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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pendragon

Not of This World

Review by Josh Turner

In times when a short list keeps getting shorter, it is a rare occurrence to encounter a band that is an instant addition. Pendragon is one of these exceptions to the rule. Their music is absolutely essential to any progressive rock fan. While they haven't had a new studio release since this album from 2001, their catalog goes back almost two decades. There is a lot of material to discover. After a sample of Not of This World, there will be an intense urge to delve backwards into their earlier works. The band was way ahead of their time. The music still seems as fresh as if they just popped the lid. The famous Clive Nolan is found on keyboards. Fudge Smith plays the drums. Peter Gee plays the bass guitars. Nick Barrett is excellent on both guitars and vocals. For more information on the band, check out their website at http://www.pendragon.mu.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
If I Were The Wind (And You Were The Pain)
This is a strong opener to the games. The music is a cross between Pink Floyd, Marillion, and possibly Tears for Fears. It is bombastic and bewildering. It is the torch carrier running into the coliseum and lighting a bonfire. There is a hush among the crowd. It is a setup to a spectacular series of events. Expectations for the remainder of the album are set very high by this piece. 
Not of This World
Part 1: Not of this World
After all the hype, it comes down to this moment. A split-second after the starting pistol is fired, the swimmer enters the pool. The music is compelling as each stroke feverishly meets the water. The lead position is taken and there is no letting up. An assortment of progressive rock elements emerge from the waves. The guitars and bass are quite similar to those found in IQ and Mastermind. The keyboards come from Collins' Genesis. An acoustic guitar is sophisticatedly integrated into the rock parts. This is a fantastic song with excellent backing vocals from Tina Riley. The chorus "flesh and blood" is quite memorable.
Part 2: Give It To Me
The music skillfully transitions from the previous track. In a blur, the next swimmer is in the water. The lead is comfortably sustained during these laps of the relay. They have been coached by a certain fish out of water. The vocals sound a lot like Fish from Marillion.
Part 3: Green-eyed Angel
The anchor swimmer is not concerned with a mere win. She easily builds upon the lead in the race. Upon the finish, a world record is smashed. The teammates celebrate in unison during an instrumental passage that's very similar to the subdued slow songs of Pink Floyd. This is the closest Pendragon comes to a ballad on the album.
A Man of Nomadic Traits
fter a brief introduction that sounds like Spock's Beards "Stranger in a Strange Land", the wrestler enters the mat for the champion round. The first points in the match don't come easy. There is much grappling for an advantageous lock. The challenger's determination never quivers. Conditioning plays a key role. The song builds up to a stormy symphony of sound. A window of opportunity finally puts the opponent on the ground. The clock runs down. Our athlete's arms are raised in triumph. This is an exciting piece. Like an individual sport, this stands alone on its own merits. It's a real heavyweight role model that inspires tough training for those up and coming. It brings honor and respect to its neo-progressive roots by taking the style a big step further. Nick's voice is astounding as he delivers some well-written lyrics. Tina backs him with an elfish and ethereal voice. The melodies are supplemented with RPWL, which is encased in a thin coating of IQ. Passages on par with Spock's Beard's "The Great Nothing" make this track the main attraction of the album.
World's End
Part 1: The Lost Children
The crowd calms as the gymnast prepares for her vault. She can go whenever she is ready. These moments feel like an eternity. Concentration is the single most important element here. All she hears is her heartbeat over her controlled breathing. The rest must be blocked out. Every ounce of training has lead to this moment. There is no going back. She sprints down the runway, putting everything she has into increasing her momentum. Her feet hit the springboard with an overwhelming force. The song accomplishes all the different experiences leading up to this kind of exhilarating event. The song is most like Pendragon's classic "Paintbox" which is featured as an acoustic version later in the album. The theme from Nightmare on Elm Street plays parallel to the music. There are even aspects to the song that have Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive". Marillion's template is revisited many, many times here.
Part 2: And Finally...
The gymnast flawlessly shifts into the next stage. When her hands touch the platform, time completely stops. Thinking back to what she was taught, each twist, and every turn is played back from all those days of practice. Everything happens quickly. When her feet hit the floor, they stick like a sharp pick in soft soil. She takes a deep breath followed by a bow. This is the ultimate relief. Every injury, every cut, every drop of sweat has been compensated for all her painstaking hours in the gym. The music resembles that kind of reward. The "flesh and blood" chorus from the title track is wonderfully reprised along with the Pink Floyd arrangements found in the opener. The piano and vocals in this song also captures the essence of John Lennon. The roar from the crowd confirms the greatness of this particular stunt. This is an exceptional closing to the core of the album.
Bonus Tracks
After some extraordinary displays, Pendragon gives us the best of the best in these two trailing songs. These tracks are stripped of their digital circuitry. While the keyboards and electric guitars are some of Pendragon's greatest strengths, this comes as a breath of fresh air after a full day of events. A single voice and a series of acoustic guitars dominate each song. While the instruments cannot duplicate the symphonic compositions, they provide perspectives that are each outstanding in their own unique way. It is like the champions gala with no concern for start points or deductions. These songs can be found on the Metal Mind Productions release of Pendragon's anthology called The History 1984-2000.
Paintbox (acoustic version)
The lyrics are clearly enunciated. Every word is easy to understand. This is a great song whether or not it is plugged in. While the original found on The Masquerade Overture from 1996 might be preferred, this is still one heck of a track.
King of the Castle (acoustic version)
The high notes from the acoustic guitars and Tina's heavenly Enya-like voice result in a Celtic feel. This is another great choice for a bonus. It rounds out an album that's already responsible for a profusion of prizes.
 
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