Saturday Looks Good to Me
Julian Jay Savarin
Saves the Day
Scars on Broadway
Khnosti (2008, 91.39) ***½/TTT
He and She (Again)
Bring it on
The Man in These Clothes
Don't Hurt Me
Mitchell and Shaw (Inverted)
Spy in the Atmosphere
Just for the Record
Dawn of a New Day
Sanctuary Rig are a London-based four-piece who've been around a few years, releasing an EP, Sail on, in 2005. I'll admit here to a slight air of nepotism, as keyboard player Mark Rae (ex-In the Cage) is an old friend, and the only reason Khnosti's here at all is that Mark plays my M400 on several tracks. Unbelievably, it's a double CD, as the band seemed unwilling to drop anything, and while this makes listening to it in one sitting a bit of a marathon, but hopefully there's enough variety to keep the listener interested. It's difficult to know how to describe the music herein: prog? Singer-songwriter? Maybe we should just stick with the band's own description: "rock, blues, prog, Mellotron, bass pedals, religious imagery, space murder, ex-wives and astral sex", or mine, which is: "rock clearly made by people who lived through the '70s". Several tracks sound slightly like Bob Dylan (particularly on Louise) as played by a slightly proggy mid-'70s outfit with a couple of albums out on Harvest, while others have that prog-blues feel that hasn't been sighted since the days of The Groundhogs, although they don't actually sound anything like them. Confused? Me too. Maybe you should just listen to the clips on their website.
Opener Justify has elements of The Who in its construction, while He And She (Again) starts as a slow blues before shifting gear into a rockier thing altogether, while the rest of the tracks on disc one ("Jipamari") juggle a prog feel (in places) with vocalist/guitarist Jim Faupel's 'could be played acoustically'-type songwriting. Disc two ("Famcrasl") opens with an odd little instrumental, Long Haul, which sticks a few late-'70s Genesis chords in for good measure, and incorporates a straight-ahead rocker, Spy In The Atmosphere, an almost straight blues, Just For The Record, and a jaunty Caribbean-flavoured (!) number in (proper) closer Dawn Of A New Day. The acoustic version of Louise that closes the album shouldn't really be considered part of the album 'proper', and wouldn't be here at all if they didn't have space to fill on disc two.
Most of Mark's keyboard work consists of (sampled) Hammond and piano, with the occasional faked analogue synth part and a couple of more obvious samples or more modern sounds. His first Mellotron interjection is towards the end of He And She (Again), with a string part that morphs into choirs just as the song shifts into Yes impersonation mode, while Bring It On features Mark playing a repeating part on successively more and more notes, proving, if nothing else, that my 'Tron's stable up to eight-note chords. All the rest of the 'Tron work juggles the strings and choirs, as the flutes on Just For The Record are samples (Mark felt he couldn't play the fast part on the real thing), and Bring It On's strings/brass mix is sampled. One of the album's best 'Tron parts is the instrumental second half of Dawn Of A New Day, The Day, with its 'extremely real' strings, with Mark doing his 'strings into choir' trick again into the fade.
If Khnosti has an obvious fault, it's that it's too long. An hour and a half is a hell of a long time to sit listening to one album, especially when there's no Lamb-style narrative thread to hold the contents together. The (necessary) two-disc format means that if you only like half the album, you can't just skip the tracks you don't like, but have to mess about ejecting discs and so forth. Still, a small problem, as the album gives great value for money, and you can always burn your faves onto one disc, or just load them into your iPod or whatever. As far as my M400 goes, there's a fair bit of it scattered around, usually used more as an 'accent' than the basis for any track. This won't cost you a fortune, and since you can hear clips of every track on the band's website, I'd do that if I were you, and decide for yourself.
See: In the Cage
Eastern Terrace (2002, 43.13/75.29) ***½/TT
Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed
Moving Too Fast
One Time at Sundown
The Big V
|Moving Too Fast (the Director's Cut)
['bonus disc' contains:
Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed
Hey, Let Me in
Things Have Changed]
Australia's Sand Pebbles (named for the film) play what I believe is termed 'alternative rock', whatever you take that to mean, although, just for once, I don't mean it disparagingly. I haven't heard their debut single, Noah's Ark, backed with their first 'Tron track, an early version of The Sundowner, but Eastern Terrace is really quite good, although the band's experimentation doesn't always work. I like the way they don't actually have a consistent sound throughout the album, though, tailoring the instrumentation to the song's needs, rather in the manner of XTC, say, although the two bands don't really sound alike. Notable tracks? Their version of Julian Cope's Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed is pretty cool, while My Sensation is probably the best of their home-grown numbers.
Their mate Beck Zack plays Mellotron on two tracks, with a string line on the aforementioned My Sensation, alongside Ben Michael X's '$150 1979 string synth'. He really goes to town on the lengthy instrumental The Sundowner, though, with loads of flute and string work, including, effectively, a 'Tron strings solo towards the end. So; a good album, displaying considerable promise, and some decent 'Tron work to boot.
Sandrose (1972, 40.07) ****½/TTTTTVision
Never Good at Sayin' Good-Bye
Underground Session (Chorea)
Old Dom is Dead
To Take Him Away
Summer is Yonder
Fraulein Kommen sie Schlaffen Mit Mir
Now, the Sandrose album is something special; a much-fêted 'Mellotron Album' that actually lives up to its name. Usually described as 'early progressive', it was one of the first albums of the new genre to come from France, along with Ange's debut. However, Sandrose are often rather unfairly compared to Dutch pop-prog outfit Earth & Fire, mainly due to the similarity of their female vocalists; Sandrose's Rose Podwojny is more shrill than Earth & Fire's Jerney Kaagman, though, more in the 'torch' mode, really. Sandrose definitely has French chanson influences amongst the more familiar late-'60s/early-'70s stuff, making its sound quite unique.
Basically, this album is quite literally Mellotron-swamped; the first six tracks all feature it heavily, particularly Old Dom Is Dead, a song guitarist Jean-Pierre Alarcen brought with him from a previous band. Underground Session is less jam-based than it sounds, but is the album's longest track by several minutes, also featuring waves of Mellotron strings (note: not 'washes'; this is an unacceptable cliché, and will not be used on this site). While much of the music is proto-symphonic, this isn't a 'symphonic' album in the style of, say, early Genesis. It may or may not appeal, mainly depending on your capacity for accepting 'outside influences'; then again, with a style as new as prog in 1972, all influences could have been considered 'outside'. Six of the album's seven proper songs feature lashings of 'Tron (the last track is a thirty-second muckabout), so the much-maligned 'Mellotron Classic' label can be firmly applied. The whole concept was apparently Alarcen's, including the heavy Mellotron use, although he found organist Henri Garella to play it along with his usual instrument.
A vinyl original will set you back several limbs (£100+ for the UK release last time I heard), but French reissue heroes Musea put it out as one of their first projects, including, as you can see, some marvellous live pics in the booklet. In this rather heavily-cropped one, note the already rather battered-looking black M400 played by Garella's temporary replacement, Georges Rodi, with its weird, customised sled-like feet. Maybe it doubled as a toboggan.
Buy? An unequivocal yes.
Take Off (1978, 32.36) ****/TTT½Time Control
Keyboard whizz Antonio Sangiuliano's lone album, Take Off, was an oddity on the Italian scene, sounding more like a symphonic version of Tangerine Dream, though with a distinctly Italian edge to his composition, setting it apart from the myriad German keyboard-led outfits. At only 32 minutes, the album doesn't have time to outstay its welcome, though unlike many other 'electronic' artists (naming no names), the record could've been longer without dragging, such is the quality of the material. It's difficult to describe the music without getting bogged down in the minutiae of 'at 3.16 a Polymoog string theme enters...' etc.; suffice to say, it constantly surprises with its adventurousness and melodic invention, particularly during the superbly-orchestrated 'string' arrangement on the title track.
Although the CD booklet give very few details of Sangiuliano's setup, my Italy-via-Japan copy has a Japanese insert, from where I can pick out English words such as 'Stockhausen', 'Pierre Boulez' and, er, 'Mellotron'. Actually, it gives his full rig, including his much-used Polymoog, ARP 2600, Eminent string synth and MiniMoog, with the only other occasional instrumental input being from drummers Derek Wilson and Enzo Restuccia, and soprano Elisabetta Delicato (thanks to Augusto Croce's fantastic Italian Prog site for that information). His 'Tron use concentrates entirely on different choirs; I suspect he uses male, female and 8-voice, though it's not always easy to tell. There's an awful lot of it, anyway; the male voices are one of the first sounds you hear on the side-long Time Control, and can be heard across all three tracks, supplying the requisite 'epic' quality that his music required, with the Wagnerian stabs on Take Off itself being particularly noteworthy.
It's a real tragedy that the fantastically-haired Sangiuliano didn't go on to have a long and honourable career, although like so many others in the '80s, he could've gone completely down the pan, so maybe we should be grateful for this one-off marvel. Anyway, excellent music (although I'm not sure I can confidently give it more than four stars), and plenty of Mellotron choir. Buy.
Welcome (1972, 50.30) ***½/TGoing Home
Love, Devotion and Surrender
Samba de Sausalito
When I Look Into Your Eyes
Yours is the Light
Light of Life
Santana (the band's) fifth album, Welcome, followed Carlos Santana's collaboration with erstwhile Mahavishnu Orchestra leader John McLaughlin, Love, Devotion Surrender, also naming a track title here. McLaughlin also guests on the album, which may have helped to give it its smoother, jazzier feel, although Santana had already begun moving in that direction on Caravanserai. The overall feel of this album is definitely easier on the ear than their first three (all classics), and I feel the songwriting seems to be taking a back seat to the spiritual message held within, although I accept that this may be an unfair criticism.
Whatever, Welcome's a perfectly listenable Santana album, just not a particularly exciting one. If you're not into it, the jazzy keyboard work grates after a while, and the smooth, soulful male and female vocals are a far cry from the impassioned, bluesy tones of original organist Gregg Rolie. Unless I'm badly mistaken, the first guitar solo isn't until track five, Yours Is The Light, which explains the missing element on which I couldn't put my finger. Yeah, that's the one; guitar. Funky rhythm sections are all very well, but without that searing, neck-pickup guitar work it could be any old Latino band, not the one who rewrote the rule book. There is some good material on offer here, particularly the 11-minute Flame-Sky, but I'm afraid it doesn't come anywhere near the heights of their early albums.
The only Mellotron on the album (played by Richard Kermode) is on instrumental opener Going Home; layered strings over an arhythmical backing with some unusual chord changes, leading into Love Devotion And Surrender. Very nice, but not worth the purchase price of the album, really.
Year of the Knife (2008, 56.45) ***½/½
|Come on, Baby
Leave Something Witchy
Nowhere to Go
HWY to the Morning Star
My Right Thing Can't Go Wrong
Can You Dream?
|You Got What I Need
Sold My Soul (for Nothing)
Year of the Knife
House of the Dying Sun
The Louisiana-based Santeria are, for want of a better description, a psychedelic Southern outfit, whose third album proper (ignoring 2000's early odds'n'sods collection Apocalypse, Louisiana), 2008's Year of the Knife, straddles the line between swamp rock, '70s hard rock, acoustic blues and Texan psych. The album's main plus point, though, is frontman/songwriter Dege Legg's songs, melodic without being cheesy, an approach from which so many American rock bands could learn. Best tracks? Possibly Leave Something Witchy, Nowhere To Go, with its killer main riff and the reggae-tinged Sold My Soul (For Nothing), making this a surprisingly good effort from a band that had previously passed under my radar.
Rob Rushing supposedly plays Mellotron on the title track, whose instrumental section sounds a great deal like Pink Floyd's Welcome To The Machine, if you can imagine the melody line being played by a brass section. Anyway, a few seconds of something flutey near the beginning of the track seems to be all we get; as to whether or not it's real can only be a matter for conjecture. Overall, then, a pleasant surprise, given how much drivel passes across the Planet Mellotron desk. Next to no obvious Mellotron, never mind whether or not it's real, but that really isn't the reason you should give this a listen.
Chelique y Manzanero en Casa (los Romanticos de America) (1976, 27.14) **½/TTTT
|Asi es Mi Amor
Mi Propio Yo
Cosas Como Tu
Cuando No Se de Ti
Esta Tarde Vi Llover
Perdido en la Nostalgia
José Enrique "Chelique" Sarabia Rodríguez is a highly successful Venezuelan musician, also working in several related fields since the late '50s, although I have no idea how many albums he's released over the decades. 1976's collaboration with Armando Manzanero, Chelique y Manzanero en Casa (los Romanticos de America), is pretty much what you'd expect: Latin pop of the era that could easily pass for music made twenty years earlier, making it fairly unpalatable to the modern, non-Latin American ear.
Cholo Ortiz plays Mellotron superbly, although I have absolutely no idea where he sourced one in South America. Was this recorded elsewhere? Anyway, we get strings and/or flutes on every single damn' track bar opener Asi Es Mi Amor, making this something of an unexpected minor Mellotron classic, albeit one that you might not actually wish to hear too often.
Envoy of Death (1981, 37.32/43.55) ***½/T½
|Envoy of Death
The Deadly Game
Wheels of Destruction
Die to Win
Core Values [as Sarcofagus Ltd] (2007, 59.57) ***/TT
|Life By Proxy
Is This it? (No Flying Cars Yet)
Self Dysmorphic Disorder
No Collective Memory of Failure
|Radical Rethinking of the Processed World
2nd Coming (French Version)
Sarcofagus are fêted as Finland's first heavy rock band, which seems surprising given that by the time they appeared, the rest of Europe was entering its third (count 'em) phase of overdriven Marshallness; even neighbours Sweden had a healthy music scene, with one massive worldwide pop success and countless local bands. In fairness, Finland had a scene of its own, but not in this genre, it seems. Their debut, 1980's Cycle of Life, was a pretty formative affair, being a concept album about the afterlife, involving Egyptian deities, all put to a primitive hard rock (not metal) backing. Envoy of Death was a distinct improvement on its predecessor, although, strangely, it's another concept effort, this time going the whole way on the Ancient Egyptian front, with each track telling the story of someone hauled up in front of the afterlife's equivalent of Juke Box Jury. Most of the album sounds like the more uptempo end of the Black Sabbath repertoire, notably the opening title track, with the occasional foray into near-prog territory, principally on lengthy closer Black Contract and Wheels Of Destruction (who said 'Confusion'?).
Producer and guest keyboard player on the album was none other than Esa Kotilainen, one of Finland's chief movers-and-shakers for the past thirty years or more. Unsurprisingly, as well as his Hammond, Kotilainen stuck some of his M400 on the album, and given that he produced, it has to be his fault that it's mostly so low in the mix. The male choirs on the title track may or may not be Mellotron, although the strings and flutes on Wheels Of Destruction and, specifically, the repeating flute melody on Die To Win are definitely 'Tron.
25 years on... Sarcofagus reappear, reinventing themselves as Sarcofagus Ltd, launching themselves into an upside-down world where Finnish metal bands achieve worldwide fame; there's a turn-up for the books, eh? Core Values is, by and large, mainstream metal, with little of the charm of their early work, although eccentricities like the indie-pop/metal crossover Self Dysmorphic Disorder worm their way in somehow. Kotilainen's still involved, adding ripping Hammond to several tracks, and Mellotron to a few, too. The amusingly-named Is This It? (No Flying Cars Yet) has some background strings, with strings and flutes on Collateral Damage and cellos on the aforementioned Self Dysmorphic Disorder, with a final string part and some nice choppy somethings on Chemical Sunglasses. Incidentally, the final track, the 'French version' of 2nd Coming, is well worth hearing just for its accordion work. No, really.
Envoy of Death is an album for the rock fan who's exhausted the mainstream end of '70s hard rock, and isn't interested in '80s and '90s metal. It's never going to be anyone's favourite album (go on, prove me wrong), but it definitely has its moments, not least one decent 'Tron track in a genre where it's unfortunately fairly thin on the ground. Core Values possibly has a higher 'Tron input, but is rather less appealing, although Kotilainen's Hammond (and, er, accordion) work separates it from yer run-of-the-mill metal stuff.
See: Esa Kotilainen
Involver (2004, 77.37) **/0
Talk Amongst Yourselves
What Are You to Me?
In a State
Felix Da Housecat:
Watching Cars Go By
On My Own
Alexander "Sasha" Coe's Involver is one of a handful of various-artist albums on this site that are filed under the compiler's name; like most of the others, that's due to it being a 'DJ mix' effort, a concept unknown in the more conventional rock/pop world. Originally an acid house DJ in the late '80s, Sasha has, unlike some of his contemporaries, managed to keep abreast of current trends, giving him a twenty-plus-year career. However, from my probably deplorably old-school (note: not 'skool') approach, although it's more than 'a bloke playing records', it isn't that much more.
But it the album any good? I dunno - do you like dance stuff? I don't - I'm sure it's great if you're off your tits in some club on the Balearic, but I'm not, so it all falls a little flat. As far as its presence here is concerned, James Lavelle of UNKLE supposedly adds some (real?) Mellotron to What Are You To Me?, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it. The upshot being, no, you don't need to hear this for any reason whatsoever.
Heartache & Honey (2010, 40.07) **½/½
|The Return of...
Might as Well Be Dead
Created a Monster
|Since You've Been Gone
Carrier of Silence
Part-timers Satchel appear to be a cut-down version of Seattle scenesters Brad, the trio comprising three of that outfit's members, lacking only Jeremy Toback and Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard. 2010's Heartache & Honey is their third album and first for fourteen years, a fairly typical post-grunge effort, the noisier material tempered by more balladic stuff in a ratio of three-to-one, notably Old Spirit and Scold Me, which sounds not a little like Let It Be.
Drummer Regan Hagar plays Mellotron on Might As Well Be Dead, with a brief, distant string part that could be just about anything, to be honest, although it isn't obviously enough sampled that I feel I can quarantine it immediately. Anyway, if you like the core artists from the '90s Seattle scene, you stand a good chance of liking this. Conversely...
See: Pearl Jam
Satellite Soul (1997, 49.32) **/T
Equal to the Fall
Say I am
A casual listen to Satellite Soul's eponymous 1997 debut tells you that they're an entirely average '90s alt./roots outfit, but it's only on closer inspection that you realise they're Christians, too. In fairness, although they subsequently recorded a 'live worship album' (pass the sickbag), the lyrics aren't so overtly god-bothering that it's a real problem. Unfortunately, the music itself is bland and predictable, triggering boredom and frustration in approximately equal measures, frontman Tim Suttle's voice irritating in the way that only a whiny American Christian's can.
I believe Suttle plays Mellotron, with background flutes and strings on Pieces, both sounds more upfront on Soul. I suppose Christian Wallflowers fans might go for this stuff, but I can't imagine who else might. Dull, dull, dull.
All Your Summer Songs (2003, 39.04) ***/T
Meet Me By the Water
The Sun Doesn't Want to Shine
All Our Summer Songs
No Good With Secrets
You Work All Weekend
Fill Up the Room (2007, 40.39) **/½
(Even if You Die on the) Ocean
When I Lose My Eyes
Make a Plan
Money in the Afterlife
|Hands in the Snow
Come With Your Arms
The, er, 'quirkily'-named Saturday Looks Good to Me tend to be described as 'experimental indie'. They actually sound a bit like an indie take on '60s soul and '50s rock'n'roll, at least on 2003's All Your Summer Songs, which is probably unlikely to appeal to anyone who doesn't already subscribe to the indie aesthetic. Alcohol is the only track that caught my ear in any way, largely because it's the rockiest, but while the album's perfectly good at what it does, it left me a little cold, I'm afraid. Mellotron from Dave Shettler, with a really quite full-on string part in Ambulance, sounding quite authentic, although the flutey thing on Typing sounds more like a badly-played recorder than Mellotron flutes.
2007's Fill Up the Room is much more generic indie than its predecessor and, frankly, bored the tits off me. It's noticeably less interesting than All Your Summer Songs, to the point where trying to find any 'best tracks' is a bit of a waste of time. Fred Thomas plays Chamberlin, with an upfront string part on Edison Girls, though no other definite sightings, although, as ever, there are several other 'possibles'.
So; competent, but very indie, albeit with one good 'Tron track each.
The Glitter Odd (2001, 47.31) **½/TChrysolis
A Trick of the Light
The Glitter Odd
Hydrophonic Gardening (2003, 51.27) **½/THydrophonic Gardening
Portugal's Saturnia fall into the same grey area as several other bands re. sample use: they've 'used' a real Mellotron, belonging to a friend, and admit sampling it, but don't state explicitly whether or not they actually put the real thing onto their records. Their second album, 2001's The Glitter Odd, barely even sounds like they used it, but an online interview assures me the 'flutes are all Mellotron', so I have to assume they're simply very heavily effected.
The album itself is a bit of a letdown, to be honest; a sort of psych/drone/prog/raga thing with some contemporary touches in the rhythm department that sounds like it should be better than it is. OK, it's not terrible, but the programmed beats are offputting and most of its musical content drifts past without ever really impinging itself on your consciousness. Maybe that's the idea? Plenty of early Floyd vocals and organ drones, plenty of sound FX and twirly synths and vaguely Porcupine Tree-esque atmospherics, although little actual substance, sadly. On the Mellotron front, there are rather tuneless (sometimes completely out of key) flute warblings on all the highlighted tracks above, with the exception of a brief string part on (presumably) the 'Menadel' part of Ozimuth/Menadel. The claustrophobic mix doesn't help matters any, to be honest; most of the keyboards are buried away under layers of real and programmed percussion and reverb, making accurate 'Tron-spotting a Thing Of Difficulty.
Saturnia followed up with 2003's Hydrophonic Gardening, essentially more of the same; seriously, if you like The Glitter Odd, you'll like this and, of course, vice versa. There's actually less Mellotron (or whatever it is) than before, with merely flutes on Sunflower and strings on Planetarium and Omnia, the latter sounding particularly dodgy. Please could we have the truth about the Mellotron, chaps? Overall, then, two rather dull albums, to be honest, with 'Mellotron' flutes that actually sound more like real ones and strings that sound more like samples. Your choice.
Universal Daughter (2007, 47.04) ***/½Universal Daughter
Lost in a Jungle
Happy Day Angel
I Hear Them Coming
Love is What We Need
Savage Rose (Take Me Higher)
(The) Savage Rose are known to prog/psych fans as a rare Danish entry in the field from the early '70s, so it comes as quite a surprise to discover that they never split up, releasing albums on a regular basis throughout the subsequent three decades. However, although their website lists current tour dates, they've released no new material since the death of founder member Thomas Koppel in 2006, putting a question mark over their future as a creative entity. Their latest (last?) album, 2007's Universal Daughter, contains a mixture of soft rock and '70s psych (as against '60s), with soul and gospel influences apparent in the vocal arrangements, not least in Koppel's partner Annisette Hansen's throaty (tobacco-ravaged?) delivery. The album's best moments arrive courtesy of a handful of ripping solos from guitarist Staffan Astner, though, notably on the opening title track and what I take to be a rather belated band 'theme' song, closer Savage Rose (Take Me Higher).
Palle Hjorth is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, although I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turned out to be fake. Anyway, all we get is the faintest of faint flutes on the title track and If, with nothing obvious on Malaya, so you're really not going to give this a go for its Mellotron content, are you? Good at what it does, but an album that isn't really aiming any higher than the band's mostly Scandinavian fanbase, I suspect.
Waiters on the Dance (1973, 32.47) ***½/TT½Child of the Night 1 and 2
The Death of Alda
Dance of the Golden Flamingoes
Soldiers of Time
Julian Jay Savarin was/is a science fiction writer, still active today, but in the late '60s he formed a band to try to realise his ambitions in the musical field as well as the literary. Julian's Treatment recorded one album, the proto-prog A Time Before This in 1970, utilising themes from his Lemmus trilogy, although the band split up soon after. Undeterred, Savarin released its logical follow-up, Waiters on a Dance (sharing a title with the first Lemmus book), under his own name in '73, in a broadly similar musical vein, which unfortunately rather dates it these days. The material, sung by Jo Meek (the first album's vocalist, Cathy Pruden, had returned to Australia by this time), is good, though not outstanding, although the album succeeds in not really sounding much like anyone else, which has to be a bonus. Best track? Probably the longest, Dance Of The Golden Flamingoes.
A Time Before This is sometimes quoted as a Mellotron album, the confusion arising from the See For Miles CD, which adds all but one track from Waiters on a Dance (the exception being Dance Of The Golden Flamingoes, typically), although Bevis Frond (Nick Saloman)'s sleevenotes obfuscate the issue slightly. Anyway, Savarin certainly does play Mellotron on the latter release: Child Of The Night 1 And 2 has a 'Tron flute part that dips in and out of the track, before some mental, full-on strings come crashing in near the end, with strings and what I presume is 'Tron brass on The Death Of Alda and just about everything on the album's longest and best track, Dance Of The Golden Flamingoes. I suspect this will take a good few listens to assimilate properly, and at least it's now available properly, albeit only on the Italian Akarma label (or is that 'Akarama', Shane and co?). Worth hearing.
In Reverie (2003, 33.56) ***/T
|Anywhere With You
What Went Wrong
Driving in the Dark
Morning in the Moonlight
In My Waking Life
Where Are You?
Wednesday the Third
Tomorrow Too Late
In Reverie marked the point at which everything went tits-up for Saves the Day, as their new label, Dreamworks, stopped supporting the album days after its release (allegedly), dropping the band soon after, as many of their fans concurrently decided they didn't like the band's new 'mainstream' sound. To an outside pair of ears, it's a melodic, punkish pop record, complete with the sort of halfway decent songwriting that makes it stand out in a sea of similar-sounding dross. Not that it's a classic, you understand, but how many albums are? It seems to be good at what it does, which is often enough.
Reed Black guests on Mellotron on two credited tracks, although there's also a very obvious string part at the end of What Went Wrong, presumably also played by Black. Of the two credited tracks, Wednesday The Third is decidedly better on the 'Tron front, with a cool string part, sounding nice'n'cranky, with a rather lesser cello line on She. So; while most of you are unlikely to like this album, it manages to be reasonably good in a fairly poor genre, which has to be applauded, as does its brevity, in a world of overlong CDs, 'because we can'. Two OK 'Tron parts, worth hearing, but not really buying.
Reasons to Stay Indoors (2001, 54.03) **½/TT½
|Reasons to Stay Indoors
If You Won't Come to the Party
Half of the Time
Once Upon a Year
I Would Not Change a Thing
|The One That Got Away
Against the Sun
Five Million Years
Savoy is essentially the trio of A-Ha keys man Paul (originally Pål) Waaktaar-Savoy, his wife, Lauren and drummer Frode Unneland, whose fourth album, 2001's Reasons to Stay Indoors, veers between very listenable pop and the kind of overwrought nonsense that gives the mainstream a bad (OK, badder) name. Best tracks? Fear List brings A-Ha's original electro-pop stylings to mind, Paramount is about the rockiest thing here and Against The Sun's a passable ballad, but nothing really leaps out and grabs you by the throat, I'm afraid.
Waaktaar-Savoy uses his MkVI on several tracks, with strings on If You Won't Come To The Party, an electric harpsichord/celeste mix on the intro to Half Of The Time (no, I didn't know anyone had recorded those sounds, either), reiterated later in the song, with background strings on Fear List. I Would Not Change A Thing sounds like it features another rare-as-rocking-horse-shit sounds, the Mellotron guitar (very plinky, actually), plus cellos on The One That Got Away, although I believe the rest of the album's strings are real. Incidentally, thanks to MkVI developer Markus Resch for his unwitting Mellotron info here, rescued from an ancient saved e-mail.
So; a fairly mainstream 'adult pop' album with a decent chunk of Mellotron, including some unusual sounds. Enough to make it worth buying? Only if seen very cheap indeed, I'd have to say. Nice to hear something a bit different on the 'Tron front for once, though.
Jack the Toad (1973, 46.19) ***/½Coming Down Your Way
Ride on Babe
Hold Your Fire
If I Want to
Casting My Spell
Just Cos' You Got the Blues Don't Mean You Gotta Sing
Jack the Toad
Savoy Brown (previously the Savoy Brown Blues Band) formed during the mid-'60s UK blues boom, and are still going today, led by the one remaining original member, guitarist Kim Simmonds. They survived most of their lineup jumping ship in 1969 to form the equally-successful-in-the-US Foghat, going on to lose members to fellow blues-boomers Fleetwood Mac, before Simmonds recruited the members who would play on what I believe was their tenth album in six years, Jack the Toad. The album is... blues. I'm not quite sure what I can say about this; it's a blues album, and the band plays blues. They don't appear to play it with any great originality, although they by no means stick rigidly to the 12-bar blueprint, but ZZ Top they ain't. There are better tracks; Endless Sleep has a nice feel to it, but it's largely pretty much blues by numbers, to be honest.
One notable feature of the album for me personally is the inclusion of future UFO member Paul Raymond on keyboards, not to mention 'friend of the Quo' Jackie Lynton on vocals (I supported his band once in the late '80s - talk about a mismatch...). Admittedly, Raymond mostly plays piano, but he's also credited with Mellotron, with a slightly pointless cello part on the closing title track.
Personally, I find the appeal of this kind of workaday blues-rock utterly mystifying, although I'm a big fan of those artists who took the blues somewhere (ZZ, the much-missed Rory Gallagher). Plenty of people, particularly in the States, seem to love this stuff though, so who am I to argue? Don't bother with Jack the Toad for its Mellotron use, though.
Endless Flight (1976, 37.02) */½
|Hold on to My Love
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing
When I Need You
No Business Like Love Business
I Hear the Laughter
How Much Love
|I Think We Fell in Love Too Fast
The diminutive Gerard "Leo" Sayer's career began with him writing songs for other artists, notably Roger Daltrey, whose very un-Who like debut album, Daltrey, featured several of his compositions. Sayer's own singing career kicked off with 1973's The Show Must Go On, providing the template for his next few hits, being very mainstream pop, nowadays bizarrely sometimes referred to as 'guilty pleasures'. Nothing pleasurable about this, mate... Spitting out an album a year, Endless Flight was Sayer's fourth, catching him at the point where he discovered the delights of disco (with the horrid falsetto-driven You Make Me Feel Like Dancing), and the extra moolah playing it would bring him. It also contains one of the cheesiest sloppy love songs ever, in When I Need You; I'd actually forgotten that this existed, so no thanks to this album whatsoever for reminding me. The rest of the album consists of what passed for singer-songwriter material in the pop world at the time, veering between nasty and nastier; well, just one look at that cover tells you everything you need to know about this, I think.
Mellotron on one track, with flutes (of course) on Magdalena, one of the less offensive tracks, by Jimmy Phillips, presumably the same guy who slapped shitloads of 'Tron strings all over Small Wonder's debut album the same year (this was recorded in LA). Unsurprisingly, they're not exactly enough to drag the album up from the considerable depths it inhabits, so it rather goes without saying (although I'm going to say it anyway) that you really, REALLY don't need a copy of this dreck within spitting distance of your town, never mind your stereo. Avoid with prejudice. Oh, and according to the pics on his website, although the little git is now almost unrecognisable from his '70s heyday, he's still got that bloody hair. And he's still a shortarse.
Official site (why, why?)
Supersonic (2001, 49.29) ***/0
No Tears Left to Cry
Little Bit of Love
Love Won't Let Me Go
Better All the Time
|Tip of My Tongue
One More for the Road
Flat Black Automobile
Texan Hadden Sayers' Supersonic almost defines the now-overused epithet 'classic rock'; its Stevie-Ray-Vaughan-meets-Bad-Company vibe placing it fairly and squarely around 1975. Except that, er, it hails from 2001. Nothing wrong with that, mind, as long as you're not actively looking for something contemporary. Songwise, opener Email Lover kicks off with the now-dated sound of a dial-up modem - will people eventually feel the same way about references to 'the telephone'? - Good Man reminds me of Tom Petty, the sitar-driven Blasted unsurprisingly features something of an Eastern feel, while Little Bit Of Love is more Bad Co. than anything, right down to its title (I actually had to check to make sure it wasn't a cover).
Tony Harrell supposedly plays Mellotron, but it seems to be entirely inaudible, even on its obvious placement, Love Won't Let Me Go. Is it in there somewhere? Who knows? Anyway, one for those who worship the sound of a Strat through a Fender Twin and a Texan bluesman giving it all he's got, despite a lack of any obvious Mellotron.
Scars on Broadway (2008, 44.57) ***/TT½
World Long Gone
Kill Each Other/Live Forever
Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan are half of the currently-on-hiatus System of a Down, Scars on Broadway being their on/off side-project. Their eponymous 2008 album has features in common with their parent band, not least the downtuned, riffy stuff, although there's a high concentration of relatively thoughtful material here, but then, given System's strong political stance, I really shouldn't be surprised. Better tracks include opener Serious, Kill Each Other/Live Forever and Chemicals, although the frequently witty, even insightful lyrics on most tracks carry some of the lesser tunes.
Malakian plays Mellotron, with some near-dissonant chords at the beginning of Exploding/Reloading, a pump organ-esque flute part on Kill Each Other/Live Forever and strings on Babylon, Chemicals, Universe, 3005 and Cute Machines, choking off on the last-named, making me think it's the real deal. Of course, System used one on two albums (to my knowledge), so although I shouldn't be surprised that it crops up here, I am surprised at how much it's been used. Anyone who likes System of a Down stands a very good chance of liking Scars on Broadway, too, the reasonable Mellotron use merely being a bonus.
See: System of a Down
Brother (2010, 48.00) */½
|Why Don't We Try
Beauty in the Breakdown
Never Gonna Let This Go
My Humility, You Are
Talk About Love
8 Years of Silence
|Katy (Give Me a Shot)
If You're a Bird
Landon's Summer Diary
Walk This Town
The Scene Aesthetic are the Seattle-based duo of Andrew de Torres (of Danger Radio, whoever they are) and Eric Bowley, who took a break in 2008 for the latter to travel to Argentina as a Mormon missionary. Does that tell you everything you need to know about them? Their third album, 2010's Brother (also issued with the companion Sister EP as Brother & Sister, predictably), is the blandest heap of dross to land on my desk since, well, the last album I reviewed actually, but it hasn't been a good day. Every song vies with every other to outdo its companions in the wet stakes, replete with insipid twin-lead vocals, lighter-than-helium melodies and offensive-in-their-inoffensiveness, happy-clappy (though not noticeably religiously so) backing tracks.
Zac Rae plays Mellotron, with background flutes and strings on Humans and strings on Katy (Give Me A Shot), although all other strings appear to be real. Christ, this is nasty; each member of the duo, rather like their songs, compete to sound wetter and more fragile (and not in a good way) than each other. No, there are no 'best tracks', or even vaguely listenable ones. Vile.
Acquatica (1996, 70.38) ***/T½
|The Tones of Peloponnesus
All Fish Go to Heaven
The Isle of Caldra
The Ionic Curve
Sidereal Hands at the Temple of Omphalos
Et Tu, Dronius?
The Acid Gospel Experience (2002, 73.12) **½/T½Year of the Rat
The Acid Gospel
Under a Wing
A Journey Through the Outer Reaches of Inner Space
How to describe Scenic? Maybe their name gives the game away. 1996's Acquatica is a widescreen, cinematic travelogue through their influences, with the traditional Velvets-style guitar drone juxtaposed with ambient keys and vaguely prog leanings. An instrumental safari? "Look! There's Mt. Kilimanjaro!" Scenic are capable of rocking out, too (Angelica), but their default setting seems to be vaguely psychedelic drone rock, heavy on the atmosphere. Patrick Warren turns up to do his usual Chamberlin thing, and also as usual, you can't always spot where it's used. Probable Chamby strings on Ionia, the lengthy Modula Raga and Et Tu, Dronius?, although what sound like slides between notes on the latter two tracks make you wonder. Incidentally, there are several minutes of silence after Et Tu, Dronius? before an untitled piece, so they've been removed from the timing above.
2002 brought The Acid Gospel Experience, which probably tells you even more about where the band are coming from than their name. If I'm going to be brutally honest, these hour-plus albums of ambient whatever bore the crap out of me after a while; no doubt I'm not doing the right (or any) drugs. It seems to be good at what it does, but please don't ever make me listen to this again. Wrong generation, I think. Chamberlin from Robert Loveless and James Brenner this time, with strings on opener Year Of The Rat and occasional choirs and strings on (deep breath) A Journey Through The Outer Reaches Of Inner Space, although the strings on Lightspeed and others seem to carry on far too long to be tape-driven.
So; space-rock, anyone? These albums are certainly psychedelic, but altered states are probably recommended all round. Very little obvious Chamby use on either, so I'd only delve in if their mind-altering thang sounds like it might be yours, too.
Feel Who I am (2010, 45.26) **½/½
|Feel Who I am
Picture in a Puzzle
Take on Me
Breathe & Reboot
Leave Me Alone
Look at Me
Graziella Schazad is a German English-language singer-songwriter, whose second album, 2010's Feel Who I am, is far less appalling than I'd been expecting, which isn't to say that it doesn't largely consist of mainstream fare; it does. Somehow, though, it mostly manages not to offend, although I feel the country material (Everybody, Miracle, Désolé) is a bit of a mistake. Top track? Probably her radical reworking of A-Ha's Take On Me, preserving all the song's elements while making it her own.
Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams) plays Mellotron, although the only possible use is the background flutes on Miracle. Well, I've heard a great deal worse in this area, which is why this doesn't get a proper pasting, although it's not exactly dynamic.
Le Carnaval des Animaux (1978, 34.53) ***½/½
|Introduction - Marche Royale du Lion
Poules et Coq
|Le Coucou au Fond du Bois
Personnages à Longues Oreilles
Le Carnaval des Animaux - Finale
Ton Scherpenzeel was/is keyboard player and joint chief songwriter with one of the Netherlands' top progressive outfits, Kayak, but he chose a classical adaptation for his first solo album, some years into his band's career. Le Carnaval des Animaux (I really hope I don't need to translate that...) is Scherpenzeel's version of one of noted French composer Saint-Saëns' best-known pieces and is, for the most part, extremely well executed. The narrow gap between classical and progressive is rarely more clearly illustrated than on this album, as it's quite possible to listen to it believing you're hearing Scherpenzeel's own compositions. While not knowing the history behind the piece, it's obvious that the music is meant to represent a dream of, well, a carnival of animals, as the sleeve design makes quite clear.
The individual pieces, all named after animals, oddly enough, are all short; none more than four minutes long. The instrumentation is typically progressive; instrumental, with guitar/bass/drums and loads of keyboards, including a largely inaudible Mellotron. In fact, the only place I can even faintly hear it is at the end of side one, where some strings become apparent at the end of Hémiones. It's interesting to note that although the original 'song' titles are in French, they're also printed on the sleeve in Dutch and English, but not German, although my copy originates from that country.
Not being terrifically au fait with the original work (although I have heard it), I find it difficult to tell just how well Scherpenzeel has adapted it, particularly with regard to the drum parts; it's very noticeable how most drum parts added to classical adaptations sound very 'tacked on', as the pieces weren't written with strict rhythm in mind. As a result, some of the rhythm tracks here (by Kayak percussionist and sometime Mellotron player Max Werner) sound a little awkward, but others fit perfectly. The original composition, as you'd expect from any 'known' classical composer, is quite faultless, with a dollop of humour frequently missing from the classical oeuvre, notably the lengthy quote from The Can-Can, taken at an amusingly slothlike pace in the middle of Tortues; Tortoises - what else?
So, all in all, not a bad album at all, with a sound vaguely akin to Kayak's. The Mellotron use is almost nonexistent, but if you're into symphonic progressive or adaptations of classical works, you could do worse than pick this up.
Official Kayak site