Arena - Pepper's Ghost review
|Release date:||January 2005|
01. Bedlam Fayre
02. Smoke And Mirrors
03. The Shattered Room
04. The Eyes Of Lara Moon
06. Purgatory Road
07. Opera Fanatica
Progressive rock band Arena has existed now for a decade and has been one of the finest prog outfits during these years, bringing quality with each album. And to celebrate the tenth anniversary the band has released their sixth studio album titled "Pepper's Ghost". Clive Nolan has once said that he would very much like to see the time when Arena will be identifiable by its own name and sound, without the need to add 'progressive rock' tag. Just like Marillion or Pendragon are. Arena has had a rough time through the decade, living the line-up changes over and over again. But the sound Clive strives for has been taking form all the time. This album has Arena written all over it, at the same time being fresh.
"Pepper's Ghost" has been named after the theatrical trick used at the end of the 19th century and invented by Henri Pepper. Using this optical illusion it was possible to make a person under spotlight appear or disappear on stage. All I can say is that the title is fitting for the storyline with apt subtitle "7 Stories of Mystery & Imagination". The first pressing of CD brings us a fancy digibook release with great artwork by David Wyatt and a complete comic accompanying and describing each song. And each song is a tale of mystery featuring the band members as the central characters, the unlucky heroes compelled by life.
If "Contagion" was a turn towards a heavier side then "Pepper's Ghost" is a step towards a more daring and expressive music. Arena has always been a versatile band with well structured and seamless songs. And this release is no exception. The music is a bit more dynamic than before and the opening track "Bedlam Fayre" is a proof of that. Probably it is an illusion of bolder use of double-bass and more technical drumming by Mick Pointer but from the start this album seems to be 'faster' than the previous works. The guitars are a bit on the heavier side but John Mitchell has mixed them with pleasant varying solos. Clive on keyboards is a self-describing part of the band. Without his keyboards, melodic fills, background and solos Arena wouldn't be Arena. And on "Purgatory Road" and "Opera Fanatica" I found myself listening to the bass tunes by Ian Salmon which this time are particularly good and well played, drawing me in.
But what strikes me most is that more and more Arena's music is being adapted to the voice of Rob Sowden. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad thing. They are in no way settling down on some particular style. In my opinion they have had some trouble fitting Rob's voice ever since Paul Wrightson left. "Immortal?" was good but "Contagion" wasn't really well together for me. "Pepper's Ghost" on the other hand is a far better achievement in this sense. This time Rob's voice blends well with the music.
This album is a grower. The first impression might not be the best one. The faster pace has hidden some of the good elements. Listening to the album again and again I find guitar solos and tunes that I haven't noticed fully, with keyboards or bass it is the same. In some way it is particularly good to discover album again with each listen. What I also like are the solos by Clive and John, especially when they are taking turns, forming a sort of a musical duel, with smooth passes from one instrument to the other. "The Shattered Dream" is one of the examples. Though the best and finest one is at the middle of "Purgatory Road" which is also probably the best track on the album.
Balladesque and beautiful "The Eyes of Lara Moon" is one of the tracks that describe Arena well. They have always liked to bring changes to the pace of the album, slowing down and speeding up again. It's hard to pick any track out, every last one of them has something special. But maybe the most outstanding track is the majestic "Opera Fanatica", the grand closing track of the album, featuring orchestration more than usual.
So, all in all I must say that Arena has released a fine album, best described by being tight. This album is almost seamless. And at first glance it is superseding the previous effort, being a very fine celebration of the Arena anniversary for progressive rock fans. In any case, you are advised to listen to "Pepper's Ghost" and judge yourself.
Written on 05.03.2005 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
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