Wednesday 29 January 2020

Nektar - The Other Side (2020)

Country: Germany/USA
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook 1 | Facebook 2 | Official Website | Wikipedia

The story of Nektar gets complicated so I'll try to keep this succinct. It's an English band but they were formed in Hamburg in 1969 and included a line-up of six members, only four of whom were actually involved with the music. Members came and went and the band split entirely a few times. Leader Roye Albrighton died in 2016, leaving original drummer Ron Howden with a group of recent additions as New Nektar. Howden chose to relocate to the US, where he reformed Nektar with most of the other remaining founding members.

In other words, this English band now exists in two forms, one in the US and one in Germany. The previous album, Megalomania, was by the latter but this album is by the former, though some of its songs date back to sessions that took place in 1978 but weren't released or maybe even finished. The rest of it is entirely new but written and performed by most of the people who were there for the others in 1978. Whew.

And while it's unmistakably rooted in the seventies, this is strong, vivid material that deserves to find a lot of fresh ears in this new twenties. It features influence I wasn't expecting to merge. It starts out rather like a Deep Purple album, with a heavy organ sound out of which guitars wail until the song finds a groove. I was almost ready for this to be an instrumental, but the vocals eventually kick in and fit perfectly.

Keyboards trade off with guitars, in riffs as much as solos. There's a lot of interplay. It's bouncy stuff, full of life, and escalating into a finish. The Purple influence turns out to be the more experimental Mk IV Purple but mixed with the jazzy prog rock of Focus and the pop/rock hooks of the Moody Blues. The final piece of the puzzle is two keyboard players, because there why settle for one when you can have two.

It's all so engaging that we don't notice in the slightest that I'm on Fire ran eight and a half minutes and Skywriter almost eight. We might not even notice that Love Is/The Other Side runs almost eighteen! We're not sitting back analysing the structure as it unfolds, like some prog rock equivalent of a jazz nerd; we're right there in the middle of the music dancing along with the spirits, even when it drops briefly into solo piano.

The songs stay long, this album featuring only eight of them but running a full six minutes over an hour. Oddly, given that most bands tend to work up to their epic closer, they get shorter towards the end. The Light Beyond is a skimpy three minutes keyboard piece that could have introduced something by the Moody Blues which, come to think of it, Look Thru Me could easily be.

The album wraps with Y Can't I B More Like U, a title more suited to Prince than a prog rock band over half a century old, and it underlines another of the influences that are dotted throughout. This one's a hint of psychedelic sixties pop but channelled into keyboard heavy prog, as if the late Beatles had tripped too far and somehow turned into Yes with Rick Wakeman wondering when he joined the Fab Five.

If this is what the new Nektar (not New Nektar, remember) are going to sound like, I just hope they don't split up again until they've given us a couple more studio albums at least. The three founding members are Howden on drums, Mick Brockett on "special effects" and Derek "Mo" Moore, who plays bass, one of the keyboards and shares vocal duties with Ryche Chlanda, whose stint in the band back in 1978 sparked this. Chlanda also plays guitars, which leaves Randy Dembo as a second bassist and Kendall Scott on the other keyboards.

I was looking forward to The Other Side, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. It's been a long while since I've listened to Nektar, but clearly I should go back through their back catalogue and explore, especially those mid-seventies albums before they split for the first time in 1978.

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