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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Klaatu

Hope 25th Anniversary Edition

Review by Gary Hill

While I am totally enamored with several songs from Klaatu's debut, this follow up is in many ways a better disc. It is certainly more consistent. That first release has a couple songs that I'd just as soon hit "skip" and pass by, but this one has nothing of that nature. Those who have resistance to including Klaatu in the ranks of "progressive rock" bands have surely never heard this disc as all questions would be washed away if they did. Truly the Hope Suite that made up the second side of the LP is on a level with any of the great prog rock suites from pretty much any group. Prog fans looking for a great starting point with this band need look no further.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
We're Off You Know
This cut is another Klaatu track that features a Beatles like approach. On the one hand it's bouncy pop rock, but it's also progressive rock oriented. It has a somewhat orchestral approach, a bit like the Magical Mystery Tour era of The Beatles. This incorporates classical and jazz type sounds into a song that is both catchy as hell and also quite complex. It's a great album opener, and moves through a lot of varying, but interconnected sounds. The old jazz shuffle at the end is a nice touch.
Madman
This one is a hard-edged, crunchy rather psychedelic excursion, but it also is cooled down with brief balladic verses. The contrast and somewhat off kilter arrangement makes for a nice representation of madness represented in the lyrics and title. The closing jam is very meaty and quite cool with a King Crimson/Pentwater like approach.
Around the Universe in 80 Days
A pretty keyboard oriented opening, that's both beautiful and melancholy opens this one. This has a great prog rock ballad texture to it as it begins building. It's somewhat dark and very powerful. The band shows again that they have a gift for moving between the sedate and the bombastic, incorporating both sounds here. This one is one of the best cuts that the group ever produced. It has spacey prog textures, a killer mood and some awesome changes all interwoven into a cohesive and potent piece of music that stands up to just about any prog rock cut of which you can think. This is a very dynamic number. Its science fiction atmosphere is very effective.
Long Live Politzania
Bombastic "Pomp and Circumstance" type sounds begin this one, then it drops to harpsichord for an odd olde world spoken word recitation. They jump up to crunchy bouncy rock to carry it forward from there. More regal flourishes with serious symphonic textures, including orchestral instruments, and the spoken word interludes continue to serve to break up the harder rocking segments. This one has a very odd arrangement, but works remarkably well. It even moves into some seriously neo-classical segments, but then the group, intersperse themselves amongst this backdrop. To those who argue with Klaatu being a prog rock band, listen to this one and say that again. This piece is not necessarily my favorite by the band, but the complex structure and set up are purely amazing. It's highly dynamic and powerful. If you don't like where this one is musically, just wait a little while, as it will change again. It's hard to get a handle on where the song is headed, yet it seems natural if you sit down to listen to it.
The Loneliest of Creatures
Starting in mellow and sedate modes, this one alternates between that and bombastic sounds that feel a bit like Queen with a call and response sort of pattern. This is (in fact, this whole suite is) another for the prog nay sayers of Klaatu to check out. This one moves between these alternating segments and resolves out into a choral type of arrangement to end. 
Prelude
A killer neo-symphonic variant on the themes of the previous cut, which this one moves directly from, this one feels a little like Nektar at times. It is highly dramatic and very powerful. It moves into a Russian sounding jam later that is quite intriguing and effective and Brian May type guitars are interspersed amongst this arrangement to good effect. Sousa also makes his appearance in this multi-modal jam. It's pretty much impossible to separate the rock and symphonic textures from one another, so strong is the composition. All these diverse elements serve to expand and complete each other in this instrumental. A swirling klesmer type mode takes it for a while before giving way to a rock opera type exploration that feels just a little like ELO at times. While new sonic patterns and themes are introduced, they keep returning to the central themes of this suite.
So Said the Lighthouse Keeper
Textural keys and sound effects take over from the silence that ended the last cut. A processed vocal line is put over top of this. A pretty balladic style takes it from here. They pump this up to a crunchy rocking movement after a time, carrying these themes forward. Then move it into a melodic resolution that serves as the backdrop for the next vocals. This becomes a pretty somewhat symphonic journey after this. They alternate these elements with playful sedate sounds and other varying themes, and it rises back up in powerful ways. This is another exceptional powerful and effective piece of music, and the Yesish treatment that eventually fades out to end the piece is a perfect conclusion.
Hope
This one does a great job of carrying the themes, both musical and lyrical, of the entire suite to its logical conclusion. It feels quite a bit like George Harrison's solo work in many ways. This one serves as a very satisfying conclusion to the whole thing, and has enough traditional progressive rock elements to please any prog head. At times I feel that I could see this cut having influenced the Flower Kings quite a bit. It has a lot of that emotional accessibility within a prog structure approach on which Roine Stolt and company seem to thrive. A brief reprise of the opening sounds from the album creates a nice loop to the disc.
 
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