Tag Archives: Phil Collins

Space Rock

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Way back in 2013 I posted a couple short missives/teasers (here and here) regarding Simon (son of Phil) Collins’ Sound Of Contact project with multi-instrumentalist/producer Dave Kerzner, and mysteriously failed to follow it up with an album review. Shame on me, then, for whilst Dimensionaut was initially a slow grower, it’s proved to be record deserving of repeated spins over the last year and a half. ‘Nu Prog’ is perhaps rightly derided for borrowing the musical template of the pioneering ’70s acts – long songs, instrumental showboating, conceptual contrivances – without really adding much in terms of originality or imagination. Certainly there are bands guilty on these counts – Riverside, early The Tangent and DeeExpus spring to mind – though for me the cardinal sin committed by such bands is their inability to oftentimes muster a memorable tune. Sound of Contact are not such a band, and whilst I enjoyed Dimensionaut from first listen, it was from repeated spins that I learned to really love it. Another recently-purchased album that falls loosely into the aforementioned ‘genre’ is Please Come Home by John Mitchell, aka Lonely Robot. The two artists (and albums) have, on the face of it much in common: overarching sci-fi themes; driving-force musical presences with a reluctance to commit their names to the project; a preponderance for hummable melody over musical excess (not always the case with ‘prog’ type acts).

Mitchell, and to a lesser extent, Collins are both well established ‘names’, at least on a cult-following level. As a long time Marillion fan I discovered the former thru his previous band Kino, featuring Pete Trewavas on bass guitar. He is also a key member of Jem Godfrey‘s Frost* project (third album, anytime soon?) whose Milliontown album remains a high watermark of Nu Prog. (Ironically, if casual listeners are familiar with Godfrey at all, it’s more likely to be thru his work with pure pop fodder such as Blue, Shayne Ward and Atomic Kitten). PCH could be an album by either of those artists, though, despite some input from Godfrey, it more closely resembles Kino. There is a certain ubiquity of melody and style which is distinctly Mitchell, albeit one which chimes rather well with Godfrey‘s and with the broader Nu Prog aesthetic. You can hear such an aesthetic in the work of bands as disparate as Fair To Midland, Doves, Everything Everything and Mystery Jets; one of making music that perfectly combines the demands of pop immediacy with complexity and depth. It’s not a million miles from the ’70s Art Rock blueprint mapped out by the likes of 10cc, Supertramp, or even Talking Heads. As early as the late ’90s, early ’00s, the idea that ‘Prog is no longer a 4-letter word’ had begun to creep back in. Albums such as Mansun‘s Six, Mercury Rev‘s All Is Dream, Pure Reason Revolution‘s The Dark Third and Secret Machines’ Now Here Is Nowhere attracted much critical acclaim. Radiohead perhaps deserve much of the credit for re-establishing the idea that musical ambition is a worthy pursuit, their own flowering spectacularly – in parallel with popularity and critical acclaim – on OK Computer and the Kid Amnesiac double-whammy. Dimensionaut and Please Come Home wear their cleverness more lightly than those albums: in spite of the sci-fi concept angle, both are perfectly enjoyable as pop pieces, for their well-written songs. Both, as is so true of the best of Nu Prog, hark back to ’80s/’90s pop/rock. I’m not a huge fan of Phil Collins‘ solo output at the best of times (as much as I love so much of his work with Genesis) but I’m not oblivious to the fact that he was incredibly popular; and that doesn’t happen without good reason. His son has clearly imbibed much of what was great about his writing: it’s almost a perfect balance of pop Phil/prog Phil. Lonely Robot tips unselfconciously its hat to ’80s singer-songwriting talent too, in the form of cameos from Go West‘s Peter Cox and Nik Kershaw. Both have, what I like to affectionately call their Porcupine Tree (and there’s another band that certainly belongs amongst the list in the previous paragraph) moments; where metallic riffing rudely, albeit appropriately intrudes into procedings in trademark Nu Prog counterpoint.

On first inspection, they could almost have been produced by the same crew, despite Mitchell’s and Collins’ distinct vocal styles (the latter’s eerily similar to his dad’s, as is his drumming): both exhibit the ubiquity of the new prog era as much as its accomplishment. The jarring, unsettling aspects that say, Robert Fripp, Peters Hammill or Hackett brought to the party back in the day (or latterly Radiohead and Secret Machines) are notable for their absence. Where Crimson, Van Der Graaf and early Genesis could sometimes be fuzzy and disorienting, Nu Prog is smooth prog. I’m conscious that I still haven’t provided a proper review of either album; but if you’re a fan of things proggy I hope I’ve maybe progressed a few yards in whetting your appetite. If you’ve made it this far, check out a couple soundclips now: these are not albums that you want to be missing.

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Like father, like son (update)

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Further to Like Father, like son, soundclips from the forthcoming Dimensionaut album are now available via the Sound of Contact website.

Sound of Contact is the new project from Simon Collins (son of Phil) and is something of a nod to his dad’s work in the nascent prog scene of the ’70s, albeit with a ’00s twist. If you’re a fan of Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Frost*, Beardfish and DeeExpus this may well be your proverbial cup of musical tea.

It’s tricky to get a proper feel for the album from such short soundclips – album trailers, like movie trailers tend to be a compilation of all the exciting bits without the filler, and I felt kinda stung by the last generic, derivative DeeExpus record.

But if Collins has inherited a modicum of his dad’s talent along with the looks (spookily like Phil from his Genesis days) we should be in for a treat. Nick Davis (Genesis, Tony Banks, Marillion)behind the mixing desk and John Wesley (Porcupine Tree, Fish) on guitar also bode well for prog-fans. It’s a prog/space rock album with a sci-fi theme, if that helps…

Here’s the teaser:

Like father, like son…

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A progressive rock band, with a singing drummer and two guys who double-up on guitar and bass duties – now where have we heard that before? Throw in the fact that said vocalising percussionist is Simon Collins, son of Phil and it looks like a definite case of history repeating itself, which for fans of Genesis and prog rock in general is surely no bad thing. Check out the trailer for Sound of Contact‘s forthcoming debut below:

Bit of a teaser this one – there’s not enough actual music on which to extrapolate any sense of how the album as a whole might sound, or how good it might be. I’m looking forward to hearing more, though; preferably a whole song in preference to short clips, bearing in mind how stung I felt after purchasing DeeExpus‘ last album on the strength of the trailer. Admit to being slightly troubled by reference to ‘…a deep concept album about a dimensional time and space traveler making wild discoveries on a trek to expand the boundaries of the human experience…’ (see below). As much as I’m a fan of the musical, technical and dramatic innovation that characterized much early prog; I’ll cheerfully admit there was much that was pretentious, wilfully obscure and downright cringeworthy: the best use of dramatic devices serve to enhance, not detract from the music. Mind you, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is probably my favourite Genesis record, so we’ll give ’em the benefit of the doubt for now.  And did you clock the cheeky Echoes lift at 2.25, prog hounds?

From the press release:

‘December 12, 2012, Lightyears Music and Sonic Reality are proud to announce a new progressive rock band project, Sound of Contact. The brainchild of Simon Collins, Dave Kerzner, Kelly Nordstrom and Matt Dorsey, Sound of Contact have created a sound all their own while paying homage to the greats of Classic Prog Rock and Electronica. With a forthcoming concept album entitled “Dimensionaut”, producers Simon Collins and Dave Kerzner and mixing engineer Nick Davis (Genesis, XTC, Marillion) unleash a collection of truly atmospheric science fiction-inspired space rock!

…With their debut album “Dimensionaut”, they hit the ground running with a deep concept album about a dimensional time and space traveler making wild discoveries on a trek to expand the boundaries of the human experience. The album features a wide range of styles and dynamics from dark and mysterious progressive rock to nostalgic classic rock to high energy alternative to sci-fi film score-infused “space rock”. With a plethora of atmospheric instrumental segues, melodic radio-friendly vocal tracks and an 18+ minute long epic grand finale, “Dimensionaut” will offer a refreshing balance of adventurous musical styles and aims to bring back the art of the concept album to a new generation of listeners.’

It’s not the first time the influence of Collins Snr has surfaced in his work – check out this cover of Keep It Dark from GenesisAbacab album (1981).  Whilst I don’t think it’s a patch on the original – the arrangement’s too busy, it’s overproduced – I do like it; and am I alone in hearing similarities to Gem Godfrey‘s Frost* project? It certainly demonstrate how well-written material never ages – Genesis were always amongst the strongest songwriters from the early crop of Symphonic prog rockers – and that Collins bears a remarkable resemblance to his dad in the vocal department as well as looks.

Speaking of Genesis covers, and by way of a wee little bonus, here’s Brazilian Symphonic rockers Hydria‘s take on Entangled from A Trick of the Tail (1976). One of my favourite of their songs, I like how the Brazilians have veered away from the psychedelic ‘otherness’ of the original and re-imagined it as a power ballad, save for a brief atmospheric coda. Hydria‘s version highlights how well Genesis, even in the prog years, had mastered the use of melody and dynamics that would serve them so well during their second wind as a pop rock band. Raquel Schüler‘s vocals are great, too – I can imagine Hydria appealing to fans of Delain, Within Temptation, Evanescence, Nightwish, Panic Room and other female-fronted exponents of melodic rock bombast.

Charterhouse days re-revisited

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Fans of ex-Genesis guitar virtuoso Steve Hackett will be aware that he’s been revisiting the back catalogue of that band to an ever increasing extent in the last few years at his live shows. Hackett finds himself in much the same position as his old bandmate Mr Collins, insofar as he has continually enjoyed much respect from his musical peers (notably Eddie Van Halen who credits him with pioneering the tapping technique utilised to much-admired effect on Eruption) whilst being virtually ignored by the mainstream press. Unlike his former colleague, he has managed to avoid the frankly hysterical levels of media hostility and also in contrast to Collins and fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford he has continued to plow a musical furrow that prioritizes exploration, challenge and technique over singer-songwriting convention or radio airplay. For all the critical vitriol spat upon Genesis and Collins in the last two decades, their megastar status during the ’80s remains undeniable: indeed, their refusal to be swept away by the New Wave and actually grow in popular stature is undoubtedly at the heart of much of their, frankly unjustifyable vilification.

Whilst much of ex-Genesis singer, Peter Gabriel‘s solo catalogue has been defiantly progressive in spirit, and the Collins-led trio continued to dabble with long-form, complex composition right up to the end, Hackett stands apart among that band’s former membership with respect to his flying the flag for prog rock per-se; and revisiting the early Gabriel-fronted albums in particular. In 1996 he released Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited which featured new studio arrangements of material from the first seven albums, plus two previously unheard recordings, to mixed but generally positive acclaim from critics and fans.

18 years later he’s doing it again, teaming up with a newer generation of musicians, along with some scene veterans. This second chapter of covers – imaginitively-titled Genesis Revisited II – features a dazzling array of contemporary prog talent, including Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth, Bloodbath), Conrad Keeley (…Trail Of Dead) and Simon Collins (son of Phil); as well as long term studio and live collaborators including Amanda Lehmann, Nick Beggs and Hackett‘s flautist brother John; and prog-loving pop veteran Nik Kershaw (further boosting his prog credentials following last year’s guest spot on DeeExpus‘s King of Number 33).

As was the case with volume one, the new arrangements are variously similar and significantly different to the original versions. In general the songs sparkle with new embellishments; Hackett‘s playing is tighter and cleaner than in days of yore and, of course, the recording, production and mix are up to a contemporary standard in contrast to the sometimes woolly  sound of the ’70s. What really impresses, though, are the songs themselves: as much as Genesis was a leading exponent of the art/prog rock movement and as such, aspired to high standards of musicianship, they were always songwriters first and foremost. Consequently, whilst some of the more outre experimentations from the ’60s and ’70s has come to sound clunky and willfully obscure, Genesis‘ output for the most part stands up really well: even signature, symphonic extravaganza Supper’s Ready still boasts enough by way of melodic hooks and hummable tunes amongst the widdly-diddly to ensure that its 23-minute duration feels much shorter.

Genesis fans will undoubtedly love this; but even if you’re not a fan this is an excellent opportunity to dip your toe into the dark and mysterious currents of an exceptionally-creative and much-maligned chapter in British rock music.

And you can try before you buy: Prog magazine are streaming the album from their site here