Relentless research has landed me this unexpected jewel, totally left field pleasure in that I knew of John Beagley (I have a few of his albums) but this collaboration with singer Robin Schell just blew what little is left of my mind. I felt compelled to write about what makes this eventful album such a shock. Imagine The Buggles/Yes-Drama era sound, reformatted into a clever equally dosed mixture of synth pop and progressive rock, what can be called “retro-futuristic “, a feature that has seen a fair amount of emergence recently with acts like OMD, Classix Nouveaux, Real Life and Enigmatic Sound Machines, who have all embraced prog as an intelligent musical additive to their craft. John Beagley handles all the instruments, namely an up-front bass that needs certainly no investigation, slick electronic keyboards as well as astute programming, with gleaming production values to boot.
So, imagine the impetuous valour needed to launch an album with a nearly 23-minute behemoth opus (including a closing 3 minute reprise), appropriately titled “Karma”, featuring that famed high-trebled bass, some Howe-do you do guitar splurges, and a famous high pitched voice that straddles the fine gender line to perfection, including harmony work, all jostled along by some pulsating rhythmic paddles (that sentence was roughly as long as the piece!). The slick arrangement takes a few circuitous liberties, with extended instrumental passages that elevate the tension, infusing some mellotron carpets here, coiled synthesized spikes there, as well as a chugging organ ramming a sizzling guitar solo in the process. A brief moment of silence serves as a well-deserved change of pace, where electronics ping-pong amid a sorrowful lament (“coming home SOON”), Robin doing her finest impersonation of an angelic voice, and topped off by a blistering Spanish guitar phrasing that hints at an Andalusian sunset. The symphonics eventually enter the fray, deeply DRAMA-tic, with tectonic drumbeats thumping mercilessly, as if a “Run Through the Light” mania had taken over the muse. Talk about a heartfelt homage to a legendary band! A return to the track’s early audacity seals off this incredible piece for posterity, though it will get a last hurrah at the end.
A tough act to follow, “Suspended Animation” nevertheless delivers with a bruising rhythmic thump, the spot-lit bass carving majestically, a fully developed track that winks closer to Buggles/Korgis prog-pop territory. Robin can definitely sing, sounding comfortably close to her heroes (Anderson, Horn, Warren) and the throttling organ work is really tasty.
The more playful “A Dimensional Ecotone” continues in the same 80s vein, perhaps inspired by “Animation”, Jon Anderson’s second solo album recall the tune “Surrender”. Thick bass chords, choppy percussion and festival keyboards that shine some sun on the -proceedings, tossing in some patented ‘pah-pah’ voices. Yes, its poppy but fun, nevertheless. Acting like a possible companion piece, “The Traveller” gradually works up quite a sonic lather, with an array of bubbling keyboards, including that marimba /calypso patch that drove Yes fans crazy in some of latter pieces. Of course, the mid-section shifts to a slightly alternate zone with an extended instrumental rampage, namely a series of intense synthesizer flurries that hit the spot. The vocal attention to detail (as well as legacy) is astounding.
While on the subject of travel, “Flight 5” veers more into an electro-pop feel that has a Gary Numan lead (oh my!) that knows neither shyness nor disguise. The chorus is overtly accessible and unashamedly so, but the underlying music is stark, threatening, and acrid, nothing sappy or soapy here.
The “Karma Reprise” only proves the value of a tremendous melody, expertly sung and delivered straight Into the Lens. ‘Goodbye Now’ repeated endlessly….
A 25-minute epic and 4 songs totalling the other 25, makes for one entertaining album. Derivative, Yes. Great melodies, Yes. Hey, it’s Life in Digital.
4 Ominous extremities