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(53 min, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. L'Ocean 3:52 2. Quelque Part 4:04 3. Un Soleil Cache 3:59 4. Sahara 2:17 5. Odyssee 2:11 6. Coup de Coeur 4:38 7. Hymne a Laiah 4:41 8. Encore Vivre Libre 3:06 9. Lune Noire 3:44 10. Metamorphose 2:46 11. Tu Sais 4:20 12. Try Not to Worry 3:41 13. Tu Sais Live 5:42 14. L'age D'or 4:17 LINEUP: Chris Beya - guitars; keyboards Raoul Leininger - vocals Jean-Pierre Klares - bass Gilles Bonnabaud - drums With: Nathalie Geshir - keyboards
Prolusion. One of the most important units of the French progressive rock movement, ATOLL released some really monumental albums back in the '70s, though the recording under review is not from the said period. Officially speaking, this is the second CD issue of their fifth studio effort, "L'Ocean" (1989), - this time around with three bonus tracks two of which were previously unavailable. Atoll's discography includes five more studio efforts, "Musiciens Magiciens" (1974), "L'Araignee Mal" (1975), "Tertio" (1977), "Rock Puzzle" (1979, with John Wetton on vocals) and "Ilian" (2003) and one live album, "Tokyo C'est Fini" (1990). Despite the rumors of the group's break-up, the last page of their story remains to be written - well, unless something prevents Chris Beya and his fellow band mates (who are currently preparing songs for Atoll's next CD) from carrying their work to its conclusion.
Analysis. Even if I were unfamiliar with Atoll until now, after listening to "L'Ocean" I would have instantly realized they're a major-league band. Although this production is, say, not on a level with the highest prog-world standards, their very own "L'Araignee Mal" and "Tertio" included, it's still a very listenable recording, not without the notorious magic, depicting its makers as tasteful musicians, true professionals knowing their work inside out, with an absolutely independent compositional thinking. All eleven of the album's original tunes breathe with freshness and inspiration, so it is really no big deal that nothing here is impenetrable, to say the least. (Otherwise I would have long ago stopped listening to Queen, Supertramp, Sweet and many other brilliant proto-progressive bands, whereas I still sincerely enjoy such music.) Seven of the tracks come with lyrical content, and while all are fairly vocal-centric, each features a few brief, yet very impressive instrumental interludes, their general arrangements remaining both diverse and inventive throughout, regardless of whether there are concurrent vocals or not. Quelque Part, Un Soleil Cache, Encore Vivre Libre and Tu Sais, each can stylistically be labeled as proto-progressive Hard Rock, but is in fact something weightier, structurally similar with Queen. The other three songs, the title track, Coup de Coeur and Hymne a Laiah, all suggest a cross between pop Art and Symphonic Progressive (though each at times positively rocks as well), some of their constructions reminding me of Don't Kill the Whales from Yes's "Tormato" - in the way the singing is used with just a few instruments resourcefully backing it. The acoustic guitar is an important part of most of the said tunes, but nevertheless, these are vocal-free pieces where that instrument stands out the most, either weaving its patterns alone (Metamorphose) or sharing the spotlight with string ensemble and piano (Sahara and Odyssee), the mid-section of Sahara having a strong Flamenco feeling. Oh, sorry, almost forgot about one more instrumental: Lune Noire is a rockingly dynamic tune with lots of blistering electric guitar solos to the fore, evoking some of the early creations by Yngwie Malmsteen. Nonetheless, there is something which unites all the vocal-free pieces, but especially Sahara, Odyssee and Lune Noire. Each of these is optimistic, at times anthem-like in mood, additionally revealing a slight impression of Classical music. The 'new' bonus tracks, Try Not to Worry and L'age D'or, are both songs stylistically much in the same vein as those described above. On the other hand however, these are overly straightforward, each (respectively) being as eventful:-) as Voice of America from Asia's "Astra" and the title track of Genesis's "Invisible Touch". Outtakes are just outtakes, but while it's clear why the group omitted these when compiling the album's initial version, the reason of their inclusion in this reissue will probably be understandable only to completists. The same words are relevant regarding the live version of Tu Sais which is basically not unlike its studio counterpart.
Conclusion. Personally I find this CD to be a very pleasing listening experience and more than a merely very good musical production - overall. In short, it is the bonus tracks that 'ate' half a star of the disc's rating. That being said, neophytes please do not misunderstand me: "L'Ocean", unlike most of Atoll's other recordings, is not classic Symphonic Progressive, but is probably the best place to start getting into their work.
VM: February 24, 2007
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