Marco Bernard is a name who needs hardly an introduction. He was the mastermind behind Finnish progressive rock magazine Colossus who eventually started to explore his own musical ambitions with some amazing concepts like The Spaghetti Epic which brought together various bands in adding their own touch to the story.More clearly, however, he created his musical vision with his own project under the somewhat pompous moniker The Samurai Of Prog and the spin-off project Bernard &Pörsti together with drummer Kimmo Pörsti.
Now, to be honest, I have lost count of how many albums The Samurai Of Prog has made by now, and I definitely haven't listened to all of them. My listening experience so far has taught me that The Samurai Of prog is generally a mark of quality: there is a lot of talent collected on the albums and they do not disappoint if you like symphonic prog. To jump to a conclusion, also this newest album The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up released as a solo album by Marco Bernard does live up to the expectations. However, with some subtractions in the second half. Let's have a look.
After hundreds or thousands of concepts within progressive rock (has anyone ever bothered to count them?), here's a subject that hasn't a lot of attention from progressive rock bands so far: Peter Pan. I wonder why this might be the case because there should be more than enough proggy potential in this fantasy tale. This is evident at a first glance with the great artwork by Ed Unitsky. But we're here mostly for the music and that starts very well, performed by a huge cast of guest musicians which I am not even going to try to cover. Well, let me drop a few names at least: in addition to Marco on bass and Kimmo on drums, we find among many others Steve Unruh(vocals, flute, violin), John Wilkinson(vocals), Marco Grieco (keyboards, electric guitar, backing vocals) and Matthew Parmenter(vocals). And those are just the names that immediately rang a bell with me.
The instrumental Overture kicks loose with some delicious symphonic prog with great synthesizer leads, guitars and some orchestration. Here we find absolutely everything I love in symphonic prog. Very well done, and promising for the remainder of the album!
The eleven and a half minutes long Never Never Land follows up strongly. My positive remarks on the first track can just be extended here to a partly vocal piece with some more focus on guitars, and with a fantastic instrumental middle part that straddles into jazz-rock just as well as bringing some soaring prog. If I had to make any critical comments it would be about the sometimes clumsy lyrics (“Come on, enjoy the show” and similar filler lines make me cringe).
The next piece, The Lost Boys, holds up the standard very well without really standing out. After that track, however, the album seriously steps down a few levels. Starting with track I particularly dislike, The Home Under The Ground... This fails to convince as it just cannot decide what style to present, starting with spoken word/narration that is completely out of place because there is no other narration on the album. Then we get some delicious jazz-rock led on electric piano and I am totally prepared to forgive the misstep with the narration as it's just so good musically. Then, however, the whole piece devolves into cheesy Broadway musical kitsch (with male and female vocals) that is just yuck. In fact, it's so bland and derivate that I considered stopping the CD there and not listening any further.
Considering regression to the mean, one may assume that an album can only become better after that, so I continued. And indeed, things did improve, although not much because also The Pirate Ship (Hook Or Me) would nicely fit into a Broadway musical, especially because of the narrative style of the lyrics.
After that, the musical quality goes up just a bit, but in the final track, Lunar Boy, they lose me again because the “La la la” lyrics are just too corny for words. Well, perhaps because they didn't have the words and therefore sing “La la la”? Whatever, it spoils the fun for me.
Summing up... All in all, a concept about Peter Pan holds just so much potential, and what with all these class musicians involved... A shame that it did not fully work out the way I had hoped it would. Still, the first part of the disc makes for delicious listening. I will keep listening to those tracks. If you are more forgiving about Broadway kitsch then me, check out the other tracks too.
*** Carsten Busch (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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