funk workouts present. “Ansaphone” doesn’t do much, neither harm nor impact, and “You won’t get me up in one of those” is at least memorable in its bouncy rythm pattern that betrays some new wave influences. “Cold fright” even approaches disco which is perfectly understandable, given the times and all, but not terribly interesting melody-wise. We’re given a few slow-paced ballads as well, several of which are based on the same 6/8 rythm which gets tedious after a while. “To the land of my fathers” is little more than pure atmosphere and “Side by side” is mainly a re-write of “Better by far”. “Crack of the willow” at least boasts a really good synth line but the real highlight out of these is the title track. “Cool water” is a really pretty barroom lounge-jazz shuffle, with a hushed atmosphere perfectly fit with the lyrics taking place at the closing hour of a night out during which a drunk and exhausted Pye wishes for nothing more than some cool water. Haven’t we all been there? The one thing that bugs me though, is the fact that it’s placed as the opening track when it more than anything should have been put last. It’s just designed to be closing whatever comes before it and the only rational reason I can think of why it opens the album, is that they made a mistake in the sequencing process. All in all, it’s a perfect afterparty track to play when arriving home late at night and settling down in the couch with a girl under your arm. God I hate being single. I want a girl, now! (Yeah, as if a girl would be into Caravan, much less reading long-winded reviews of them! If you are though, and look like Kate Bush, PM me.)

What convinces me even more that the positioning of that track was a mistake is the fact that it’s followed by “Just the way you are”, which is an obvious successor of “Feelin’ alright” and thus a much more apt candidate for opening the album. A bouncy pop shuffle in the best Badfinger tradition, only catchier. “Poor Molly” continues the transatlantic popster tradition in a compact Steely Dan-fashion. Play this back to back with “Tuesday is rock’n roll s h i t e” and spot the difference. The closing “Send reinforcements” is once again mirrored in the previous album, this time in “Nightmare” which means it’s perfectly good in itself.

As you can see, there was little progress made in the making of this could-have-been album so on one hand it might have been just as well that it wasn’t released in time, especially since their previous album wasn’t exactly successful in the eyes of the world. On the other hand, you should really give it a try, if only for the selected few tracks that are truly worthy. And, by all means, for the valuable lesson of “Tuesday is rock’n roll tripe”.

Caravan – 1977 – Better By Far

Caravan - Better By Far (1977)

Better by far

(Arista 1977)

  1. Feelin’ alright
  2. Behind you
  3. Better by far
  4. Silver strings
  5. The last unicorn
  6. Give me more
  7. Man in a car
  8. Let it shine
  9. Nightmare

Would you believe me if I told you that our supposedly washed-out heroes from Canterbury actually managed to squeeze out one of the best pop records of 1977, of all years? Well, maybe you would and you should too, because despite what the critics or the chart statistics or the nerds at Progarchives will tell you, “Better by far” surely is better by far. Just like on “Blind dog”, all of the tracks are relatively short but I dare say that this time around they are also diverse and built upon simple but catchy melodies which will stay with you a long time after you turn it off.

If anyone’s interested I can start with telling you that Mike Wedgewood was replaced by Dek Messecar on bass guitar, which may or may not have a part in the fact that the funk’n soul elements present on here are nowhere near as obnoxious or good-for-nothing as on “Blind dog” or “Gunning c u n t s”. No wait, get outta here, Ted Nugent! Because essentially, the word of the day is power pop of the kind Big Star and Badfinger popularized (and that Beatles, Kinks and Byrds originated) and it kicks you right between the eyes from the very beginning. “Feelin’ alright” sounds like a bona fide McCartney-penned Beatles tune circa 1965 and drags you with it in its truly uplifting catchiness and sets the tone for the whole record which rarely lets down this magnificent opening even a single bit on its way. “Behind you” showcases Caravan as fully capable of adopting a barroom rocker to their own harmful setting, and I can’t help but sense a striking resemblance to whatever hard rock bands like UFO or Whitesnake did around this time. Of course, Caravan wouldn’t touch metal with a ten foot stick but the vibe is there, man! The vibe is there! Not a highlight though, but essentially they pull it off.

The lighter side of things are represented by the title track with a really pretty guitar line and the song itself could be seen as succeeding where “Lover” failed. Not overblown by some uncalled for soul gymnastics, just a mellow and humble ballad distinguished by said guitar melody. Even better in that respect is the folksy Kinks-like “Give me more”, greeting us with a neat whistling synth melody setting the scene in which Pye encounters a whore and proceeds to abuse her with certain bondage devices. Oh yes, you thought he had reached the limits of decency with that dog that was at it again four years ago? Forget that! His eagerness to show off his gigolo skills has only increased over time. I wonder if we’re supposed to draw any conclusions from the album cover? Or the orgasmic wailings of Vicki Brown in the chorus? Whatever may be, it’s still a nice song. As is the closing epic “Nightmare” that somewhat presages the lush symphonic indierock sound that Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips successfully would adopt in the 90’s. I could easily see those fragile vocal deliveries performed by Wayne Coyne. And “Let it shine” which precedes it is yet another Beatlish pop tune, spiced with a Harrison-like guitar line that enhances its already sunshiny atmosphere.

In the midst of it all we also have the strange funk sendup “Silver strings” that is done completely Bowie-style, which may be a result of the record being produced by Tony Visconti. The drums sound almost pre-programmed in the trademark ‘Berlin’ kind of way and the bass line is weirdly deconstructed, and over it all we have a minimalistic guitar pattern that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Heroes” or “Low”. And what about the Traffic-meets-Supertramp, although less bloated, “Man in a car”, with its crawling pace and hazy psychedelic vocals? Man, this is one mixed bag! But I consciously saved the best for last in this review. Apparently, Caravan felt they had to reconnect with their roots somehow and decided to throw in an instrumental and slightly updated Canterbury tribute, and to pay their respect to the queer community, dub it “The last unicorn” (ok, that last part may be subject for speculation). And might I say, it ends up being their best instrumental number ever, as well as one of their best songs altogether! It’s simply breathtaking from beginning to end, starting with some gently strummed chords and Richardson’s contemplating viola (he is the author of the piece, by the way), leading into a beautiful synth/recorder break that out-Camels Camel in just a few seconds. And then it throws itself headfirst into a rapid jazz-rock fiesta a’la National Health/Hatfield & The North, where Pye fires off what must be his finest guitar solo ever. Then everything settles down into the opening chords over which a tear-jerking flute waves goodbye. I dare say that this is the single best song of 1977, even with albums like “Going for the one” being in the competition, and that says a lot! Its only flaw is that it’s too short. I would want it to go on for ten minutes or so, but then again, maybe not. The best songs always leave you craving for more, right? A prog masterpiece in pocket format, hands down!

So it turns out that Caravan really was a force to reckon with after all, even in the darkest depths of prog degeneration towards the end of the decade, which some of the other giants couldn’t even handle. That speaks tons of their endurance and creativity, and not least of how they successfully managed to transform into a pop act instead of trying to force upon themselves some prog formula just for the sake of it. But on the other hand, they always had it in them, didn’t they?

Caravan – 1976 – Blind Dog at St. Dunstans’

Blind Dog at St. Dunstan's Album Cover

Blind dog at St. Dunstans’

(Repatoire 1976)

  1. Here am I
  2. Chiefs and indians
  3. A very smelly, grubby litle oik
  4. Bobbing wide
  5. Come on back
  6. Oik (reprise)
  7. Jack and Jill
  8. Can you hear me?
  9. All the way (with John Wayne’s single-handed liberation of Paris)

Okay, this is not prog! Not at all. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s bad or anything but there’s this thing with prog bands doing things that ain’t prog that somewhat prevents the seasoned progsters from approaching it with a clean mind. I know, I am one myself and it took some time for me as well to get used to the notion of acquainting, much less liking, the poppier dinosaur output that started to emerge from the mid-70’s onward. But don’t you dare dismiss it just because it isn’t prog, because that is obviously not the main factor that made certain records suck big time. Relative latecomers such as Rush and Camel carried on just fine into the 80’s for example, and even some of the Genesis stuff of the time qualify as well, despite it not being considered prog anymore. Likewise, the reason why Yes’s “90125” stinks is not because it isn’t prog but because it’s synth-disguised sleaze rock (or a pile of digital dung, whichever you prefer). In short, records rule or suck because of what they are, not because of what they aren’t.

And this record, well it doesn’t exactly rule but it sure is listenable and cheering in the best Caravan tradition and I suppose we have our favourite sissy boy mr. Hastings to thank for that. Dave Sinclair left the band once again and was replaced by Jan Schelhaas and the overall approach seem to somewhat hearken back to “Waterloo Lily” with all the funky electric pianos, clavinets and whatnots. But this time around it all seems to gel together much more fluently because the playing is actually suspended in compact and well-written songs in contrast to aimless jamming. For the first time however, I find it a bit hard to talk about the separate songs on this album but several of them sound almost like Steely Dan with all the gospelish harmonies and syncopated bass rythms, proving after all that Caravan are capable of being the funk soul brother, check it out now! This transatlantic feel is especially present on tracks like “Come on back”, “Can you hear me”, Jack and Jill” and the very Steely Dan-ish “Chiefs and indians” that would not have sounded out of place on an album like “Countdown to ecstasy”. Surely we’ve gone a long way from Canterbury by now. And the bass line in “Jack and Jill” is killer! Who said that white nerds can’t play the funk? Oh yes, I did. So I contradict myself? I am vast, I contain multitudes!

The opener “Here am I” is a cheerful light rocker that sounds suspiciously like Styx but, like in the case of Kansas, better because Caravan aren’t nauseating and Styx are (although it isn’t too hard to imagine it being ruined by Tommy Shaw). The highlight though, and the only track that somewhat stands out, is saved for last; The majestic “All the way” that continues the tradition of “The show of our lives” and even parts of “The love in your eye” with a mellow but stately, even Broadwayish, melody set to a carefully orchestrated arrangement with a bit of flute and woodwind here and there. I’d really like to see this used for a film score if it hasn’t been already, preferrably set to the final scenes of course. This is just about what I find myself able to write about this album though, since there’s not too much to write about. The melodies are all decent but nothing, apart from the closing track, stands out. But this was all but expected from what we have experienced from Caravan up until now, and the tendencies were there already on the previous album even if I must stress that they managed to expand on it on here. The songs are all compact and well performed and nothing sounds the least bit inadequate, as differed to songs like “Lover” on the predecessor.

So all in all, “Blind dog at St. Dunstan’s” is a decent but not terribly memorable album, clearly scented by its time period. Of course, noone should ever think about starting their Caravan collection with this one, but I’m keen to add that you shouldn’t end it with it either. Hang on to find out why!