For many bands, writing new songs is a difficult process. Sometimes it takes them many years of hard work to write, produce and record a full-length album. Yet, when the album is finally finished, the compositions often turn out to be mediocre. This certainly is not applicable for Dutch symphonic rock band Kayak, formed back in 1972. They quit ten years later, but made a successful comeback in 2000 after a long break that lasted eighteen years. After sixteen studio albums, the main composers still have enough inspiration to write beautiful songs.
In 2008, Kayak released Coming Up For Air with fifteen tracks written by their founding members Ton Scherpenzeel (keyboards, backing vocals) and Pim Koopman (drums, keyboards, backing vocals). Now one year later, after the release of the 35th anniversary box, they released Letters From Utopia, a double-album with nineteen brand new tracks. When you take the time to listen to those new songs you’ll find out that they still write strong material. Every song has a nice melody line and features outstanding vocal performances of the three lead singers in the band. After the departure of lead singer Bert Heerink and bassist Bert Veldkamp (replaced by Jan van Olffen) in 2005, Cindy Oudshoorn and Edward Reekers, together with third lead singer Rob Vunderink, perfectly filled the vocal gap that Heerink had left behind. It doesn’t make any difference wether they sing alone or participate in fine harmony singing. Producers Koopman and Scherpenzeel always succeed in getting the best out of the band members. Luckily, we still can hear that Kayak has a real progressive rock background proved by the countless and very tasteful solos on keyboards and electric guitar. Although the compositions on Letters From Utopia are less bombastic and progressive than in the early days, they still have a high musical quality as a basis. However, the longest track Before The Angels Fell could have been easily taken from one of the rock operas Merlin or Nostradamus. The orchestral and choir arrangements are superb on this piece. Nowadays, Kayak has become a bit more commercial. They became masters in writing a three or four minute song with progressive and symphonic echoes. In that respect, Letters From Utopia is a continuation of their previous release Coming Up For Air.
Watching the Lord Of The Rings-inspired cover, I expected an album with orchestral progressive rock oriented material. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but anyway, Letters From Utopia is a fine album for everyone who likes his progressive and melodic rock music not too complex and without long epics. With this kind of high quality rock music the band reaches a larger audience and they deserve that after 35 years. They certainly reached me in a positive way!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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