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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Spirit

Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

Review by Gary Hill

With 1970's Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus Spirit showed that they had a grasp on where the music of the new decade would be based. This disc encompasses the coming rise of hard rocking sounds (that today would be called "classic rock") and progressive rock elements while still holding on to some of the group's 60's roots. Turmoil within the band probably contributed to this album not making a bigger splash than it did - along with being ahead of its time. All the songs link directly together, and therefore the disc works best as one unified creation. It is also for that reason that I think the original of this one (not the reissue) is a stronger release. After all its title is Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, not OK, So There Are Actually Sixteen, But We'll Call It Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. Most of the time I'd say more is better, but this is an exception to that rule.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Prelude / Nothin' to Hide
As you can gather from the title, this is a two-part piece. The opening segment is a dramatic folky ballad like movement. After running through like this for a time the harder rocking jam (with a sound that would be revisited by acts like The Guess Who and White Witch) takes over. This one is a solid combination of pieces and a great album opener. Randy California lays some killer bluesy guitar soloing over the top of this at points. Add to that the smoking outro segment with its "hard rock takes on blues and Motown at once" approach, and you'll see just how much of a powerhouse this is.

Nature's Way
This is, of course, one of the better-known tracks on the disc. It's also something of a minor masterpiece from my way of looking at it. It's based in a mellower balladic approach that gradually grows. The truth is that the real magic of this one is in the brilliant execution because, other than a short closing motif, the song structure remains basically the same. The additional layers of the arrangement and strong performance are what make this work. It is really dramatic and beautiful.

Animal Zoo
This has a fun playful jam tone that is very late 1960's in texture. While this bouncy piece has its charms, I think it pales a bit in comparison to some of the other material here. Still, the instrumental break is a nice touch and the arrangement has some surprises packed inside.

Love Has Found a Way
Keyboard elements that are a bit like early prog rock start this. Then a backwards-tracked guitar line comes in to the mix. Over this top a jazzy sort of rock jam is laid down. This definitely has some vocal arrangement magic that is related to progressive rock and so, in fact, is a lot of the instrumental work. I'd have to say that this, though, is an experiment that doesn't quite work. That backwards-tracked mode really feels rather annoying to me. This comes across to me as the idea that almost worked.

Why Can't I Be Free
This has a more folk rock sort of approach, and a great vocal arrangement. While this is a rather understated cut, it's also very evocative and effective. It's also a very brief tune.

Mr. Skin
Starting with a falsetto, this quickly turns funky. This is another cut that is more well known. This is a strong rocker that has a similar sound to a lot of early Grand Funk Railroad. It's a strong piece of music that has a nice gritty texture. I like this one a lot and the horns on the chorus add a lot to the charm. This is without question one of the highlights of this CD. The instrumental break down with its horn happy approach is very much a type of sound that would be prevalent in the decade that this album welcomed in.

Space Child
This instrumental is a bit odd. It is sort of a combination of the hippie type music that typified the latter part of the 1960's with the progressive rock textures that was beginning to emerge. This one is quite cool, if a bit overlooked. It's truly a classic and one well worth shining some light upon.
When I Touch You
The music rises up with a weird sort of spacey barely controlled chaos. Eventually a hard rocking, bluesy riff takes over and becomes the backdrop for the song proper. This has a bit of a Native American texture to me. It's also so typical of the hard rocking sound that was to become such a mainstay of the 1970's. This song was definitely ahead of its time. It's another standout here.
Street Worm
A bouncy piano-dominated jam starts this exuberant piece of music. This is a bit odd, but also very cool. After this early segment it moves out into a more straightforward hard rocking jam. This has some smoking instrumental work and an energized arrangement to its advantage.
Life Has Just Begun
This number takes the folk rock sound of the 1960's and pulls it to an exceptional dramatic precipice. The view from up here is magnificent. A segment with distant vocals is a bit odd, but also very tasty. I have to say that the vocal arrangement on the track is a big part of its charm. Other instrumentation comes in later to augment the music on the later moments of the piece. This is another winner.
Morning Will Come
A cool rocking guitar riff starts this one off after some incidental sounds. This is another bouncing hard rocking cut that has some horns added to the arrangement for good effect. California lends some killer guitar work to this piece, to
Soldier
A pretty piano begins this and slowly rises up to create the main song structure. As the vocals enter, though, other instruments (and a lot more layers of keyboards) join to create an extremely dramatic and beautiful arrangement. This one is very powerful. I'd have to say that this is my favorite cut on the disc and makes for a great way to end it. It's a lush ballad-like composition that has a lot of drama and some great multi-layered vocals.
 
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