Echo & the Bunnymen
Eddie & the Hot Rods
Eddie Boy Band
Broken Toy Shop (1993, 46.30) ***½/T½
|Shine it All on
Standing at the Gate
The Only Thing I Care About
A Most Unpleasant Man
Tomorrow I'll Be Nine
|The Day I Wrote You Off
Someone to Break the Spell
She Loves a Puppet
My Old Raincoat
Permanent Broken Heart
Eight Lives Left
Mark Oliver "E" Everett is best-known as head honcho of Eels, although he released a couple of solo albums before their formation, 1992's A Man Called E and the one that concerns us here, the following year's Broken Toy Shop. On a first listen, the most surprising thing about it is its relative 'commerciality' (I speak relatively, of course), with a distinctly early '90s glossy major-label sound to many tracks, although how you manage this trick with E's desolate lyrical imagery is beyond me. As a result, the album's possibly better lyrically than musically, with vicious little digs such as A Most Unpleasant Man or Tomorrow I'll Be Nine standing up well against his later material.
Broken Toy Shop is one of Patrick Warren's early Chamberlin session jobs. As so often with that blasted instrument, it's often difficult to tell what's Chamberlin and what's generic sampled strings or even real ones, but opener Shine It All On features brass, separate female and male voices and strings, with flutes on Mass and strings on Someone To Break The Spell, including a pitchbent part. There may well be more parts but etc. etc. So; one for Eels fans, without a doubt, although the rest of you should probably exercise caution. Three obvious Chamby tracks, but not enough to make it worth hearing for those alone, on the offchance that you were considering it.
E Motive (1998, 67.42) ****/T
|Waking in Dreams
Love and Death
Improv: Laughing Jones Strokes
Improv: Big Daddy in the Big House
The Ones Two Grieve
A Gathering of Days
|Improv: When Grandfather Gets Flatulent, We Kick the Dog
"In the Wink of an Eye" excerpts:
Crime and Punishment
Reality is Mine
Improv: We Came for the Jam; We Stayed for the Explanation
First Movement Symphony #25 in G min
What appears to be American progressive outfit E Motive (ho ho)'s sole, self-titled album is a fascinating piece of work, covering a lot of ground in its hour-plus. In some ways, it could be said that the band had too many ideas, which could account for their apparent demise, I suppose, but it keeps E Motive fresh, which is more than I can say for an awful lot of modern prog albums. Actually, 'modern' isn't a word I'd necessarily use in relation to this band; there's nary a hint of neo-prog to their sound (hurrah!), influences being more along the lines of King Crimson or even Gentle Giant, although it's actually quite difficult to pin their sound down, which has to be in the album's favour. Stylistically, they veer between the pretty keyboard intro to The Ones Two Grieve to the abrasive guitar work of Schtzorythmia and across all points in between, and the four improv tracks are all at the very least interesting, falling into an area all-too infrequently covered in the prog field.
Zero 'Tron from keys man Frank McGlynn until track 8, A Gathering Of Days, with major string and flute parts on the track, but other than that, zilch, it seems. Was this a studio machine? Borrowed from a mate? Samples? It sounds real enough, especially in a ballad, but it's not always so easy to tell... So; if mildly challenging (I mean, have you HEARD Univers Zero?) prog with a '70s bent sounds like your bag, you could do a lot worse, although it's pretty spartan on the 'Tron front. Worth the effort, though shame about the cheapo sleeve.
Fate is the Hunter (2005, 43.11) ***/TT
|Someone to Love
When You're Older
Come This Far
Kate Earl is an Alaskan of Filipino/European descent, thankfully better than the other Alaskan female singer-songwriter who springs to mind. Saying that, her debut, 2005's Fate is the Hunter, is a somewhat unexciting effort, although I've heard a lot worse; elements of blues (Someone To Love), folk (Come This Far) and even jazz (Sweet Sixteen) creep in, making for a wider stylistic palette than that used by many of her contemporaries.
Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin thing here, with flutes (alongside real strings) on When You're Older and Silence, plus strings and flutes on Anything and remarkably real-sounding strings on Hero. Overall, then, not that dynamic, but could've been so much worse; reasonable Chamby use, too, for a change.
Washington Square Serenade (2007, 42.08) ***½/T
Down Here Below
City of Immigrants
Sparkle and Shine
Come Home to Me
|Red is the Color
Steve's Hammer (for Pete)
Day's Aren't Long Enough
Way Down in the Hole
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (2011, 37.42) ***½/T
|Waitin' on the Sky
The Gulf of Mexico
God is God
Meet Me in the Alleyway
Every Part of Me
Lonely Are the Free
|Heaven or Hell
I am a Wanderer
Steve Earle can reasonably be said to've been to hell and back, the important bit being the 'back' part, unlike, say, Townes Van Zandt, with whom he's often compared. 2007's Washington Square Serenade is something like his twelfth album, produced by one half of The Dust Brothers to, as Earle put it, "Make a folk record arrived at by hip-hop rules". You wouldn't actually know it, listening to the album, with the possible exception of closer Way Down In The Hole; it's a very respectable alt.country record, although Earle's youthful lyrical fire has dimmed slightly. His wife, trad country singer Allison Moorer guests, as does NYC avant-garde doyen John Medeski, but the credit for such a powerful album has to go to Earle and Earle alone.
Medeski does his usual Mellotron thing, with a swooping pitchbent choir part on Satellite Radio, although I just can't decide whether or not the background voices on Oxycontin Blues are Mellotron or not; surely Medeski wouldn't play such a 'normal' part? I suspect it's far more likely to be the 'Downtown Proletariat Choir', a.k.a. a bunch of Earle's New York buddies. I'd imagine the background flutes on Way Down In The Hole are 'Tron as well, but more because no-one's credited with flute than for any other reason.
Four years on and 2011's I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is, if anything, better than its predecessor, top tracks including opener Waitin' On The Sky, the superb The Gulf Of Mexico, the Irish folk of Molly-O and the gentle Every Part Of Me, amongst other highlights. Keefus Ciancia plays Mellotron cellos and very obvious flutes on Waitin' On The Sky, although that would appear to be our lot.
So; two excellent modern Americana albums, albeit with a trad edge, though not much Mellotron, all things considered. Worth hearing anyway.
See: Allison Moorer | Medeski Martin & Wood
These Were the Earlies (2004, 51.12) ***/T
|In the Beginning
One of Us is Dead
Slow Man's Dream
25 Easy Pieces
The Devil's Country
Song for #3
Bring it Back Again
British/American collaboration The Earlies produce a kind of electronica/weird folk/psych that will either grab you by the lower intestine and hang on for grim death... or won't. Despite playing their first album (actually a collection of early singles and EPs), These Were the Earlies, a couple of times, I just can't warm to their schtick, I'm afraid. Maybe there's too much going on? Not usually a problem in PlanetMellotronLand. Too morose? Ditto. Just too indie? That could be it. It whines where it, well, shouldn't, which is everywhere. Whining is just not attractive. Am I being unfair? probably, but the electronics and the vocals really put me off something I might otherwise like.
Mancunian (or nearby) Christian Madden plays Mellotron, although with all the instrumentation on the album, it's not always easy to work out exactly where. Definitely on One Of Us Is Dead and Wayward Song, with choirs on the former and strings on the latter. It could well be elsewhere, too, hidden under the waves of acoustic (or sampled) instruments and general electronica, but it's hard to tell. Generally speaking, disappointing where it could be gently euphoric, and little Mellotron to boot. A pity.
Earth & Fire (Netherlands) see:
French Skyline (1979, 43.35) ***/TT½Latin Sirens Face the Wall
The Flourishing Illusion
Splendored Skies and Angels
French Sky Lines Suite
Movement I: Morning Song (for Iris and Richard)
Movement II: Sources Change, Including 'The Movement'
Movement III: Demensional Music
Movement IV: Wind and Sky Symphony/Reprise: Morning Song
Atomkraft? Nein, Danke! (1981, 46.59) ***/TT
Cafe Exit (incl. March of the
Part I: Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!
Part II: Aras
Humans Only (1982, 44.51) **½/T½Rainbow Dome
Don't You Ever Wonder?
One Flew Over the Ridge
Tip Toe Funk
Umbrey Flowing Lights
25 Arrival Pieces
Earthstar (or Earth Star) were the brainchild of American Craig Wuest, who relocated to Germany in the late '70s. There was an early, limited edition tape replay-free album in 1979, Salterbarty Tales (***), but their first release to gain any major exposure was French Skyline from later that year, on the Sky label. On the German '70s progressive scene, the best bands usually ended up on the superb Brain imprint, leaving Sky with the also-rans; Earthstar are actually one of their better bands, but while working in the same general area as Tangerine Dream/Klaus Schulze, they're unable to hit the same heights. This album is actually quite highly rated on the electronic scene, partly because of Schulze's co-production credit, but I'm not sure that's enough to label the album a 'classic'.
French Skyline relies heavily on drones, featuring the rare Birotron all over side one's three-part Latin Sirens Face The Wall. Wuest is credited with both Birotron and Mellotron, and it's difficult to tell which is which, although I suspect the choirs are Birotron (notes sustained far past the eight-second limit), and the strings later in the piece are Mellotron, though this is sheer guesswork, to be honest. I can't hear any tape replay stuff on side two, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. Saying that, Wuest is listed as playing nineteen different keyboard instruments, plus sundry others, so it's quite amazing that the tape stuff gets as much of a look in as it does.
Atomkraft? Nein, Danke! (that's 'Nuclear Power, No Thanks!', though I'm told the translation's a bit iffy), is slightly more laid back than its predecessor, though still firmly in EM territory. There's no Mellotron this time round, just the Birotron, so although it's only on a couple of tracks, it's an ideal opportunity to hear the rarest tape-replay instrument.
By Humans Only, Earthstar had developed a more guitar-orientated sound, and appeared to be carving their own little niche in the EM field. It wasn't the most enthralling listen, to be honest, but I'm not sure I'm really qualified to judge this stuff properly. The two 'funk' tracks on side two, er, aren't really, and Tip Toe Funk feels like it's going to go on forever, though not in a good way. The Mellotron makes a reappearance on this album, along with the ever-present Birotron, but the use is still fairly minimal, and it's still difficult to tell which is which.
So... there's some OK electronic pieces here, but nothing to really write home about, and the Mellotron/Birotron use isn't exactly innovative, or even particularly interesting. For completists only, I think.
Easter Island [a.k.a. NowAndThen] (1980/1990, 45.08/50.13) ****/TTTT
Face to Face
Genius of the Dance
Winds of Time
|The Alchemist's Suite
Easter Island were yet another of those US prog outfits who struggled for years, eventually throwing in the towel in the early '80s (see: Cathedral, Netherworld et al.), while managing to put one album out, usually self-financed. Originally released in early 1980 as Easter Island, the album apparently comprises various demos made over the preceding few years, but sounds reasonably cohesive, all things considered. It's also pretty good, faring well against the likes of Yezda Urfa or Mirthrandir, sounding in places like a heavier version of King Crimson (heavier?!) or a less experimental Gentle Giant. Albums of this kind are usually let down by their vocals, but the singing's not too bad, here, and the rest of the musicianship's excellent, especially considering these are basically only demos.
Ray Vogel played keys for the band at the time, and his Mellotron work is exemplary, with shedloads of strings and polyphonic flute parts all over the place, as well as his organ, piano and synth work. It's difficult to pick individual highlights, and it's the kind of album you need to have played several times to let it all really sink in; suffice to say, not only is the music excellent, but the Mellotron work alone makes the album more than worthy of purchase.
The album was originally only pressed in a ridiculously small quantity (figures of 300 are mentioned), so ten years later, ZNR Records reissued it as NowAndThen, though not without a bit of mucking about. Guitarist Mark Miceli wrote and recorded a title track for the new release, which obviously features modern synths, and added more of the same to the beginning of the album, on Wanderer's Lament, which I suppose justifies its new title (the two new tracks are italicised). In all honesty, I'd much rather he hadn't, as the different sound jars badly against the original tracks, making for a slightly disjointed feel. You can't just cut the last track off, either, what with the inappropriate intro. Oh well. Anyway, it's the only way you're going to find a copy, and it really is worth the effort, so I'll say; buy anyway.
Volume 3 (1966, 31.22/58.39) ***/0 (½)
Say You Want Me
You Said That
Goin' Out of My Mind
Not in Love with You
The Last Day of May
|My My My
Dance of the Lovers
What Do You Want Babe
Can't You Leave Her
Do You Have a Soul
|My Old Man's a Groovy Old Man
Mean Old Lovin'
I Don't Agree
Keep Your Hands off My Babe
I'm Just Trying]
Vigil (1968, 43.46/67.51) ***/T½
What in the World
Falling Off the Edge of the World
The Music Goes Round My Head
Can't Take My Eyes Off You
Sha La La
Come in You'll Get Pneumonia
|Land of Make Believe
Fancy Seeing You Here
Hello How Are You
Hit the Road Jack
We All Live Happily Together
I Can't Stand it
Good Times (different mix)
|Lay Me Down and Die (instrumental version)
Lay Me Down and Die (vocal version)
Bring a Little Lovin'
The Music Goes Round My Head
Hello How Are You (original first version)
Come in You'll Get Pnuemonia (first version)
Falling Off the Edge of World (second version)]
The Shame Just Drained (1977, recorded 1964-68, 40.27/64.44) ***½/T
Baby I'm a Comin'
I'm on Fire
Wait a Minute
We'll Make it Together
Me and My Machine
The Shame Just Drained
|Mr. Riley of Higginbottom & Clive
Where Old Men Go
Station on Third Avenue
Do You Have a Soul (3rd version)
Check the Bassline
|Watch Me Burn
Where Did You Go Last Night
Heaven and Hell
Happy is the Man
Land of Make Believe
Coke Jingle, No.1
Coke Ads #2 & 3]
For those of you who haven't heard of them, the Easybeats were Australia's prime '60s group, who lived in Britain for a while and had one huge international hit in Friday On My Mind. What is less well known is that two of their members were Harry Vanda and George Young, the latter being the much older brother of Malcolm and Angus, later of the phenomenally successful AC/DC, whose first several (and best) albums were recorded at Vanda and Young's studio, produced by them and (as rumour has it) partially anonymously written by them, too. Allegedly. Finding a decent discography for the Easybeats isn't the easiest job, as (along with so many other bands of the era) their albums were released in different versions in different territories, and they weren't really much of an albums band anyway, with singles being seen as the prime method of expression (OK, way of making money) by their record company.
Volume 3 was released in 1966, and while it's a perfectly competent album of its type, mostly Beatles-esque pop, with a smattering of Stonesy graunch, there's nothing on it that leaps out at the listener like their biggest hit. The original album's unsurprisingly Mellotron-free, as hardly anyone was using them at that point, but the last track on Repertoire's expanded edition, I'm Just Trying (recorded in 1968) has a rather hesitant string part that doesn't really do that much to enhance the song.
What a difference two years can make... Their next album 'proper', 1968's Vigil, carries all the hallmarks of a band who realise they have to keep up with the crowd or get swept away. Its psych-pop sounds not unlike a beefier version of, say, The Hollies, better tracks including Falling Off The Edge Of The World, Come In You'll Get Pneumonia and Land Of Make Believe, although I'm not quite sure what to make of the rather surreal We All Live Happily Together. I blame the drugs. Anyway, someone (Young?) plays Mellotron, with a huge blast of strings opens Come In You'll Get Pneumonia, swelling up later in the song, saxes on See Saw and more strings on Land Of Make Believe, although the strings and brass on Hello How Are You are real.
Anyway, in 1977, many years after their demise, über-fan and well-respected Sydney scenester Glenn A. Baker compiled an LP's-worth of unreleased or super-rare material, The Shame Just Drained, years before this became the norm. Many of the tracks are clearly demos, with even the odd dropout in places, although for 'Beats fans this is invaluable, showing another side to the band, not least their penchant for 'mini-operas', like Mr. Riley Of Higginbottom & Clive or the title track. As Glenn mentions in his exhaustive sleevenotes, several of the album's tracks are from a scrapped LP, I believe from 1967, and feature Freddie Smith on (presumably) a studio MkII, with string parts on We'll Make It Together and Where Old Men Go (although the orchestral stuff on Amanda Storey is, er, an orchestra), although nothing you'd actually describe as essential listening, to be honest.
To quote Glenn, "The Easybeats were beset by every conceivable handicap: management problems, record company disputes, legal wrangles, drug dilemmas, lack of direction, poor financial management, constant change of producers and plain bad luck", without all of which they may have been a lot more successful than they were. At least Vanda and Young eventually basked in some reflected glory, and hopefully made some decent dosh out of AC/DC, a band who couldn't be described as 'hard up' these days. As far as these albums go, Volume 3's probably only for fans of the era, although Vigil and The Shame Just Drained might be worth the effort if you're into the period where mid-'60s beat turns into psych-pop, there are a few essential tracks scattered across both albums and a bit of decent 'Tron work.
Reverberation (1990, 46.35) ***/T
|Gone, Gone, Gone
Cut & Dried
King of Your Castle
Thick Skinned World
Reverberation was the Bunnymen's sixth album, the last before their split and the only one made without their charismatic leader, Ian McCulloch, and as such, is often overlooked by the band's fans. It would be fair to say that it's 'informed' by late-'60s psych (spot the 'phase the whole mix' bit in Devilment), although its influences are as much their own catalogue and that peculiar strand of pseudo-psych that reared its head in the '80s, the decade with which the Bunnymen will always be associated. Best track? Possibly sitar-strewn apocalyptic closer False Goodbyes, although there are several good bits, just not many entire songs.
Regular keys man by this point, Jake Brockman is credited with Mellotron, although it's fairly well buried in the mix, as you'd expect from an album from 1990. Anyway, all I can hear are background strings on Freaks Dwell, a vague strings solo on Senseless and about one string chord on Flaming Red, so we're not exactly talking 'Top 'Tron' here. Bunnymen fans who have previously avoided this record should probably give it a go, and psych fans desperate for anything even remotely in that league could, too, but the rest of us can probably get our psych fixes better elsewhere.
Glean (2004, 53.42) ***/TTT
Knock 'em Out
Out of Reach
Arsenic of Love
Beat as We Go
Nowhere Too Long
Echobrain were originally put together by the freshly ex-Metallica Jason Newstead, attracting the attention of Neil Young along the way, which is no mean feat in itself. By their second album, Glean, Newstead was gone, replaced by vocalist/guitarist Dylan Donkin's brother Adam, although I suspect his contacts are less good. The album veers between Soundgarden-type heaviness and a more Americana-informed style, with opener Jellyneck probably summing their style up succinctly.
Mellotron from both Donkin brothers, with strings on opener Jellyneck, sitting alongside some variety of polysynth, with what sounds like a flute/strings mix on You're Sold. A flute melody on Seven Seconds and a bizarrely overloud cello solo on Arsenic Of Love carry on the 'Tronness, and finally, strings on Nowhere Too Long and closer Nobody, making for a surprisingly 'Tron-heavy album. While I'm sure the band would like to be seen in the same light as St. Neil, they've got a long way to go, to be honest. A merely OK album, with unexpectedly decent Mellotron use.
Eclection (1968, 43.36) ***½/½
|In Her Mind
Will Tomorrow Be the Same
Still I Can See
In the Early Days
Another Time, Another Place
Morning of Yesterday
St. George & the Dragon
Eclection were one of the earliest examples of British folk rock (as against the US version), and it's no surprise at all that two members (drummer Gerry Conway and guitarist Trevor Lucas) went on to join Fairport Convention in the '70s. Eclection is an appealing collection of folk and folk-influenced material, with joint male/female vocals (sound familiar?), but with late-'60s mainstream production values, meaning most tracks have string section/orchestral parts, without which folk rock may have happened a little sooner. It's difficult to pinpoint the best tracks, although In Her Mind, Violet Dew and St. George & The Dragon are all excellent examples of their style.
While most of the orchestral instruments are exactly that, there's a polyphonic flute part in Betty Brown ("Betty Brown was small and round/red hair had she too") that has to be a MkII 'Tron, presumably played by some anonymous session type, although that would seem to be your lot on the Mellotron front. Anyway, if you want to hear the roots of the '70s folk rock scene, look no further; although dated, this is decidedly worth hearing. Incidentally, speaking of ex-members, Georg Hultgren (renamed Kajanus) went on to become a minor-league pop star in the '70s with the ridiculous Sailor.
Life on the Line (1977, 34.53/67.01) ***/½
|Do Anything You Wanna Do
Quit This Town
What's Really Going on
Ignore Them (Still Life)
Life on the Line
(And) Don't Believe Your Eyes
We Sing...the Cross
|Beginning of the End
I Might Be Lying
Ignore Them (Always Crashing in
the Same Bar)
Till the Night is Gone (Let's Rock)
|Do Anything You Wanna Do (live)
What's Really Going on (live)
Why Can't it Be (live)
Distortion May Be Expected]
By 1977, Canvey Island's Eddie & the Hot Rods found themselves in the invidious position of being allied to the punk movement by the general public, although not by their peers, generally to their detriment. Life on the Line was their second album, tastefully 'featuring' sleeve art depicting someone in the act of committing suicide, as did the previous year's Teenage Depression. These shock tactics (very 1977) belie the album's high-energy r'n'b, notably their biggest hot, powerpop classic Do Anything You Wanna Do, although the rest of the album lacks that track's joie de vivre, sounding strangely neutered in comparison with some of their punk peers.
Strangely, guitarist Dave Higgs (there's a British name for you) plays Mellotron on closer Beginning Of The End, with a distant string part that doesn't, to be brutally honest, add much to the song. If you're thinking of buying a copy of this, the Captain Oi! release features a very generous selection of bonuses, essentially all the b-side/EP tracks from the period, the best example being the set's final track, Distortion May Be Expected, which I vaguely remember from the time, a sort-of dub instrumental. Best title? Has to be the amusing Bowie Low-referencing Ignore Them (Always Crashing In The Same Bar). As an aside, the band's mascot, a dummy named 'Eddie', was retired before the bank broke through. Given that they almost certainly played the East End in their early days, might a certain Steve Harris, in the process of forming a certain Iron Maiden have been influenced in his choice of ridiculous 'hook' on which to hang his new band's image? Just wondering...
The Eddie Boy Band (1975) **½/0
|Oh, So Hard
Say Goodbye Babe
Come on Virginia (I Wanna Win Ya)
Good to Have You Back Again
|Makin' Love to You, Babe
The Eddie Boy Band seem to have been one of those mid-'70s US outfits that sounded a bit like the Doobie Brothers; you know, bland, mainstream stuff, with 'soulful' vocals, funk-lite rhythm guitar and just enough 'rock' not to be considered full-on pop. All pretty unexciting stuff, if truth be told, although MCA obviously thought enough of them to release their album abroad, or at least in the UK. A couple of tracks have some balls, notably Losin' Again, with its duel-lead work, but it's largely very anodyne stuff.
Keys man John Paruolo sticks to Hammond and piano most of the time, while subsidiary session man David Wolinski (know that name from somewhere) adds 'ARP string ensemble' on one track, but despite Paruolo's 'Mellotron' credit, I can't hear a note of the thing. What's the point, eh? It's obviously either so far down in the mix (maybe doubling those synth strings?) that it's inaudible, or there's a bit of cello somewhere that's completely hidden by everything else. Anyway, dull album, no 'Tron. Avoid.
Fire & Rain (1995, 47.13) **½/T
|The Darkness in Me
Fire and Rain
Sky Above, Sea Below
Song Slowly Song
Stretched on Your Grave
|Rooms Above the Sea
Breath Upon New Eyes
Just Like Water; You Run From My Eyes
Eden are (or were) an Australian goth band. You thought you needed long, gloomy winters in industrial towns and lots of rain to be a goth? Think again. To my knowledge, 1995's Fire & Rain is their third full album and I'm afraid to say, it's full of all the usual goth clichés: gravelly vocals, grandiloquent lyrics, too much reverb... You get the picture. Of course, goth has moved on since its '80s beginnings, taking other influences on board, not least metal, although Eden keep the doom-riffing to a minimum.
Paul Machliss is credited with Mellotron, although the strings on the first two tracks have clearly never been anywhere near a strip of tape until they were recorded. However, the flutes on the ludicrous Stretched On Your Grave and a few seconds of choir at the end of closer Just Like Water; You Run From My Eyes could very well be an M400, although early samples are a possibility. So; one for goths. No-one else, just goths. No, not Mellotron spotters, either. Just goths.
Oh, and despite a non-credit, the previous year's Earthbound is rumoured to have a Mellotronic presence. More news when etc.etc.
|7" (1974) ***½/TTTT
One Niter (1976, 45.41) ****/TTT
One Niter Medley
Hats of Glass (1978, 39.08) ***½/TTA Spaceman Came Travelling
Hats of Glass
Caught on the Air
(Remove Another Hat of Glass and You Could Easily Find Assorted Kinds of) Cheese
Missa Universalis (1978, 42.22) ***½/TKyrie
Credo Part I
Credo Part II
Eela Craig are possibly the only Austrian band I've reviewed on this site; not the most major country for Mellotrons, but this bunch had a go, if only for a brief time. Their debut, 1971's Eela Craig (***½) is good, if slightly perfunctory space rock, but after various lineup changes, they released the Stories 7" in '74, backed with Cheese. Stories is slightly dated for the time, but Hubert Schnauer layers the Mellotron on good'n'thick, with strings, choir and some sort of solo brass all making an appearance, while although Cheese is a lesser song, it still manages a reasonable string part. Both tracks are available on the Eela Craig CD, along with two compilation tracks from '72.
It took Eela Craig (a meaningless name, apparently) another two years before the release of their extremely belated second album, One Niter. Given that it's a fairly late entrant into the world of '70s prog, it's quite superb; it's quite likely that this material had been sitting around for a while, anyway, given the gap between releases. By this time a six-piece with three part- or full-time keyboard players (!), it's hardly surprising that One Niter is keyboard-heavy, although they also managed to rustle up two guitarists when they needed to. Multi-instrumentalists that they were, there were also two flautists in the band, so I suspect the flute harmonies are real, rather than 'Tron. Eela Craig were nothing if not gear freaks (see pic below), and must've owned one of almost everything by this point, including two different models of Hammond, so there was absolutely no shortage of keyboard sounds available, or players. Apparently, all members except the drummer played their Mellotron at one point or another at the time of the Stories single, but I believe Hubert Schnauer played it on these albums.
The four-part Circles opens the album with a massive Mellotron brass flourish, reiterated throughout the piece, followed by some distant choirs over picked guitar, before a funky clavinet-fuelled section on part two. After a more 'normal' section, with more of that 'Tron brass filling out the sound, there's another funky part towards the end, overlaid with various synths, including what looks like two VCS3s. Loner's Rhyme has more of that slightly dodgy mid-70s funk feel and a bit more 'Tron brass before the album's other epic proper, One Niter Medley. Some choirs on the semi-ecclesiastical Benedictus before what sounds like real strings, although there's none mentioned on the credits. Actually, it's interesting to note that a band who used 'Tron strings so heavily at one point (Stories) should so totally abandon the sound for the joys of the generic string synth so quickly. Oh well, there you go... Anyway, more of that funky stuff on One Niter Medley, with a little (you guessed it...) brass, with final section One Niter itself being the second-best bit of the album. A few more brass chords on Way Down, then that's it. Rarely has a prog album been loaded with more Mellotron brass than One Niter, and while it would've been nice to hear some strings here and there, the brass makes a refreshing change from the usual, to be honest.
Hats of Glass, released the following year, nearly blows it from the off by covering the godawful Chris De Burgh's A Spaceman Came Travelling, his drippy sugar-coated Christmas effort, but, in fairness, this was when De Burgh still (strangely) had a smattering of credibility, so we'll forgive them. Just. Anyway, things soon improve with the excellent title track, with some background 'Tron choirs, before (oh no, not again) more BRASS on Chances Are and Heaven Sales, not to mention the lengthy Holstenwall Fair, which at least evens things out slightly by chucking in a fair bit of choir, too. More Mellotron than I'd remembered, and a decent enough album, although Holstenwall Fair and Hats Of Glass are definitely the best things on it. Oh, and the ridiculously lengthily-titled final track is a reworking of the Stories b-side from a few years earlier.
In 1978, Eela Craig seriously overreached themselves by releasing Missa Universalis; a rock mass, no less, sung (variously) in Latin, German, English and French, and all in the year when disco and punk took over the entire world. Lunacy. Unfortunately, while it's not that bad, it's no classic, either, so you can't even say "Look what prog could still chuck up!" (unless, of course, you're referring to either The Enid or Steve Hackett). This makes One Niter's Benedictus look terribly secular, although I don't know just how Christian the band actually were; it's certainly a bit overbearing in the Latin department, but if you can handle that, it has its moments. Only one 'Tron track, Gloria with... brass.
So; everything from Eela Craig (no Mellotron, of course) to Missa Universalis is worth hearing, with the standard law of diminishing returns, of course. For the 'Tron, stick to One Niter, with Hats of Glass and the CD of Eela Craig if you just can't get enough. For a sheer 'spine-tingling prog moment', though, you'll have trouble beating the first brass chords on One Niter. Magnificent.