Friday, October 17, 2014

Abacus - Everything You Need / Midway (1972/74 germany/uk, awesome prog rock with psych shades)

A solid second album from a band will typically consolidate some of the best aspects of the debut, giving fans a more focused slice of what they liked the first time around. Although there are certainly bands that have done great things in spite of the ‘sophomore formula’, I think that there was some fantastic potential worth fleshing out on Abacus’ self-titled debut. A marriage of psychedelic pop and pastoral symphonic prog fueled with thick keyboard, “Abacus” had a style that could have made the band far better-known than they ended up being, were it not for an inconsistent songwriting standard. With this in mind, it’s a bit disappointing that Abacus decided to shift their sound towards a more melodic, even commercial sound with “Everything You Need”. Blending pop with blues rock and an innocuous sidedish of prog, Abacus didn’t realize their sound the way I would have hoped they would on this second album, but with that being said, there are elements of this reinvented Abacus that might make it worthwhile to the prospective listener.

For all of the shades and sounds that Abacus’ debut brought into play, it all ultimately fell underneath a progressive rock umbrella. Even relatively poppy tracks like “Song for John and Yoko” retained a bit of proggy flair. “Everything You Need” keeps in touch with the prog aesthetic through the conservative use of synthesizers and sparing time signature changes, but there are many times here where Abacus sound more like a standard blues-infused rock band with aspirations of commercial success. Unfortunately, although Abacus attempt to place a far greater focus on the melody and vocals, Chris Williams’ vocals have the same limitations as they did on the album prior. Williams (formerly of the band Grail) can hold a melody as long as it doesn’t test his range (which it often does), but the nasal tone of his voice might make for an acquired taste for some. “Anyway We Can” starts the album off on a fairly disappointing note, echoing the same sort of bland blues rock that the early 70′s were saturated with. Fortunately however, the first side of the album keeps improving with every song. “Ivan Hood the White Knight” is a track with solid keyboards and an interesting lyrical concept about the righteousness of holy warfare. “Thing We Do” is less memorable but feels less kitschy, a trait suffered by much of Abacus’ pop-oriented stuff.

I doubt that I’m alone in thinking this, but seeing a twenty minute track at the end of a progressive rock album immediately piques my interest. Particularly with Abacus, the promise of a twenty minute suite was exciting, as they had demonstrated some great potential with the epic form on their self-titled debut with the opener “Pipedream Revisited”. Other reviewers’ comments about the eponymous epic being little more than a collection of shorter songs have some weight to them, but I don’t think it’s fair to see the suite in such vague terms. “Everything You Need” (the song) does not enjoy the cohesion I would have liked to hear in a twenty minute rock epic, but it’s clear that Abacus have saved their best ideas for last. Finally, “Everything You Need” begins to sound like the progressively-inclined Abacus I first heard on the debut. Keyboard-riddled jazz rock sections and typical progressive rock fanfare are here, including a vocal section that seems like they’re trying to mirror Genesis theatrics. The best part of the so-called ‘epic’ comes at the end with a segment that might only be described with the same vaudevillian terminology as the best work Queen would do some years later; dramatic vocals and a Rhodes piano give a nice touch to a rocky, if not truly convincing epic.

“Everything You Need” shows promise, but with this second album, I would have liked to have seen more of this potential realized. The poppier direction could have worked gracefully for Abacus, but once again, there is the issue of inconsistent, cheesy songwriting to deal with. It’s clear however that they have their hearts in the right place; a twenty minute epic is no easy undertaking, and even if it’s ultimately a mixed success, it’s still an accomplishment to be able to reinvent your sound and dive into your music with a fresh perspective. It’s a pleasant listen for the most part, but Abacus remain sounding like a work- in-progress than a fully-realized musical act.
by Conor Fynes
Everything You Need  1972
1. Anyway We Can (Song for H.) - 4:30
2. Slide Away - 4:51
3. Ivan Hood the White Knight - 3:50
4. Thing We Do - 6:13
5. Every Thing You Need - 20:21
.a.What a Day
.b.Paranoia Agency
.c.Hold Up the Flag
.d.Don’t Worry
.e.Everything You Need
Midway  1974
6. Let’s Face the Voices and Dance - 3:23
7. Including Revelation - 1:17
8. Me and You - 4:26
9. 11 Farden - 2:08
10.(You’re Not) The One I Love - 3:51
11.For the Moment (Unaware) - 2:54
12.Be Beholding - 3:49
13.Herman the German - 3:20
14.Here We Go - 3:28
15.Midway - 10:31

*Chris Williams – vocals, acoustic guitar
*Hans Rolf Schade – guitar, vocals, moog (Tracks 1-6)
*Christoph Perutzky – piano, organ, synth
*Klaus Kohlhase – bass
*Konstantin H Bommerius – drums (Tracks 1-6)
*Charlie Schade – guitar, sitar (Tracks 7-15)
*Allan Warren – drums, percussion (Tracks 7-15)

1971  Abacus - Abacus

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