During one of my recent trips to the Netherlands, I had the chance to pick up a new album by Dutch prog legend Focus. I have loved them for ages and think that the albums released since Thijs van Leer reformed the group have been really decent and enjoyable.
On the new album we get a line-up that is half original (Thijs van Leer and drummer Pierre van der Linden), partly long-serving (guitar player Menno Gootjes) and partly new (bass player Udo Pannekeet who even contributed the only non-Van Leer composition, Mare Nostrum).
Packed in a digipack, the new one looks good. The last albums all sport a Roger Dean cover, and while I love Roger Dean's work, I am still not sure what I think of Roger Dean covers on albums of Focus (or Steve Hackett, or White Willow). Let me rephrase that. I think the cover of Focus 11 is great, but these landscapes are so connected with Yes and its various spin-offs, that I find it hard to connect then with another classic prog group. Well, I'll get over it. Let's play some music.
Driving riffs kick off the album. Cool, but not immediately recognizable as Focus perhaps. Is this Joe Satriani? But the organ emerges and we begin to see Who's Calling? (sorry, could not resist the pun). Especially with the melodic guitar line that is so very much Jan Akkerman and Focus, only that it is Gootjes, of course, instead of Akkerman!
Mazzel (which translates into “good fortune” from Dutch) the organ reminds me of Emerson Lake and Palmer in the beginning, after that nice quirky pattern and riffy guitar, flexible rhythm section and then over to a folksy, classical section with flute and an arrangement that could be from renaissance days. It is one of my favourites tracks on the CD and super typical of the Focus of old. And am I mistaken or is there is tiny bit of something from Focus 3 hidden in there?
The vocal line of How Many Miles is a bit simple and lame, while at the same time the vocals remind me pleasantly of the light-hearted approach of Richard Sinclair in Caravan, so it is easy to like. Super cool interplay between flute and the rest of the band too. The first minute or so of the piece will have you tapping your feet with the groovy music.
Like Mazzel, Heaven treats us to medieval (classical) sounding elements which are quite typical of Focus' music. Palindrome is another quirky piece where guitar licks and busy percussion take turns. Pity about the somewhat irritating organ/synth bits. I wonder whether this is more or less a jam that is captured on tape. Any which way, it is a dynamic piece that shows us that these guys still enjoy playing their music, and creating new music after all these years. The piece has a great and majestic opening and closing (typical Focus!) that is worth your while!
As a whole, this CD is a joy to listen to. Very much in style with the early albums. One might mistake this for a forgotten and recovered disc and the guitars are often very much like Akkerman! A few tracks tend more towards jazz-rock. Very nice. Recommended for people who love the group's old stuff too! But still, the best Focus album in recent years is the one I reviewed a few months ago by Danish/British group Texel. Do check that one if you haven't yet!
***+ Carsten (edited by Dave Smith)
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