Cirkus have been making music for a long time but they're hardly prolific. Actually, let's replace Cirkus with their keyboardist Derek Miller, because it's he who has been keeping their name alive across the decades. Their debut album, One, came out in 1974 and has been acclaimed as one of the best albums you've never heard, not least because only a thousand copies were pressed. They split up in the early eighties, but Miller came back with Two: The Global Cut in 1994 and III: Pantomyme in 1998, the latter of which brought back some of the older members.
Miller seems to be getting prolific at last, releasing IV: The Blue Star in 2017, V: Trapeze in 2020 and, a year later, Page 12 on the Right, which oddly isn't prefixed by VI but is still a new studio album. Unlike the Axewitch album, which is rooted in the band's original era of the eighties, this is an odd mixture of the old and the new, merging the more commercial King Crimson sound of the seventies with an up to date Steven Wilson sort of contemporary sound. It's inventive, it's vibrant and I like it a lot.
I'll run through the tracks in order, because they're highly variable in approach and that ought to be a good way to highlight just how much there is here.
The opening title track is an instrumental that moves from birds and flutes to a driving rock beat with a strong overlay of keyboards and guitars. It has quite a build to it. Angel brings in vocals and a jazzier style, complete with saxophone, that reminds of Steely Dan. Good News Week is more contemporary, introducing samples, effects, loops and a rumbling bass from Brian Morton. Oddly, it also adds a punk attitude too during the verses that's neatly countered by laid back pop electronica in between them. The result is lively and playful, two adjectives that very much apply to this album as a whole.
Alive features acoustic guitar over more of those birds until it ramps up. It ends with vocal harmonies. I'm not seeing any of these songs, most of which are short, in the three to five minute range, broken down into movements, but many of them build that way.
Back & Fourth is quite the trip, literally. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time, we're told, and what he gets up to is explored in another playful song, featuring neat moments of brass and pipe organ, steam effects and an unusual beat that reminds very much of clockwork. I would not call Cirkus a steampunk band in the slightest but this song is as truly a steampunk song as anything I've heard from the genre.
I'm with You and One More Day are almost easy listening prog. They're deceptively soft, smooth and surface, but there are depths here if you choose to dive. And, while those two don't explicitly invite us to dive, The Lure of Santa Monica absolutely does. It's a quirky and teasing piece, led by vocalist Dave Ramshaw, who invites us to enter a whole new world. This new world turns out to be hypnotic and very contemporary in the Steven Wilson style. This is the album's epic, running well over nine minutes and it doesn't stop being inventive for a second. The titular lure seems to be a rabbit hole like the one we know well from Alice in Wonderland. I never realised Santa Monica had these sort of secrets.
That leaves So It Goes, which has a troubadour flavour to it, and Forever Tonight, which is a heartfelt and folky piece, a personal and touching way to wrap up the album.
All in all, it's a wonderful album, an easy 8/10 for me. There's so much great progressive rock coming out of the UK right now that I could almost call it a renaissance. This one doesn't trawl the usual prog influences: you're not going to find much Yes here or Genesis either, however quirky this gets There's some King Crimson for sure and some Moody Blues and a little Alan Parsons, but countered by a style so contemporary that I'm sure I'll miss the appropriate reference points. Steven Wilson is the obvious one and if you ever thought you wanted to hear him mixed with the Moody Blues, this is emphatically your album.