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Beggars Opera - 2010 - "Suddenly Ahead-Ahead"

(43:12, RGS)


*****

TRACK LIST:

1.  Suddenly Ahead-Ahead 5:00
2.  So We Crash 5:23
3.  Soft Umbilical Machine 5:36
4.  Towers Falling 5:38
5.  When You Were Rosy 5:01
6.  Sad Songs 5:48
7.  Dance to Me 5:49
8.  Shadow Psychology 4:59

LINEUP:

Ricky Gardiner  guitars 
Tom Gardiner  drums 
Virginia Scott  keyboards; vocals

Prolusion. The Scottish band BEGGARS OPERA had its heyday in the early 70's, back then issuing a trio of albums that are generally well regarded. Their recording career went into decline after that, however, and after 1980's "Lifeline" they went on a hiatus. A partial reformation by some members resulted in the less than thrilling effort "The Final Curtain" in 1996 as something of a last whimper. Then in 2007 original guitarist Ricky Gardiner and vocalist Virginia Scott returned with the album "Close to My Heart", and in 2009 this was followed by "Touching the Edge". And these days this reformed version of Beggars Opera seems to have reached some sort of creative peak, issuing no less than 3 full albums in 2010.

Analysis. One of the many cliches of the rock universe is that a band that returns after a lengthy hiatus with a good album ultimately will fall back to productions of a more mediocre standard. And while that isn't quite the case for the UK act Beggars Opera, I don't find them to be quite as impressive as on their previous two efforts. "Suddenly Ahead-Ahead" is the first of the three releases they issued in 2010, and on this album they continue pretty much where they left off on 2009's "Touching the Edge". The compositions are rather similar in overall nature, with a mainstream-oriented structure following a verse and chorus mode being their main preference. Verse and vocal parts in general are crafted with somewhat of a laidback nature, the most common approach being to underscore Scott's vocals with a symphonic backing in the shape of floating keyboard textures or a dampened organ, in some instances also with a gentle piano motif applied. The songs containing chorus parts take on a more dramatic mannerism in those aspects, first and foremost with the guitar adding in riffs of a more dominant nature. The non-vocal parts of the songs are first and foremost the domain of Ricky Gardiner. He explores the contrast between his often darkly-tinged riffs and the lighter toned keyboards, produces guitar solos, harmonizing with the tangents, often opting for the drawn out "crying" expression on those instances, or sets off exploring riff constructions, only backed by the steady rhythms department, with resonating, staccato riffs as an expression often given an airing. The songs as such stand and fall upon the various contrasts presented and with how interesting that end result will be for the listener, with Virginia Scott's vocals arguably the most important factor in that respect. Personally I think these compositions work rather well in that department, sometimes very much so, but on the whole not as enthralling this time around as on their previous two productions. Closest on this occasion with When You Were Rosy, where the staccato guitar riff backed by spacey synths motif at the onset of this song is highly intriguing, and a technique that probably could have been revisited more often as far as I'm concerned.

Conclusion. Beggars Opera continues exploring pretty much the same territory on this album as on their previous two efforts, art rock compositions with distinct symphonic tendencies and occasional proclivities in the direction of bands like Pink Floyd. Perhaps slightly more mainstream-oriented on this CD, possibly reaching out to a wider audience, but those who enjoyed their previous two efforts should find this first of their 2010 productions to cater for their musical tastes quite nicely.


Beggars Opera - 2010 - "All Tomorrows Thinking"

(32:45)

*****+

TRACK LIST:

1.  How She Swam 4:37
2.  Tomorrows Thinking 5:01
3.  Those Echoes 5:06
4.  Perfectly Lovely 4:50
5.  Catching on to You 4:59
6.  Save Me 4:55
7.  Faces in You 3:17

LINEUP:

Ricky Gardiner  guitars 
Tom Gardiner  drums 
Virginia Scott  keyboards; vocals

Analysis. The second of the three CDs released by veteran outfit Beggars Opera in 2010 is in places rather different from their first production of the year. Released simultaneously as "Suddenly Ahead-Ahead", this CD has just as many musical references to the comeback albums issued back in 2007 and 2009, but while its partner disc has a lighter and slightly more mainstream approach, this one explores another aspect of the band's stylistic expression. The compositions are rather more keyboard dominated, sporting rich, multi-layered arrangements where the organ is a common feature alongside floating keyboard textures and the odd wandering piano motifs, supported by darker guitar riffs in a manner that makes it tempting to draw comparisons to acts like Pink Floyd. The sound and stylistic expression are different I might add, but made up of similar components and with a certain space-tinged edge to them at times. The structure of these efforts is generally less predictable as well, be it that they avoid a common verse and chorus approach or, as in a couple of pieces, the song basically stays well put within a single thematic construction, utilizing subtle variations in the arrangements to craft alterations more unexpected and with a much greater impact than one might expect. Virginia Scott's vocal delivery obviously plays a key role in these matters, but also sublime instrumental variations contribute quite nicely in this department. And on Save Me, we're served a sound and compositional structure that actually reminds one slightly of Icelandic experimental pop artist Bjork with a lot more of a rock emphasis and lead vocals much more controlled, but with some tendencies that make such a comparison less alien than it sounds (although I do suspect I'll be scolded by Virginia for that comparison). By and large, this CD consists of material more sophisticated and more adventurous in scope than its twin release does, featuring richer arrangements, darker moods and a less predictable overall approach.

Conclusion. One might ask why a band finds a reason to issue three different albums in one year. Part of the answer lies in the content of this CD, as the material provided here explores another part of the stylistic universe Beggars Opera has chosen to travel in. Art rock with strong symphonic tendencies, liberally flavored with space-tinged textures in rich arrangements, in some respects comparable to Pink Floyd I guess, but most of all a band emphasizing one aspect of their own unique sound. Well worth picking up for those fond of that part of their repertoire, and a good place to get to know the contemporary version of this veteran act.


Beggars Opera - 2010 - "Lose a Life"

(47:51)

*****+

TRACK LIST:

1.  Electrofire Invasion 11:53
2.  Electro Half Light 6:11
3.  Masts on My Roof 11:24
4.  Cosmic Tango 6:49
5.  Dr. Carlo 7:00
6.  Tango for the End of Time 4:34

LINEUP:

Ricky Gardiner  guitars 
Tom Gardiner  drums 
Virginia Scott  keyboards; vocals

Analysis. The third album released by Beggars Opera in 2010, "Lose a Life," is described by the band as "a nano opera based on a true story". And to be more specific, it's a thematic creation, dealing with the situation guitarist Ricky Gardiner found himself in when he started developing problems being around any kind of device with electrical currents. The ailment, as of today not recognized by the medical community at large, is known as Electro-Magnetic Sensitivity, and those afflicted by it basically find themselves in a setting where they, as the CD implies, lose a life. The lyrical part of this production offers us a few glimpses into such a constricted life, and it becomes starkly obvious why this band had such a long hiatus as it did after listening through this disc. Musically we're dealing with an art rock effort with emphasis on richly layered keyboard arrangements, with space rock-tinged flourishes and distinct symphonic tendencies. Pretty similar to late 70's Pink Floyd in many aspects, and most certainly when it comes to the textures used to craft these endeavors. Gardiner's guitar has a rougher tinge to it, though, both when providing underscoring riffs and melodic solo passages, and Scott's vocals obviously give these songs a rather different flavor. The slightly dissonant, contrasting piano motifs added from time to time also create a rather unique atmosphere, and the starkly psychedelic manner in which they are applied towards the end of Masts on My Roof will most likely sit better with those who have a soft spot for the earlier ventures of Gilmour & Company. But by and large there are many similarities in sound and construction with their later efforts as well, and the organic-sounding, warm and richly-flavored keyboard arrangements will most likely have a strong appeal for those who love albums such as "Dark Side of the Moon". The two epic-length efforts, Electrofire Invasion and Masts on My Roof, stand out as the most interesting compositions as far as my musical taste goes, and as such will be the items I'd advise others to sample if they'd like to get a better impression than mere words can provide as far as the sound and scope of this release go.

Conclusion. Late 70's-sounding art rock dominated by two epic creations is what we're served on "Lose My Life", with orientations towards symphonic rock and space rock respectively, all wrapped up inside a concept album dealing with a topic the artist has a strong emotional attachment to. If this sounds intriguing, and in particular if you tend to enjoy bands exploring musical universes not too far away from Pink Floyd in overall style, Beggars Opera and "Lose a Life" might just warrant your attention. As long as you're not looking for a clone band that is: Despite many similarities, Beggars Opera has its own musical and compositional details that create a distinct musical identity.


OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: Feb 3-4-5, 2011
The Rating Room


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